Junior Cotillion teaches manners
Twelve years ago, Jan Cohn was teaching tennis to young people in Columbia, when a friend from Charleston called to tell her about a neat program for preteens she had seen while in Arkansas – Junior Cotillion. Cohn’s friend was absolutely positive she was the perfect person to bring the program to the youth of Columbia. After much soul searching and conversing with the folks at the National League of Junior Cotillions office, she decided to give it a try.
Junior Cotillion is a two–year program designed to teach young people the life skills of manners, etiquette, and contemporary ballroom dancing. Cohn admits young ladies tend to acquire these skills along the way, but sometimes aren’t comfortable in mixed social situations.
Young men, however, are likely to miss out on some of the finer points of social etiquette and dancing altogether if not formally taught because many of their social interactions are related to sports which have their own sets of rules. She says about 50% of those who begin the program complete both years. For many, one year is not enough because of the huge amount of material that must be covered in depth to lay the foundations.
Cohn says, “It is very important for young men and women to have a good self image because it helps them to be comfortable with who they are in whatever situation they may find themselves.” Junior Cotillion definitely helps develop social graces and takes some of the discomfort out of meeting and interacting with new people.
Cohn works with school principals and parent volunteers to identify potential participants who are nominated by an advisory board during their fifth grade year for participation in Junior Cotillion, which begins during the sixth grade year. Invitations are issued and parents attend a reception to learn more about the purposes and benefits of Junior Cotillion.
Year one skills include greetings and introductions, proper etiquette for standing, shaking hands, and removing one’s hat at the appropriate time. It also includes answering invitations, writing thank– you notes, party manners, proper table manners, and communication etiquette. It goes without saying, of course, participants also learn steps and rules of popular dances like the Macarena, Electric Slide, and more traditional dance forms like the Waltz, Foxtrot, and Shag.
Year two builds on the skills learned the previous year. The dances become more complex and students practice interview skills and proper dress code for formal and informal/casual events. Each year has a handbook to serve as practice guide and future resource. The first notebook even teaches young men how to tie a tie.
There are two major events each year. The Holiday Dance in December is the first opportunity for students to show their parents what they have learned. The Spring Ball (usually held at the Marriott downtown) is an opportunity to use skills at a formal event. As an added bonus, at the end of year two, just before the Spring Ball, students participate in a formal five–course sit–down dinner where they learn the five courses of a formal dinner, the reasons for each course, and how to use 13 pieces of tableware properly. They also get the opportunity to socialize with people outside their school groups and to ask any etiquette questions. Cohn says, “Junior Cotillion is not just about becoming comfortable with yourself and others, it is about making others comfortable in your presence.”