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The Best Father-Daughter Dance I’ve Ever Seen

I saw her move slowly across the empty dance floor as the instrumental music softly played. A young girl of about 7 or 8, wearing a blue dress with her hair made up and her arms stretched out wide. She smiled as she twirled around and around all by herself. Dinner was over, and the wedding reception hadn’t started yet, but something about the way she danced made me feel a familiar twinge of recognition in her ever-so slightly unsteady movements. No one but me seemed to notice her dancing, and when I studied her a little closer, I found myself smiling too.

I’ve been a DJ for over 30 years, and I’ve played at countless wedding receptions and family events just like this one last Saturday. And while I’ve come to personally know many special needs children and adults over the years, my own special needs son has given me an instant feeling of kinship whenever I recognize another special adult or child, like this young girl.

From the dinner tables further away, a man walked directly towards her, gently grabbed her hand, and then apologized to me. “I’m sorry if she’s bothering you.” Which wasn’t the case, but I understood what her dad meant. Sometimes my son, Cody, will wander away in a crowd and other people will begin talking to him, expecting a reply that never comes. Then when we catch up to Cody we’ll often apologize, just like he did. So he couldn’t have known that I wasn’t bothered in the least.

Quickly I said, “My son Cody has special needs. He loves to dance and spin just like she does. Is there a favorite song she likes? You could stay right there and dance with her; I’ll play anything you like.”

He paused for a moment with his guard suddenly down, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Katie doesn’t talk, but she loves anything so long as she can get up and twirl to it.” So I picked out a bouncy tune and then watched the little girl squeal as she held onto her dad’s hands, both of them now grinning ear-to-ear. She stood on his feet for a few steps. Then he lifted her up by her hands into the air to swing her around a few times before her feet touched the ground again. It was only when she landed, with her dress billowing slightly outward, that I noticed she wore braces on her legs. Braces that surely gave her strength to walk but also restricted her movements to dance and twirl as she clearly loved to do. But here in her dad’s arms she was weightless and graceful, a ballerina on the stage with her favorite dance partner gazing at her with love in his eyes.

When the song was done she climbed up into his arms and put her head on his shoulders like my son will do with me when he’s had enough. They started to walk away. Then her dad spun around, walked over to me, shook my hand and thanked me for playing that song for them. He asked me if I knew what my son has, and I told him we’ve known Cody has had Idic15 since he was a baby because he was genetically tested at 12 months. He admitted they don’t know what Katie has but they’re OK with not knowing. He said that they love her just the same. He waved as he walked away, and I watched him carry her back to their table to gather the rest of their family. And then they left for the evening as many parents with young children often do before the evening dance begins.

Weddings typically have a father-daughter dance immediately after the bride dances her first dance with her groom, and we had one scheduled later that night. The bride and her dad danced to a sentimental song that spoke of growing up, memories and love, while everyone watched and took pictures. As other parents of severely-delayed kids know all too well, our special children will more than likely never take a partner in marriage. That is just one dream of many we learn to give up while they are still very young.

Yet that surprise father-daughter dance between just Katie and her dad, with no one else watching but me, was just as sweet and full of love as the one that officially followed. Maybe a little more so. And it is one of my favorite memories from the hundreds of weddings I’ve witnessed.

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