Dance critic

Dads don’t usually get a diva moment. Deadbeat dads, Disney dads, dad jeans — our dad-related lingo betrays a none-too-flattering assessment of the men who raised us. This also extends to Dad’s musicality. It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the dorkiest things a dad can do is dance, especially in public.

Yet in some bright glades of the Internet, dancing dads are all the rage. (See, for instance, the hilarious father-daughter wedding-dance medleys on YouTube.) This summer, the dancing dad has emerged as the surprise darling of social media.

He’s come to the rescue, the way dads do, just when we need him the most. At a time when all the news feels especially bad, he’s swooped in to buck us up, make us laugh and show us what love looks like.

Goodness knows, we could use more dancing dads.


Ciara meets baby Kristian at the family’s dance studio in New Jersey. (Terrell Brown)

The latest family man to move us with his moves is Kennith Thomas. At the end of July, Thomas, a 34-year-old father of four, posted a cute video of him and his baby son on Instagram and Facebook that quickly went viral, drawing millions of views and eventually landing Thomas on Fox News. What made it so special? Dad is dancing for an audience of one, his little boy, watching from his crib at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Kristian has leukemia, and had just finished his first round of chemo. Dad dances for joy, but it’s not simply a dance of release. It’s a papa’s pas de deux. He’s drawing Kristian into it.

Thomas, a choreographer who runs the Level Dance Complex in Pennsauken, N.J., pumps his shoulders and whirls his elbows around with ease. But what gets you, more than his skill, is the intensity of his focus on Kristian. He locks eyes with his son, and Kristian returns his gaze with a look of sober appraisal. Soon, the little boy breaks into delighted applause and open-mouthed kudos. He even follows along, waving his plump little hands on the beat and wiggling his toes.

The song they’re dancing to is “Level Up,” an infectious new release from R&B singer Ciara. She reposted the video for her more than 19 million Instagram followers, and since then, there has been no stopping it. (She also recently visited the family at their dance studio to swivel through her own dance for Kristian.)

Kristian faces some tough challenges — he also has Down syndrome — but “he’s a little fireball. He’s always energetic,” Thomas said, laughing with pride, in a recent interview. “He’s taking it like a champion. He’s very, very strong.”

Thomas spoke from Kristian’s hospital room while the boy napped; he and his wife, Josilyne, were back for the second round of chemo. A few days ago, they learned that the leukemia was in remission. Still, the 16-month-old faces more weeks of chemo — more catheters in his chest, more tests, more hospital stays.

And more dad dances.

“Being a dancer, number one, I needed to start moving,” said Thomas, explaining how the idea of the dances came about. With the hospital stays, Thomas has had to cut back on teaching, which has meant that the only way to keep in shape is to work out by Kristian’s crib.

“That’s what sparked the idea to start moving and dancing for him,” Thomas said. “And I wanted to give him some positive energy. I wanted him to see that his dad is 100 percent behind him. And we’re going to get through it and make it work with a smile on our face.

“Yes, it’s a life-threatening situation, and we’re going to look that in the face and move forward and have a victory at the end.”

Thomas’s fame follows that of Marc Daniels, a father of three in Bermuda who blazed across the Internet at the end of May as he danced alongside his 2-year-old daughter, Bella, at her ballet recital rehearsal. The video shows Bella having a full-blown meltdown onstage — until Dad walks on. He’s cradling his youngest daughter, an infant, in one hand; with the other, he gently guides Bella, twirling around with her. By the end of the number, Bella — newly confident — is dancing on her own. Daniels has been dubbed “Daderina.”

Daniels is another dancing dad, a father who unself-consciously makes a corporeal display of the boundlessness of paternal love. Dancing dad, the hero. Oh, the ironies are thick. On YouTube, there’s a clever ad for an Australian movie-streaming company that channels every kid’s fear: acute death by embarrassment, caused by the dad who awkwardly gyrates in front of his daughter and — gasp — her friends.


Kennith Thomas, wife Josilyne and baby Kristian. (Kennith and Josilyne Thomas)

Therein lies the coolness of the real-life dancing dad. He’s the opposite of embarrassing! He’s uplifting by way of a profound, unspoken understanding of the situation and of his child. He’s fluent in a wordless language, in the immediate transference of emotions. Through his dance, he forges a spontaneous, healing bond with his youngster whose power can be felt by millions of onlookers.

Within his body, stereotypes are vanquished. The distant dad is overshadowed by the physically present dad. The clueless dad yields to the one who knows exactly what his kid needs. Father and child move as one, an alignment of body and spirit, one consciousness merging with another.

So many forces exist to tear us apart from those we love. These videos give us an example of what can glue us together.

Of course, it would be dads stepping in to reframe dadhood. Fixing stuff is such a dad thing.