The following historical notes have been gleaned from minutes of the Cotillion Board meetings and from comments of long-time members. No minutes exist for 1947-9, but the records thereafter are complete. While there have been many changes over the years in venues, dance format, membership composition, and cost, the considerations and difficulties of running a ballroom club have pretty much remained constant.
Those of us who love to dance are often frustrated by today's lack of suitable venues and think fondly of the good old days: we assume that, since everyone danced, hotels installed grand ballrooms, instead of the portable postage stamps you usually see now. However, the records reveal that luxury has always had a price tag. We envy the early Cotillion for the Van Curler Hotel, with its 1900 square feet of dance floor - yet imagine 130 couples trying to dance simultaneously on that floor. Despite potential crowding, early Boards found it necessary to keep membership numbers up. In September of 1957, for example, the minutes lament "the large turnover in membership because of industrial personnel transfers" and urge board members to solicit replacements. Without a minimum of 115 membercouples, it would be impossible to supply the "pleasant surroundings and good music" Cotillion members wanted.
In 1960, there was an attempt to control the crowding by renting the Solarium as well as the ballroom. Though the early Cotillion dances were not dinner dances, members expected to be seated at tables, and the Board reasoned that setting up tables in an additional room would free up more dance space. The measure was adopted,though not without criticism. Since the Solarium was an upstairs room, the ladies risked damaging their long dresses traipsing up and down the stairs.
Van Curler management was not always easy to deal with either. Cotillion was forced to move its February 1954 dance because promised renovations to the Van Curler ballroom were not completed on time. Cotillion used the Edison Club as a bailout, though it was agreed that the Edison's floor was not nearly large enough for so many people. From 1955-9, the VanCurler booked Cotillion dances,with the proviso that, with three months' notice, they could cancel if a more lucrative convention contract became available. Our minutes indicate that this happened not infrequently, requiring Board members to beat the bushes for replacement venues.
All this time,the rental price for a ballroom increased steadily. As early as 1960, the Cotillion explored the possibility of holding some kind of dinner dance, in order to pass the costs of the room along to the members. In 1966, the VanCurler agreed to provide the ballroom rent free, if Cotillion could guarantee that 66 couples would dine at the hotel. Members did not receive this idea with enthusiasm, and at the time, the Board was reluctant to absorb the financial risk involved.
In some ways, early Cotillion membership was quite different from today's, in that socializing seemed almost as important as the dancing. Various groups met at one couple's house for cocktails. Many times people were late getting to the dances (around 10 p.m. or later) because they were having a good time socializing. At the dance, you sat exclusively with your own group as opposed to collectively. If some people in your group didn't show up, people in that group often times didn't go to the dance.
Club minutes bear testimony to the importance these cocktail groups had in the Cotillion's functioning. The minutes for 1970, for example, list each cocktail group along with the names of each member couple. There were about 20 groups, with between 3 and 11 members each. The Board solicited these groups for their input about bands, music, and format, required them to take turns decorating for dances, and urged them to bring in new members.
Between 1965 and1970, the Board undertook some measures to urge people to attend dances, even if their cocktail mates were absent. The 1970 membership letter tells of a special Hospitality table where single couples and those without their usual cocktail members could sit. "Even if members of your group are indisposed, consider still dancing. Call the President, or see the Reception Committee at the door."
Originally, the Cotillion's bylaws specified that its members be married couples only. There was an embarrassing moment in 1969, when it was discovered that a current member couple were not married. The balance of their membership fee was returned, and they were asked to leave the club. In 1985, members who suddenly found themselves spouseless were allowed to attend dances with partners of their choice, but it wasn't until 1990 that the "marrieds-only" rule was officially rescinded. Membership is now open to "couples with an established relationship or singles who will bring a partner of the opposite gender."
As long as theCotillion is alive and well, we know we can look forward to elegant clothing, beautiful venues, and the finest live music we can afford. These are the common denominators that link the Cotillion of today with the Cotillion of 1947.
Edited December 22, 2014