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John Harte / Special to The Californian

Six-year-old Reese Hodgson dances in the arms of her dad, Jason Hodgson, at one of the annual father-daughter Valentine's Dances at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Bakersfield.

When he heads off to the father/ daughter dance at his church Friday, Lee Shaw's dance card will be a little less crowded this year.

His daughter Hanah, 18, is away at college in Tennessee and will miss the dance for the first time since she and Shaw started attending 13 years ago.

"Her dad was more heartbroken at first, but now that it's here and she knows he's taking our youngest one, she's kinda sad," said Hanah's mom, Diana Shaw, chief coordinator, cookie slinger and coffee maker at the pre-Valentine's Day event that has become a cherished tradition for scores of Bakersfield families.

"But Daddy's sending her flowers on Friday."

One Shaw who isn't shedding any tears over Hanah's misfortune is her little sister Emma, 10, who finally gets Dad all to herself for the event, which has taken on prom-like proportions for some families. The Shaws are a perfect example: Emma got her dress in October, Mom will take her and a friend for a little pre-dance pampering at a local beauty school, and she and Dad will team up with several other father/daughter couples for a dinner out on the town.

"It's fun watching them get giddy and giggly," Mrs. Shaw said. "Emma told her dad this morning not to wear such strong cologne because when they slow-dance, it's too strong for her."

Though First Presbyterian Church hosts the dance, the vast majority of attendees are not members of the congregation.

"Last year we had about 1,200 people," Shaw said. "It seems to go up 100 or so every year."

Beyond the prayer that opens the dance, the event is not religious in nature, said Mrs. Shaw, who noted that the deejay's song list consists of hits popular with tweens and teens.

"He does a lot of requests. It's always very clean and appropriate. He'll play the standbys like 'Butterfly Kisses' and the ones that make the dads want to cry."

The decor is "very girly," and a professional photographer offers packages starting at $20. A variety of desserts are offered with the $5-per-person admission, and dads with an abundance of daughters need not worry: the family rate maxes out at $15.

Though the church offers ample parking, Mrs. Shaw said some attendees might need to get creative since the dance falls during First Friday, the popular monthly arts event that draws dozens of people downtown.

"We get to use the credit union parking (across Truxtun). Downtown is going to be hopping this week. I hope the restaurants are prepared."

The Shaw sisters have certainly done their part to boost the attendance every year.

"I think the blessing is the outreach," their mother said. "My daughters go to friends who don't know about it and make sure their dads bring them. They want everyone to know and care about it and experience it too. That's pretty impactful. It allows us to see it really has made a difference."