A cotillon, as a rule, takes place directly after tea at a party given for small children, while for bigger boys and girls it may begin towards the middle of the evening when the first half-dozen dances are over. The first general shyness will then have worn off, and every one will be prepared to enter merrily into the spirit of the revels.
To begin the cotillon a ring of chairs must surround the walls of the dancing-room,and the boys are told each to choose a partner and sit beside her in the magic circle. They dance the first dance together, and they sit out any intervals which may occur as the figures are being performed, side by side, but for the rest of the dances they are expected to exchange favours with children sitting in some other part of the ring, and not with their next-door neighbours. It is of the utmost importance that, once started, the cotillon should go with a swing from start to finish. The music must go with scarcely a break between the dances, and the two cotillon leaders - a boy and a girl - must be well drilled in their duties beforehand, so that figure may follow figure in swift succession without a hitch.
It is quite a good plan to have four leaders instead of the more customary two, and to arrange for them to lead alternate figures and to distribute trayfuls of favours in turn.
Fig. 2, The butterfly figure. This begins by the girls loosing the mechanical butterflies
The Chariot-driving Figure is a good one to begin with.
The two leaders, wearing golden fillets on their heads, enter the ring, each driving a prancing steed, which curvets to the music of a lively galop. The boy leader drives a little girl between bell-bedecked ribbon reins, and the girl leader a small boy. They drive round the ring, touching boys and girls with their ribbon-lashed whips, and each boy or girl so touched leaves his or her place and joins the driven team, until the boy is driving half a dozen girls and the girl half a dozen boys. The two teams are now driven triumphantly round the room side by side, and with a sudden jerk of the reins both teams come to a standstill, and, casting aside the intervening ribbons, each boy dances off with the little girl he finds beside him.
After each set figure comes a presentation of favours to every one present, so that all may join in the dance.
Fig. 3. The same figure, showing the boys capturing the butterflies
The leaders come in bearing bunches of airballs of every imaginable hue. These they proceed swiftly to distribute. Then the boys and girls run about the room matching airballs and so choosing partners. Those whose airballs match in colour waltz away together with the balls floating by strings above their heads as they dance.
A Butterfly Chase
. The Butterfly Figure may follow. Six or eight girls are called out to stand in a row at one end of the ballroom, each one armed with a previously well-wound-up little Japanese paper butterfly, the elastic secured by a pin. Each butterfly is numbered, and the girls wear corresponding numbers pinned to their frocks.
Fig. 4. The boy who succeeds in capturing the bait receives the girl angler as his partner
A corresponding number of boys stand in a row at the other end of the room, and as the music strikes up the pins which hold the butterflies are withdrawn, and away they flutter high up to the ceiling and then slowly down again, to be captured eagerly by the boys, who run forward to claim the owners of the butterflies as their partners for the next dance.
A Strawberry Bait
A distribution of zoological favours follows - the animals from a huge Noah's Ark, or penny toy animals, further decked by gay bows of ribbon and a safety-pin, by which they can be fastened to the wearers' jackets and frocks - and then comes the Fishing-rod and Strawberry Figure.
A row of chairs is arranged down the middle of the room, and the boy leader, calling out half a dozen little girls. gives each a fishing-rod from which dangles a marzipan strawberry. The girls then mount chairs and fish over the back for a partner.
The girl leader meanwhile calls out a dozen boys to stand in couples by each chair, and to vie with each other, open-mouthed, for the possession of the strawberry. The little girls, with true feminine enjoyment of their power, after duly tormenting their would-be partners for a moment, each pop the coveted goody into the mouth of the favoured swain, with whom then each proceeds to dance.
A distribution of Japanese parasols and fans may follow - the boys and girls exchanging favours and dancing together beneath the opened parasols.