Surviving Filipino Cotillion Season

“Where are you going?” I said to The Daughter.
“I’m going to the video shoot.”
“Okay.  Wait, what?”

I had told The Daughter that she wouldn’t be getting a Cotillion for herself (we would rather spend the money for college), but I never knew that even without doing one, Cotillion season would still be an ordeal.  For those who don’t know, a Cotillion or Debut is an 18th birthday party popular among Filipinos. Think of it is a bas mitzvah or bar mitzvah for Filipinos but with a heavy emphasis on music, dancing, and pretentious ceremony. One was featured in the movie The Debut, and the video above should give you a pretty good idea what goes on. When The Daughter and her friends began to turn 18, Cotillion season had begun.

The celebrant has a “court” of 9 boys and 9 girls, including herself and her escort.  Doing a video with the Cotillion court, like the one above, is apparently a popular thing to do these days.   A video shoot may not seem like much of big time commitment, but that is only one commitment among many that court members must make.  There is usually a photo shoot too, and on top of that, there are big choreographed dance numbers that require a lot of practice.  For example, this dance number took 5 months to learn.  Usually the dances are waltzes or hip hop, but sometimes they are traditional Filipino dances like the Singkil below.  The Daughter would have to rush from her full time job, grab something to eat, and then practice dancing a few hours after that.  “I want my life back!” she would often say.

This article mentions that Cotillions average between $30,000 and $50,000 dollars, as you need to book a big space, catering, and music.  The upper range is like a year at Harvard!  I thought I was free of Cotillion expenses by not having one for The Daughter, but even if you don’t have one, there can be lots of little costs that add up.  If you attend one, you are expected to give a decent gift.  The Daughter attended three. If you are part of a court, you have to buy a number of outfits, including a more formal and more expensive bridesmaid type dress.  The Daughter was part of two courts.  She would also try to use the costs of cotillion as justification for things she wanted me to buy for her.  “Hey, it’s cheaper than a Cotillion,” she would say.

I may seem to utterly hate the concept of Cotillions, but despite the expense and extravagance, I had a good time when the Wife and I were invited to the final cotillion of the season. I saw some friends there that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I did enjoy watching the dances, even if there were a few mistakes. Finally, it was a pleasure to see many of the Daughter’s old classmates and friends all grown up, dancing, and having a good time. I had seen them grow up since they were in kindergarten. Here they were, all grown up now and soon off to college. For them, the door of childhood was closing, the door to adulthood was opening, and this Cotillion punctuated that transition.

The Cotillion season is over now, and we survived.  I asked The Daughter if there is anything that she would do differently, and she said no and added that she’s glad that she didn’t have one. Me too. We get a break from Cotillion season for a while, at least until Number One Son and his friends start turning 18.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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