by: Renee Swindell
In many parts of the South, and across the country, going through cotillion is a rite of passage. It certainly was for me! My appreciation and great love for cotillion began as a 6th grader in Little Rock when I started as a student in the Little Rock Junior Cotillion. In total honesty, and just like some beginning students, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about going! I was afraid the classes would be super formal, boring and basically “no fun!” However, because I was shy as a pre-teen, my mom thought it would help my confidence, and she insisted that I try it. Two friends from the neighborhood signed up as well, so off we went. And just like my students – I quickly found out that I loved it! It was a total blast! Classes were not boring or stuffy–in fact, they were incredibly fun! I had danced for six years at this point, but learning new and different types of dances definitely added to the draw for me.
I went on to enjoy every minute of my four years of cotillion, and felt sad when it ended. In fact, I liked it so much that I ended up with perfect attendance from 6th thru 9th grade! The silver Jefferson Cup trophy I was awarded for that achievement still sits on my desk as I work on planning my cotillion classes. My students earn the same prize for their attendance. Attending cotillion was one of my favorite experiences during those pre-teen and teen years, and I have such fond memories of attending and meeting new friends from different schools from across the city. Having the cotillion experience also proved to be a great advantage for me going into college and future employment. While finishing my marketing degree at UALR, two of my jobs during those college years and afterwards were, first, teaching dance at a Little Rock dance studio for nine years, and at the same time serving as the assistant to the owner and director of the Little Rock Junior Cotillion. Then I met my husband Kevin on a blind date, we married, and moved out of Little Rock for his law career. I went on to own my own dance studio, and after moving to the Bentonville area, began making plans to start a cotillion program here.
The Bentonville-Rogers Junior Cotillion was established in 2008, and we are very proud to be celebrating our 10th successful season this year in Benton County! I enjoy being a member of the American Association of Etiquette Professionals, wherein I meet annually in person and quarterly on conference calls with a lovely group of etiquette professionals, from L.A. to Boston and everywhere in-between. I am also a member of the Southern Association of Dance Masters, and I first became a member at the age of 18.
I always think about my own cotillion experience as I prepare to teach the first night of each new season. I understand exactly how the shy ones are feeling as they walk in, and all the different thoughts both the new and returning students may be having. One of the best parts of my job is getting to watch the development of my students as they learn their first ballroom dance and participate in the sense of accomplishment they feel – seemingly from that very first lesson. That confidence grows week to week as they learn to meet and greet others with ease, and practice putting all of the social skills we teach into practice. It is somewhat of a magical experience for me to watch them from the beginning of the season all the way to the end! Sometime during each season with my 6th grade class, (usually on either the third or fourth Saturday night) the students suddenly seem grow a year older in a blink of the eye! My cotillion helpers always notice this as well, and they always bring it up in our meeting later that night. I think it is the difference in how they conduct themselves, how they interact with each other, and how they begin to use all the social skills we are teaching them! Toward the end of the season it’s simply a joy to see all the smiles and confidence they gain as they put those skills into practice. By the end of the season, I always find myself telling them I’m starting to feel like they don’t need me anymore, and then watch as big smiles spread across their faces. Of course, then I remind them that I might have a *few* more things for them to learn, and will look forward to seeing them next year where they continue with etiquette lessons and more challenging ballroom dances!
One of the main reasons I founded the Bentonville-Rogers Junior Cotillion, besides having a daughter who I wanted to have the same fun experience I had, is because, in this age of technology, I often feel as if we are forgetting the importance of being able to communicate properly face to face. Due to our constant interaction through our devices–texting, email and the like–most of our children have not learned or practiced making great eye contact when speaking to others. People rarely give a timely RSVP anymore – if any at all -which as any host or hostesses knows, makes planning a party or event planning stressful. It also seems that sending a handwritten thank you note or small note of encouragement to others is often forgotten. These small but important life skills, along with the ability to communicate well with others, can oftentimes be the difference in getting an interview, or being selected as the final candidate for a job. Employers value and look for exactly these types of “people skills” in their employees. Cotillion can be a fun way to start learning these skills, and it is often these very abilities that cause our students to stand out from the crowd throughout their lifetime. When social graces are used well, others take notice, and I often get compliments about my students that have gone through our cotillion program!
Though the teaching of ballroom dance and social etiquette, the mission of the Bentonville-Rogers Junior Cotillion is to improve the self-esteem, self-confidence, and social skills of each of our students. Our curriculum includes the teaching of dance and social graces with the goal of making a student comfortable in any social setting that they may encounter. Cotillion classes start in the sixth grade, but new students entering seventh, eighth and ninth grades may join anytime after taking the review workshops offered.
While the cotillion classes for our 6th – 9th graders remains the core of our curriculum, the Bentonville-Rogers Junior Cotillion is excited to offer several other classes and events for students elementary age to high school this fall. These classes will include, among others, the Perfectly Proper Princess Manners Tea Party,™ available for girls age 6-11. Our special tea will be held on Saturday, October 7th, 2017, and will include a full manners tea, dance instruction, and several crafts for the girls to enjoy with their dolls. Please be sure to bring your American Girl doll or other 18” doll with you, as she will enjoy all the fun along with you. Other dates will be added year-round, with details being available on our website. Coming for the pre-teen and teen girls in spring of 2018, we will have a special Girls Only course.
The College Prep Etiquette Course will enable high school students to become better prepared for college and for the careers ahead of them. It will give them confidence and the added soft skills or people skills needed to set them apart in a competitive environment. This material is important to cover so that students will feel comfortable in any social setting that they may encounter in life. It will focus on building college resumes, business etiquette, refining interviewing skills and many other timely topics. This course will meet in three sessions, with the third session consisting of a 4-course etiquette dinner. Course fee will include all instruction, a book, and the 4-course instructional etiquette dinner. Previous cotillion experience is not required for this high school class.
The Bentonville-Rogers Junior Cotillion season is quickly approaching. Applications are currently being accepted and can be submitted online or by mail at www.brjuniorcotillion.com. Our policy is to have a partner for every child, so the ratios of boys and girls in each group are kept even. This means our classes fill up very quickly! Early application is recommended, as acceptance is “first applied, first accepted.” Invitations and waiting list letters will be mailed in July. Applications will still be accepted until early September, if there’s room, depending on ratios in each class.
To apply to any of the classes, contact the director, Renee Swindell, at (479) 903-2176 or visit www.brjuniorcotillion.com