As the bus started rolling for Chantilly on Friday afternoon, no one aboard really knew what lay in store for them on this trip. The young men had looked up the word “cotillion” a handful of times, watched videos from previous events, learned ballroom dance steps from FMS Supermom, Mrs. Wright, and Fishburne’s Ms. Byrne, and painstakingly memorized rules for proper silveware usage. They knew that, for 17 previous years, the roles they were about to play had been filled by VMI Cadets.. They knew how important the Debutante Cotillion was to the girls involved. What they didn’t know yet was how they would pull off a 1st-time performance so good that it would put to rest any thoughts of trusting anyone but FMS with this detail.
After checking into their rooms, the Cadets dressed and prepared to meet their hostesses from OldDominion Cotillion (ODC) at the rehearsal dinner that evening. The ODC was formed over twenty-two years ago by Sherry Pressley “because we had a vision of something special we all wanted for our daughters.”
Over the years, the ODC has grown into a unique philanthropic and social organization. With a motto calling for “Volunteerism, Dedication, Integrity and Leadership”, the young ladies of ODC volunteered over two hundred hours of service time last year to the Katherine E. Hanley Family Shelter.
The rehearsal tonight is set to prepare the participants for ODC’s most significant event of the year. The Caissons politely greeted and mingled with Cotillion organizers, parents and debutantes as the evening’s work began.
This rehearsal dinner was going to be a working meeting. After a hearty pasta meal, the Cadets split into organized details for the event: color guard, saber arch and escorts. Coordinating with event organizers, each detail’s commander hammered out movements, cadences, and lines of march with his unit.
The Cotillion had some dances all their own for the Cadets to master as well. The elaborate and choreographed presentation of each Debuntante, for example, requires the young lady and her escort to curtsy and turn from one corner of the dance floor to the other, in order for all in attendance to have a full view of the elegant Deb and her dashing Cadet.
Debutantes, Cadets and parents worked tirelessly through the sequence of events several times, breaking occasionally for bouts nervous laughter when someone would muff a step or lose their place on the floor. After several hours of practice, the organizers declared rehearsal complete. As others shuffled off to their rooms, Cadets were running through their routines again, going through their uniforms or getting in a quick work-out in the hotel gym.
The next morning brought a bit of free time during which the Cadets, following a hearty IHOP breakfast, visited the Air and Space Museum near Dulles airport. Taking simulator rides, gazing up at the Enola Gay’s nosecone, marvelling at the space shuttle Discovery and posing for photos next to the SR-71 made for a full morning and provided a bit of well-earned distraction.
Soon the Cadets were back in the hotel and hard at work, meticulously tending to and donning their finest uniforms for the evening. It’s a two-man job getting this uniform on properly and each young man took turns helping another. They closely inspected one another, made corrections and reinspected until each Cadet’s uniform was perfect.
And then it was show time.
The affair began with an hour-long, formal meet and greet (complete with receiving line) during which Cadets mingled and chatted with guests eager to meet them. With confidence and pride they fielded questions, elicited laughs and slowly won new fans throughout the room.
As the dinner bell rang, guests slowly shuffled to their table and Cadets sprang into their positions for the ceremonies. The Color Guard was standing at the ready well before the emcee began their introduction. On cue, the Colors marched forward in perfect time. Snapping rifle slings and clicking heels echoed through the room as the Guard precisely filed into place, posted and saluted the flags. Silence was punctured by the music of snaps and pops as the FMS Color Guard marched out of the conference room. Next, the six-man saber arch team marched smartly to the main stage and snapped, in two facing columns, into position. As the emcee introduced them, each member of the team took a step forward, drew his saber into a salute then stepped back into line.
As the first Debutante was introduced, the Cadets drew sabers and formed an arch through which she would pass before curtsying and being escorted around the floor by her father.
When the last Debutante and her father took their places on the floor, the Cadet escorts stepped forward and, offering an arm, brought each Deb’s mother to the floor as well. On cue, the fathers stepped aside and exchanged places with the Cadet escorts.
And then came the complicated dance in which each Debutante is presented to the room. From corner to corner of the dance floor, each Debutante glided and twirled with her Cadet escort at her side. The smooth, flowing dance was executed flawlessly as though straight from a Disney princess’ dream.
As the applause slowly died, the band struck up a new tune and the Deb and Cadets led off a night of dancing and celebration. Cadets continued to entertain and delight their Debutantes throughout the night as the dancing moved from ballroom, to modern, to limbo, to conga. White gloves, flowing dresses and bright smiles all shone throughout the night. Whatever ice may haave remained between the Cadets and Debutantes was completely broken now. The laughter spilling out infectiously now from the dancefloor was genuine. These young men and women were truly enjoying each other’s company and having a splendid time.
Suddenly it all made sense. Cotillion isn’t for the organizers, parents, or alumnae. It’s an opportunity for these young men and women to discover and revel in their inner elegance. It’s a chance for them to be (and be seen as) ladies and gentlemen. In a world where flip-flops have begun to find their way into the workplace, Cotillion gives these young ladies and gentlemen a chance to experience something different…gentility punctuated with self-respect and pride.
More online at www.Fishburne.org.