Ten years ago, Marilyn Wellington started working for the National League of Junior Cotillion. Six years ago, she purchased the local franchise, and just last week they held their annual winter ball at the Mount Vernon Country Club.
About 200 seventh- and eighth-graders were there, along with more than a dozen parent chaperones.
Hunter Link, a seventh-grader, said, "I had a great time. I thought the dance contests were a lot of fun."
Paul Disselkoen, another seventh-grader, had been to one of his sister's dances, and said, "I thought it was going to be like a regular dance, but then I found out we did dance competitions."
Disselkoen, who won one of the swing contests, said, "I like having fun and doing the dance competitions." Whether or not he returns in eighth grade will depend on whether his friends sign up, for as he said, "It's fun because my friends go, and we carpool together."
When Wellington began 10 years ago, there was one class with 65 seventh-graders; she now has 150 seventh-graders and about 75 eighth-graders.
"We've been so lucky that it keeps growing," said Wellington. "Parents are looking for something like this."
OVER THE YEARS Wellington said that the children have become more sophisticated, but she said, "I still see the same seventh- and eighth-grade innocence."
All of Wellington's children have gone through the program, including Jason, who's currently enrolled.
The definition of “cotillion” means "a formal debutante ball," but for the boys and girls who join Wellington's group, it means much more.
Wellington teaches them etiquette, ethics, dance and more. She teaches them everyday manners: first impressions, introductions, greeting and shaking hands, paying and receiving compliments, correspondence, telephone manners, family dining, table manners, polite conversation, when to rise, opening doors, assisting with coats, and sports etiquette.
Wellington received her initial training from the National League of Junior Cotillion and continues to receive updated manuals every year.
"They stay up with the trends; things like using cell phones and the correct way to use e-mail will be introduced."
THEN THERE ARE formal manners: formal dining, party courtesies, hosting a party, receiving lines, how to eat unusual foods, and instructional dinners.
Wellington also teaches character education, including honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, fidelity, caring, respect, citizenship, excellence, accountability and handling peer pressure.
The program runs from September to April and meets once a month. To keep things fresh in their minds, students are sent home with a book of what they've learned and asked to try the things at home or in the community. Students who receive the most signatures (saying they performed the task) are recognized at the next function. "This way all the things they've learned are reinforced," said Wellington.
Peggy Severson, owner of ReCreations Decorative Consignments, teaches the students how to dance. They learn music appreciation including teamwork, timing, coordination, basic dance courtesies, popular line dance, and the basic steps for the waltz, fox trot, cha cha cha, shag/swing, rhumba and tango.
"We keep them moving," said Wellington. "Fifteen minutes of etiquette, then a dance, so they don't get bored."
Some of the former students, like Jake Banta, return to work as student assistants. They show the students the dance steps and dance with the girls. Banta took the classes for two years and said, "It's good. At first most kids think it's no fun, but it really is a lot of fun. Most of my friends went [to the Cotillion] It's a thing out of school where you can hang out with your friends."