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Our History

The Martine family’s history as etiquette experts spans over 160 years beginning in the 1850s, reaching back before the Civil War, from Chicago to the West Coast.  Five generations of the family have led the Martine Cotillions into the future, ever true to our core values while adapting to changing times. 

The earliest recorded date mentioning a Martine as a leader in the etiquette field is 1857,  four years before the Civil War.  Professor James Edwin Martine, was Chicago’s most renowned ballroom dance master at that time.  For 45 years the children and adults of the "Chicago 400" took direction from the professor even after the Chicago fire of 1871. His accomplishments are impressive considering he was challenged with a club foot. At the peak of his long career, Professor Martine had established beautiful Terpsichorean Parlors in several prominent Chicago communities. The two-story ballroom in his home on Hampden  Court  measured some 30x60 feet, plus a full mezzanine.  The ballroom was replete with lighting of Venetian crystal and seating in the form of Victorian love seats.

In 1866 Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness was written by Arthur Martine.  This  practical and timeless guide presents the reasons  behind the “rules” and  points out that one need only think of others in  social  situations to avoid awkward blunders and help people interact compatibly.  The book is so timeless that it is still in print to this day. It is a favorite of Civil War historians and used as a reference by Civil War enthusiasts in period reproductions.

Professor James Edwin Martine
1850s to 1920s
Professor James Edwin Martine
Professor Martine’s Ballroom, before 
the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
1920s and 1930s
Edwina and her husband, Lee.

Although considered impossible for a woman at the time, the professor's daughter, Edwina, established herself as director of the Martine Cotillions in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. Co-directing with her husband Lee Weckler, they established themselves as directors of the Martine School  of  Dancing,  and  selected  as  their primary Cotillion location and residence Chicago’s renowned Edgewater Beach Hotel.  Edwina also held Cotillions in the Grand Ballroom of  the  Drake Hotel, among others. She continued to be involved with the Cotillions throughout her long life.

The Annual May Party at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, 1922
An early offering of upcoming events at Martine’s in 1868, promising “Systematic and thorough instruction, increased attention, unyielding efforts, and unqualified satisfaction guaranteed to all.”
Here, Professor Martine holds his grandson, Jim, who later followed in his footsteps as Director of The Martine Cotillions in Southern California.

Having learned to Cha-Cha at age three, Gena’s expertise in manners and dance blossoms from growing up as the fifth generation of the family business, first assisting and then co-directing with her parents. Miss Martine’s first directing partner was Cliff Carey, a graduate of the Bakersfield Cotillions.  For the last two decades her Co-Director has been the talented Allen R. Ehmann.


After earning her degree in English Literature from University of California Irvine in 1991 Gena married John Santoni, a professional photographer, in 1995.  Through the years she has enriched her skills with vocal performance, world travel, and editorial and fiction writing.  “Miss Martine’s” specialty is motivating the children, helping them learn through having fun.  She has been Director of The Martine Cotillions since 1996.

In 1968, with eleven years of experience, first as an instructor and then as co-director, Kurt Martine, continued the family tradition, and with his Dallas bride, Suzy, became the fourth generation of  Martines to direct The Martine Cotillions.


During the forty years of their direction, the cotillions grew to encompass eighteen communities across two states with membership more than doubling over the years.  The family had been in some communities for so long that former members had grown up and begun bringing their own children to join the tradition.

Jim and Arlette Martine directed the Cotillions for 25 years, expanding into new communities such as Laguna Beach, Ventura and Newport Beach.  Each community has just celebrated 50 years of Cotillions beginning in 1956.

In 1943 after he was stationed in California as a pilot,  Jim and Arlette decided California would become their home.  They and their three year old son, Kurt,  moved  to Los Angeles.   After the war Jim entered the Cotillion arena in his new home state.  Despite the consequences of starting cotillion outside of Chicago, the Martine Cotillions were established in Southern California and it wasn't long before they flourished.  Soon, word of the Martine Cotillions’ reputation had begun to spread.

During the 1930’s their son, James, was pursuing his own dancing career.  He and his partner, Hallie, won the East Coast Veolanda Dance Competition - the same competition which launched the movie careers of Marge and Gower Champion on the west coast.

Jim soon married Arlette Abell, a well known Chicago cover model of the time. They continued the Cotillion tradition together, but Jim’s enlistment in the Army Air Force during WWII interrupted their plans.  

1930s to 1960s
1960s to 1990s
1990s to Present
Arlette, Kurt, and Jim Martine, 1943
Jim Martine & his partner Hallie Wynnard
A young Kurt Martine in 1968 just after his marriage to Suzy, poised to take over for his father as Director of The Martine Cotillions.  
Under the direction of Kurt and Suzy Martine, the Cotillion communities of Santa Barbara, Tustin, Villa Park, Yorba Linda, Long Beach, South Orange County, Foothills, Mesa Verde and Rancho Santa Fe were added as California Chapters of the 
Martine Cotillions.
Suzy, Gena and Kurt Martine
Edwina once danced with Rudolf Valentino in the 1920’s. It was said he danced only two tangos that evening, and both with her.  Here she is pictured in the gypsy costume she wore that night. 
Gena Martine Santoni
the fifth successive generation 
to own and direct 
the Martine Cotillions.
Gena with her husband, John Santoni
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