More than 650 people in formal attire will come together for the 49th annual Tucson Symphony Cotillion this month at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.

The event, sponsored by the Tucson Symphony Women's Association, will feature 39 girls who are high school seniors in the Tucson metropolitan area.

These so-called junior patronesses have been nominated and selected to participate because of their active community and school involvement, volunteer service or exceptional academic accomplishments.

The cotillion formal dinner dance has a rich history. The cotillion, also known as a debutante ball or junior assembly, began in England before the Industrial Revolution.

The elaborate affair gave prominent families the opportunity to present their marriagable daughters to polite society and also to the king.

The deep, long curtsy before the king was an important part of the ceremony and became known as the St. James bow. The bow is still a part of the presentation ceremony in today's cotillion.

After cocktails, the program will begin with each girl being formally presented, followed by a father-and-daughter waltz, accompanied by the Tucson Symphony, under the direction of George Hanson. Dinner and dancing for all will follow.

The young women will be dressed in floor-length white dresses and the fathers in white tails. It is a universal tradition for the girls to carry red roses.

Laura Eberly, a Tucson resident and member of the Tucson Symphony Women's Association, is the chairwoman of this year's event.

"In this day and age when everything is so fast-moving, it is refreshing to step back in time, observe the social graces and spend time with these wonderful young ladies," Eberly said. "It is a beautiful affair. The girls and their families love it."

Kelly Comstock, 17, a senior at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, is one of the junior patronesses.

"It is an honor and privilege to be invited and to be part of this group of young women," Comstock said. "I am also proud to be involved in an organization that supports the Tucson Symphony."

The Tucson Symphony Women's Association uses the funds raised from the cotillion to support the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the young musicians and composers program.

This program provides music education to more than 100 Tucson children of all ages.

Adrienne Knoll is the current president of the 300-member Tucson Symphony Women's Association."We provide music lessons to gifted children in our community who need financial assistance. These students are recommended by their schoolteachers," she said.

"We have a number of highly trained and talented music teachers who give the music lessons. It is a joy to see these students use their natural gifts of musical talent."

Eberly said she believes the tradition of the Tucson Symphony Cotillion will continue for years to come.

"Having the cotillion to recognize these exceptional girls renews our faith in the future," she said. "These lovely young ladies are our future mothers, civic leaders, doctors, lawyers and businesswomen."

If you go

What: Tucson Symphony Cotillion.

When: 6 p.m. to midnight Nov. 24.

Where: The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive.

Cost: $150 per person.

For reservations or more information: Call 624-1676.

● Linda Schambach is a Tucson freelance writer.