Friday, March 29, 2013

Afternoon full of etiquette finishes with a classic touch

From today's Briefing:

For the past few months, our household has been receiving lessons in manners.

Cooper has been spending a few Sunday evenings in Junior Cotillion classes, where he and sixth-grade friends learn table manners, dance steps, proper seating and more. Then he comes home and passes along all kinds of helpful details.

Katie and I have learned that a gentleman offers his right arm to escort a lady. We have learned that ladies should cross their ankles when seated. We have practiced introducing one friend to another. We have danced the fox-trot in the family room.

All of the classes culminate in the grand ball — the big finale of cotillion.

On Sunday afternoon, in a tasteful hotel ballroom, more than 100 middle-school students gathered to practice their fine manners. I had volunteered to chaperone, allowing me prime viewing.

The boys wore tuxedos. The girls wore white dresses and gloves. After mingling and posing for more photos than they’d like, the snazzy crew lined up outside the ballroom, boys in one line, girls in another.

The boy at the front of the line offered his crooked arm to the girl next to him, and together they walked to the center of the room. There they stopped, introduced themselves to the program’s director and then walked to seats circling the dance floor.

While all of this was happening, the 20 or so volunteer chaperones (all moms save one game dad) gathered to watch.

After every student was seated — boy, girl, boy, girl — they received instructions for the first dance. The random partner they walked in with was their dance partner for the fox-trot.

As the kids filled almost every square foot of the dance floor, we moms started angling for glimpses of our kids. We were no longer content to huddle in the corner.

We spread out, surrounding the scene, iPhones and SLR cameras aimed at the mass of well-behaved preteens.

Image after image shows boys and girls with precise posture. Some are managing smiles. Almost no one is making eye contact with his or her dance partner.

After a few more dances — East Coast swing, salsa, electric slide — and plenty of partner changes, the gentlemen escorted their ladies to tables. They employed their finest manners as they sat down, placed napkins in laps and started on generous slices of chocolate cake.

After cake and punch, the kids danced some more. They’d loosened up a little. Genuine smiles, consistent eye contact and a little personality showed in their moves. By this time, all of the parents were in the ballroom, invited to observe the final half-hour.

The director invited moms and dads onto the floor. We crowded in, eager to dance with our kids. (Kids, by the way, who we swear were in preschool just last year.)

Cooper told me it was too cramped for the fox-trot, so he offered to teach me the salsa.

“Back, front, back, front. Side, side, side, side,” he chanted over and over, working to keep his patience in check. (I’m not exactly known for my rhythm.)

We muddled through the first song. At least in my fumbling, I was mannerly. All decorum dissipated as soon as the final song began to play.

Just small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world … 

My dancing may be awful, but I can sing classic Journey with gusto. Cooper was not pleased.

“Shhhh, Mom,” he said, convinced I was the only parent so uncouth.

Some will win, some will lose. I sang louder. Some are born to sing the blues. 

Cooper was exasperated — until he realized every other mom was singing just as loud and proud.

It goes on and on and on and on.

He gave up in his quest to shush me. He twirled me a few times. When the song was over, my proper son even let me hug him.

Don’t stop believin’ . Hold on to the feelin’.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Me, in red, led by a patient Cooper

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