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Hip Before Their Time

The Cotillion Is Not Gone. Let Us Now Praise the Littlest Dancin' Machines.

September 22, 1996|Colman Andrews

Once a month, all over Los Angeles, they gather. They are young, dressed up, polite. They are of varying heights. They have come to an assortment of women's clubs, social halls and hotel banquet rooms to dance, and they do not dance the Macarena. They essay the fox trot; they box step the waltz. They are cotillion.

A cotillion, from the French word cotillon, meaning petticoat, was originally a specific dance, or rather a category of dances. Later it came to mean an event at which cotillions were performed, a fancy ball. According to Gloria Monahan, who runs four cotillions in the Los Angeles area (including two at which these photographs were taken), it probably assumed its present meaning in the late 18th century, when dancing masters were engaged to teach groups of young ladies and gentlemen both specific steps and social graces.

Today, cotillion is hot. "In Beverly Hills, for instance," Monahan says, "we used to have little parties with maybe 100 people, if that. Now we've got 250."

What's the attraction? As photographer Mark Edward Harris, who took these pictures, points out, "This isn't what people expect from L.A. Everybody has images of gangs and beach kids. So much in L.A. is new. This has an Old World flavor."

Los Angeles Times Sunday October 20, 1996 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 5 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
In "Hip Before Their Time" (Sept. 22), it was incorrectly stated that the Los Angeles Cotillion meets at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. It meets at the Ebell of Los Angeles.

That brings up the obvious question: What's the point in learning the fox trot or the waltz with all those gangs and beaches outside the door? "Cotillion," Monahan says, "gives the boys and girls self-confidence. It changes their whole attitude toward others and their feelings about themselves. By learning steps, they're learning a lot of other things."

Colman Andrews is executive director of Saveur and a veteran of cotillion at the Beverly Hills Women's Club.

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