A Filipino cotillion, also called a debut, is held for a young Filipina woman on the occasion of her eighteenth birthday. Not only does this celebration mark the passage of the debutante into womanhood, but it also demonstrates the wealth and prestige of the family. This tradition has surged in popularity over recent years, and has taken place along the Spanish Quinceanera, the Jewish Bat Mitzvah and the American Sweet Sixteen dance as a coming-of-age-ritual for young women.
Decide whether or not you wish to host your cotillion by yourself or with a group of friends. In the past Filipino cotillion societies helped organize large cotillion balls that would present multiple debutantes at one grand event. While these societies have faded away over time, you can partner with other Filipino girlfriends who are getting ready for their own debuts. You will have to share the spotlight, but you can also share the cost by splitting the fees for a DJ, band, hall rental and catering.
Assemble your guest list and choose your cotillion court. The most traditional of Filipino cotillion dances is the Grand Cotillion Dance, an elaborate waltz that is danced by the debutante, nine female friends and nine male friends. To be part of the cotillion court is an honor and may be extended to siblings and friends. Consider signifying their presence in the cotillion court with a special boutonnière for the gentlemen and a necklace or pin for the ladies.
Book the event location of your choice, and decide the color palate for your event. There is no traditional location for a Filipino cotillion; it simply needs to be large enough to accommodate the number of guests you have chosen for both dinner and dancing. Similarly, color schemes are left entirely up to the debutante, though many Filipina debutantes borrow from the American debutante tradition by wearing a white ball gown to their cotillion. Let your cotillion court know as quickly as possible what color scheme will dominate your party so they can find suitable dresses in time for the occasion.
Hire a choreographer that specializes in traditional Filipino cotillion dances. The dances of a tradition Filipino Cotillion Ball include the Grand Cotillion Dance and the Eighteen Roses Dance, a waltz shared by the debutante with eighteen men, typically close friends and family members. Each dance partner gives the debutante a red rose as they waltz across the floor. Traditionally the debutante chooses eighteen different songs and dances with each man for the entirety of the dance, but you may wish to dance with multiple partners over the course of two or three songs in order to speed up the proceedings. These traditional dances are complicated and can take up to six months to perfect. Contact a local Filipino society in your area for leads on traditional Filipino choreographers, or ask former debutantes to find out which choreographers they have used.
Set a schedule and make sure all members of the cotillion have a copy in advance. Along with the traditional dances, the other defining moment of a Filipino cotillion is the Presentation of the Eighteen Candles. Eighteen women who play a prominent role in the debutante’s life take turns lighting candles that symbolize their commitment to guide and support the young woman through her life. Making sure that each member of the party has a schedule of events prevents last-minute searches for guests when the proper moments arrive.
Set a budget and stick to it. Filipino cotillion balls can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, second only in cost to a wedding. Decide where to cut corners and where to splurge, and be realistic about the limits of your funds.
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images