Father-daughter dance swings into second decade

The social hall at Takoma Presbyterian Church is filled nearly to capacity as the crowd readies for more music. Teen-age deejays cue the next song, “Y-M-C-A” –a sure crowd pleaser. The sea of outstretched arms includes maybe two hundred young girls, many in velvet or lace dresses, laughing and singing as their aging escorts try to keep pace.

The Father-Daughter Dance is a Takoma Park/Silver Spring tradition, and one that holds a special place in the hearts of local daughters and dads who have attended since it began, in the year 2000. This year the dance enters its second decade, turning 11 years old.

“It’s really sweet,” says event founder Pat Holobaugh, “to see the little girls all dressed up. We had about 100 couples the first year; all the troops in our service area were invited. We tried to find really danceable music–stuff that would appeal to both the dads and daughters. There was some obscure stuff too, like: “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” by B.B. King. The girls loved it. Sometimes the Dads dressed up too, in the spirit of things. A few guys came in tuxedos!”

Girls say they like the dance because it gives them a chance to be with their fathers in a social atmosphere where they can see them cut loose a little. For the scout troop, it has become a marquee event that reliably draws crowds and raises funds in a fun way year after year.


One of the beloved rituals of the father-daughter dance is a Polaroid photo shoot. Here, Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson snaps a memento for David Corn and daughters. (photo by Eric Bond)

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Winnie Neunzig, leader of Senior Girl Scout Troop 2986, took over the
event six years ago, following in the footsteps of Holobaugh and
co-leader Sandy Egan. Many of the 14 teens in Neunzig’s troop first went
to the dance when they were students at Takoma Elementary.


Ava Talbott, a ten-year veteran of the Troop, remembers her first date with her Dad, Kirk. She was just seven.

“My dad really loves to dance,” says Ava. “When I was little he would
always be jamming out on the dance floor.” She laughs, and then adds,
“When I was in the fourth grade, I was really sick, but I went [to the
dance] anyway, because I thought my dad would be disappointed if we
stayed home!”

Kirk Talbott, an environmental lawyer who often travels overseas for
work, wouldn’t miss the annual event. “I guess I’m just on of those
goofy dads, said Kirk, “but I look forward to it all year long.”

parks_web.jpgTen years later, Ava, a senior in high school, is still a member of
Neunzig’s troop, but now she’s one of the organizers. The Troop has made
changes each year in response to feedback they’ve received: starting
earlier (for younger girls), serving samoas and wraps in addition to
desserts, dispensing drinks from a pair of punch fountains, offering
temporary tattoos, and creating a craft project for girls who are
reluctant to dance. There’s a lot of prep work; Ava and fellow scouts
will make over 100 boutonnieres for dads who attend this year’s event on
Saturday, February 5th, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Next year, 17-year-old Ava will be off to college. “I’ll have memories,
but I’ll miss the activity, and doing my part to make it classy.”

Blair High School junior Vidhya Vijayakumar has also been at the dance — as participant or organizer–for nearly a decade.

“I was in the second grade when I first attended, with my best friend
and her dad,” says Vidhya. “I had sequined shoes, like Dorothy (only
black). And I got to wear my mom’s jewelry, which was a highlight.” Her
dad, Vijay Narayanan, started going a few years ago. “He’s more of a
reseved type,” continued Vidhya, “so he helps cook –and he likes
hanging out with the other dads.”

Many girls come to the dance with a surrogate dad.

“This is Takoma Park,” says Neunzig. “We have girls come with their
grandfathers, uncles, family friends, brothers. My son Henry (then 12)
took his younger sister Hannah (7) one year when my husband was out of
town. People still remember it and he’s 21!”

While the girls learn organization and leadership skills putting on the
dance every year, there is also the larger goal: it’s the troop’s
biggest fund raiser (cookie sales pale in comparison). The founder’s
troop cleared $600 their first year, and doubled that the second;
revenues have continued to rise. The funds cover Gold award projects
(usually service projects in the community), as well as ensuring that
all the girls can attend camping or ski trips that may be beyond their
means. Dance profits helped the girls to go on a whirlwind tour of
London and France two years ago.

This is Neunzig’s final year as troop leader and dance organizer extraordinaire.

“She’s a truly extraordinary citizen who’s uniquely qualified to lead
the girls,” said Talbott. “It’s a bittersweet time for us, as she, and
many of the girls, move on.”

Fortunately there is another Troop waiting in the wings. Neunzig will
hand the baton to scout leader Wendy Turman, whose middle school scouts
will step into the shoes of departing organizers Ana Hall-Defoor, Molly
Ellison, Laura Gagliardo, Lauren and Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, Megan Healy,
Brittany Lambert, Hannah Loeb, Hadley Luker, Malaika Newman, Rebecca
Partan, Ava Talbott, Larkin Turman, and Vidhya Vijayakumar.

The beat goes on.


Girl Scouts at the Father-Daughter Dance, 2008:  Top row left to right: Hadley Luker, Ava Talbott, Laura Gagliardo, Vidhya Vijayakumar, Hannah Loeb, Ana Hall-Defoor, Brittany Lambert, Megan Healy. Bottom row left to right: Lauren Jarvis-Gibson, Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, Malaika Newman, Molly Ellison [not shown: Rebecca Partan and Larkin Turman]. photo by Winnie Neunzig
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About the Author

Sandy Moore, the Kids' Voice columnist, writes for young readers and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Sandy is also a past contributor to Washington Parent magazine, a Board member of Lumina Studio Theatre, and resident of Silver Spring.