21st Century Cotillion Connects Generations in Philadelphia

Thirteen young women and 13 young men ushered in the AGBU cotillion to the 21st century in a program of powerful words, music, dance, and multimedia displays at the Sheraton-University City in Philadelphia on June 20.

In an elegant integration of Armenian heritage and contemporary culture, the group drew rave reviews as they glided onto the dance floor in formal gowns and tuxedos to the rhythm of modern songs, symbolizing their entry into multidimensional Armenian American adult life. They then performed a sophisticated Armenian dance with enthusiasm and proficiency, under the direction of longtime choreographer Fran Torcomian.

Mixing the live and digital social networks and the past with the present, the cotillion featured a through-the-years multimedia presentation and an intergenerational dance starring many of the “cotillionaires.” The term was coined to describe “a new kind of cotillion participant, male or female, who is at once proud of the past yet grounded in the present and confident to link the two together,” said cotillion parent Melissa Selverian, who co-chaired the event with husband Richard and cotillion parents Yvonne and Paul Fereshetian. After all, Selverian said, “these are the young men and women who ventured bravely off of Facebook to bridge the gap between the digital social network and the more than 40-year-old live cotillion network. In so doing, they changed the cotillion for the better, making it more relevant in the lives of young Armenian Americans today.”

Cotillionaire Katrina Selverian produced and presented a sentimental biographical video and slide show of the participants, while the Ararat Dance Ensemble, led by directors Toros (Tory) Torcomian and cotillionaire Christopher Torcomian, captured the timelessness of the affair in an impromptu performance that included the leaders and members of the original ensemble from nearly 30 years ago—many of them parents of cotillionaires and alumni. The room rumbled with applause as the original Ararat dance group leaders, Tom and Fran Torcomian, joined their sons, Tory and Chris, as well as their daughter, Ana, and more than a dozen other Ararat and cotillion members and alumni on the dance floor.

Guest speaker, alumna Julie Paretchan of the cotillion of 1999, confirmed the enduring power and relevance of the cotillion to Armenian Americans of Philadelphia, sharing personal accounts of her family’s meaningful cotillion experiences through the decades. Paretchan reflected on how the cotillion had brought her parents together in marriage, and presented her brother—now married and living in Armenia—with a “bromance,” a strong friendship with an Armenian male friend. She herself discovered and renewed many strong Armenian friendships through the cotillion, she said.

“Cotillion alumni have a special connection with the cotillion,” Selverian told guests. “Who better to know the uncommon bonds and treasured memories that can be formed through this unparalleled celebration? Countless friendships made in cotillions over the last four decades are long-lasting and unsurpassed,” she said.

Longtime Philadelphia AGBU executives George Yacoubian and Liz Barone toasted the participants and committee for rejuvenating the affair and proving that enthusiasm and perseverance “always triumph.”

Special thanks were extended to the sponsors of the evening, particularly Clara Marie Samelian, who honored the memory of her parents, John and Araxie Samelian, on the back cover of the keepsake program booklet. The Samelians were longtime leaders of the Philadelphia AGBU, and Araxie Samelian was the co-founder of the Philadelphia cotillion dinner dance, first presented in 1966.

Selverian credited a full committee of cotillionaires for the evening’s success. They are Michael Berge Alexanian, Stephanie Hripsime Alexanian, Niki Nubar Arakelian, Serop Buldukyan, Cerise Setta Fereshetian, Damon Raffi Fereshetian, Jasmine Ani Fereshetian, Allison Sonya Injaian, James Keshgegian, Karine Keshgegian, Richard Avedis Keshgegian, Harout Nalbandian, Gabrielle Nazeni Pakhtigian, Garineh Ara Panosian, Katrina Maritza Selverian, Sara Seerarpy Selverian, Maritsa Suzanne Sherenian, Michael Sherenian, Talene Beatrice Soghomonian, Alyssa Talene Sookiasian, Paul Vartan Sookiasian, Mark Tekirian, Alex Deron Torcomian, Ana Francesca Torcomian, Christopher Torcomian, and Matthew Robert Zakian.

Selverian also commended the participants’ parents, who gave their time and resources to making the evening a reality. Finally, she commended the youngest committee members, the Selverian and Fereshetian children. “It’s perhaps no accident that the Fereshetians and Selverians were enlisted in this venture,” she said, “since together, with their five children each, they make a committee of 14!”

The cotillionaires, who enjoyed a full-course dinner complete with Armenian appetizers and desserts, and who danced till midnight with their families and friends, presented the affair’s co-chairs with engraved plaques and picture frames thanking them “for bringing us together.”

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