In our fast-paced world loaded with laptops, smart phones, tablets and desktop computers – is there any room for table manners, interview skills, dancing and conversation?
If we take away Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and text messaging, do we still know how to communicate? We see pictures posted on the internet of families sitting at a dinner together, each engrossed in whatever is happening on their own telephones, oblivious to the people with whom they are sharing a table. In the internet world do manners matter?
Diane Brooks and the National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC) would respond with an enthusiastic, but very polite, “Yes!” Diane, who has been active with her chapter of the NLJC since 2003, instructs youngsters in both Pre-Cotillion and Junior Cotillion. Pre-cotillion is intended for children in grades kindergarten through grade four and Junior Cotillion includes youngsters from grades five through twelve.
Cotillion – the word is reminiscent of a bygone era of grace and hospitality that many may think ended about the same time that the movie, “Gone with the Wind” premiered. Not so, says Diane. The NLJC is a very active organization with a chapter for youngsters in our area. Yes, ballroom dancing is still involved. But the experience is so much more, according to Diane who is the Director of the Golden Triangle Chapter of the National League of Junior Cotillions.
Think of personal attributes that are in style and highly prized, in every social and professional situation, when you think cotillion. Think of honor and mannered dignity, with an emphasis on respect. “Pre-cotillion and junior cotillion are valuable tools used to impart dancing and social skills in a fun environment,” says Diane.
Sandy Vaught, mother of Chase and Channing, has high praise for her children’s involvement in the Golden Triangle Chapter of the NLJC. “When I think back about our experience with the cotillion program, I am flooded with memories of my preschoolers learning birthday party etiquette with Peanut the elephant and learning how to eat spaghetti. I also remember my daughter attending a tea party and being so excited that she was being served by the Queen of Hearts, who was a High School cotillion volunteer and one of the ballerinas from her ballet school.”
“Throughout the years they enjoyed the dances, balls, sock-hops and hoe-downs. They learned the skills and manners that will benefit them in all aspects of life in the future and provide them with confidence of how to handle specific social situations.”
The program is designed, says Brooks, to teach age-appropriate etiquette and social dance to students to help them be better prepared for the future, and the social and professional situations they may encounter. For younger children, confidence-building lessons include introductions, correspondence and table manners. For the older participants, formal dining, international etiquette, and interview skills are taught.
According to their website (nljc.com) the mission of the national organization is:
To act and learn to treat others with honor, dignity and respect for better relationships with family, friends and associates and to learn and practice ballroom dance.
Stephanie Bishop, mother to Cole Bishop who is a junior cotillion alum, says, “The Cotillion program that Diane runs has been one of the best experiences of our son’s life to date. This is one of those activities that no boy and only some girls want to attend when they are just starting 6th grade. They feel so awkward about asking others to dance.”
“My husband was adamant that Cole would attend. While there are many benefits to attending cotillion (manners, introductions, interview skills, place settings, formal dinners) besides dancing skills, I convinced Cole that one day he would be at a wedding reception and women and girls would want to dance, but alas the men would not be able to. He would then have a tool that would make him stand out from the rest. He loves to dance and told me how much he appreciated me ‘convincing’ him to attend.”
Diane confirms, “Our goal is to give the students an environment to learn and practice these skills among their peers so they become confident and it is second nature to call upon them as they grow up.” After three years of lessons, those students are then allowed to become ‘assistants’ to help mentor younger students. The older students can also receive community service hours for the time they commit to assisting the younger ones. “What better way to reinforce the lessons taught in Junior Cotillion than having the student use them by being positive examples?” she asks.
Students also have the opportunity to be exposed to cultural events such as ushering at the Symphony and hosting at special social occasions. “For several years our older participants have been asked to perform in a Florida Lakes Symphony concert by dancing a Viennese Waltz during one of the symphony performances. The children look forward to dressing in white ball gowns and tails while dancing for the symphony audience, a treasured memory,” explains Diane.
Numerous NLJC students have been awarded the “Sister City” exchange scholarship, as well. This allows them to go to Flores Scotland as a Mount Dora’s exchange student representative.
Diane says past students have said the interview skills they learned by participating in NLJC have helped them to win scholarships. Some report that the junior cotillion experience expanded their options and opened doors to extraordinary experiences for them. One of Diane’s junior cotillion students went on to become “Miss Ocala” and then on to the Miss Florida pageant. Others have gone on to bright and varied careers including author, a news anchor, and even international linguist.
“The true confidence and poise gained by the reinforcement of social skills in a fun and reassuring environment cannot be measured,” say Brooks.
Sandy Vaught agrees, “I want to share a story. This summer we were in Aruba having dinner on the beach and a singer was performing. Several adult couples were dancing to the song “Lady in Red”. My 14 year old son asked his 12 year old sister to dance and they proceeded to do the box step which they learned in cotillion. All of the adults were so impressed to see teenagers dancing! We are going to my nephew’s formal wedding in December and I look forward to watching Chase and Channing dance again!”
Follow National League of Junior Cotillions Golden Triangle Chapter on Facebook here: Golden Triangle Chapter of NLJC Facebook
Diane Brooks is starting her 13th season with the Golden Triangle Chapter National League of Junior Cotillions.
Melissa DeMarco, Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)