A Modern Approach

To Traditional Etiquette

Written by Sophia Kedzierski

As we slowly emerge from our COVID bubbles, social interactions can be both a source of jubilant relief and intimidation. With over a year of virtual meetings and small circles of contact, our interpersonal muscles may have been weakened. Cotillion directors Kathleen Geneva and Lisa Hale know the results of this all too well.

“I have noticed a lot of change in people of all ages,” Kathleen Geneva says, the founder and director of the National League of Junior Cotillions Chapters for Prince William and Fauquier County. “We were all very connected to everything virtually … we have now realized how much we missed interacting with school and workmates as well as our friends.”

Fortunately, Lisa Hale’s cotillion chapter in Loudoun County was able to complete its final 2020 Grand Spring Ball before the pandemic became truly serious within the United States. After this, Hale knew it was time to regroup.

“Due to the nature of our program — greeting others and dancing together for example — we chose to forego in-person classes last season,” Hale says, opting for Zoom class sessions instead. “We feel that treating others with respect and patience is even more vital given trying social situations in the current social climate. Cotillion can help provide these much-needed skills to students as we get back to interacting with others in real life again.”

Both directors recognize cotillion as originally a southern tradition that emerged in the mid-1800s, but to Hale and Geneva, the program is for everyone. “Children of all backgrounds and cultures are welcome in cotillion,” Hale says. “There is no such thing as a typical cotillion student.”

“Most people think of cotillion as being a southern tradition,” Geneva says. “However, as the years have passed, many parents have seen the value and importance of learning basic manners and what to do in social situations. Our chapter is a modern program with traditional roots and values.”

Cotillion programs within the National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC) range in groups from first grade to high school, with the most popular “junior cotillion” focusing on grades fifth through eighth.

Both women initially got involved because of their own children. Hale first discovered cotillion in 2006 during her oldest daughter’s teenage years. “She had such a wonderful experience in the program that I subsequently enrolled each of my other four children for classes,” she says.

Though Hale confesses that her two sons “weren’t initially as excited” to participate in the program, she was pleased that “they were smiling and happy” by the end. Between the years 2007 and 2009, Hale taught a teen cotillion class with her husband while living in Beijing. “We loved dancing and practicing etiquette with children from all over the world,” she says. After returning to Virginia, Hale began teaching cotillion as a dance instructor, and later took over the program in its entirety after the previous director retired. Geneva started her own chapter in Fauquier County after looking for a program for her middle school son and finding there was no local presence. “I had no idea it would be so popular,” Geneva says. “My goal for all my students is to learn consideration, respect, and honesty with regard to social interaction and to leave my program feeling confident to interact socially anywhere they go.”

But with the ever-changing standards for social etiquette, parents may wonder if the lessons their children learn in cotillion will fit in the modern world. Geneva quotes modern manners author Lizzie Post, on accepting that “etiquette is always in flux.” However, this doesn’t stop Geneva from sharing what she loves. “My philosophy is that ‘manners never go out of style,’” Geneva says.

Hale explains how the cotillion program helps students “overcome anxiety about interacting socially” and prepares them for real-world situations like “college admissions interviews, business luncheons, formal dinners, or even a school dance.” As for staying updated, Hale explains how her program has “adjusted some of the traditional practices to reflect modern societal norms,” citing the use of “Netiquette,” or training in online etiquette. “We cover cell phone etiquette, guidelines for navigating social media safely and politely including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and respectful texting practices, for example.”

As for what will never change? Geneva says this: “As the years have passed, many parents have seen the value and importance of learning basic manners and what to do in social situations.” Hale shares a similar sentiment: “The basic tenets of cotillion philosophy — respecting those around us and showing kindness and consideration of others through our actions — are enduring values that apply in any period of time,” she says. “Parents of children who have been through the program have expressed appreciation for the boost that cotillion has given to their children to provide them with vital social and communication skills that they will use throughout their lives.” ML

For more information on how to register your child for cotillion, you can contact nljc.com/chapter/westprincewilliam for Kathleen Geneva’s Prince William and Fauquier County chapters, or email her directly at Kathleen.Geneva@nljc.com, and Lisa Hale’s Loudoun chapter at loudouncotillion.com or email her directly at lisa.hale@nljc.

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