A more modern Cotillion

LEARNING TO SPIN, fourth-graders Cora Elliott and Rory Shelton take their turn on the dance floor. — Photo courtesy Elizabeth Harris

Students learn manners, social graces at first locally-held classes

By Ken Esten Cooke— Gone are the white gloves and serious frowns at each minor social faux pas. But a group of nearly 70 local youngsters are learning the timeless manners and interaction skills at Fredericksburg’s cotillion classes.

Meeting every second Tuesday for 10 weeks at St. Mary’s Holy Family Center, 23-year cotillion expert Ward Sear, of Denver, Colo., uses constant reminders to reinforce proper behavior in social situations to children grades four through eight.

“Always keep your mouth clean.”

“Pass things at the table to the right, unless someone is to your immediate left.”

“Always pass the salt and pepper together.”

“We had some classes that parents took children to in Kerrville, but we needed our own cotillion courses here in Fredericksburg. St. Mary’s school was willing to get behind the program and serve as the host,” said Elizabeth Harris, a parent who wanted area children to get a taste of social interaction. “This is our first year for a local classes, but we hope to have it every year. There is so much information to cover that the curriculum can be different each year.”

The courses go far beyond placement for dining utensils.

Simple things like a firm handshake and looking people in the eye do not come naturally in the awkward adolescent stage. The skills learned will help students later in life, from giving them confidence in myriad social situations, to performing better in job interviews. Lessons also touch on etiquette for social media, a relatively new addition.

“You hear stories about cotillion teachers swatting the hands of children or using a metronome to learn dance steps,” Sear said. “I am not so strict.”

Sear infuses humor into the lessons, which helps youth to relax.

“If you get a bad bite, never spit it out in your napkin,” he instructed. “Excuse yourself and spit it out in the restroom. You don’t want to leave a surprise for the waiter.”

“If the food slips, drips or flips, avoid it in a formal dining situation.”

“Don’t tell the hostess you don’t like a food she served. Eat at least a little as a courtesy.”

“Men keep their coats on in a formal restaurant, even if their date is cold.”

Harris met Sear while he was touring InSight Gallery, where she works. He agreed to hold classes and fly in to Fredericksburg from Denver if parents enrolled enough youth.

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