Lessons I Learned As A Debutant

Posted by Precious Jewel on

"Black American debutante balls can be traced back to 1778 in New York, when the first debutante was recorded by a newspaper, with the first official ball occurring in 1895 in New Orleans" (New York Times).

Black debutante balls present young girls from Black communities to society. Young ladies are encouraged to exemplify good manners, grooming, and social etiquette. But unlike other debutante balls, whose primary goal is to prepare and present young women for marriage, Black debutante balls prepare debutantes for the world outside of the protection of their social circles and communities. Within Black communities, the spotlight is placed on education and eligibility for the workforce, rather than family name and lineage. On tiktok, I found that most of my target audience are debutants, after posting a video about debutante culture two years ago. The lovely Erin Chanel, debutant, speaks with us to describe her debutante experience.

"I became a debutant when I was 16 years old. The Coalition (the ball where the debutants are presented) was a yearly fundraising event ran by the Alpha Kappa Alphas in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The process really just reinforced my upbringing. My family made sure I was in etiquette classes, along with other social society groups. 
Many of the classes during my debutant time were to create a well-rounded & elegant woman. I thoroughly enjoyed being around other likeminded girls," Erin says.
According to Erin, there were "weekly classes for six months". Erin learned:
1. Table arrangements. "If we found ourselves at a fancy engagement, we knew which forks or spoons to use & in the correct order."
2. Ballroom dancing. "We danced with not only our fathers, but later danced with our designated dates. This was all to be performed at the Coalition."
3. How to properly write checks & manage money.
4. How to sew and make a fire (through a lovely glamping experience).
5. Hosting and entertainment. "Each girl was responsible for hosting a tea party & decorating their space. I learned hosting & party planning skills."
6. How to fundraise money for coalition. "I learned letter writing and how to raise money for major events."
7. Finally, "I learned how to socialize with other young women in my age group."
When asked how has being a debutant enhanced her life, Erin says "many of the debutants I met are still my friends today. The debutante experience helped me create a wider social group in my community. The experience also made me want to contribute to society in a positive way. The experince is one of the reasons I became an engineer and created social clubs in my community."
For anyone considering participating, what would you tell them?
"Be willing to learn and socialize with your peers. This will make the experience amazing," Erin says. 
Erin states participating in Coalition was a liberating experience that she will always cherish.
Did you participate in cotillion/debutante ball? Please share your experience in the comments below!

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