La Jolla Cotillion parties like it's 1959

In a second-floor salon room at the La Jolla Marriott, hep cats twirl and dip groovy chicks to swingin’ beats all over the dancefloor on a Saturday night. It’s the first of four dinner dances staged each year by a group of 127 mostly senior San Diegans who love ballroom-dancing to the music of their youth. (Tonight, the five-piece Rey Vinole Orchestra kills it on big-band standards including “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “Jump Jive An’ Wail” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”)

But don’t dare accuse the members of the La Jolla Cotillion of trying to relive their glory days or you’re likely to get a knuckle sandwich — or at least what for.

“We’re not a bunch of dinosaurs stomping our way to extinction!” insists La Jolla Cotillion board member Margaret Stein, whose moves with dance partner Bill Waterman are beyond flawless. “Granted, it’s not a young person’s choice of activity, but it offers exercise, social interaction and stimulates the mind as one learns new dances and new patterns.”

The La Jolla Cotillion was founded in 1990 by La Jollan Eloise “Dudie” Ogden. While living in Mexico City, Dudie and her husband, Bob Ogden, joined several ballroom-dancing groups and had a blast, so they formed their own later, back in La Jolla. She picked the name “cotillion” to conjure up memories of Mr. Benjamin’s Cotillion, a ballroom-dancing and social-etiquette training program founded in 1954 by Donald Benjamin. (Ogden and her friends had all been enrolled by their parents.)

“Dudie was a fabulous woman, knew lots and lots of people, was active in everything she could get her finger into and she brought people together,” said Margo Washburn, La Jolla Cotillion’s longest-standing original member. (Eloise, 93, is still alive but residing in assisted living in Bend, Oregon.)

The La Jolla Cotillion — one of four active ballroom-dancing clubs in San Diego — is Dudie’s legacy. It still stages three well-attended black-tie formal dinner dances and a casual mixer each year. “I think the beautiful part about is that it has promoted friendships that have been lifelong,” Washburn says.

Among tonight’s more than 70 attendees are Cliff Colwell, former chief of the Scripps Clinic orthopedic division, and the oldest living La Jolla Cotillion member, Bob Smothers, who recalls seeing most of the big-band era stars — Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller — at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium starting when he was 14 — 80 years ago.

“It cost 25 cents to get in,” Smothers says.

Like Stein, though, Smothers says he’s not trying to recreate the past, just have a good time in the present.

“I remember those days with a great deal of joy,” he says, “but now is just as good.”

For information about joining La Jolla Cotillion, call board member Margaret Stein at (858) 459-4547 or email margaret.stein@cadencetravel.com.

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