EMILY: There’s the presentation, the circle, the curtsy, the fan dance.
Debutantes are presented to a guest of honour during their debut, as a sign that they are being welcomed into good society. Originally, debutantes were presented to a reigning monarch at the English court. These days, it’s usually to someone prominent in the community.
All the debutantes and their escorts form a large circle, and take a slow, leisurely walk around it together. It’s designed to show off the girls, much like models on a catwalk, and is probably the part Lorelai was thinking of when she said it was like a “county fair”. Once upon a time, the idea was to let eligible bachelors get a good long look at some marital prospects, but these days it’s mostly so parents can see their little girl all dressed up and take pictures for Facebook etc.
The debutantes receive many lessons on how to perform the perfect deep curtsy at the ball. Sometimes the curtsy is during the presentation, while at other balls, the curtsy will be part of a complicated dance or performance. Rory seems to be missing out on all those weeks of curtsy practice, but presumably is getting intensive training from her parents and grandmother that we don’t see onscreen.
Often at debutante balls, the debutantes perform some kind of highly choreographed dance routine. Amusingly, at Rory’s ball, the debutantes are preparing a “fan dance”, which is literally an erotic dance, usually performed in the nude or a skimpy costume as part of a burlesque show. Of course this would never happen at a real debutante ball, and the girls will all be wearing formal dresses anyway. (Picture shows burlesque dancer Michelle L’Amour performing).