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May 9, 2013

Cotillion not just a dance

Instructor plans separate event that promotes self-respect

By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Cooperstown Central School students have been entering the ballroom at the Otesaga Hotel to the sound of a band playing the foxtrot for 56 years. They are lined up from tallest to shortest dressed in formal wear as they prepare for the big night, a junior ballroom dance called Cotillion.

Some have said they do it because their parents tell them they; others say they participate because it is a tradition. Others have said it helps them become better dancers.   

No matter what the reason, the goal is for young men and women in seventh and eighth grades in the Cooperstown School District to learn the basics of ballroom dancing and etiquette. Students attend classes at the Cooperstown Elementary School before dressing up and heading to the formal dance that features a live band. Cotillion is put on by a committee of parents each year. The classes are instructed by Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the care of children at Bassett Healthcare, and his wife, Karen. This is the 12th year the couple has been serving as instructors. 

According to Karen, she and her husband got involved first as chaperones when their daughters participated. She said they served as chaperones for three years and then Joseph was asked to take over for a year when another person stopped teaching.

“The plan was to just do it for that one year,” Karen said. “But one year turned to two and so forth.”   

Karen said she was inspired from her involvement to try something new this year. She said she wanted to reinforce the lessons of respect taught while preparing for Cotillion. 

The Cotillion instructor invited the girls from this year’s classes and last year’s classes to Mrs. D’s Tea at Templeton Hall.

The event, held on April 28, was about enjoying one another’s company and indulging in conversation, she said.

According to Karen, 42 girls attended the tea. Festivities included a special speaker who came to talk about the dignity of being a woman and beauty.   

Karen said Jessica Rey, a designer and actress, talked about how Hollywood pushes negative messages onto girls and women by trying to convince them they need to be different from who they are.

“My intentions for the girls were to teach them to have a good sense of self-respect,” Karen said. “I wanted them to know that we have beauty that is given to us. We do not have to listen to the cultural messages that are saying you’re beautiful if you are such and such a height or if your skin is perfect.”

The gathering was about acceptance and teaching the girls there are no “ifs,” Karen continued. “There is no if you have this you’re more beautiful or if you have that you are beautiful,” she said.   

Students will begin gathering at the Otesaga for the Cotillion at about 6:30 p.m. Friday. They will begin to line up for their grand entrance into the ballroom at 7:45 p.m., and the night of dancing will conclude at 10:30 p.m.

Not only does Cotillion help students learn to dance, but according to Karen, the experience elevates something in learning respect for one’s self and for one another. She said it also gives students the opportunity to get to know one another better by breaking them out of their social circles at school. 

“We think it is good because it provides a real positive opportunity for all the students who participate,” she said. “Sometimes the culture underrates how people can behave and treat one another and the Cotillion is an opportunity to say ‘hey you can treat one another with respect.’”