Should I send my middle schooler to cotillion?
You may be wondering if you should send your child to cotillion. Isn’t it outdated? Redundant? Not worth the fight? Well, as a cotillion director, I’m sure you know my answer…
YES! SEND THAT BABY TO COTILLION!
But hear me out.
Cotillion has always been special. But cotillion is different now. What may have been a rigid, memorized, do-as-your-told experience back in the day is now a modern opportunity for children to experience the confidence of mastering a new dance move, the lasting happiness that comes from a lifetime of respectful relationships, and the realization that social media isn’t the same as truly socializing.
Of course, I have lots of reasons why cotillion is important for your child but the ones I hear most from parents include learning social skills from someone other than a parent, spending time in a formal environment, and working on those potentially awkward boy-girl interactions. These three reasons contribute to making cotillion one of the most unique, memorable, and irreplaceable traditions of a child’s social development.
And just so we’re on the same page, here’s my definition of cotillion.
I know you.
I know you’re an awesome mama and you’re doing everything you can to raise polite kids. I know you’re already teaching them at home to keep their elbows off the table and you’ve probably been coaching them to say please and thank you since they first learned to talk. So why make the time, buy the clothes, and spend the money for cotillion? Well, the simple (and, perhaps, blunt) answer is because the instruction is coming from someone besides you.
I have had so many parents tell me that etiquette instruction just hits their kid a little differently when it comes from someone other than a parent. I don’t know what it is, but when kids hear it from someone else, a different authority figure, it just resonates a bit stronger.
A lot of parents home school or help their child with remote learning and have great success (or sometimes they don’t) but, for some reason, when the topic switches from algebra to how they should behave in social situations, kids can bristle up. When these lessons in social behavior come from someone else, the children seem more receptive and their parents’ words are validated.
I view my role as etiquette instructor as a supplement and a back-up to what you’re teaching at home. I want to be your echo. I want us to work together and for you to be able to say “Hey, when did Mrs. Dunn say you were supposed to send out those thank you notes?” Think of me as your wing woman. Except we’re helping your kids be better humans, not helping you find a date. Though I do know a lot of people if you’re looking… just saying. Ok, moving on.
The environment at cotillion is probably unlike anything your kid has ever participated in. They attend (for the most part) without their parents, the venue is likely very different from their usual hangouts, their clothes are looking sharper than normal, and they dance with a partner (which, contrary to popular belief, does not make them boyfriend-girlfriend, gasp!).
This environment is typically way out of the norm for most kids these days and I LOVE the awe and rapt attention it generates.
Is it possible they’re just scared to death? Yes.
But I like to think it’s because they’re in a formal environment where they know they need to mind their p’s and q’s.
Whatever the reason, when they arrive to that first class, I can tell I have their full attention and I consciously make the most of that opportunity to speak to their hearts about how kindness and respect for others will make them happier humans.
Cotillion exposes your kid to the “practice version” of a formal environment. An environment to learn and correct mistakes. Nobody wants their first formal dining experience to be one that counts. Like when you’re sitting across from your employer or future in-laws.
This formal environment of cotillion is intentional and is not something that can be replicated at home or school or church. When kids show up to cotillion surrounded by their peers all dressed in coats and ties or party dresses, they carry themselves in a different way. They stand a little straighter and like any human, they begin to behave a little more polished when their outward appearance is polished.
The calculated environment of cotillion is set up so they can fully jump in as a student of etiquette and become that young lady or gentleman we are all thrilled to see.
The dancing may be my favorite part of cotillion.
I love to dance. I’m not the best dancer but I really enjoy it and I love the joy and confidence it brings the kids when they master a new move.
But really, the best part of the dancing curriculum is the opportunity to introduce healthy and polite relationships between members of the opposite sex in a safe, no-pressure environment.
At a middle school dance, there is a bit of a stigma that if you dance with a girl you must like her and want to be her boyfriend. It’s awkward at best. And, to begin with, it’s awkward at cotillion too. But at cotillion, everybody is dancing, everybody is learning, and we’re constantly rotating partners. It takes that pressure off and they can simply enjoy dancing and being around their friends.
As middle schoolers, you and I both know they’re naturally beginning to be interested in the opposite sex. Dancing at cotillion is a very gentle way to ease into that realm. It starts them off on the right foot by introducing courtesy, respect, consent, boundaries, kindness, and chivalry.
For example, I teach them how to ask someone to dance. We practice the exact wording, so the gentlemen have the polite words (and the courage) to ask a girl to dance. And then I teach the ladies how to humbly accept or kindly decline that invitation.
In my cotillion classes, the dancing is taught very casually with a 20% focus on correct footwork and an 80% focus on having fun and interacting with your partner. I want them to get used to making eye contact and chit chatting at a close distance. As they work together to master a dance move, they each need the other. They’re focused on the challenge at hand and for a quick second, they forget they’re supposed to feel weird around each other. And then, before things have a chance to get awkward again, I say “gentlemen, thank your partners and move one to the right.”
There it is. My top three reasons for why you should consider sending your middle schooler to cotillion.
I hope you can see where cotillion fits in to your parenting strategy. It’s so much more than the punch and fluffy dresses and waltzing (albeit three of my favorite things). Today’s cotillion programs are covering a major gap for our young people by providing explicit instruction in all things courteous and giving an avenue for true socialization.