By Meghan McCaffrey Contributing Writer
---- — After 12 years, Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky and his wife, Karen, have hung up their dancing shoes and retired from teaching ballroom dance for Cotillion.
The junior ballroom dance is put on by a committee of parents each spring for young boys and girls in seventh- and eighth-grades in the Cooperstown School District. The goal is to learn the basics of ballroom dancing and etiquette. Students attend classes at the Cooperstown Elementary School before dressing up and heading to the Otesaga Hotel for the formal dance that features a live band.
“I passed the torch this year,” said Dutkowsky, an orthopedic surgeon at Bassett Medical Center specializing in the treatment of people with disabilities. “It was the right time to move on.”
Dutkowsky said he resigned at the end of this year’s Cotillion in May. Alma Curtis and her husband, Dr. Matthew Curtis, will be filling the Dutkowskys shoes. Alma Curtis is the owner of Cooperstown Performing Arts and worked alongside the Dutkowskys as a co-instructor for the 2013 Cotillion.
“It was a really good transition because I was there this past year,” Curtis said.
Curtis said she learned much from teaching alongside the Dutkowskys.
“I learned patience with the seventh and eighth graders,” she said.
The young ladies wear dresses that fall below the knee and the young men wear a suit and tie to each practice. The young men are responsible for asking the young ladies if they would like to dance and the young ladies always have to say yes, Curtis explained.
“They have to be prim and proper,” she added. “They become gentlemen and ladies in this environment, which is something that gets lost in this society.”
Dutkowsky was adamant about how important it is to give today’s youth higher expectations because they are more than capable.
“You really have to raise the bar for these kids, and these kids come through every time,” he said.
Curtis said the children respected Dutkowsky’s rules and that they listened to him.
According to Dutkowsky, his No. 1 rule during his instruction was respect. The students learned to respect each other, their chaperones, the instructor and most of all themselves, he said.
“Treat people with dignity,” Dutkowsky said. “It’s not that hard.”
Speaking of Dutkowsky, Curtis said, “He was always making sure the children were having a good time while learning the art of ballroom.”
The most fun for Dutkowsky, he said, was when the children “get it.”
“They’re suddenly enjoying themselves and talking to their friends instead of concentrating on what their feet are doing,” he said.
“Those nights were just magical,” Dutkowsky continued. “The kids were on so I could teach them more advanced moves.”
Dutkowsky said he and his wife taught many kinds of dance including; waltz, foxtrot, salsa, merengue, swing and sometimes more involved moves like the tango or cha-cha.
“I would push it depending on if they were on or off on a given night,” Dutkowsky said. “I was always taking their pulse to check where are they and what’s going on.”
Dutkowsky said he and his wife started teaching when the committee that organizes this event asked them to do it.
“It was only supposed to be for a year in between other teachers,” Dutkowsky said.
Dutkowsky was dedicated to teaching and he said he never missed a lesson in 12 years. Dutkowsky then explained that Cotillion started as a Girl Scout project more than 50 years ago.
“I was the fourth instructor in all those years,” Dutkowsky said. “People just stuck with it..”
Dutkowsky said he learned ballroom because he went to a fancy gala when he was studying to be a doctor and noticed that out of the hundreds of couples, only three were on the dance floor having fun. Dutkowsky said he wanted to be one of those couples and he bought ballroom dance lessons for his wife that Christmas.
Curtis said she studied dance in New York City as a young girl and has been dancing for many years.
Curtis said: “It’s (Cotillion) a really great tradition. I am delighted they asked me to do this.”
“Not a lot of towns still do this, so we are very lucky to have this tradition,” Curtis continued.
“It’s unique in America right now,” Dutkowsky said. “It gives them self esteem and a skill they can use later in life.”
Dutkowsky said the students are in wonderful hands with Curtis.
“I feel very comfortable with leaving them with Alma,” Dutkowsky said. “She’ll do great and the kids will do great.”
Dutkowsky said he doesn’t know how he will be involved with dance in the future. The doctor said he is considering teaching adults for fundraisers for people with disabilities, but no matter what he will definitely be involved with dance in some way.