Tuesday May 8, 2012

LENOX

The sixth-grade class at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School recently got to share many smiles together during a white glove and crystal punch bowl affair.

After her English language arts classes finished reading Ann M. Martin's "A Corner of the Universe," the students asked Julie Barros if they could host a sixth-grade cotillion, or ballroom event featuring couple's dances.

In the book, the main character, who is around the same age as the students, is forced to attend a cotillion as part of her strict upbringing in a Southern town.

"As a Southerner from Louisville, Ky., I, too, was required to attend these cotillions as part of the rites and rituals associated with growing up in the South. The students were so intrigued, that we decided to hold one of our own," Barros said.

The Lenox sixth-grade cotillion was held on Friday at Ventfort Hall, a Gilded Age mansion-turned-museum.

In keeping with cotillion tradition, students were asked to dress in formal wear, and the young ladies were required to wear white gloves, meant to keep the hands and dresses clean and tidy. Each girl also wore a dance card on her wrist, with male dance partners assigned to them by their teachers. The event also offered "free" dances, where students could pick their own partners. Since there are more girls than boys in the sixth grade, ladies were also taught how to "cut in" during a dance to switch partners.

"It's a really interesting opportunity to meet new people or people you didn't really interact with before," said sixth grader Sydney Els.

Barros said the second purpose of the event was "to introduce some of the common courtesies, manners and compassion that were so cherished at that time that have, in many cases, been tossed aside."

Lifelong educator Larry Moore, who has long coordinated ballroom dance lessons for Berkshire County schools, was able to hold three sessions for the students, introducing them to the waltz and fox trot, as well as other practices of proper dance etiquette.

"It think this is great. It's something we've wanted to do for youths," said Ventfort Hall board member Tjasa Sprague. She and other Ventfort Hall members, staff and docents, served as chaperones and guides for the event, along with members of the Lenox School Committee and district administration.

The School Committee also purchased the white gloves for the students. Students themselves, along with parents, pitched in to design everything from the decor, to the dance cards, to the refreshments.

"I think it's a great opportunity to learn something new. My son couldn't wait to come to this," said Sherry Stevens, whose son, Benjamin, dressed in a neat brown suit for the event.

Some students said it was their first time learning a couple's dance, dressing up and also visiting Ventfort Hall.

"It's fun, which is what I expected," classmate Sean Coakley said.