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  The following article was featured in the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, March 7, 2001.

Please and Thank You

Cotillion teaching proper etiquette in a society of wanting manners

By ANNETTE BAIRD, Houston Chronicle correspondent

Manners, etiquette, ballroom dancing: They're the things adults think children will have fun learning and children often find a chore - necessary all the same.

Whether it's learning the cha-cha, how to sit properly or how to introduce yourself, GiGi Lewis is covering all the angles of personal development with cotillion classes.

Lewis, who started five years ago teaching etiquette to local organizations, recently made her debut on the cotillion scene. She offers cotillion to student groups in sixth through 12th grades.

It took more than two years of research to put her vision of cotillion - a dance and social event - into reality, but Lewis believes what she is offering is a comprehensive package of skills that can be taken into adult life and boost a child's confidence.

"It helps build children's self-esteem, and it gives them an edge in life in business and social settings," she said.

While her cotillion is one of many in Houston, Lewis believes it sets itself apart because class size is limited and because there is a higher student-teacher ratio.

Lewis was quick to dispel the notion that the organization was in any way exclusionary.

"That is one of my pet peeves," she said. "Certainly, it's a privilege to be here. But every child from that grade level (in schools that participate) will receive an invitation. We want everyone to feel included."

Recently, the first class of 64 smartly dressed seventh-graders from Spring Forest Middle, Grace Presbyterian, Memorial Middle and First Baptist schools were learning how to ask someone to a dance.

A girl and boy sit back to back on chairs in the middle of the ballroom while their classmates line the outskirts and watch.

"Hello, this is Alex, can I speak to . . . " his voice trails off.

Lewis emphasizes the importance of stating their full name when asking to speak to someone.

A little later, microphone in hand, Lewis strolls round the ballroom inspecting her students posture.

"Sit up straight," she tells one boy. "Wake up please," she gently chides another.

There's some giggling, some self-consciousness, but then they're here to overcome that.

"I'm kind of in the business of rewriting the book on cotillion to make it fun," Lewis said. "It has to be fun."

Jessica Stokes and Charles Hooper, both 13, were ambivalent about the fun side of cotillion , but agreed it was important to learn social skills.

"I'd rather be doing something else," said Jessica, adding her mother made her come. "I guess I need to learn the dances and manners . . . My manners are atrocious."

Jessica seemed to have absorbed some of her lessons well. Sitting upright and cross-legged, she made eye contact and spoke articulately.

Like Jessica, Charles was there because of his mother, Janelle Hooper.

"It was not an option," Hooper said. "I want him to learn how to dance properly. They also learn the etiquette that, these days, they don't learn at home. If someone else tells them, I think it soaks in better. Plus, I think they have fun."

An "appalling eater" by his own confession, Charles said he found the etiquette of eating particularly useful.

"I always used to taste-test in the buffet line," he said. "I've learned that's not a good thing to do. You're supposed to take it back to your seat and eat it there."

Charles also has learned to waltz, which he said might come in handy for weddings and parties.

Thinking a bit more about cotillion , Charles said he has learned to be more confident.

"I'm not always guessing what I'm supposed to do," he said.

As well as covering the gamut of social graces needed in such settings as weddings, parties and dances, cotillion classes provide students with the skills they need in interviews for college and jobs and other settings.

For information, call GiGi Lewis at 281-589-5437.