Boys, little gentlemen in jackets and ties, line up at the door of the Bellefone Country Club, waiting their chance to open a car door for a girl and escort her into the main room, where they will all learn the gentle art of cotillion.
Forty-six students meet at the Bellefonte Country Club for cotillion instruction from Barbarann Wheeler, who has been teaching cotillion for 15 years in the Ashland area.
For six weeks, seventh-graders from six schools meet on Sunday at the club.
“Each week, the boys line up to go out and open the car doors for the girls and bring them into the ballroom.” She said. “They are not sure about doing that until they actually do it and then some of them come by and hi-five me with a question: ‘Can I do that again? That was pretty cool.’ The girls seem to like this also.”
Next, Wheeler has ice breakers to get the children talking and more comfortable with one another and to make new friends at other schools and in other communities.
“We have a different subject matter on manners every week and sometimes the kids volunteer to roll play the parts of people in their community, such as how you would introduce a Mom, teacher, senator, grandparent, professional, or friend to someone that doesn't know them,” she said.
“Everyone gets the chance to come to a dining table set for a formal dinner to go through proper manners for dining in America and then we also show them the difference between European style table setting, tipping, coat checking, ordering off menu, pulling the chair out for the girls.”
Manners a priority
Wheeler learned manners as a child and practiced them all her life.
“My Dad was a minister and it was expected of me to help others and to be kind and respectful to all ages,” she said, adding she believes etiquette could improve children’s life in many respects. “I think if they could use their manners at school every day, it would help teachers to use their day more productive and students could not worry about bullying. I think children need parents that will tell them what they expect of them each day and give them boundaries and praise when they are leaders not followers. “
Wheeler, the mother of three boys, said she always told her children to behave like gentlemen and scholars and school and she continues that tradition with her grandchildren when she seems them on Sundays.
Wheeler is also well versed in dance, taking ballroom dance in college and hula when she lived in Hawaii. The former model has taught ballroom dance to elementary school-aged children as well as cotillion in Hawaii..
She said she requires children to convey an air of formality in their dress for class.
“During the cotillion, the boys need to wear a dress shirt, pants, tie, dress shoes and jacket for the last grand ball,” she said. “The girls wear a skirt ,blouse, or dress and then on the last grand ball they wear a short or long party dress. During the classes white gloves are provided for the girls.”
They practice the exchange of flowers, corsage and lapel flowers. On the last day of class, Nov. 11, a professional photographer is on duty for those who choose to have portraits made. A group photo is taken and children receive a certificate of completion.
That day, students have a sit-down dinner and parents are invited to watch the children dance, everything from walz, cha cha, fot trot, swing and line dancing, which Wheeler points out will serve them well as they grow up and attend dances at school and at weddings.
“I try to keep it very close to cotillions of the past but add some things along the way to keep it updated,” she said. “I use both classical and popular music to show the students both sides and how you can take a modern song and apply the same steps.”
She has offered one-day cotillions for some area schools, which includes the children dressing up and having professionals do hair, makeup and nails for the girls. Boys wore jackets and ties and everyone got a crash course in dining manners and learned a few dance steps.
Keeping the children’s interest during class hasn’t been a problem.
“I actually had someone compliment me that they couldn't believe I could keep that many engaged for two hours,” she said. “I get energized by being around young people learning new things. I just love watching their faces react to some of the things we do.”
She said she also gets good feedback about the results of children having had cotillion. She said parents are enjoying their sons opening car doors for the women of the family and planning candlelight dinners for the family.
“I don't tell them to do that, but each week I challenge them to do something for someone at home or at school to see if they notice,” she said. “Hopefully, they get that great feeling you get when you help other or use your manners every day.”
LEE WARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2661.