What’s in the Name of a Father-Daughter Dance?

Christine Spaziano with her father Anthony in 1986, the last year her elementary school called the dance the two attended for years a “father-daughter dance.”

Just like a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, you don’t need gender references in the name of a school activity for it to serve its purpose. As such, I’m really at a loss as to why so many people in Cranston and beyond are so upset that they can’t use the terms father-daughter dance and mother-son ballgames.

After all, if the purpose of these functions is for parents to model good behavior for their children, the least they could do is not alienate anyone from that opportunity.

It seems there are no shortage of Rhode Island communities that have been able to manage both.

According to East Greenwich Patch, one of the local elementary schools, “holds ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Boys Night Out’ events, according to Principal Cheryl Vaughn. The student is invited to bring a parent, grandparent or close family friend.”

Johnston Patch reports that “School Committee Member Robert LaFazia (Dist. 1) explained during a phone interview this morning that about 12 years ago, he and other parents at Thornton Elementary School started holding dances for families, rather than specifying father-daughter or mother-son.”

“We’ve been doing it ever since, and I’m glad we changed it years ago,” LaFazia told Patch. “We never had any complaints, the parents are happy, and all of the events have been great.”

Word is they also don’t use such exclusionary terms in some South Kingstown, Providence and Tiverton schools.

Even in Cranston itself, the practice of calling them father-daughter dances has come in and out of fashion over the years.

Christine Spaziano, a sales rep for the Providence Journal who graduated from Cranston West High School in 1994, remembers Oaklawn Elementary School changing the name of the annual dance she attended with her dad from a father-daughter dance to a “family dance.”

She recalled, “It wasn’t a big deal, there was no outrage. I still went with my dad even though they called it a family dance.”

So why is it a big deal now when it isn’t other places and wasn’t in Cranston before?

Well, one reason is the media got a hold the story and politicians will posture when that is the case. The other is that Cranston is still smarting from the last time the ACLU came to town. In that standoff over civil liberties, the school district ended up spending $150,000 to lose a lawsuit over a school prayer banner after a student sued with the help of the ACLU. Here’s hoping this issue ends better for Cranston schools than that one did.

Mayor Allan Fung told the Providence Journal, “I am utterly disappointed to have such a time-honored tradition under attack in the name of political correctness. Traditions like this are what make up the fabric of our childhood memories and definitely contribute to the well being of our children as a whole.”

It’s actually not that much of a tradition, and it’s a tradition that has been changed before with little fanfare.

More apt was what Gov. Chafee said told WPRO about the issue: “The times are changing.”


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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

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