As a child, my mother and father, as well as other adult role models, taught me life skills that, at the time, I didn’t know were life skills. For example, sit up straight, yes sir, no ma’am, don’t chew with your mouth full, tuck in your shirt, open the door for a lady, help an elderly person down the stairs and on and on. They were trying to mold me, teach me, to be the best version of myself I could be. Despite my early reticence, I use all those life lessons today.
Now, as a father, I have a great appreciation for what they were doing and believe it is my role to love, care for, teach and mold my children to be the best version of themselves they can be. I want to be a living, walking, talking example to my sons and daughter. Of course, we as parents want to do all we can for our children, but I believe that at the end of the day, I want to prepare them the best I can for this thing called life.
In preparing for our Ladies’ Edition, I wanted to get an expert opinion on what a southern gentleman is in the mind of a lady, who is responsible for molding and training our next generation in the sometimes, lost arts of decorum, civility and manners.
Suzette Tucker Wimpy is the Director of Nashville & Williamson County Chapters National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC). And she knows first-hand what our young people already know and are taught at home and also what they lack!
Here is a bit of information for those who are not familiar with Junior Cotillion:
Students enroll based on where they attend school. Suzette and her husband Kevin became involved in 2010 when they were asked to take over portraits for the Grand Ball held at Richland Country Club each year. They have two teenage daughters, who went through two years of the program. Suzette and Kevin were so impressed with the program that they told the former director they would be happy to take over if she ever retired. When that happened in 2021, they were trained and accredited by the national organization and the former director – and before they knew it, they took over!
“We love helping middle schoolers gracefully navigate through the social interactions of middle school. Our program trains sixth, seventh and eighth graders in all matters of manners, etiquette and basic ballroom dance. They learn how to do proper introductions, to escort and to be escorted, chairs, doors, table manners, writing thank you notes, appropriate dress and so much more,” explains Suzette.
Suzette believes in the art of being a true gentleman. She says: “Being a gentleman is timeless. Good manners never go out of style. Gentlemen sit strong. They show respect for their parents and authority. Gentlemen rise when a lady excuses herself from the table and when she returns to the table. They escort the lady on their right arm. Above all, a gentleman treats others with honor, dignity and respect.”
I could not agree more. So let’s get down to a few more questions. I know we can rely on this expert lady in the field to know the answer to:
What is YOUR definition of a gentleman?
A gentleman exemplifies noble character. He shows respect for his parents and others in authority. He treats everyone with honor and dignity. He makes everyone feel welcomed and excludes no one.
How has working with youth and instilling the qualities of a gentleman, and lady, changed over the years?
Basic respect for those around you is timeless and will never change. Good manners are about being a better person with those around you. There have been topics added over the years, such as electronic etiquette. But for the most part, elements of good behavior are timeless. For example, one of the things we teach is that in certain circumstances, it is important to either communicate face to face or with a handwritten note rather than electronically.
What do you feel are the top three most important things you would want a student to take from your teachings?
I want the students to feel confident in social situations. I hope I support their parent’s teachings by encouraging them to act and treat others with honor, dignity, and respect and instill life skills that will make them more successful.
Why do you feel this process is important? What goes into the process? (Lessons, classes, outings, formal events, etc.).
Everyone is bombarded with social media and entertainment that does not reflect the values or behavior of a proper young lady or gentlemen. Parents appreciate ways to reinforce the correct behavior to their children beyond what they already do at home. Our program is a two-year program. Our first year covers the basics, while our second year digs much deeper. We offer five interactive classes covering manners, etiquette, and ballroom dancing. We also have a holiday dance where they practice their skills prior to their formal Grand Ball. Our Year two students have the same number of dances and classes, but their Grand Ball also includes a five-course instructional formal dinner.
The curriculum was developed by Anne and Charles Winters over thirty years ago in North Carolina. Since then, thousands of students nationwide have been through the program. Our chapters have been active for twenty-seven years with over fourteen-thousand children and were previously led by my predecessor, Sara Seiberling. The program is nationally accredited and is used by the Citadel to teach their cadets. They are taught to sit and walk strong instead of slouching, taught when and how to help with coats, doors, seating, introductions, escorting a lady, how to avoid dancing on a lady’s feet by knowing the correct dance steps, how to cut in, how to serve and be served, appropriate boundaries with the opposite sex, how to set the table, how to write thank you notes, RSVPs, Regrets, and so much more.
Do you think children at that age appreciate what they are learning and what they get back from it?
Many children enter with incorrect ideas but quickly change their attitude once they begin to experience it. We have teaching assistants who have been through the program and serve as peer role models. These assistants help do skits, lead games, and other activities to make it fun to learn. So many of the students come back for the Year two program and even volunteer or apply to work for us as teaching assistants.
What do you want our readers and audience to know about Junior Cotillion Nashville - Franklin?
Good manners never go out of style. Some misconceive that this is merely an old school way of thinking, but in fact, good manners often make the difference throughout life in whether people get promotions, jobs or even into certain schools. In truth, they can affect every current and future relationship a person has.
For information about the Junior Cotillion, go to nljc.com/chapter/williamsonco