We are still gathering information to complete this page — enjoy this early history article, and please do check back in the near future for more!
THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS
(adapted from article in CDSS NEWS, Issue 121, Nov-Dec 1994)
In the fall of 1974, the Larchmont Country Dancers opened its doors to lovers of English country dancing. Only eight dancers (six of whom were sponsors) came to the opening party. The impending Bicentennial observances created a special interest in historical dances and the group was soon in demand to conduct demonstrations, often with participation by the audiences. Its first appearance on the front lawn of the Larchmont Public Library in June 1975 resulted in several stories in local papers that drew many new dancers to the Playhouse in Flint Park. They came, they enjoyed the dancing, were inspired by the music and soon the Playhouse was too small. Live music was always featured for dancing and Phil Merrill’s incomparable playing provided an impetus for growth in those first years.
In 1977 the group moved to Pelham which had a larger hall, a welcoming ambience and a splendid piano for Phil. OThis more convenient location increased attendance from New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, and the Larchmont Country Dancers became the Country Dancers of Westchester (CDW) to reflect this broader membership. The enthusiasm of new dancers encouraged more programs. In 1978 CDW sponsored its first New Year’s Eve Party for families and friends of those who came to our regular classes. The next year, CDW and the Ridgewood Dance Center joined to sponsor a workshop and evening party during the Thanksgiving holidays – the first Thanksgiving Fest. In 1982 another special event was added, now known as A Celebration of Spring. CDW moved to its present home at the Church in the Highlands in White Plains in 1983.
In the fall of 1984, Phil Merrill retired and Leah Barkan, who often played with and had substituted for him, became CDW’s head musician. Leah started a series of rehearsals for any musician who aspired to play for dancing. Her bands, Musical Cheers and Garden Variety – and now Serendipity – have added greatly to our flexibility and enjoyment and her programs have inspired many musicians who now play regularly in other bands.
The success of a program to develop new musicians encouraged CDW to begin an apprentice teaching program as well; offering participants an opportunity to work in an estabished dance group with experienced teachers and musicians. This gave them a chance for hands-on experience of what it takes to be a teacher. Apprentices not only improved their own skills but added new variety and interest to all of CDW’s programs.
THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS
Another twenty years on – CDW will celebrate its fortieth anniversary in its 2013-2014 dance season – and the organization continues to dance! It thrives from the dedication of its members, its musicians and its teachers. It welcomes back long-time friends every September even as it wecomes new dancers for the first time.