My left hand is on his shoulder, his right hand is on my waist. We are looking at our feet a lot, but also sharing goofy smiles. He’s still a few inches shorter than I, but proud to show me his new dance moves.
Last week was the final dance of Cotillion for my son, F.T., who is nine years old. This accomplishment is especially significant for our family because F.T. is on the autism spectrum. Learning social skills is a challenge for F.T., but it’s worth it because I want him to have a full life. I want to tell you more about his Cotillion experience, and perhaps you will consider a program like this for your son or daughter.
Growing up, I heard friends talking about Cotillion, but I didn’t participate and was a little intimidated by it. However, my mom made an effort to teach my sister and me about etiquette, usually by checking out library books, practicing table settings, and supervising writing of thank-you notes.
I’m thankful to be a part of a close-knit school community where parents share tips about opportunities for fun and learning. Last year, I watched proud parents post pictures of their (older) children wearing dresses and gloves or coats and ties.
Locally, JDW Cotillions at the Club at Sonterra offers a winter class for 4th–5th graders, as well as 6th–7th graders. Registration opened in October, and friends advised us to sign up right away—the classes fill up quickly, especially for girls. Online registration was easy; the hard part was working up the nerve.
Four years ago, when F.T. was struggling in Kindergarten, if someone had told me that he would be doing 4th- and 5th-grade Cotillion, I would have broken out in wild, nervous laughter. Since then, he has made meaningful progress in developing language and social skills. For instance, he can make basic small talk and participate in the give-and-take of dinner table conversation.
I worried about what the culture would be like at the Cotillion class. Sometimes F.T. acts differently—for example, when he’s happy, he will clap his hands, giggle, and jump up and down. When F.T. did something unexpected, how would he be treated?
My friends whose children had participated in Cotillion before filled me in on what I needed to know. There is a dress code, so my dad helped F.T. shop for dressy clothes at Brooks Brothers and Nordstrom. During the class, parents are allowed to quietly observe from a side room. Every week, a few parents serve as chaperones and help with tasks like serving lemonade—an opportunity to get even closer to the children. I tried to explain to F.T. what the class would cover (e.g., introductions, dancing, table manners), but you sort of have to see it to understand.
As it turned out, the leaders of the class showed great understanding and compassion for F.T. His biggest challenge was following the spoken directions from the lead teacher. With help from a handful of classmates (particularly Miss E.—thank you!) who demonstrated dance moves and gave him gentle reminders, he was able to fully participate.
In his quiet way, I could tell that F.T. was looking forward to going to class every week. At the end of the final class, I asked him if he wanted to say any goodbyes, and he went across the room to say a special thank you to a teenage assistant teacher who had given him extra help, especially during dance lessons.
I was nervous about enrolling F.T. in Cotillion, but with support from our village, it worked out for the best. When F.T. was a preschooler, one of his favorite read-aloud books was Space Boy by Leo Landry. In that book, a boy goes on a solitary (imaginary) adventure to the moon, but comes back to earth because he misses the people he loves.
My own Space Boy may still dream about exploring the moon, but he loves the people in his life and wants to connect with them. That warms my heart.
I encourage you to research the options for Cotillion classes in your area. For children of all abilities, it’s a gift of life skills that will help them with friendships and business relationships for a long time.
Locally, JDW Cotillions offers a fall class at Fair Oaks Ranch and a winter class at the Club at Sonterra; learn more here. Some local schools offer Cotillions for their students, and some clubs offer Cotillions for children of members. Share your suggestions in the comments.
- “Why I’m Sending My Sons to Cotillion” by Rosalind Wiseman, Family Circle
- “Cotillion: A Southern Tradition I Might Have Skipped” by Lela Davidson, Modern Mom
- “How Children Benefit from Cotillion” by Martine Cotillions