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Debutante ball is a door to adulthood

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See a short video of the girls practicing for the cotillion at http://youtu.be/p6jblOrYn7w.

Cotillion highlights local young women's accomplishments.

Friday, March 22, 2013 - 12:01 am

Starting back in November, 11 local young women have gathered on Saturday mornings to practice and prepare for this year's cotillion, or debutante ball — a rite of passage for young women in the African-American community.

All their hard work will pay off Saturday night when they dress in beautiful white gowns and attend “An Affaire Extraordinaire,” the biennial cotillion hosted by the Friends of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.

Dashyia Haywood, a 17-year-old junior at Heritage High School, knew she wanted to participate in the cotillion ever since she saw it on TV when she was 11 years old.

During the course of the evening, the young women will participate in a mother's dance, a father's dance and an escort dance. They also will practice the etiquette skills they've learned during dinner.

Traditionally, a debutante ball or cotillion was seen as a way for parents to present their daughters to potential suitors who might become their husbands.

Today, the focus has changed. The cotillion is now about highlighting the young women's accomplishments and preparing them for adulthood. It's not just about the dancing and the pretty dress. The debs have to perform 30 hours of community service, they must have a grade point average over 2.8, (out of 4.0), and they must sell ads and tickets to the event.

“You have to have pretty high standards,” Haywood said.

Her mother, Sherry Haywood, encouraged Dashyia to participate in the cotillion, because she's “an excellent student and daughter.”

She believes Dashyia's involvement in the cotillion has “helped encourage her and motivate her to look at what her goals are in life.”

The theme this year is “I know who I am,” and much of the preparation has centered on getting the young women ready for college.

Anita Dortch, who is involved in planning the cotillion, said it's important to highlight the accomplishments of these young women, particularly with all the negative things people hear about African-American youth.

“Our girls are really important to us,” she said.