The following narrative was written by Gloria Dunbar, a long time teacher at the Opera Omaha Guild’s Cotillion.
From an article in a magazine regarding Cotillion classes of dance and etiquette in San Diego, Mary Ann Strasheim, a member of the Opera Omaha Guild board had the interest and the vision to learn more about it for an Opera Omaha activity. She contracted Mr. Benjamin, founder of the classes there. Then she had a meeting at her home of a newly formed committee for it and reported on her information.
In the fall of 1985, 6th, 7th and 8th graders of the Omaha schools were sent invitations with approximately 100 responding and a meeting at the then Red Lion Hotel for instruction by Mr. Benjamin and his son Peter. The beginning of learning dancing and social graces had begun!
One distinction for the Omaha Cotillion was the innovation of formal dinners to be taught for table manners and other etiquette. Knowing Gloria Dunbar was a teacher of etiquette and especially formal dining, she was asked about teaching dining manners for a four course formal dinner to the young people. She agreed it would be a great interesting idea! The addition to the classes has each young person having a formal dinner reservation planned and arranged for them once during the six week sessions.
In 1978, John Young was appointed as the instructor to take the place of Mr. Benjamin. He was an elementary school teacher with a great deal of experience teaching. He focused on ballroom dancing and the art of conversation and communicating. Since his appointment, Young’s wife, Sarah, has been the liaison of the Cotillion to the Opera Guild Board and has been helping with advising each succeeding Chairman and Committee members as well as attending all events. Each year the Cotillion Chairman and Committee members have done a masterful job of handling invitations, registrations, choice of classes, dinner reservations, comings and goings, the graduation dinner dance and a myriad of details. They are to be congratulated for the superb growth throughout the years.
With the continued growth Kent Day, also an excellent teacher, was added as a dance class instructor. This enabled two classes to be taught at once. Also the age of the attendees had now been limited to sixth graders only. In the 90’s reservations grew to 200 or more. In 2006 the attendance was 340.
Gloria Dunbar continued with one dinner each week until two dinners were needed. These were taught one after another. From 1993, she had an assistant. Her granddaughter, Heather, had been a graduate in the first Cotillion class in 1985. It was a good choice for her to assist as with her background of UNL graduate with a major in French, and living a semester in France it was great fun and meaningful with her speaking of French phrases used during dining. The formal dinner presented to the young people is 4 courses each lasting 15 minutes. The first course is fruit cocktail followed by an entrée then a salad and finished with a scrumptious dessert. Each young person has a place card for seating it begins with the young gentlemen learning to seat the young ladies. From there use of napkins, silverware, plate placement, glasses, and passing food and condiments are all subjects taught during dinner.
Melinda Merth, a teacher who has assisted Gloria during the summer classes of “White Gloves and Party Manners” at the Durham western Heritage Museum joined her as her assistant. During these 21 years the Cotillion has been held at the Red Lion Hotel, the Omaha Club, the UNO Thompson Alumni Center, and now the Omaha Marriott – Regency. Many acquaintances are renewed and many friends are made in the 6 weeks of the Cotillion Classes with the theme of “Manners do Matter”.
Reservations are now being taken for the 2011 Fall Cotillion.
For more information or to receive an invitation please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information: