Rebel belles: Dance performance looks at the world of debutantes

The Brooklyn Paper
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These debs are no downers.

An interactive dance performance in Red Hook introduces audiences to the tension and competition behind the tightly-enforced etiquette of a debutante ball. The show “Debutaunt” portrays girls who may be steeped in tradition, but who want to carve out space for themselves, said the show’s creator.

“There is a mistress of ceremonies who passes on messages that aren’t productive or useful to this generation, but the girls by the end are in revolt in their own way,” said choreographer Mary John Frank. “They are forced to find their own voice and decide whether to stand up to old traditions.”

“Debutaunt” brings viewers into the action with lessons on posture and table manners, and each audience member receives a bracelet with the name of a particular debutante. Each character has her own choreographed dance and accompanying video, and as the evening progresses the debs fall into competitive strife as their assigned champions cheer them on.

Frank knows about the world of debutantes — she used to be one.

During breaks from studying at New York University, she would return to her home in Texas to participate in debutante events alongside the young women she had grown up with. There was a stark contrast between her New York life and her debutante life back home, but slipping back into the life of a southern belle was easier than you might think, she said.

“For me, it was just what people in my community did,” she said. “My parents were matched at a debutante ball. It was very much part of the culture, and I wanted to feel connected to that.”

Still, she was in no rush to try to explain the tradition to her New York friends.

“I didn’t hide it, but it seemed so out of context there would be no way of describing it to people here,” she said.

Instead, the show brings New York audiences into the world of cotillion-style dancing. In fact, each show ends with a dance, and Frank encourages audience members to dress up and join the ball.

“Debutaunt,” at Atelier Roquette (63 Commerce St. between Richards and Van Brunt streets in Red Hook, June 12–13 at 8pm; June 14 at 7 pm; June 19 and June 20 at 8 pm; June 21 at 7 pm; June 26 and June 27 at 8 pm, and June 28 at 7 pm. $35.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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