For 26 years, Susan Humphries has been helping to instill honor, dignity and respect in the next generation through her cotillion classes.
Growing up, Humphries participated in cotillion, but said it was completely different then. Regardless, she said that when she had her own child, she wanted him to learn the same skills — like manners and dance — that she did.
After looking around, the mother found little to no opportunities to enroll her son.
Shortly after, the Hot Springs resident said she stumbled upon an article about a need for a cotillion director and, after a two-week training, she became a licensed director and began her first National League of Junior Cotillion (NLJC) Chapter in 1993 in Hot Springs.
Quickly after, she started chapters in Arkadelphia, Saline County, Hot Spring County, Faulkner County and in Texarkana as well.
Twenty-six years later, she is still teaching sixth-grade students how to act and how to present themselves in relationships with family and friends and for future business associates later in life while getting to learn and practice ballroom dances, a summary of the NLJC’s mission statement.
“The class is instructive in etiquette, covering topics such as telephone courtesy, paying and receiving compliments, acknowledging gifts, making polite conversation, table manners, introductions, receiving lines, first impression skills, dress code for all occasions, manners in the home and public places, being a good guest and host, respect, sports etiquette, interview skills, and self-confidence skills,” Humphries said. ‘These types of skills promote dignity, respect, fairness, a caring attitude, accountability, and citizenship.”
Furthermore, she said, students also follow a program of dance instruction at each function, learning all standard ballroom dances such as the Waltz, Foxtrot, Swing and Cha Cha, plus the latest popular dances.
“I truly, truly enjoy it,” Humphries said. “I really think the skills we teach change these children’s lives.”
At the beginning of each class, she said, she tells her students that they must learn to have honor and honor themselves before they can give it to others and that’s where they start.
Humphries said she has a different version of what manners means than most people do.
She said manners means to be kind to all people at all times and through cotillion classes desires to get that message across because if everyone just got along, especially in a world that lacks civility today, the world would be a better place.
Being able to present oneself is taught during the first class in the form of teaching confident handshakes.
Humphries said students have to shake the hands of 10 people. Once that’s complete, a student is able to gain a signature from a teacher, the goal being to learn while working toward prizes as an incentive.
“All of this reinforces the skills that we’re teaching,” she said.
Every skill they learn during the September through March once-a-month sessions is recorded as such giving the students that opportunity to gain rewards while developing skills for the future.
Humphries said they do have several balls where students have the chance to walk out and practice the skills they have learned along the way.
Through the years she said she’s received a lot of thank-you notes and well wishes and surprisingly enough, most are from males who have gone through the program.
Humphries said often times, the former students express gratitude for her work and the skills they learned … how important they have become as they’ve gone through life and now, into the workplace.
It’s those blessings and knowing the life that was impacted, she said, is the most rewarding.
That and the interactions she’s had with the more than 10,000 children that have gone through her cotillion programs.
“These skills are going to let you stand out in a crowd for all the right reasons,” Humphries said.
Classes for the NLJC Conway Chapter will begin in September. Registration is now in progress and can be done by visiting www.nljc.com/n/index.php/chapters/faulknercounty/chapter.
Through the years, Humphries has received the following rewards:
• 1994 New Director of the Year.
• 1995 NLJC Regional Director of the Year.
• 1996 NLJC Pre-Cotillion Director of the Year.
• 2005 NLJC Director of the Year.
• 1996 Ambassador Award.
• NLJC "2000 Club" Award.
• Meritorious Service Award 2006.
• 2006 Best Mannered Teacher Award.
• NLJC Making a Difference Award 2007.
• NLJC Presidential Award of Excellence from its inception in 1996 to present.