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Creating Your Very Own Cotillion

Jan 23, 2008
The cotillion danced by guests with its variety of music and its brilliant whirl of color is returning to us with the revival of so many charming things of other days. This form of dancing was once so popular that the earlier dances of the evening were only a preliminary pleasure.

More planning is required than for the usual dance but the true hostess enjoys an opportunity to offer something intensely interesting and enjoyable to her guests which may also bring the added charm of a surprise.

The invitations are issued with the idea that an equal number of gentlemen and ladies will be present since the cotillion is danced by couples, so the wise hostess invites a few extra men who dance "Stag" if there are sufficient to complete the number of couples.

The favors may be very inexpensive, and ribbon and crepe paper novelties will form many of the most attractive ones. Two sets should always be provided for each favor figure, one for the gentlemen and one for the ladies. These are usually passed in baskets or trays by the leader to the ladies and by his partner to the gentlemen.

The gentlemen may ask the ladies to dance the cotillion, or partners may be selected by drawing numbers, or matching colored bows of ribbon.

The guests are seated around the sides of the room, forming a circle or oval, with the lady at the right of her partner and the figures are danced in the center under the direction of the leader.

The dancers may aid the leader very much by small courtesies, such as listening attentively when he gives directions, watching carefully the first set danced of any figure and returning quickly to their seats when he signals. It creates much confusion and is the height of rudeness to dance when not requested even if the figure seems prolonged and one wearies of inactivity.

The music plays an important part in the cotillion and the director may greatly aid the leader by his quick observation of changes in time, in the variation of music required, and attention to the signals. It will facilitate things if certain short bars of music are played each time when the dancers are to return to places.

These bars open the cotillion and the leader and his partner dance about the room before explaining the figure. This opening figure should be very simple until all have entered into the spirit of the affair and usually a favor figure is selected for the opening.

The leader signals to the music to cease while he explains the figure and then signals for it to continue. He then designates a number of couples, six or more for a favor figure who select new partners by presenting the favor to them. These favors may be given out by an older person if children are dancing or by a patroness if a subscription affair, or by the leader and his partner.

When the leader signals all the dancers return to their places, the gentlemen escort the ladies to their seats. The leader continues to select other couples from the circle until all have participated in the figure, when he signals for silence and explains the figure. The couples who open the new figures are selected from first one end of the circle and then the other and if many couples are present, sometimes those in the center are asked to commence the set.

With a small circle one selects more figures in which two or three play a part than when a large number of guests are present, and it is a clever idea at the end of these single figures to have all dance with partners for a few rounds. If one wishes to use figures of one or two couples, such as the Parasol or the Mirror, when many are present the leader may ask his partner to commence another set from the other end of the circle.

The success of a cotillion depends much on the planning of figures with regard to space for dancing and the number of expected guests.

Have fun planning, and have even more fun at the dance!
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