‘Manners never go out of style’: Natchez Garden Club sponsoring Magnolia Festival Junior Cotillion

Published 2:34 pm Sunday, January 14, 2024

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Garden Club is sponsoring a program to teach young people social etiquette and ballroom dancing.

They will have the opportunity to put what they learn to work at the Magnolia Festival Junior Cotillion.

Cheryl Rinehart

“I think these are timeless skills that we need now more than ever. We need to learn how to be kind to one another and how to be respectful to one another, even if someone is not our best friend or even if we don’t agree with them,” said Cheryl Rinehart, director of the program.

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Rinehart established and designed the Natchez Junior Cotillion in 1989. She has instructed thousands of young people in the Miss-Lou on social etiquette and ballroom dance for more than 27 years.

The five-week program will be held for fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls during January and February on Sunday afternoons.

“This program is open to the entire community and extending parishes and counties surrounding Natchez,” she said.

“Youth of today have so many avenues coming at them from social media in all forms. I know they do get some of these basic skills at home and school and at church, but what makes this unique is they focus on learning all of them amongst their own peers. They come in a structured environment in dress attire, not jeans and the casual clothes they wear elsewhere. Boys wear coats and ties and dress shoes and slacks. Girls are in dresses and the little white wrist gloves,” Rinehart said.

She said the framework of the program is structured, but not necessarily old-fashioned. The dances are current and basic ballroom dancing is performed to modern music, as well as waltzes.

“Times evolve, but manners never go out of style and are never old-fashioned,” Rinehart said.

Specific dates are Jan. 21, 28 and Feb. 4, 11 and 18 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Tuition for the program is $150.

The sessions will take place in Ellicott Hall on the grounds of The House on Ellicott’s Hill, 211 N. Canal St.

“We will be teaching social interaction skills and correspondence skills, and we will be teaching dancing. It’s a well-rounded program and they will be learning dining etiquette, too,” she said.

The students will have the opportunity to be presented at the Magnolia Ball in April.

“Being presented is part of what we teach, too. We’ve done this for the last two years and the majority of the students want to do that, be presented at the Magnolia Ball.”

The program began as the Natchez Junior Cotillion, “which had eight sessions and ended with the Holly Ball. It was a formal ball and the children were presented. They had dance cards and were pre-matched with others. There was always a parents’ dance and a parents’ waltz,” she said. “This program is a little different, but basically the same. It gives them the opportunity to have the ball experience.”

Rinehart said the program is open to those in other nearby communities, as well as the immediate Miss-Lou area.

“Because it’s on a Sunday afternoon, any fifth- and sixth-grade boy and girl not only in Natchez and Vidalia and Ferriday, but in Woodville, Brookhaven and McComb. When we used to do this, we would have kids from everywhere. Brookhaven and McComb are such a short drive. Parents can organize carpools, bring the children and the parent who drove can go shopping during the sessions,” she said.

Rinehart served as an instructor in communications and theater on the high school level for more than 25 years and was co-owner of Apropos, a wedding and events service who coordinated corporate, social and wedding events for 20 years. She is volunteering her time and talents to develop the program for The Magnolia Festival with proceeds going toward The Magnolia Ball, an event that will culminate on April 6 on the grounds of Magnolia Hall. The Junior Cotillion participants are offered the opportunity to also be presented during the ball.

The Junior Cotillion program is one of the activities sponsored by The Natchez Garden Club during The Magnolia Festival. The club hosts a royal debutant program beginning in August and concludes with The Magnolia Ball in which the royalty and the Cotillion students are presented and escorted by their parents. The event serves as once of the club major fundraisers and social events each year.

“Not only does the event raise funds for their preservation and restoration projects, the club also serves the community’s youth in offering traditional proper social interaction opportunities that prepare them during their young adulthood development,” she said.

The Junior Cotillion program participants learn alongside their peers in a fun, gentle, relaxed but structured atmosphere.

Space is limited so please register early to reserve your space.

Registration and tuition may be paid online on the Natchez Garden Club website, natchezgardenclub.org or by printing off the registration form and mailing with check to the  Magnolia Festival Junior Cotillion, 215 S. Pearl St., Natchez, MS 39120.

For more information contact Cheryl Rinehart, cherylrinehart25@gmail.com.