The DadBall Era: Mrs. Kinnear’s Cotillion, 31 Years Later

There is a very nondescript, seemingly unimportant office complex in Nora that houses a very nondescript, exceedingly important basement space. It is an Indianapolis institution, really, a space trapped in the amber of time and affixed atop the cane of an eccentric businesswoman sipping red punch in white gloves, so to speak. It smells of witch hazel and doubt. It always has.

It is Mrs. Kinnear’s cotillion class, of course, and either you know it or you don’t. Either you clumsily foxtrotted through it with some random Eastwood Middle School student or you didn’t. Either it’s seared into your memory or it isn’t. There is no middle ground here, no I kinda-sorta get what you’re talking about. This is a zero-sum tango.

If you grew up on the north side of Indianapolis anytime after the mid-14th century, then you have most likely flop-sweated your way through its wood-paneled doors. We all have. It has shaped us in big and small ways, in terrifying and wonderful ways too, and in ways that may come in handy someday—like, say, if we ever accidentally stumbled into the Duchess of Derbyshire’s Royal Gala in the year 1893. We would not be uncivilized oafs clomping around aimlessly, is what I’m saying. We would handle our shit. We would know the proper foot to pivot on as we depart the scones tray, for example, so as not to dishonor our hosts. But never mind all that.

On Tuesday night, I walked back into the Kinnear Studio for the first time in 31 years, this time with my daughter. It’s as close to time travel as I’ll ever get. I am here to report that it is shockingly unchanged. It is the exact same carpet and the exact same janky coat rack in the lobby that we all remember, and the exact same white cinderblock walls surrounding the exact same dull white linoleum dance floor under those unmistakable, unforgiving 46,000,000-watt fluorescent lights. The same piano was there as well, but not the chill old-man jazz quartet—I’m guessing because they were 600 years old in 1988 and bluesmen do not live forever. (#RIP Soup-Pants Jimmy and the gang!) The punch bowl looked familiar too, but I cannot say for sure if it was the same.

Oh, and Mrs. Kinnear and her fish-aquarium shoes have been replaced by a very nice, very proper, very Mrs. Kinnear–looking lady named Mrs. Belt who was not wearing any accessories containing living creatures. Other than her and the absence of the jazzmen, nothing was different. Not a thing. Even the same archaic sexism lingered heavy in the air. (“Ladies, the gentlemen always lead!”)

Watching my daughter and her friends awkwardly mix and mingle and waltz with strange boys from different schools—and watching those boys shuffle off to fetch refreshments for her and her friends—all of it was so wildly, painfully familiar, and yet still none of it makes sense. It’s entirely impractical. It’s stuffy. It’s the hammering home of nothing but outdated norms and obsolete rules and the goddamn CHA-CHA that will in no way serve them usefully outside of that cinderblocked basement.

But against all logic, it’s fun. And it’s good. And because the internet is woefully short on both these days, I just figured I’d update those of you reading this who took Mrs. Kinnear’s cotillion a thousand years ago and may have wondered what became of it. She is gone. Her class is not.