Today I have a great treat for y’all. Jen Calonita, author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life and Belles series, as well as one of my favorite books, Sleepaway Girls, is here to talk about her dance experience. In Winter White, the sequel to Belles, the girls take on cotillion. Winter White is in stores now!
It’s no secret how Jen Calonita knows the inside scoop on young Hollywood. A former Senior Entertainment Editor at Teen People, Jen has interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Zac Efron. An entertainment journalist for the past ten years, Jen has written for TV Guide, Glamour and Marie Claire.When the self-professed entertainment junkie is not working, she can be found doing one of three things: scrapbooking, watching Glee, or going to the movies. Jen resides in Merrick, New York with her husband Mike, sons Tyler and Dylan, and their Chihuahua, Captain Jack Sparrow.Check out Jen’s video interviews at the website for her publisher, Hachette Book Group: LB Teens. She talks about growing up and being a writer as well as Secrets of My Hollywood Life: Family Affairs.Still have questions? Check out her FAQ!
Why I Wish I Had Gone to Cotillion
By Jen Calonita
In “Winter White,” my latest BELLES novel, Mira and Izzie take different approaches to dealing with cotillion, a Southern tradition that usually involves a formal ball where women are presented to society. Mira’s been planning her debut since she could practically walk while Izzie is dragged into the experience kicking and screaming.
I know many parts of the country have cotillions, but growing up on Long Island, we didn’t have anything like this tradition. The closest I ever came to wearing white before my wedding was when I needed to don the color for my communion dress (which I loved picking out, by the way). Etiquette lessons, dance classes with boys, making my debut—that sort of stuff was foreign territory to me. But the more I researched cotillion for “Winter White,” the more envious I got of girls who got to participate in this coming-of-age party.
Now I know there will be a portion of you who are reading this and saying: “Jen, I did cotillion and I hated it!” and to you, I apologize. I can’t help myself. I’m fascinated by cotillion and here’s why:
I wonder if I had had cotillion training if I would have had the confidence to find a date to my school dances rather than wait for someone to ask me (which never happened). All those dance classes girls in cotillion take. The etiquette lessons, knowing the proper way to conduct an interview, how to make eye contact—I would have killed for this type of girl power training! Instead, I approached every school dance with dread. I blame this fear all on the well intentions of my best friend in seventh grade. Back then dances were a non-date affair. You showed up and hovered near one wall while the guys stuck like glue to the other. The boy I had crushed on since the sixth grade was there and I would have given anything for him to even just say hello to me. Instead, I wasn’t sure if he even knew I was alive. Getting him to ask me to dance was a pipe dream. Or so I thought. My best friend thought she was doing me a favor by asking him to dance with me. But when he turned her down flat, and she told me what happened, I was crushed.
By the time I got to ninth grade and people started bringing dates to dances, I was petrified of facing that kind of rejection again. The first year we all went to a dance, I somehow convinced most of my friends to attend solo, so I got off kind of easy. But by sophomore year, people were pairing off. My solution? Go with a guy friend, and that worked for the most part. Of course it took a little negotiation—more like a peace treaty—my friends put out feelers to see if he would go with me as friends, then he wanted to make sure I knew we really were just friends, then his friend wanted a date too—by the end I was so exhausted I wondered if it was even worth going at all.
The fun wasn’t having a date. At least not for me. Those painful slow songs were just reminders that the guy I was with was just not that into me in that way. The fun, it turned out, was just being with my friends, getting dressed up in some amazingly awkward dress (why did I always pick pink or teal?), and knowing I was part of a group. In the end, I wish I had realized I didn’t need a guy on my arm to survive a school dance. All I really needed was to learn all the things that cotillion training teaches a girl (well, in my opinion, at least)—how to be comfortable in my own skin. It took me a little while, but by college, I finally got there. When the first freshman formal came up, I didn’t even bother looking for a date. I got the cutest dress I could find (I graduated to wearing navy) and danced the night away on my own with my single friends around me. And you know what? It was probably the most fun at a dance I ever had.
Thanks so much, Jen! I hope y’all enjoyed and keep an eye out for my review of Winter White on the blog this week!