The middle school years are a time of awkward change for children, both emotionally and socially. So it makes sense for parents to enroll their children in the most awkward extracurricular activity imaginable. Of course I am talking about Junior Cotillion. This program does a great job of teaching manners and proper etiquette, and they have even modernized to include “Netiquette”, which involves cell phone use and the perils of social media.
“Society” tells us that sixth grade is the best time for our young ones to learn how to perform a grand march, waltz and other practices they will never use again in their life unless their blood type is a downtown zip code. Thankfully, we have some parents who enroll their fifth grader in these classes to ratchet up the level of awkwardness among children to maximum levels. If you are a parent and are unsure how this process works, let Not My Boys foxtrot you through the Junior Cotillion season.
Junior Cotillion has grown quite a bit since I participated in this rite of passage back in sixth grade. It is hard to remember how I felt when my mom dropped me off at a motor lodge on Wade Hampton Blvd. and told me this is where I was going to learn manners and ballroom dancing. Yes, you read that right, Cotillion used to take place at a now demolished motor lodge known as the Colonial Court. Looking back, it seems strange that Cotillion was held at a place where on Sunday afternoons the moms dropped their kids off for etiquette lessons and on Tuesdays at lunch some dads met their girlfriends, but it’s the South, where things can be complicated. I can still remember some of the valuable things I learned at Cotillion that have continued to serve me well today. For example, how to offer a lady a cup of tea. Handle out of course. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been out on the town and stumbled across a hot tea station and thank my lucky stars I have this lesson in my back pocket.
To my knowledge there was only one Cotillion class serving Greenville when I was a child, now there are several different chapters serving the ever growing Greenville community. The Junior Cotillion in which my child participated was hosted by the National League of Junior Cotillions - Poinsett Club Chapter, which serves Downtown and the Westside of Greenville. There are Pre-Cotillion programs and programs for 7th/8th graders, but this blog will focus on the first year of Junior Cotillion during which the following life lessons will be taught: greetings and introductions; telephone courtesy; “how to's” of conversation and networking; use of stationary; appropriate behavior in group settings; refreshment etiquette; escorting and seating; paying and receiving compliments; polite conversation; manners in the home; table manners and use of silver; responsibilities of a guest, host/hostess; and many other areas of social behavior, such as how to mingle with foreigners from the Eastside of Greenville. As a native Eastsider, my kids have already been taught how to respond to basic ice breakers -- “Tell me again where Pelham Road is?” and “Does Sugar Creek flow into the Reedy?” -- but Cotillon will cover deeper topics like best hotels to stay when visiting Thornblade and clearing up common misconceptions, such as Spaulding Farm is a hunt club and Five Forks is a table setting.
The fall season was broken into six classes culminating with the season-ending Holly Ball. No detail is too small, including the names of the six classes.
Of course, proper dress is required. This will be the first time some of the boys will be introduced to pants. Even for those who are more advanced and have worn pants before, this will be the first time their pants don’t have a swoosh or Under Armour logo on them. We are not sure at what point in history the khaki pant became formal wear in the eyes of young boys, but I for one am thankful we have Junior Cotillon to introduce our young people to this versatile pant. Here is the official dress code so you can start planning for this meltdown in 2nd grade.
All sessions are dress-up affairs for which careful grooming is required. Ladies should wear conservative dresses or skirts, short white gloves, and dress shoes for dances. Gentlemen should wear khaki pants, dress shirts, ties and navy or dark blazers. No athletic shoes please.
Besides writing a check, as a parent you do have some responsibilities. Unless you are part of the competitive ballroom dancing scene that was recently written about in the Greenville Journal, you will be required to attend one class to re-learn the waltz. This skill will be needed at the Holly Ball, as you will dance with your child during the final minutes of the ball.
A certain number of chaperones will be needed for each class. The fact that you are reading this blog tells me you strive for excellence in all things you do, and you will want to sign up to chaperone the grand finale Holly Ball. More than a dozen couples will have the distinct honor to chaperone the ball and experience an hour and a half of middle school life that you have been trying to forget for the last 30 years. As a chaperone of the most recent Holly Ball, let me help provide you some inside tips on what to expect.
There are some initial shocks you will have to overcome before the event even starts. The first is when your wife tells you the Holly Ball is on a Monday night and you will be wearing a tux. There is nothing more unnatural than cummerbunds on a Monday night. On second thought, there is nothing more unnatural than cummerbunds on any night.
Your first question will be, “How long does it last?” She will reply, “Since we are chaperoning we have to be there at 5:30. The rest of the parents only have to be there the final 15 minutes, so they arrive around 7:45.” You will be speechless, your jaw will be on the floor; this will be the first time you find out that not all parents are there the whole time and if you weren’t chaperoning you would not have to be there until the end. Your wife will sense your weak legs and come in for the final uppercut when she says, “The ball ends at 8:00pm, but some moms have scheduled an after party that ends at 9:30pm.” You will not hear the part about the cash bar because you will be recovering from the head injury that occurred when you fainted shorty after hearing “9:30pm.”
Studies show that some parents experience an involuntary response when the doors of the Poinsett Club open and within 30 minutes they require Tito’s or red wine to avoid a violent reaction. You can go ahead and add Junior Cotillion to the ever-growing list of events (which includes swim meets, kindergarten graduations, egg hunts, Santa brunches, character breakfasts, YMCA soccer banquets, little league games, kids birthday parties, and baptisms) at which parents feel the need to consume alcohol.
Speaking of swim meets, when you first arrive, the hallway will be filled with more than 100 kids in dresses and tuxedos all trying to talk louder than the person next to them. The scene will resemble the chaos under a swim team tent minus the nacho cheese and fun dip. The cash bar is becoming much more understandable now.
The chaperones are assigned different responsibilities. To help you better understand what role you might be assigned, here is a breakdown:
Child responsibility: Each boy and girl are put into pairs by the director and lined up outside the ballroom. The male is to escort his partner into the ballroom and introduce both of them to the hosts and hostesses at the door.
Chaperone responsibility: Four couples will serve in the role of hosts. There are two lines of kids coming in, so two couples man one side of the door and two more on the other side. As the kids enter the room, the male introduces the couple to the first host, then that host introduces the couple to the next, and they work down the line.
Now that you understand how this works, this seems like a simple station to man as a chaperone, unless you are a germaphobe; then it becomes your own personal Chernobyl. Every other child will have a cold/runny nose. Once you overcome the fact that body aches and cold sweats are in your near future, you best get focused because these kids are coming in hot and fast. The best way to prepare for this task is to stand at the start line of the Turkey Trot next year and attempt to catch the name of each runner and then try to turn and introduce them to the person next to you.
Some chaperones will be tasked to judge the kids on a couple of different dances. Before you are too harsh on their dancing abilities, remember that most of them will not be able to feel any part of their body because it will be the first time they have ever had to ask another person to dance with them. There is one dance where a girl must go ask a guy to dance, and one dance where the boy must ask a girl. I love that we are teaching our young ones how to properly ditch the partner they are paired with to go ask someone else to dance.
There is an art to picking your dance partner, and partners fall into a couple of different groups. To accurately judge, you need to understand these groups.
1. Ace in the hole: This group will look relatively comfortable because they will have known each other since they were little kids and their parents are friends. Most likely their parents will even suggest they pick this partner if they are nervous about who to pick. My daughter fell into this category. There was a boy there she has known for a long time and she knew she could count on him. She tried to play it cool, but when you have an ace in the hole you leave nothing to chance. Just picture Usain Bolt speed walking. That is what she looked like making sure she got her pick.
2. West Virginians: Please deduct two points from this group. This is when cousins pick each other to dance.
3. Playing up: Please add two points to this group. This when the fifth grade boy asks the sixth grade girl to dance. This will be easy to spot. The girl will be two feet taller than the boy with a look of horror on her face and the boy will be all smiles.
You may be assigned to hand out punch and a small cupcake. This took place in another room and I was not in there, but it has to be the easiest assignment because everyone who did it came back in the room still able to smile and their general zest for life remained intact.
Now that you have a general idea of the chaperone responsibilities, let’s review some things you can do at home before the ball to make your experience special for you and your child.
-Mandatory: Flu, Whooping Cough, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chicken pox, Tetanus, Rabies
-Suggested: Hepatitis A, B and C, Typhoid, Shingles, Polio, Malaria, Yellow Fever
2. Practice juggling knives
If you can become comfortable juggling knives, you will then have no problem handling the two spears they give you to pin corsages and boutonnières on the children at the ball. You don’t want to have that deer in the headlights look on your face when little Susie asks you to pin her corsage.
3. Touch up your suture skills
This will come in handy when someone ignores #2 and you have to remove a spear impaled in Susie’s shoulder and then close the wound up to prevent her from bleeding out.
4. Eat dinner at 10pm
Do this every Monday for a month before the ball to prepare your body for this startling adjustment it must make.
I hope you have found this to be helpful as you navigate the Junior Cotillion scene. While the kids may not use the foxtrot in everyday life, they do use a lot of the lessons learned, like interacting with adults, general good manners and the new lesson taught: learning to talk to their friends in person instead of through a chat app. So go ahead and sign your kids up despite the fact they will not get to experience tea and cookies at the Colonial Court.