Kids learn traditional etiquette at Social Inc.

Kids learn traditional etiquette at Social Inc.

David McLeod doesn't measure the success of his business in annual sales or profit margin. Instead, he defines achievement by the improved social graces, dance skills and confidence of his students.

 

Social Inc. is more than a business to David -- it's an Augusta tradition. He takes pride in continuing a nearly 80-year legacy of teaching social etiquette skills and dance to local pre-teens and teenagers.


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Hanging on the walls at the facility in Village West Shopping Center on Washington Road are pictures of hundreds of local students who have participated in Social's Cotillion Club, dating back to 1976.

"There's a big tradition. There's a lot of people from Augusta that took Social, so now we're on third generations," David said.

Today, Social Inc. has nearly 1,500 students in seventh to 11th grades from Augusta, Aiken and Waynesboro and an additional 300 to 400 students in the sixth grade. David also has a program in Greenville, S.C,. that has 350 students.

"Parents obviously still want their kids to be taught these social skills. Hopefully, we're just reinforcing what's been taught at home," he said.

David, who is entering his 20th year of working at the business, also took classes with Social. In the mid-1970s, his mother, Dorothy McLeod, revived the program, which was started by Henri Price in 1935, because she thought it was important for all children to learn these skills.

His mother retired four years ago and handed the reins of the business to her son, though she occasionally assists him.

"This was my joy of my life because when I came through, I took Social and it was so meaningful to me," Dorothy said. "What I love about Social is to see the parents' face at the end of the year when they come and see their son or daughter in such a beautiful performance. Each one of those children shine."

The business moved to its current location about 10 years ago. Social, which has one full-time office manager, became incorporated around 1990.

Social Inc.'s business year coincides with the school calendar. Students enter the program in the sixth grade with a manners-only course. Over the next five years, students take classes every other week in dance and social etiquette.

"The success of this business depends on the teaching," David said.

Longtime family friend Carla Owen has two children enrolled in Social. It's a "rite of passage" in Augusta, she said.

Her oldest son has been in the program for four years and her daughter is entering her first year of dance classes.

"David's leadership is outstanding. The kids just gain so much confidence and grace from the program. It's a great, wonderful opportunity for the children of this area," Owen said.

David is a "wonderful role model for kids," she said.

"David is so great with them. He's fun and they like him and they respect him. I think they just genuinely enjoy being with him. For a 15-year-old boy to want to go dance, that's kind of a big deal," Owen said.

Social Graces

When David 's older brother entered the seventh grade, their mother didn't want her children to miss the tradition of taking social etiquette classes. She and her husband had grown up with Social, so she decided to restart the program.

"I wanted our sons to have something similar," Dorothy said.

The program disappeared when the founder retired, David explained.

Dorothy gathered her son and his friends and restarted the classes at the YWCA, where she worked as program director. Her first class had 90 students, and the program grew, Dorothy said. She eventually had to move into her own facility on Bobby Jones Expressway. She left her job at the YWCA because she felt that Social was needed in the local community, she said.

"It grew times two every year," Dorothy said.

Taking classes with Social "was just a part of growing up," David said.

"As far as I knew, it was just something you did. When you became a seventh-grader, you took Social. All my friends were in it," he said.

As a youth, David also loved playing sports and was good at tennis. He played on his college tennis team and was captain of the team that won the national championship in 1988. He majored in business, he said.

Before graduate school, he spent three years coaching tennis at Washington and Lee University and Davidson College.

Teaching Others

After earning his MBA, David decided to work with his mother at Social.

"It never dawned on me that I would be doing this until I was in business school and I came back. I saw what it had developed into and saw the older students and how the program had really positively impacted them. I just thought it was amazing," David said. "I loved playing tennis and I loved teaching, but I saw in Social a way that I could impact more."

At Social Inc., students learn skills such as handshakes, making eye contact, good posture, speaking clearly and table etiquette. David recently had a five-course seated dinner where students learned how to properly use their utensils. They danced between each course.

"Dancing is the means that we use to help teach and reinforce the social skills. Through the dancing is how we teach a seventh grade boy how to become a gentleman, how to escort a lady, how to seat a lady, how to help her with her jacket," David said.

Social Inc. provides instruction on basic ballroom dances, such as the fox trot, waltz and cha-cha. As the years go by, students learn faster dances, such as the shag and boogie. They eventually learn the tango, polka and rumba.

In class, boys wear coats and ties and girls wear gloves and knee-length skirts. To reinforce the lessons, David holds several dances each year, including the annual Spring formal in May.

Even after students matriculate through the program, they can apply to join the Cotillion Club, a group of students who serve as positive role models to younger students and assist David with classes, he said.

Parents want their children to learn traditional social lessons, David said.

"This program starts at an age where they are changing daily. They are bombarded by outside influences. Any means of teaching the social skills they will need the rest of their life is important," he said.

David Mcleod

TITLE: Owner of Social Inc.

BORN: Oct. 18, 1966

EDUCATION: Washington and Lee University, Bachelor of Arts in business administration; Vanderbilt University, master's of business administration

FAMILY: wife, Kathryn; and children, Mary Garrett, 11; Dorothy, 10; Cy, 8; and David, 6

CIVIC/EXTRACURRICULAR: Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, member

HOBBIES: Coaching and playing tennis, playing church league basketball

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