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March 21, 2013

Jail dance lets fathers, daughters take a few steps together

RICHMOND, Va. — The girls ages 6 to 16 sit in order of size in the drab lobby of the Richmond City Jail, their glittery shoes swinging back and forth.

"I don't like it here," says Jhaniyika Morman, 6, who covers her eyes, smudging her blue eye shadow and pointing toward the jail's visitation booths, where inmates are separated from their visitors by thick glass.

"I'm nervous. I hope he recognizes me," mumbles Alexis Atkins, 9, who has her blond hair curled into long ringlets and keeps zipping and unzipping her hot-pink purse.

Down the hall, through several gates and inside a communal cell with thick blue bars, 12 inmates change from their frayed one-piece jumpsuits into formal attire. They pass belts and shirts of various sizes back and forth between the tight rows of steel bunk beds.

"Anyone know how to do up this here tie?" asks a jittery looking Andre Morman, 42, who has been in and out of jail on drug charges numerous times.

Then the inmates line up, too. They walk down a long hallway and wait in silence to get a glimpse of the girls: their daughters.

For a few hours on this Saturday afternoon, the incarcerated fathers will be allowed to take part in an American tradition, the father-daughter dance. "A Dance of Their Own," thought to be the only event of its kind in the country, will be in the jail's small, windowless multipurpose room.

The event in Richmond is just one example of the alternative father-daughter dances springing up around the country amid growing concerns that traditional father-daughter dances are exclusionary. Their detractors say they are outdated, discriminatory and sexist and that they no longer reflect what American families look like. For starters, according to 2011 census data, more than half of all children in this country are raised by unmarried mothers.

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