For young people, Cotillion is a lesson in social skills

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By Deborah Swearingen

Youngsters dressed in fancy attire took to the dance floor last Thursday for the opening night of the 39th annual Columbine Cotillion.

Led by JDW Cotillions, the Cotillion program teaches kids the art of social skills and dance education. And the latter is more than useful than one might think, said Jon D. Williams, who operates JDW Cotillions, a business originally opened by his father.

“It’s a tool we use for you to develop respect, mutual respect between one another. It breaks down physical inhibitions. It teaches a lot of sportsmanship. It teaches footwork and timing and teamwork. … And most importantly, it gives you some confidence in regards to your communication skills of talking to the opposite gender in a positive manner,” Williams said.

Though it’s based in Denver, JDW Cotillions is now a national business that instructs more than 10,000 students annually.

On Oct. 11, the latest group of Columbine Cotillion dancers gathered at the new Columbine Country Club. Before their first lesson began, each of the participants stood patiently in line, ultimately shaking hands and introducing themselves to the Columbine Cotillion chaperones. This is part of what makes the program so special.

“I just got so passionate with it because, to me, it’s just invaluable skills for our children today,” said Esther Bridge, Columbine Cotillion chairwoman.. “ … We go over social skills so how to make a good first impression, how to introduce themselves, how to make good conversation with people.”

Both of Bridge’s children went through the program, and now, her daughter, Caitlin, is a student assistant. Last week, among other things, Caitlin helped guide the dancers to their appropriate positions and demonstrated some of the dances.

Before the final dance in November, students will learn dances such as the Foxtrot and the Mamba. However, although dance education teaches confidence, teamwork and more, the opportunity to learn social skills is just as, if not more, important.

“Social skills has pretty much everything we do with anybody. How you stand, how you sit, how you walk, how you talk, how you eat, how you look,” Williams said. “ … Social skills can either position you from a point of strength or a point of weakness.

“You’re getting a relatively advanced course on how to be a better person and also, once again, have a very positive attitude that is recognized by other people. In essence, you’re going to be setting an example,” he added.

On opening night, Williams asked how many of the participants were attending because their parents “twisted their arm” to do so. A number of those sitting in the large circle around the ballroom cautiously raised their hands. Williams chuckled at their honesty but reminded them of something he knows to be true. One day, he said, they would be grateful for the experience as the skills learned in Cotillion are very transferrable and can be used later in life.