Impact of Ideas

Angela Patton holds second father-daughter dance in prison, sets sights on a documentary

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Twelve girls enter the Richmond City Jail for a father-daughter dance. Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

Twelve girls enter the Richmond City Jail for a father-daughter dance, called “A Dance of Their Own.” Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

It’s not the norm to see pink balloons, brightly colored dresses and sequined shoes in the halls of the Richmond City Jail. But on March 16, a dozen girls ranging in age from 6 to 16 entered the facility to bring cheer to their incarcerated fathers. The occasion: the second father-daughter dance at the jail, thrown by Camp Diva.

Angela Patton: A father-daughter dance ... in prison Angela Patton: A father-daughter dance ... in prison At TEDxWomen, Camp Diva founder Angela Patton told the heart-warming story of how she came to throw a father-daughter dance in prison. The idea began with a group of girls brainstorming ways to help their fathers better understand them. Solution: a father-daughter dance! After a few years of dances, a Camp Diva girl revealed a hesitation: Her father wouldn’t be able to attend because he was in prison. So Patton asked Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody. He agreed to try holding the dance in his jail, because he felt, as Patton says, “when fathers are connected to their children, it is less likely that they will return.” In Patton’s talk, you can see images from the first father-daughter dance ever held at Richmond City Jail.

The Washington Post was on hand for the second father-daughter dance, titled “A Dance of Their Own,” with photographer Marvin Joseph capturing a beautiful series of images of the event. Sheriff Woody also shared with the paper his rationale for greenlighting the very unusual dance.

“People may think it’s crazy to have this in a jail,” he said. “But it builds respect. You wouldn’t believe what it does for these men’s confidence to dress them up. This dance can have a ripple effect.”


Pairing up for the dance. Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

Now, Patton tells the TED Blog that she would like to continue the tradition — and to encourage it in jails around the country.

“The questions I get asked most are, ‘How did you do this?’ ‘Why did the sheriff say ‘yes?’ and ‘How did you get inside the bars?’” says Patton, who didn’t have time to talk much about process given the time limit of her TEDx Talk. “It wasn’t just the letter that made it possible, it was the relationship that we built. We put a curriculum in place …  These fathers have to participate [in a class] so that they will be prepared for this visit and this opportunity with their daughters.”

Patton also hopes to share the stories of fathers and daughters who’ve participated in the dances — both the two held in City Jail and the six held so far in communities around Richmond, Virginia. To that end, she has created a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary, Locked In NOT Locked Out. To be directed by Patrick Gregory, Patton is crowdfunding an initial $10,000 to fund the film. So far, she’s raised $5,000 with 25 days to go.

“We’re going to follow four fathers, two inside the bars and two outside,” Patton tells the TED Blog. “We’re going to show the common thread between four different types of fathers that have the same need and desire to have good relationships with their daughters.”


The dance, in full swing. Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post