Cotillion Chronicles by Dani Shear

You think you know your children. Sometimes they surprise you.

“Mom, I want to do Cotillion”.
“Come again?”
“Sign me up for Cotillion, please”.
“White gloves, formal dress, dancing with boys…THAT Cotillion?”

This is my ten year old, cool cat, still thinks boys are gnarly, point guard on her b’ball team, free spirited daughter.
I quickly rewind my brain, ascertaining if it’s April Fools Day?
“First cotillion class is this Friday. Everyone’s doing it.”
My daughter is suddenly a follower, albeit one in black chiffon.

I begrudgingly bring her to the first class. There is no NO WAY we can let any of our old Venice Beach pals get wind of this. They’ll totally disown us. It's got to be our secret.
“You know that Jews don’t do this type of thing, don’t you?” is my last ditch effort as we pull up to the venue. My daughter just ignores me.

The people who run this show, Mr. and Mrs. C, are perfectly cast: middle aged, slightly doughy and very serious. They both refer to each other in the third person, as in:
“Mr. C, will you be talking and fooling around when someone is giving a toast?”
“Why no, Mrs. C…that would be terrible manners.”
Certain she is ready to bail, I glance over to my daughter. She is sitting with one of her besties, sipping pink lemonade and giving almost reverential attention to Mr. and Mrs. C.
All I can think is: What did they put in her drink???

Mr. and Mrs. C then pull out silverware that they use to illustrate table manners. They remind the children never to place those pesky elbows on the table. I am momentarily hypnotized by the faux silverware and how it’s velcro’d on to the velvet platter.  Music is suddenly surround-sounded and they encourage everyone to get up and find a partner. Although no young participant would admit it, there is much anticipation over which boy will ask which girl to dance. Two girls don’t get asked and have to dance with Mr. C. My sympathies go out to them. Mr. C, however, does engage them in lively conversation while most of the fifth grade couples barely make eye contact. My daughter looks especially uncomfortable, dancing with the brother of her best friend.

Suddenly, this whole cotillion thing feels especially rich to me. Not monetarily, but in material. And just like that, I become obsessed. I tell my husband he’s off the hook. I’m going to chaperone every cotillion event. I will dress up and smile and take pictures. Because parents, THIS IS BETTER THAN HBO!

For the second month, Mr. and Mrs. C bring in live music, two seniors who look like they might have appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show. The girls and boys line up in separate lines and are then shown a line dance of sorts. It’s a good warm-up. When the boys then ask the girls for the next dance, my daughter grabs the arm of her best friend, avoiding having to dance with either a boy or Mr. C. Very crafty…

The children are then encouraged to make a toast, although no one is allowed to repeat what the person before them said. The last youngster has a particularly difficult task, needing to really think outside the box. The young gentleman looked lost until suddenly, it came to him. “Go Trojans!” he proposed.

Over the course of six months (one class a month), these young ladies and gentlemen learn how to engage each other in polite conversation. The boys are taught to pull out the chairs for the young ladies when they get up from the table and to bring their “partners” lemonade if they are thirsty. Now this may sound old fashioned and positively dinosauric, but over the six months I slowly came to appreciate the sweetness of it all. So many of these children are so entitled, it’s important to remind them of manners and social graces. I especially liked the rule of thanking the chaperone upon leaving. All the children, dressed impeccably, line up, and say something along the lines of “thank you so much for being here this evening.” They are forced to give you eye contact. Whoa! Some of these 5th graders actually have faces!

As Cotillion draws to an end, I ask myself if I see a change in my daughter’s behavior? The honest answer is…no. Not yet. My daughter basically loved getting dressed up fancy and hanging with her friends at night. The sugary refreshments didn’t hurt either. Do I have buyer’s regret? Not at all. I have faith that down the line, at some Bar or Bat Mitzvah, wedding, fancy birthday bash or sweet sixteen party, a little voice from the Ghost of Cotillion Past will remind her to not rush the refreshment stand, to use her fork and knife and to say “yes” to a boy when he approaches her for a dance, even if the poor lad is height-challenged.

But don't, PLEASE, breathe a word to my Venice friends.  This is our secret.