Rites of Passage: Junior Cotillion Brings Dance, Etiquette and Life Skills to Pre-Teens
By Lukas Keapproth
Lizzie Cardenas, 11, winces while her nanny, Laura Fuggit, brushes her hair in preparation for the final session of a cotillion at her home in Tarrytown. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Cardenas rarely likes to do her hair or wear make-up, but gets into the spirit in advance of a practice session for a cotillion at her Austin home. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Cardenas clasps her hands while the finishing touches are applied to a bright red dress in honor of Valentine’s Day. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Having tried on a number of shoes, Cardenas bides her time while her mother approves a final pair. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Cardenas tries to persuade Laura to attend the practice cotillion. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Cardenas waits in the car on her way to the final session of a cotillion at the Austin Country Club in Westlake. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Cardenas enters the arena before the last big event of the season. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
A group of boys patrols the parking lot at the Austin Country Club. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Grace Young, 10, talks with her girlfriends about who might be their dancing partner before the start of the final session. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Two boys wait together talking about video games before the start of the final session. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Bond Temple (middle) puts his hands over his face when he hears his assigned dance partner. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Two girls talk with one another after their dancing partner is assigned. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Lizzie Cardenas, dances with her partner, Henry Yancer, 11, at a practice session for a cotillion. Cardenas admits later she has a crush on Yancer. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
The young dancers must concentrate hard to avoid stepping on toes during the waltz. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Charles Smith watches another couple dance and attempts to mimic their moves. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Lizzie Cardenas waits for another boy to approach her between dances. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
For each of the four practice cotillion sessions, girls wear different dresses leading up to the final cotillion night. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Henry Yancer rubs his face in exhaustion after a long practice session. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Grace Young and Augustus Bell enjoy their partner dance together. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Lizzie Cardenas loosens up when more modern music is played. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Augustus Bell and Martine Welch dance together. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Martine Welsh curtsies in front of the king and queen of the dance, including Lizzie Cardenas. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Kenechi Ezekoye smiles with his friends as they exit the dance floor at the end of a practice session. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Unable to access their phones during the practice session, the kids flock to their smartphones to see what they’ve missed. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
Blake Granby texts on his phone while he waits for his partner to arrive. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas
On the Thursday evening before Valentine’s Day, around 50 school children gathered in the grand hall of the Austin Country Club to hold each other’s shoulders and waists — with plenty of space in between — and stiffly move to the classical strains of a waltz. Girls were dressed in fancy dresses and boys in sharp sportcoats and khakis. When the music stopped, they looked blankly at one another as they waited for critiques from the instructor.
Welcome to the practice session of West Austin’s chapter of the National League of Junior Cotillions. The organization began in 1979 to teach children about etiquette and life skills, including how to perform those dance steps, carry themselves with confidence, and conduct themselves in social settings.
On this night, the instructor randomly matched each person with a partner. When his partner was announced, Bond Temple, 10, hid his face in his palms. Temple had hoped to dance with a girl on whom he had a crush, but now would have to wait until after the first dance, when people could choose their own partners.
Girls giggled and blushed as their partners approached and awkwardly offered an inviting hand.
As was true of the other children, participating in the cotillion wasn’t 11-year-old Lizzie Cardenas’ idea; her mother had signed her up for the after-school activity.
“I would rather skateboard outside,” Cardenas said, adding that she isn’t interested in the girlier aspects of the cotillion and thinks the dancing is boring. “We dance the waltz, foxtrot, box step, and a bunch of other dances I don’t remember.”
The $345 program consists of a series of classes. On this Thursday, the session focused on how to approach dance partners and properly introduce one’s date. The instructor offered pointers to children who showed the most progress or correctly answered etiquette questions.
Even though Cardenas yawned frequently while dancing with her partner, her moves earned her the title of Queen of the Dance. The instructor placed a tiara on her head, and Cardenas shyly smiled before taking her place on a chair that served as a makeshift throne.