Minding their manners

By Matthew Lee

As Alice Newman ’11 walked into the enormous room, crystal chandeliers glittered above the wooden dance floor. The chairs were aligned in perfect symmetry around the central, stage-like floor. Despite her nerves, Newman glanced up at the room filled with strangers, pulsing with the shuffling of children dressed in formal attire. Her spirits lifted when she joined her friends, but still felt awkward standing in such a spacious room not knowing most of the other children. Alice was in fourth grade and it was her first time at Cotillion.

Newman is not the only student who attended Cotillion in her younger years – and is also not the only one who experienced awkwardness or discomfort in Cotillion class. Maguire Parsons ’11, Brian Harwitt ’11 and Connor Ross ’11 have been close friends since their Curtis Elementary School days, and distinctly remember their experiences making their way through Cotillion class years ago. Nowadays, they always play golf with each other or hang out together at each other’s houses – all pastimes they enjoy. But one thing in their past that they are not so fond of was attending Cotillion. In fourth grade, their parents decided that their boys should go to Cotillion together. Despite their mother’s insistence that they learn proper etiquette and manners, the boys say that they ended up not really paying attention to the instructors, but instead joking around with each other.

For Parsons, being in Cotillion was “a waste of my time.” Parsons said that he doesn’t remember any of the dances or other skills that he learned during the class.

Cotillion consists of manners training that begins in fourth grade and can continue until eighth grade. Boys and girls attend classes once a month at various country clubs, such as the Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades, where these boys attended, or the Jonathon Club. The parents of the children that are interested in Cotillion send their child’s name to the club along with two letters of recommendation that are written by the parents of anyone that has already been in Cotillion.

Students in Cotillion learn proper social etiquette and formal dances such as the Foxtrot and the Waltz. During each session, they also work on skills in communication and socialization. Most students are in Cotillion from grades four to six. Each monthly session lasts about two hours. During each class, there is a five minute meeting where the instructors discuss what they will be teaching for that day’s lesson, and then the students are taught either a dance or manners.

Boys and girls of the appropriate ages are sent invitations to attend Cotillion. The Riviera in particular sends out invitations based on connections to the club. Members’ children and other students associated with the club are sent invitations as well.

At Cotillion, the students are required to dress in formal attire; boys wear suits, and girls wear dresses and white gloves. Sara Best ’11 recalled that she forgot one of her gloves, and while all of the others girls sat properly wearing their correct attire, she sat feeling embarrassed wearing only one glove. From then on, she never forgot her gloves.

Alex Knight ’11, who went to three Cotillion classes at the Riviera as well when he was 11 years old and then decided to stop attending, said that the only things that he was focusing on during the classes was his anger at his parents for making him go and the other activities that he would much rather be doing.

Simon attended the Rivera Cotillion from fourth to sixth grade.

“Cotillion taught me good manners, and it helped me meet new people,” said Griffy Simon ’11.