Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Season of Debs, Belles & Balls


A table full of James' party invitations one day in early December, 2008

In Louisiana, this is the season of Debutante Balls, which are actually 'coming out parties', or parties of introduction for all of the young women of a certain age and of a certain class. The families of these young Southern Belles put on parties that rival any wedding I've ever attended, thereby presenting their daughters to society. Often, whole floors of hotels are reserved for the participants of these dances that continue into the wee hours of the morning. Both of our sons, Daniel and James have been escorts and attendees at these events, because they are friends and go to school with these young women.

James and a Deb who shall remain nameless (I promised)

Daniel before a ball in 2003 with Grammy and Pappa

They are darned lucky that they're boys, because if they had been girls they would have been a part of the 'never came out group,' which in this culture would be a bad thing. I suppose that some of the other parents would have attempted to assist me. But, I'm sure I'm ineducable. Friendships would have been strained. Wailing and gnashing of teeth would have occurred. At least I spared our friends and our hypothetical daughters that. Years ago Daniel coined the phrase, "Mom is not a tennis woman." That continues to be the case.

James (in white and pink) and friends at a Cotillion Dance in Middle School

These parties are the pièce de résistance of a 'party education' that starts unofficially in elementary school, but officially in the later years with "Cotillion". Yes, both of our children were members of a Cotillion, Daniel was a member of 'Elan Cotillion', and James is a member of the 'Baton Rouge Cotillion.' Cotillion is basically a training that children and young adults attend to learn manners and proper social behavior in the context of formal dance (or so says Wikipedia). Here in Louisiana we inherited it directly from the French. I hear that in other places Cotillion training only occurs for seniors in high school, and is more like a class for which you register. Here it starts in middle school, and with an invitation.

However, I remember that our children attended dances in elementary school. James had his first dance in 3rd grade. He came home crying because he hadn't been able to ask a girl to dance. At the time, I felt that his reaction was a sign that dances were occurring too early. Anyway, since that experience, he's developed into an expert.

In addition to Cotillion and Debutante Balls, children and young adults here attend school parties and parties thrown by local families celebrating literally every possible holiday or event.

James at Sadie Hawkins 2008

James at his Senior "Toga" Party (in which he violated the dress code (I mean really, they have "standards") and had to put on a t-shirt underneath


James as a Roman soldier with a cute soldieress

This is not taking into account the number of parties that take place in Louisiana in preparation for Mardi Gras by the various Krewes that organize them. Mardi Gras parades (that are really just long parties) occur the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. But, in point of fact, the Mardi Gras Season starts on January 6th, -- the Twelfth Night of Christmas, also called the Feast of the Ephiphany. Mardi Gras is a Catholic event, also brought to us by the French, which precedes Lent, a time to give up all excesses. In contrast, Mardi Gras is the definition of 'excess.'

The most famous parades are in New Orleans, but literally hundreds of parades occur all over the state of Louisiana during this time period. We have just reserved a place on the Endemyion Parade Route in New Orleans, and we are setting aside time for a St. Patrick's Day Parade, again in New Orleans, and a St. Patrick's Day party here in Baton Rouge (Lilly: it is marked in red on our calendar).

Still going to parties: Daniel, Brandi & Kellan Halloween 2008

Some of our friends, usually those 'not from around here' have commented that they did not allow their children to join a Cotillion. Their feelings generally stem from solid philosophies involving feminism, egalitarianism, and anti-elitism. Rich and I would never have joined any such group in high school (we were sort of from an anti-establishment era).

However, our stance is twofold: 1) Our children are not "us," and they really wanted to do this. No parental pushing was involved. And 2) teaching children in Louisiana how to party is sort of like teaching your child to swim when you have a pool (or the bayou) in your backyard. Not that our children haven't almost drowned once or twice....

And that's where we stand on that.

2 comments:

  1. I thought this coming out balls was a long lost tradition......... But I see they still are alive in 2009.

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  2. South Louisiana has a unique culture which is very unlike the rest of the US, and very unlike the rest of Louisiana, for that matter. Lots of French, Spanish and other European influences, very Catholic, very Cajun (descendants of the Acadians-- seventeenth-century French colonists who settled in the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island — and some in the American state of Maine)and very Creole. You won't find many places like it. Anyway, in South Louisiana Cotillions and Debutante Balls still exist!

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