At this traditional debutante ball for the high society, also a fundraiser for the local hospital, they were presented to the community on the arm of a prominent businessman. In the months before, the girls had practiced the curtsy in front of their bedroom mirrors at least a hundred times, so as not to mess up this ladylike way of bowing, and make a great impression. After accomplishing this, everybody would dance to the music of a big band. And at the end of the elegant evening one of them was crowned Apple Blossom Queen.
That is how it went, since 1957. There used to be many chic balls like these in industrial New England. But as the factories that brought prosperity closed, the towns diminished. There is no longer a high society in Springfield. Yet, its Cotillion survived.
I wanted to know why American girls today continue to take part in an old-fashioned pageant like Apple Blossom. For three winters I went to the Sunday dance rehearsals, from January until May.
“It’s a great, last bonding activity with kids you’ve been growing up with since kindergarten,” contestant Emilia said. “Now everyone is going to different states, different colleges. You never know when you’re gonna see your classmates again.” And the Cotillion has become an important community event and family tradition, in which grandmothers, mothers, and sisters of the contestants also danced, and hoped to become, even if just for one night, queen of the town.
The present version is a festive dance show for which everybody can buy tickets. In it, senior high school girls present themselves to a panel of judges in the drab gymnasium of a local school. The music to which they dance is downloaded from the internet. But when the youth of Springfield take the floor, dressed in glamorous ballroom gowns and stylish tuxedos, instead of their usual fashionably torn jeans and camo shirts, the atmosphere changes completely. Besides, in this modern goodbye to childhood, the young ladies may choose their own dance escort – and sometimes it's not even a guy.