Sweetheart Ball touches the hearts of East Lansing families

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Sabrina Seldon

The return of East Lansing Valentine’s Day-inspired Sweetheart Ball was a welcome sign for many that we are getting past the depths of the pandemic.

East Lansing residents enjoyed a Valentine’s Day-inspired night at the city’s annual Sweetheart Ball on Feb. 8-9 at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center. 

Back for the first year since 2020, the dance was hosted by East Lansing Parks, Recreation and Arts.

Families and their little sweethearts enjoyed a DJ, dancing, snacks, refreshments, a magic mirror photo booth and craft table. 

This was the first ball since COVID pandemic restrictions were lifted, and the community was glad to see it back. The Sweetheart Ball started in the early 2000s and originally was a father-daughter dance. 

Shane Johnson and his daughter Nora Johnson had been attending the dance for years since she was young. 

“I think it’s a great thing for the community, especially seeing what we went through as a world with the whole pandemic over the last couple of years,” Shane Johnson said. “It’s great bringing people back and bringing the community together for positive events.”

Kathleen Miller, the city’s recreation and youth program coordinator, worked on organizing the dance. 

She designed a flyer to market the dance, contacted vendors, shopped for supplies and treats, decorated the event site and found volunteers and staff to run the event. 

According to Miller, the dance was changed to be for all members of the community because it is “important to us to become more inclusive.”

Tristin Tanner works for the parks department and Miller asked her to help out with the ball. 

“I primarily was tasked with checking people in. After the second night I helped take all the decorations down and store them,” Tanner said. 

Miller said, “attendance was way down from 2020 where we had close to 600 people over the two nights. I think a lot of people are still cautious and others didn’t find out about the dance. Taking off two years for COVID definitely had an impact,” Miller said. 

The dance had the same offerings as 2020. Tickets were $14 per person. 

“I think the best part of the ball was actually seeing people participating in an event like this. Since the pandemic, I haven’t seen that so it felt a little surreal,” Tanner said. 

Miller would like to get back to having a higher attendance. 

“There’s not a lot of opportunities for families to get out to dance, spend time with other families and do other activities this time of the year, Miller said. 

Joseph Parcell and his daughter attended the dance for the first time this year.

“I think it’s a great way to bring people together. It’s great to live in a community that does this kind of stuff for the people who live here,” Parcell said. 

Miller and Tanner noted that all the feedback they received from the event was positive, and parents thanked the city for hosting the event. 

“All the feedback we received was positive. Folks are happy to have the event back again. Happy to spend time with loved ones. Folks like getting dressed up,” Miller said.

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