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Life and Arts

Verdugo Views: For many years, Gollatz Cotillion has taught more than dance lessons

In 1984, from left, Craig Christy, Christina Dandridge, Collin Spencer, and Kevin O’Connell pause f
In 1984, from left, Craig Christy, Christina Dandridge, Collin Spencer, and Kevin O’Connell pause for a photo on their way to Cotillion at the Tuesday Afternoon Club on Central.
(Courtesy of Katherine Yamada)

For many years, local parents have signed their young daughters and sons up for the Gollatz Cotillion.

It’s been around since 1932, when a young woman, Virginia Gollatz, taught her first class at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena.

Her brother, Robert, became her dance partner in 1940. When Virginia Gollatz retired, her brother and his wife, Dorys, became dance partners. Later, the couple began teaching Glendale and Burbank youngsters at the Tuesday Afternoon Club. According to the Glendale News-Press edition of Nov. 16, 1992, their “goal was to provide a setting in which students learned how to act gracefully in social situations.”

Pat Spencer recalled that her daughter, Michele, and son, Collin, attended cotillion at the Tuesday Afternoon Club on Central Avenue in the early 1980s. Spencer was part of a carpool and often picked up several northwest Glendale students, then sat with other parents while their children danced.

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After chatting with both of her children by phone this week, Pat Spencer emailed me highlights of their conversations.

The No. 1 memory that first came to mind for both was Mrs. Gollatz and her castanets. She used them constantly throughout the evening, both to get their attention and for discipline purposes, she said.

Also, Collin Spencer recalled wearing a costume at Halloween.

“That’s the most they could come up with,” Pat Spencer added. “As they both reminded me, ‘It has been 35 years, Mom.’”

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She added that she didn’t have to coax them to attend, perhaps because their friends were going, too.

Cotillion members were expected to adhere to a strict dress code — coats and ties, not jeans or school cords, for the boys; and party dresses, neither strapless nor revealing, for the girls, according to the Glendale Burbank Section of the Los Angeles Times on March 27, 1983.

Thick- or rubber-soled shoes were forbidden because they were believed to be dangerous for dancing. And gloves? Well, no.

“Expecting girls to wear white gloves was a double standard,” Dorys Gollatz told the interviewer in 1983. “Boys don’t wear them.”

Melinda Gillman, a 1960 graduate of Glendale High, went to the Gollatz Cotillion for its Thursday Club, along with other students living in La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge.

“It was very popular and crowded. All the boys had to ask a girl for a dance, so everyone got to dance. She always had her castanets. We sat around the room and waited until the boy came over and asked you to dance. She had a ship-wreck party at the end of the sessions,” Gillman wrote in a recent email.

Despite the dress stipulation, Gillman and her friends sometimes didn’t toe the line.

“My friend and I had sailor suits, with very short skirts. We wore them in hopes of shocking Mrs. Gollatz. The only thing she said was, ‘cute outfits, girls’ ... I don’t think we were allowed to wear shorts.”

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Her husband, Art, who grew up in Sparr Heights and also attended Glendale High, signed up for the cotillion but would sneak out the back door and walk to the movies.

“He figured out how to get back in time to be picked up by his mom,” Melinda Gillman said.

All three of the Gillmans’ children continued the cotillion tradition. Daughter, Kim, started in 1981 at the Thursday Club and her two sons in 1979 and 1983, respectively.

“They loved it,” their mom said.

Son Craig only remembered one dance, which involved, “Oh ya, side, step, side, arch,” but he also remembered the stress of having to go ask girls to fill up a dance card even though the girls weren’t allowed to say “no.”

Both he and brother Mark recalled that the costume night was fun. Mark Gillman had vivid memories of wearing a corduroy suit — and memories of Mrs. Gollatzes’ castanets.

The Gollatz Cotillion continues in La Cañada and at other sites throughout Southern California, with the fourth generation of the Gollatz family teaching social skills and “Essential Life Skills for Success,’’ according to their website.

Katherine Yamada can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 453 S. Spring St., Third Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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