At many a dance for young people, you’ll find girls and boys swaying together with a chasm yawning between them, arms held stiff and hands that never, ever drift from the partner’s shoulders. But that’s taboo for these seasoned etiquette mavens after months of manners lessons at the table and on the dance floor in Mrs. Belt’s Cotillion program, which starts up for the season this month. Later, on the night of each session’s final dance at Meridian Hills Country Club, students will gussy up in their best and show off their waltz and swing moves, continuing an Indianapolis cotillion tradition dating back to 1956; Mrs. Belt took over the program in 2006. If these kids were forced to participate, it certainly doesn’t show on their faces. “From what I hear, the children are disappointed when it’s over,” says Mrs. Belt, a Cotillion alum herself who prefers not to use her first name for decorum’s sake. “I think it helps them in the future, whether it’s a job interview or just making them feel comfortable around new people. It’s good knowledge to have, and good practice.”
Mrs. Belt is referring to the unspoken formalities here: All ladies are to have an escort when getting refreshments, gentlemen must collect the neighboring ladies’ cups and napkins, and it’s only polite to thank a dance partner before rotating to the next. But after punch and cookies, it’s acceptable for kids to ditch their partner and grab an observing parent to dance with. (Yes, they actually seem to enjoy doing this, and having the chance to teach Mom or Dad something, like dance moves, for once.)
As the Cotillion nears its close, propriety seems to be thrown to the wind as the kids form a conga line. And yet, it’s still the classiest conga line we’ve ever seen.