Daddies and daughters dance the night away

Little girls wearing fancy dresses, tiaras, up-dos and big smiles seemed to float into the InterContinental Hotel on their fathers' arms Saturday night.

They had dined at places like the Buckhead Diner, the Brick Top and Marietta Pizza and now they were about to dance the night way at the sixth annual daddy-daughter dance, complete with knights and princes, chocolate-covered strawberries and pink cupcakes.

There were regulars including Annabelle and Virginia and their father Chris Herschend; and Vanessa and Darryl Lesure from Atlanta. Newcomers Sammy and Travis Vickers drove in from Sandy Springs.

Through the years, the Herschends have grown to see the dance as more than a night out.

“It’s intentional fun,” Herschend said.

That is the essence of the My Princess Dance, an enchanting evening meant to provide dads and uncles and grandfathers the chance to say to the girls in their lives that they love them and, “This is how you deserve to be treated.”

“In a few years they will be going to proms instead,” said Herschend of 10-year-old Annabelle and her sister, Virginia, who is 8. “This will be a great reference point for them, I hope.”

Relying solely on word-of-mouth that drew families mostly from his circle of friends in the beginning, Woody Faulk has built the My Princess Dance into an annual gala staffed by knights and princes and drawing more than 700 men and girls age 4 to 15.

No one knows for sure how many of these dances are held locally but it’s an idea that has been gaining momentum. Herschend said this dance is one of four he and his girls attend each year.

On Feb. 5, Chick-fil-A’s 119 restaurants in metro Atlanta will host Daddy Daughter Date Night, featuring “conversation starters” for fathers and daughters to help spark discussion.

Each franchisee decides how to celebrate the event and just how much of the fast-food restaurant to devote to it.

Scott Reed, operator of the Chick-fil-A in Marietta near Sprayberry High School, plans to go all-out and rope off half of the restaurant for the special event. Some of his staff who are usually behind the cash register will be clad in tuxedos and serve as host and hostesses. He plans to book a professional photographer to take keepsake photos, set up balloons and he’s hoping to arrange for a limo to give girls and dads upscale rides in the parking lot.

“We’ll have a very unfast-food feel,” Reed said. “I want it to feel like going to the Ritz-Carlton.”

Reed, who tries to schedule regular date nights with his own 11-year-old daughter, said he is proud to be a part of an event designed to show customers that Chick-fil-A is more than a place to fill up on food -- it's also a place that cares about families and is willing to invest in people’s lives.

To reserve a spot at the event,  go to

For his part, at Saturday's My Princess Dance, Faulk said he simply wanted to help men be better fathers to their daughters by being intentional about the time they spend with them.

“So many dads are so busy taking care of our families, they don’t engage,” he said. “Ideally, the evening affirms and validates those dads who are highly engaged fathers already, but also tugs at the heart of the dad who has some catching up to do.”

For the 50-year-old father of three and the growing number of men who turn out for the annual dance, it’s become increasingly apparent why such gatherings are important: fathers play a crucial role in how their daughters perceive themselves and ultimately allow the men in their lives to treat them.

Recent studies suggest that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy.

“At the end of the day, this is about trying to instill good core values that they can build on for a lifetime,” said Bill Price, a father of three daughters ages 4, 11, and 13, from Powder Springs. “And it’s not just our family -- here’s a whole room full of dads trying to do the same thing.”

It was a sentiment other dads voiced.

“We dads are role modeling what we want their future husbands to be like,” said the Rev. Jeff Henderson, pastor at the Gwinnett Campus of North Point Community Church. “This event sort of anchors that in their hearts and souls.

And so there he was with his 11-year-old daughter, Jesse, along with hundreds of other couples, dancing under a twirling mirror ball and tiny white lights twinkling like stars in the sky.

For more than two hours, they fought any temptation to talk about business and sports and instead gave in to picture taking and giddy dancing that stopped only for two brief moments. During a “knighting ceremony,” dads got down on bended knee and presented their daughters with heart rings to symbolize their love. A second pause came when Faulk challenged them to make this night the first of 11 dates they will have with their daughters this year.

The dancing continued past the ball’s official end at 9:30 p.m., when the barefooted started to look for their shoes. A few dads left with their girls as young as 4 slumped across their tired shoulders.

Darryl Lesure and 10-year-old Vanessa Lesure, who was wearing a silver dress, silver ballet slippers and a tiara, gathered up their memories and walked away holding hands.

This was there second year attending the dance.

“It’s a wonderful expression of love that we get to share,” he said.

Those still able to leave on their own two feet collected a single pink rose and a gift bag as they exited.

“It’s been very fun,” said Henderson’s daughter Jesse.