A very special dance

This past weekend, little girls throughout Crescenta Valley put on their prettiest dresses and had their hair done just right. Even the youngest were allowed to put on a tiny amount of makeup. Their dates waited for them, some with flowers, all with proud smiles as these lovely young ladies took their escort's arm for a magical evening.

Lincoln Elementary School and Holy Redeemer Catholic School held their daddy-daughter dances Feb. 22 and 23. For one little girl, the evening was made even more magical when her dad, who had been serving in Iraq, was able to catch an earlier flight to arrive home just in time to escort his daughter to the dance.

“Erica was so excited,” said Susan Dennis of her daughter. “I didn't want to get her hopes up. I said, 'He has to fly across the world to get here.'”

But Erica never gave up hope; she knew her dad would be there, Susan said.

“I really didn't know if I was going to make it. I got a Freedom flight and was able to catch another, earlier flight,” said Erica's father, Derek Dennis.

Dennis, who serves in the United States Army Reserves, is deployed in Iraq for a year. This was his first time back since May 2007. He is based in Kuwait, but his company serves throughout Iraq. He will return to Kuwait on March 14 to complete the remainder of his time in the service, then go back to his job as a biomedical engineer with the Roche Company.

He said that the time away from his family has been difficult, with his wife bearing the brunt of the burden. The couple has three children, son Ezra and daughters Erin and Erica. But on Saturday night, all the focus was on their second grader, Erica.

As she entered the Holy Redeemer dance, her hand tightly held onto her dad and the smile never left her face. When asked if she was glad her dad made it back in time, she shyly said, “Yes. I am happy.”

Dennis said that he and his wife tell their children about Iraq, but concentrate especially on the youngsters who live in the far-away country. “I tell them how the children in Iraq don't have shoes,” he said. “So Erica sent shoes over to me for the kids.”

The family will continue their quality time by visiting Disneyland.

Daddy and daughter dances are a tradition with Crescenta Valley schools. All the dances start out about the same, with dads catching up with each other while daughters giggle and dance around the room. Then, slowly, the dads begin to take their daughters by the hand and walk them to the dance floor. This is when some girls, usually the littlest ones, grab hold of their dads and are twirled around the room. Teen daughters usually spend a lot of time covering their faces and shaking their heads as their dads do dances they have never seen before. But in the end, fathers stand back and marvel at how their little girls are growing.

For Derek and Erica the time may be brief but every dance was worth it.

“The best part was just being with her,” he said.

To see more photos of foothill Daddy-Daughter dances, turn to page A18.

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