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An Enduring Wellesley Tradition

Columnist Deb Robi writes about the Wellesley Cotillion, one of Wellesley’s oldest traditions.

It's that time of year. Juniors and seniors in Wellesley are looking forward to putting on the “glitz.” The annual Wellesley Cotillion is coming, and invitations to the top-shelf formal event in Boston will be going out in the days ahead.

By November, students throughout town will receive invitations to the swanky affair. This year’s Cotillion, open to all of the town's junior and seniors from public and private schools, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Dorothy Quincy Suite in the Back Bay Events Center in Boston's Copley Square. Organizers have been planning for months for the holiday season tradition, funded exclusively through parent donations.

This right of passage for Wellesley's young people attracts hundreds of guests. Many students invite dates, while many others choose to attend solo or with a group of friends for the formal occasion. One of the charming elements of accepting an invitation to attend Cotillion, is the continuing tradition of returning an RSVP response card by mail to organizers.

Since the event moved to Boston in 2008 (it used to be held at ) no students are turned away. The Boston venue can accommodate some 700 guests.  One of the surprises for newcomers is that Cotillion is free for Wellesley teens, and is a gift from generous sponsors in Wellesley and parent volunteers who work each year to make it a special event. 

This year will be no different for Cotillion attendees. Since it began in the middle of the last century, those attending the dance do so in black tie and formal wear. A "receiving line" comprised of parent chaperones and volunteers kicks off the event, followed by dancing and celebrating in a prom-like setting.

The 60-year history of the event helps it to survive, with many parents continuing to support the Cotillion because it is such a unique, town-wide event.

Contact wellesleycotillion@gmail.com to find out how to donate to keep this wonderful event lively and engaging. Parent volunteers are still being recruited and they are described by organizers as "crucial" to its success. 

The Wellesley Cotillion continues to evolve. Fifty years ago attendees danced to a live band. Now, a DJ provides the musical backdrop for the night. Parents and organizers deserve a tip of the hat for keeping the tradition alive for each generation of students, who benefit from experiencing a formal event that is designed just for them.

Teens seem to respect the formality of Cotillion, and its zero-tolerance policies for any kind of illegal drug or alcohol use. Many of their parents who grew up in town, attended the event as high school students. 

The event has been problem-free in the past few years, according to organizers, who call the 2010 Cotillion a "phenomenal" success.  Parents and their teens work out transportation arrangements (yes, they often hire limos and buses) and coordinate before and after parties.

It is striking that in an era when manners and etiquette often seem to be forgotten, that there is such interest in 2011's Cotillion. Teens have been buzzing about it for some time, and say it is a chance for them to learn confidence in a social setting.

It's a tradition that is likely to endure in Wellesley, no matter the state of the economy. Hopefully, interest in a formal dance for teens is a reflection of a desire to swing the pendulum back to a time when manners and civility ruled the day. 

Maryliz Levy November 01, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Fact or Fiction: The Wellesley Cotillion is a public school event. FICTION! The Wellesley Cotilllion is not affiliated with Wellesley High School nor is its eligibility exclusive to WHS students. Since the 1940s, The Wellesley Cotillion has been a GIFT to Wellesley's juniors and senior students from THEIR PARENTS. That's right, parent donations underwrite the ENTIRE cost of this annual winter formal.
Maryliz Levy November 08, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Fact or Fiction: The Wellesley Cotillion is a date function. FICTION! At their personal discretion, guests are free to decide whether to attend the dance as individuals, couple or groups. Fact or Fiction: If I want to invite a date, it has to be another junior or senior. FICTION! Guests are afforded the autonomy to invite a chosen date, including one otherwise ineligible to attend The Wellesley Cotillion. This includes an out-of-town guest, as well as one who may be an underclassman. Everyone who accepts an invitation to attend The Wellesley Cotillion, must fill out and return an RSVP card with pertinent contact information.
Maryliz Levy November 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM
Fact or Fiction: If I miss the RSVP deadline, I cannot attend The Wellesley Cotillion. FICTION! Confirmation of acceptance by the RSVP deadline is appreciated so the Committee can expedite the sending of “admittance cards.” Of course, there will be exceptions as some students do not decide to go until late November. Not to worry, capacity is sufficient at The Back Bay Events Center to accommodate all prospective guests, including those who accept their invitation at the last minute. Fact or Fiction: Admittance cards are mailed separately to guest & date. FICTION! Admittance cards for BOTH guest and their out-of-town or underclassman date of choice are mailed to the guest’s home address. If both students are Wellesley juniors or seniors, they will receive their admittance card at the same address they received their invitation. Fact or Fiction: I have to buy a ticket to attend The Wellesley Cotillion. FICTION! There are no tickets sold for The Wellesley Cotillion. It is a GIFT to Wellesley's juniors and seniors, bestowed upon them by THEIR PARENTS and the cost of the event is underwritten by Wellesley parents. Each guest will be issued an "admittance card" which allows them into the Back Bay Events Center the evening of the event.
Maryliz Levy November 21, 2011 at 02:50 PM
November 21 Fact or Fiction: Isn’t Cotillion just another prom? FICTION! The Wellesley Cotillion is significantly different from prom. Prom is defined as a formal dance held in the spring and is sponsored by an individual high school. Junior class proms have gone by the wayside, replaced by springtime semi-formal or casual dances. In direct comparison, The Wellesley Cotillion is unique, unlike Prom in that it is a community-wide event sponsored by Wellesley parents who have juniors and seniors in high school. Cotillion is the first Saturday in December and has come to be the premier event on these young adults’ winter social calendar. The Wellesley Cotillion is an important stepping stone for our community’s young adults, as they have the opportunity to practice what it means to be in black tie – formal dress and impeccable manners -- at this annual formal dance.
Maryliz Levy November 28, 2011 at 03:20 AM
November 28 Fact or Fiction: Black tie is exclusive to fashion “Do’s” & “Don’ts.” FICTION! Cotillion’s recommended attire is not only customary for guests at formal events but also sets equivalent expectations for their behavior. Elegant fashion calls for impeccable etiquette and decorum, practiced throughout the evening in every area of the exquisitely adorned venue. Gracious introductions in the receiving line, polite table manners in the café and appropriate dancing in the ballroom guarantee the spotlight will shine bright on a venerable tradition, young adults worthy of their family’s and community’s pride, Cotillion 2011 guests of honor.

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