Rites of Passage: Junior Cotillion Brings Dance, Etiquette and Life Skills to Pre-Teens
By Lukas Keapproth
On the Thursday evening before Valentine’s Day, around 50 school children gathered in the grand hall of the Austin Country Club to hold each other’s shoulders and waists — with plenty of space in between — and stiffly move to the classical strains of a waltz. Girls were dressed in fancy dresses and boys in sharp sportcoats and khakis. When the music stopped, they looked blankly at one another as they waited for critiques from the instructor.
Welcome to the practice session of West Austin’s chapter of the National League of Junior Cotillions. The organization began in 1979 to teach children about etiquette and life skills, including how to perform those dance steps, carry themselves with confidence, and conduct themselves in social settings.
On this night, the instructor randomly matched each person with a partner. When his partner was announced, Bond Temple, 10, hid his face in his palms. Temple had hoped to dance with a girl on whom he had a crush, but now would have to wait until after the first dance, when people could choose their own partners.
Girls giggled and blushed as their partners approached and awkwardly offered an inviting hand.
As was true of the other children, participating in the cotillion wasn’t 11-year-old Lizzie Cardenas’ idea; her mother had signed her up for the after-school activity.
“I would rather skateboard outside,” Cardenas said, adding that she isn’t interested in the girlier aspects of the cotillion and thinks the dancing is boring. “We dance the waltz, foxtrot, box step, and a bunch of other dances I don’t remember.”
The $345 program consists of a series of classes. On this Thursday, the session focused on how to approach dance partners and properly introduce one’s date. The instructor offered pointers to children who showed the most progress or correctly answered etiquette questions.
Even though Cardenas yawned frequently while dancing with her partner, her moves earned her the title of Queen of the Dance. The instructor placed a tiara on her head, and Cardenas shyly smiled before taking her place on a chair that served as a makeshift throne.