In the United States, cotillion is a series of classes that offer instruction in dancing, manners, deportment, and other social graces. It is a reference to a style of formal dance which originated in France in the 1700s; cotillions have historically been held to introduce debutantes and celebrate prominent members of society. In the American South, many children attended these classes historically, and the practice has recently been revived in some communities out of a general interest in fostering mannerly, polite, socially skilled individuals.
Like other classes in social graces, cotillion places a heavy emphasis on learning manners and deportment, with students being taught how to handle themselves in a wide variety of situations. The classes frequently feature mock teas, lunches, and other social events, where the students are expected to practice their skills with each other and with instructors. What is taught can vary widely, from how to dress for all occasions to how to handle an insult gracefully.
Cotillion also offers an opportunity to learn formal dance, ensuring that students will be able to dance at balls and other events. Typically, several styles of dance are taught, so that students will feel comfortable at formal dances and other social events where dancing is involved. Students usually wear formal wear for their dance classes, so that they can get used to moving in heavy gowns, suits, and the other accouterments of formal dance.
Debutante training typically includes cotillion, and in some communities, young children are encouraged to go to classes with the idea of establishing good manners at a young age. Because manners are less heavily emphasized in modern American society than they once were, several schools also offer instruction to adults who are interested in improving their manners.
The American South is famous for its genteel manners and cotillion classes, and some of the finest instruction is offered in this region. Southerners have long been praised for exhibiting grace under pressure, and graduates are capable of handling a wide variety of situations with aplomb. Cotillion instruction in the South and beyond draws upon the idea that good manners never go out of style, and being well mannered is often an immense social asset.