The Golden Rule in a Digital Age
Carolina Junior Cotillions holds on to the idea that manners are essential to the upbringing of young Southerners.
In 2011, The New York Times ran a story with the title “A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline.” It was about a court case in which two men asked to give up their seats to a pair of ladies at an Atlanta bar refused to do so and then sued. A jury decided in favor of the bar and the civility of giving up a seat to a lady.
It’s no secret that proper etiquette and consideration have served as the cornerstones of Southern culture since before Scarlett and Rhett. While the traditions behind the idea of Southern etiquette have no doubt been passed down from generation to generation, they are certainly not as strong as they once were. Digital communication and globalization of the South’s major cities – not a bad thing – have contributed to the decline of manners here, but founder of Carolina Junior Cotillions Ann Cherry says there’s a place for both.
Carolina Junior Cotillions in Kinston, North Carolina, has served as the gatekeeper of etiquette in a region noted for its endlessly polite denizens since 1981. For the past 32 years, Cherry has been working to teach her students “how to master individual moments that can impact the rest of their lives.”
Cherry and her team do much more than just promote the importance of proper etiquette and politeness. She began her career in etiquette training with an emphasis in dance, before seeking certification from the Washington School of Protocol. Primarily teaching fifth, sixth and seventh graders, Cherry has built Carolina Junior Cotillions upon a foundation of giving young people life skills that were once a must in the South.
The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork. – Oscar Wilde
Carolina Junior Cotillions’ staff takes a holistic approach to teaching. Proper manners are reinforced during dance lessons and “Pass the Manners, Please” dining classes, where students can sit down to a multi-course meal and interactively learn the basics of table setting, taking a seat properly and even handling uncommon or unwanted foods. The dining course in particular places cotillion students in real world situations, since Cherry believes that “the social setting of cotillions absolutely makes etiquette more relevant.”
The foundation of Cherry’s cotillion (and the root of the word, which is a type of patterned social dance that originated in France), dance lessons add a dose of fun to the proceedings, as students learn everything from the foxtrot to the waltz and Electric Slide at events ranging from casual lessons to semiformal balls. “This is a huge confidence builder for many of the students,” says Cherry, who doesn’t believe in stuffy lectures.
She and her team have looked to completely eradicate the many preconceived notions that cotillion programs carry, particularly aiming to discredit ideas of stuffiness or irrelevance. Cherry circumvents the particular notion of uptightness with not only the inherently social atmosphere of cotillion classes, but also with popular music, while still retaining degrees of tradition. With the exception of the occasional casual dance sessions, Carolina Junior Cotillions’ pupils are expected to dress for the occasion, with girls generally wearing white gloves to their lessons. Before turning up your nose, Cherry explains that the gloves are actually an ice-breaker for those of her students who, in a fit of nerves, suffer from palm perspiration.
Cherry has no qualms about asserting the relevance of cotillion and etiquette programs in our day and age. “People have become more relaxed, having let their manners go by the wayside, thinking that they were superficial and irrelevant, and not recognizing their basis in the Golden Rule,” she says. Beyond an ability to foxtrot and set a table, Carolina Junior Cotillions aims to add a specific set of social skills and considerations to its students’ arsenals, whether it be preparation for that first job interview or meeting with the college admissions officer. In fact, Cherry believes that the confidence-building nature of cotillion has a deeper impact upon her students’ lives. “Social skills will really help one succeed in a competitive world,” she says.
While Cherry believes that emphasizing proper etiquette and social niceties is imperative in this digital age, Carolina Junior Cotillions is also adapting with the times. Their revamped website, launched in September, aims to make cotillion more accessible to the community, attracting young people from Kinston to Wilmington, and turning out young boys who will hopefully give up their seat to a lady.