Charmed by Cotillions

When you think of Cotillion, you may evoke images of white-gloved debutantes in the deep South learning which fork to use at a fancy dinner or trying the steps of a lilting waltz. But today’s cotillion is hip and modern—and a lot of fun.

“Cotillion is so much more than putting on a beautiful white dress and learning to dance. It gives both boys and girls the life skills that empower them for success later on in business and social situations,” said local National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC) chapter director Jean Ann Michie. “We want to help young people feel comfortable in any social situation, and to learn how to help others feel comfortable as well; it’s all about learning to build relationships.”

For example, some of the first things attendees practice is how to introduce themselves to someone, introduce others, start and carry on conversations with other children or adults, and how body language plays a role in the way they stand or walk in with confidence. After all, first impressions are extremely important. Skills learned at cotillion can spread beyond the classroom. “I want my students to openly share the information they learn in cotillion and use it to set an example for their friends.”

The National League of Junior Cotillions chapters here in Northern Virginia follow programs that include social interactions, dining and social etiquette, and ballroom dance with professional instructors. Students get to showcase their skills in a fall or winter dance and a fancy spring ball, and have opportunities to go out into the community to both learn from business leaders and practice their skills. “Service helps us to become a whole human being,” Michie said. “And because our programs include leadership skills and service, when our students go to job or scholarship interviews, they can be proud to say that they headed up a service project.”

How Cotillion Changes Lives

The definition of cotillion offered by the NLJC is, “To act and learn to treat others with honor, dignity and respect for better relationships with our family, friends and business associates later in life and to learn to practice ballroom dance.”

“For me, cotillion is the opportunity to learn to engage in the social dance of life,” explained local NLJC chapter director Ann Achiu. “Because the program encourages personal growth and a recognition of the greatness within each student, it empowers students with knowledge of how to handle a variety of situations and encourages them to respect themselves and others in the way they act, speak and interact. I tell my students that there are a lot of things you don’t have control over, but every day you have the ability to choose your attitude and how to treat other people. These small choices, one by one, can change the world, refine you, and help you be the best version of yourself.”

“Students who attend cotillion feel confident and prepared for life, and have a better understanding of what’s expected of them,” Achiu continued. “Every year, I have students who go through the interview process for internships, college admission, scholarships and jobs. Instead of being grouped in the pack with everyone else, that extra polish, refinement and understanding gives them an edge, both in relationships and opportunities.”

“The world is becoming increasingly coarse and harsh, and there is an erosion of what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior, with the biggest offense being a disrespect and lack of regard for others. People are forgetting that they are part of a community and think only of themselves. This not only hurts the offender, but it hurts everyone around them. We need to see others around us and show consideration. That makes us rise to become the type of person we should be.”

Cotillion is Available for Every Student

Cotillion is not just for the rich; it is open and very affordable to anyone who wants to participate. The NLJC programs include: Pre-Cotillion (K-4th grade), Junior Cotillion (5th-8th grade), High School Cotillion Program™ (9th-12th grade), Debutante Cotillion Presentation Society™, and Corporate Cotillion® for corporations and individuals. Cotillion sessions are held once a month for seven months, with most beginning in September.

Each NLJC director manages a territory consisting of different chapters assigned by school region and age. Achiu’s cotillions focus on the 6th through 12th grades, while Michie’s cotillions range from kindergarten through 12th grades. Parents can contact either director to find a chapter in their town or check the NLJC website.

Students can begin cotillion at any age. Some attend for only one year, while others return every year until graduating from high school. While there is some overlap in curriculum, students learn new skills at every level, and what they already learned, they get the opportunity to practice again with new people.

“I wish that every student could participate in cotillion,” Achiu said. “My goal is that when they leave my program, they will have increased self-esteem, respect for themselves and others, and the skills to feel comfortable as they navigate adult life.”

Quick Etiquette Tips

  • Show respect.
  • Put away cell phones and make eye contact when interacting with other people.
  • Honor privacy.
  • Display common courtesies.
  • Mealtimes are for family conversation.
  • Mind your manners.
  • Do good deeds even when no one is looking, and without being asked.
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