Jeanne and Culbreath Whitehead were the first to bring Scottish Country, as well as International Folk, Square, and Contra Dancing to the Palmetto-Bradenton-Sarasota area. Dale and Sonja Horn, who now live in Dunedin and occasionally dance in Sarasota, are the only remaining members of the Scottish Country Dance group that once met privately at the folkdance house on Whiteheads' property. When classes were opened to the public they were moved the Bayfront Community Center in Sarasota. Of those early dancers still dancing--all now in their eighties--D.A. Tyler has been with the group the longest, closely followed by Marion Hoercher and Jim and Ann Malcolm.
After the Whiteheads retired from dancing, various members shared teaching responsibilities to keep the sizeable group alive. D.A., who for several years was also on the Dunedin Demo team, organized a demonstration group in Sarasota that performed frequently for clubs and the annual all-city Arts Day extravaganzas.
Sarasota is one of few locations that has maintained a year-round schedule--in spite of the heavy in/out flow of winter visitors, largely from Canada. Three and four sets were the winter average for many years. The smaller summer dance group, averaging four to eight couples, met for several years in the dance studio at D.A.'s and Circe Davenport's home to save rent. It was during one of these summer sessions that Scottish
visitors from Connecticut, Jim and Ellen McRanor, first met the group.
When the McRanors decided to relocate to Florida, Ellen--who for several years had been teaching 5 classes a week in Connecticut and badly needed a rest--was persuaded to become dance mistress for the Sarasota dancers on the promise that we'd only ask her to teach one class a week, give one ball a year, and get a demo team together to meet occasional requests. This arrangement has worked out quite well for all concerned. Ellen's considerable ability to slide newcomers without prior experience into even intermediate dances has enabled those with interest and tenacity to gradually pick up the dance forms and join our ranks of regular dancers, replacing those retiring.
Efforts to establish a beginner class have never borne fruit in Sarasota. Blame it on the laid-back, holiday aspect of the tropics--very few people have been willing to commit long enough to learn the basics, so our more tenacious younger members have been thrown in the deep end, gradually catching on to what they were doing over the succeeding many months.
Although dancers from the early '90s are falling by the wayside, dancers from Dunedin now attend regularly and more visiting Scottish Country Dancers are discovering our year-round program, so sets are kept filled and we meet throughout the year at the Bayfront Community Center. We welcome visitors from everywhere and look forward to swapping stories. Perhaps you, as have others, will decide to come back on a regular basis, enjoying Florida beaches as well as dancing with the Sarasota Scottish Country Dancers. We do hope so. Of course, beginners and locals are heartily welcome, as well. We look forward to meeting you!
Contributed by D.A. Tyler
& HUSBAND RICK