Cdr. Matthew Kiser and Annalee, 8, enjoy YMCA Father & Daughter Dance. Photo by Chris Stone
Cmdr. Matthew Kiser and Annalee enjoy YMCA Armed Services Father Daughter Dance. Photo by Chris Stone

No doubt few recruits have seen the comical side of Raymond Bankes. After all, he’s a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

But there he was Friday night — in his dress blues sitting in a photo booth sporting a plastic horse head. Beside him: his young daughter, Aunaleigh.

“It gives good father-daughter time, especially since we are always working,” said the staff sergeant at the 12th annual Father & Daughter Dance hosted by Armed Services YMCA San Diego. “It’s some alone time away so that we can hang out and be goofy together.”

Bankes said said it has been three years since he has been to the dance because of his work.

The event at the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley included refreshments of popcorn and punch, a dinner, magic show, dance and gift for the daughters — a colorful flashing heart necklace.

Tim Ney said that when he became executive director of the local Armed Services YMCA, he evaluated all of the programs, and took a second look at the father-daughter dance.

“I thought it was cute, but was it really what the people needed?” said Ney, who previously was in the military.

Then he attended with his 10-year-old daughter and that sold him.

A father and daughter create a fun photo at the YMCA Father & Daughter Dance.
A father and daughter create a fun photo at the YMCA Father Daughter Dance. Photo by Chris Stone

“It’s an incredible bonding experience,” Ney said, adding that it’s especially important because many military members are deployed six to nine months of the year.

Half of the 320 attendees — mostly Marines and Navy — were returnees, he said. One serviceman traveled nearly 90 miles from Hemet. One father was a member of the U.S. Air Force.

Said a returnee, Marine Maj. Frank Machniak: “It’s just a special night to give back to my daughter because I get to go to work and do what I love to do. She is 6 years old and this is the fourth place she has lived in.

“It’s just a good night to give back to her and let her have a good time and feeling really important and feel like she should.”

He and his daughter, Lillian, attended last year for the first time. “We’ve been looking forward to it all year,” he said.

Friday night was a second visit for Pedro Cenaperez, a construction mechanic second class, with his two daughters.

Two years ago, he brought his older daughter, Rose, to the dance “and [she] hasn’t stopped talking about it since then,” he said. “That’s why we’re here again.”

Asked what she liked about the event, Rose said, “I like the popcorn. I also like the part when I was drinking the punch and it was spilling. It was kinda funny.”

Her father added: “I feel that is something that she’ll remember when she’s grown up, so it’s very important to us and we’ll continue doing it as long as we are here.”

For Leonard Eugene and his daughter Le’Ona, 15, it was their seventh dance, a custom that started when she was 6.

Damian Bertrand and his daughter, Dania, 8, enjoy dancing.
Navy Corpsman Damian Bertrand and his daughter, Dania, 8, enjoy dancing. Photo by Chris Stone

“It means a lot,” said the senior chief aviation ordnanceman. “It gives us an opportunity to come together and dress up real fancy and have some really nice daughter-daddy time, dancing together, eat some interesting food and just bond. Afterwards we just hit the town and go downtown.”

Eugene said he is presently surprised that his teenage daughter still is interested in attending. She is as excited about the evening as he is, he said.

And it’s not going to end this year.

Le’Ona said even at 20 she’ll still be having fun with her father on the dance floor.