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Natchez Junior Cotillion program changing ownership

NATCHEZ — The white gloves, teacups and place settings are changing hands.

After 22 years of operating the Natchez Junior Cotillion program, Cheryl Morace Rienhart is ready to hand it off to just-as-capable hands.

Mignon Reid, the owner and director of Natchez Ballet Academy, has purchased the program and will get moving quickly as summer cotillion classes are fast approaching.

“From the time Cheryl said she was interesting in passing it over to someone else, I said ‘Yes, I want to do it,’” Reid said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to do this.”

Rienhart began the cotillion program shortly after returning to live in Natchez 22 years ago. The community had a need for the type of manners training a cotillion provided, and Rienhart said she has been blessed with the opportunity to do it.

“I look at this program as a way of providing training that children don’t get in school and reinforce training they may get in the homes,” Rienhart said. “People sometimes hear the word ‘etiquette’ and are intimidated by it, but the program is a fun way to train the children in proper social manners.”

Rienhart said after developing the curriculum for the program and watching it grow for more than two decades the time was right to pass it on. Doing so will allow her more time to spend with her family, much of which lives out of town.

“When Mignon came and got the files and boxes, it sort of hit me,” she said. “I was sad, but its OK. I know now is the right time for me to do this.”

But the exchange of ownership wasn’t done haphazardly. Reid spent much of last fall shadowing Rienhart during the eight-week long main program, which begins in September and ends with a ball in December.

And Reid has plenty of personal experience with the cotillion as well.

Her son, Reese, has participated in the program since he was a fourth-grader. Getting ready to enter his 10th-grade year, Reid said he is still active in the program and looks forward to it yearly.

“Maybe the first day when he wasn’t sure what it was going to be like, he was nervous, but after that he has been excited, dressed an hour early and ready to go,” Reid said. “Seeing everything that he has learned and how much he has enjoyed it was a real influence in why I wanted to take this on.

“I’d hate for there not to be a program available like this for children.”

The program is a fun and structured environment in which students learn dances, dinner etiquette, social manners and rules for proper attire.

“The dance is a tool for teaching all of these other things,” Rienhart said. “Everything is run in a very structured manner, but that doesn’t mean the children aren’t having fun. They are picking up these other skills, while they are having fun dancing.”

In addition to learning those lessons, Reid said there are other benefits.

“I’m glad to be part of something that gives children more self confidence in addition to life skills,” she said.

Reid said the program will be structured just as it was when Rienhart owned it.

“I’m not going to change something that has worked well for so many years,” she said.

Reid will get her first taste of junior cotillion ownership in July when the smaller summer sessions begin.

Summer classes include two sessions of Little Girls Tea Party for ages 5 to 7, Beginning table manners for boys and girls ages 6 to 12 and New Rules for Social Etiquette for boys and girls ages 9 to 14. Classes will be July 12 -16 and July 19-23. Tuition for the sessions is $40 and due by June 30.

While Reid will be in charge, Rienhart said she is available to lend a helping hand should the need arise.

“I’ll be around if she needs me, but I don’t have to be around if she doesn’t,” Rienhart said.