SEBRING - It's been the go-to destination for hundreds if not thousands of Highlands County residents looking to west coast, bosa nova, swing, ballroom or just move their bodies.
This year marks 30 years of the Highlands Social Dance Club and its Friday night dances, giving folks - singles and couples - a place to mingle, socialize and kick it up a bit.
From 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, another in a steady chain of local bands will take to the stage, extending a Highlands County dancing tradition that dates back three decades. That's when the Skylarks, a 10-piece big band based in Sebring, bring the boogying sounds from the 1950s to the 1970s into the dance hall of the Highlands Social Center, 3400 Sebring Pkwy.
With members and guests coming in from as far as Okeechobee and Frostproof to dance and party, the weekly dance has maintained a strong clientele over the years and continues to grow, said Werner Funkenhauser, dance club membership coordinator. Currently, on average anywhere from 60 to 90 people - solo or with a partner - attend the dance sponsored by the dance club and its approximately 70 active members.
Funkenhauser, who has been a member with his wife, Phyllis, for about 10 years, said the dances have filled a local void for folks who don't want to travel to Tampa, Orlando, Ft. Myers, Vero Beach or other larger areas with more and larger dance venues. He said the caliber of entertainment is on par and features everything from the rhumba, fox trot, waltz and polka, to swing and rock n' roll.
"It gets people out there. We have a local venue suited for dancing. Dancing is a wonderful way to stay fit, too," he said,
The Highland Dance and Social Club began in March 1983 as the Highlands Social Singles singles-only club. As time went on, board members noticed many of those "singles" were meeting, dating and becoming married doubles, so in the early 1990s, the "singles" stipulation was dropped and the name was changed. In addition, the group started attracting a younger clientele with the popularity of TV shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and now dancers have been as young as the late 20s and range up into the 90s.
Dance club treasurer and longtime member Shirley Hall of Sebring, who has been regularly attending Friday dances since 2006, said it has been the quality of the talent and the friendliness of members and guests that's kept her and partner Bill Ringo steady dance partners. She said it's the opportunity to hear talented big bands playing live keeps people coming back.
Over the years, acts generally play a Friday on a monthly, rotating schedule. Besides the Skylarks, bands and singers currently in rotation are Buddy Canova of Auburndale and the band Golden Era.
"The people that come usually like to hear the big bands. We're the only club in town that have big bands," she said. "Plus, I find the people that go are very congenial and like to dance; we've made quite a few friends at the club."
Sebring tenor saxophonist Bill Varner of the Skylarks said his band focuses on playing the popular tunes that keep people moving their feet, such as Bobby Troup's "Route 66," Sy Oliver's "Opus No. 1," and Henry Mancini's classic, "Moon River."
"It's a good place to get away from solid rock and rap and get back to the 1950s to the 1970s," said Varner, 83, whose wife, Barbara, attends the Friday night dances.
Membership to the club is $20 per year and dances are $5 for members and $7 for non-members. In addition to dances, members take part in lunch and dinner outings at local restaurants.
For information, see www.highlandsdanceclub.org or call (863) 659-4442.