It was a bleak Friday evening, a cold front arriving when I got to the Washington City Park Auditorium. Quite honestly, I’d wanted to snuggle in at home, veg in front of a movie, not drive across town to go to the Daddy-Daughter Sweetheart Dance sponsored by the Parks Department. But I thought it would make a sweet Valentine’s Day column.

It only took five minutes in the auditorium to turn my mood around — 61 little girls were in attendance with significant men in their lives, mostly daddies but a couple of grandpas too.

The children ranged in age from 3 to 10 and, let me tell you, some of those kids got down when the sound system started grinding out music, fast numbers interspersed with slow dances, big, burly men, and tall skinny ones too, clasping their little girls’ hands as they stepped around the floor, others holding small ones in their arms as they swayed to the music.

Gussied Up

The men were dressed to the nines for their daughter-date night, in crisp shirts, ties, and jackets appropriate for accompanying petite princesses. Many of the girls wore wrist corsages, and all were spiffed up in velvet, netted dresses, tiaras, white tights, sparkly high-tops, patent leather Mary Janes and even cowboy boots, perfect for stomping to the more riotous tunes.

The mood was joyously contagious, and Cupid shot me big-time, my heart swelling when one dad swung his daughter from the floor up to his face for a quick kiss. For the hour I was at the dance, all was right with the world, affection and pride brimming on the men’s faces, camera phones alight to capture memories of a special night.

Food and Treats Too

As I drove to the event, I imagined what the attendees might have for dinner, something the kids would eat, I thought — hot dogs, chips and such. I was totally off base. The spread included tenderloin, fried chicken, loaded mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, vegetables, salad, pasta and cookies.

“We feed the fathers,” said Robin Peirick, parks recreation coordinator, “and have some kind of noodles for the girls.” They’ll all eat that, she said. And fried chicken too.

I got tickled, as did Mayor Sandy Lucy, seeing a darling little brunette in a fancy blue dress attack a piece of chicken, tearing at it with wild abandon as she looked around taking everything in.

The meal was shared in the auditorium decorated for the event, red and white tablecloths carried through the theme, topped with balloons and centerpieces, lights strung across the ceiling adding to the atmosphere.

An Annual Tradition

This is the 12th year for the Sweetheart Dance, an event Peirick brought with her when she took her job with the parks department. “Parks and recreation people always steal ideas from each other,” she said.

It was obvious Peirick had a good time — she was out there on the dance floor with the kids, and later announced the winner of the M&M jar filled with the candy. Olivia Whistler, the girl who won the jar, guessed there were 2,003 M&Ms inside, when actually there were 2,000. Pretty incredible.

Prior to dinner and dancing, each girl sat in a red leather chair with her dad or grandpa for a keepsake photograph, a backdrop behind them spelling out “Love” in big letters. Each child also received a goody bag of candy, beads and string to make a Snoopy necklace, a shiny red pinwheel and a long-stemmed rose, in peach, pink or white. The roses would fade but the memories of this magical evening will last through the years.

I won’t forget the event either — I told Robin next year I’d like to help out —along with my husband Spark. The dance was a perfect way to get in the mood for Valentine’s Day.