Seventy years ago, personal computers, cellphones and social media did not exist. People interacted and communicated face-to-face, over the telephone and through written correspondence. Although much has changed, social skills and graces, self-confidence, relationship building, and respect will never become obsolete. Jon Williams, and his wife, Vivian, saw a need for children to learn social skills when they founded Jon D. Williams Cotillions in Colorado Springs in 1949.

The seed was planted when Julie Penrose, wife of The Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose, invited the Williamses, who were the resort’s ballroom dance performers and instructors, to direct classes on social graces and ballroom dance for the surrounding community’s children.

Jon and Vivian Williams were originally from New York City, where Vivian was one of Fred Astaire’s dance partners, and Jon was the director and nationwide managing partner of Astaire’s Park Avenue Studio. The couple performed on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as at The Broadmoor. Eventually, they settled in Colorado Springs to raise their family.

Today their son, Jon D. Williams III, continues his parents’ nationwide legacy with cotillion (dance) and social skills education programs.

Katherine Young, vice president of Denver-based JDW Social Education Programs, said: “We teach social skills to children in an era where they so desperately need them.”

Cotillion is not just dance. Children and adolescents who engage in the classes learn to step away from their electronic devices and make real connections. Young describes this as learning “soft skills” — the ability to engage, be present, have self-confidence, and make others around you comfortable.

Lessons learned include standing up straight, making eye contact and shaking hands. Body language is key and the “presidential stance” is a primary learned skill; it includes making eye contact, feet together and hands held in back or — preferably – in front of the body. Focus is also placed on being respectful, acting like a lady or gentleman, and developing and maintaining relationships.

Cotillion is a tradition for generations of Colorado Springs families. Carrie Dunn Clarke, who lives with her family in the Broadmoor community, submitted the following testimonial to JDWC: “I grew up going to the Broadmoor cotillion program in the 80s and later was an instructor in Denver alongside Mr. Williams and Mrs. Young. Now my oldest daughter is doing the same program at The Broadmoor I did as a 4th grader! Mikayla, who was hesitant to join, is now the first one on the dance floor, has a great handshake and understands table manners. I also love the addition of encouraging our future women to be confident and bold and also understand how to give and receive respect. We’re thrilled the program is still going strong 30 years later to keep the family tradition going!”

Young explains that JDWC feels strongly that if tuition is an issue, every child should be provided with an opportunity to go through the program. Scholarships are offered through benefit auctions that raise funds for different charities that are involved. Discounts are given to school administrators, teachers, and families of active-duty military.

“So much money is spent on other activities and sports,” Young said. “I believe Cotillion is the best investment a parent can make in their child’s future. It will help them in sports to be a better team player, help with interviews, jobs, relationships and friendships. People who develop social skills live happier and more fulfilling lives.”

To learn more about Cotillion, visit cotillion.com.

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