For decades, sweetheart dances (or similar variations) have given children the chance to go on a fancy “date” with a parent or a special adult in their lives and have left families with long-lasting memories. Many parent groups hold sweetheart dances at school in February around Valentine's Day.
Why Host a Sweetheart Dance?
It’s a chance to dress up and have fun! Many PTO or PTA events are informal in both programming and dress code, like science night, movie night, or field day. A special dance is a great opportunity for kids to get dressed up, dance to their favorite songs with their friends, and have fun with a family member or family friend.
It’s fun for kids and parents. During many PTO-planned events, most of the parent volunteers stay busy working behind the scenes. A sweetheart dance (no matter what it’s named) allows children and their special guests to enjoy the event together as attendees, and it can provide a special family bonding opportunity.
It builds community. When town recreation departments or civic groups hold townwide father-daughter dances or mother-son nights, attendees can end up surrounded by people they don’t necessarily know well. When PTOs organize their own dances, they can keep costs down for families and help build a sense of community at school.
Issues To Consider
Don’t leave anyone out. If you’re planning an event for the girls at your school and their special guys close to Valentine’s Day, try to have a similar event for the boys, even if it’s later in the school year. If boys at your school aren’t interested in a dance, you might organize a parent-child bowling night or dodgeball game. All students will feel included and will have a big event to look forward to. If two such events don’t work with your school calendar or your PTO’s budget, have one special event for all students and their families.
Steer clear of calling your event “father-daughter” or “mother-son.” Although these have come to be classic event names, it’s important to be inclusive of all types of families. In your event marketing and naming, make it clear that any special adult in a student’s life is welcome as children may have been raised by a single mother or father, grandparents, or other adult. Children may also want to bring an older brother, uncle, or family friend who is an important figure in their life. (See the list of alternative name below.)
Add a theme. If your PTO already hosts a sweetheart dance and is looking to switch it up, incorporate a theme! Have guests dress up in 1950s sock hop clothing or in their most glamorous attire for a red carpet debut at the school entrance. You can also encourage kids to show their spirit by asking them to wear the school colors or a matching color with their date (pink dress and pink tie, for example).
Think about money management. Plan ahead how to collect money. If you plan to sell snacks or glow sticks, consider using a punch card system so fewer people have to handle cash.
Amp Up the Fun
Take requests. In the weeks leading up to the event, encourage students to submit appropriate song requests, and pass these along to the DJ ahead of the dance. Kids will be thrilled to hear their choices blasting over the speakers. Family-friendly, fun classics like “Cha-Cha Slide,” “Chicken Dance,” and “YMCA” also will be guaranteed hits. As well, try to hire a DJ who is high-energy and can interact with students. For example, he might teach kids certain dances or lead a game like the limbo.
Capture the moment in pictures. Put a modern twist on those classic, posed event photos and hire a photo booth vendor for spontaneous, silly fun. Bring props like hats, masks, feather boas, stuffed animals, and sunglasses for students and their families to use in their photos. For a Valentine's Day dance, stock a photo booth with artificial roses and heart-shaped items. Kids will be excited to get the instant photo strips, and frequently the photo booths will have an option for the pictures to be emailed to parents instantly. If a rented photo booth isn’t in the budget, set up a simple backdrop and props and encourage attendees to take selfies.
Plan for more than dancing. Kids (and parents!) get tired from hours of dancing, so add a few secondary activities to break up the evening, if possible. Children will love contests like best air guitar, the limbo, a karaoke competition, or “guess that song.” Other activities could include a make-your-own sundae station, bingo, or drawing door prizes. You could also have two areas for students, a place to dance and one for other activities. You could divide the room in half or provide activities in a classroom or hallway. You might even set up a room where students can watch a movie or play board games.
For a dance at Atkinson Elementary in North Andover, Mass., the PTO asked vendors it talked to for ideas on how to keep kids interested in the event. The group had special dance contests, gave away donated raffle prizes, and handed out fun props to keep boys occupied.
For a Valentine's Day dance, consider adding a community service element, like making valentine cards for residents of a local senior center or collecting items for a food pantry.
20 Dance Name Ideas
- Family Sweetheart Dance
- Family Date Night
- VIP Dance
- Kids’ Choice Dance
- Family Gala
- Family Ball
- Tall and Small Ball
- Short and Tall Dance
- Sons Event
- Daughters Dance
- Guys and Dolls
- Dudes and Dolls
- Guys in Ties, Girls in Pearls
- Special Guy/Gal Dance
- KISS (Kids Invite Someone Special) Dance
- Stand by Me Dance
- North Star Dance
- He/She Dance
- Me and My Pal Dance
- Me and My Guy/Gal
- Step by Step
More Ideas for Valentine's Day
Originally published in 2017 and updated regularly