In Harlem's Alhambra Ballroom this weekend, more than 40 couples took to the dance floor, gracefully spinning and shaking, ignoring the significant height differences between the fathers and daughters tenderly bonding while they grooved to the music. In a neighborhood long recognized more for its violent reputation than its family bonds, this event last weekend helped many fathers connect, or re-connect, with their adolescent daughters.
"It takes them away from their normal element," says Denise Perry, executive director of the Millennium Dance Company, who hosted the event. "It takes them away from worrying about the streets. Not all the kids come from the greatest neighborhoods and the greatest homes...It takes them away for a moment of just beauty and elegance."
The girls have been preparing choreography for weeks to go with classics like "My Girl" by the Temptations; "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross & The Supremes and Luther Vandross' "Dance with My Father".
"I was so excited I couldn't sleep last night!" one little girl told us. "I just wanted to put on my dress because I was so excited!"
More than just a dance, the event also gives fathers an important chance to connect with their daughters one on one.
"I have never met my father...So I think it's very important that all the fathers are here," Norris Porter told ABC News as his daughter Jordyn danced nearby. "Being that I haven't had a father in my life, I make it my business. It is of upmost importance for me to be present as much as I can, physically as I can, emotionally as I can."
Many of the fathers ABC News spoke to had similar childhoods. In a 1990 analysis by the New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that black men in Harlem were less likely to reach the age of 65 than men in Bangladesh. No surprise that many men who grew up during those years did not have the opportunity to connect with their fathers.
"Growing up in the inner city, you kind of heard that you're a statistic," says father Aldon Bryant. "As one of many people growing up without their dad, I wanted to make sure on days like this that I'm there for her and enjoy these special milestones in her life."
Fathers Give Daughters Positive Male Role ModelsMany fathers found that bond to be even more important with daughters in a male-dominated society. "It's to give my daughter a positive image of a man, so that she knows how to treat a man when she becomes a woman," Arthur Robinson told us. "[it helps] her understand how to treat a man, and also to understand how a man should treat her."
Denise Perry thinks that events like these can help kickstart loving relationships between fathers and daughters. "I think they'll do more bonding among themselves. African American men usually don't get to bond outside a certain area...I've seen a bond with the girls and a bond with the men, and that's most exciting to me."
The dance didn't just take the little girls away from their daily life; it also showed them another side of their fathers.
"Just because dads are old, doesn't mean they can't do anything," realized little Syndy. "I love the opportunity to be here. I'm here for my dad."
And for the fathers who told us they never thought they could ever love anyone as much as they do their daughters, nothing can replace this magical phrase: "I'm going to dance with my father and I'm going to tell him I love him very much." Deja's father can't get enough of hearing that.