"It is the best thing I have ever done for myself in my life”
- Dolly Scott
BONITA SPRINGS — In Bonita Springs, Dolly Scott is famous for her coconut creme pie, which tempts with more than three inches of fluffy merengue on top. It ties with apple as the most demanded pie at Dolly’s Produce Patch and Eatery on Bonita Beach Road.
It wasn’t Dolly’s tasty treats, however, which recently landed her in the limelight. After closing up the eatery on most afternoons, the 76-year-old restauranteur trades in her apron for dancing shoes.
Last Sunday, after dancing in 250 heats over four days in the Fred Astaire World Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Scott was stunned and elated to hear her name called as the top female dancer in the Silver skill category.
“I could hardly get off the chair; I wanted to cry,” recalled Scott, now back at her eatery, where a steady stream of loyal patrons congratulated her this week.
On Wednesday, four members of the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce stopped in with a lovely bouquet for “Our World Champion.”
Scott started dancing six years ago after her 83-year-old friend Eva insisted Scott join her at a Fred Astaire dance party. “She said, ‘I’m sick and tired of seeing you do nothing but work, so you’re going with me,’” Scott recalled.
Scott had never tried ballroom dancing before. After her husband, Gerald, died in 1993, her life had become centered around the restaurant, which she runs with her son Randy Alander.
When she started taking lessons at the Naples Fred Astaire Dance Studio, Scott says her life was transformed.
“It is the best thing I have ever done for myself in my life,” said Scott, who has four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “It covers physical, emotional, mental and social. It’s my stress reliever from running the restaurant.”
Scott credits dancing with helping her improve posture and poise after recovering from a broken back years ago.
“When she started, like most students, she didn’t have good balance and she wasn’t a good dancer, but she did have personality,” recalled her instructor, Brian Oakes. “She has a really, really positive attitude about learning. She has talent, and she practices a lot.”
Oakes has developed Scott, dancing with her in numerous competitions during the last six years. He captured Top Instructor honors at the San Juan championship, and the Naples studio was named the top school out of 80 competing, based on the outstanding performance of its seven dancers who competed.
Scott earned high marks for a routine she performed with Gabriella Bodocs, a European champion who recently joined the Naples studio as dance director. The two donned pink umbrellas, dancing to “I Love a Rainy Night.” The vivacious Scott finished her routine by planting a peck on the cheek of one of the judges.
“I love a woman with spunk!! And you’re full of it!!” the judge wrote. “Nice kiss.”
Scott also danced with her secondary instructor from Naples, Steve Wilkie, who took second place honors for teaching, after having won Top Instructor at last year’s world championships.
“We kind of swept the major awards,” Wilkie said. “Dolly worked her tail off. She danced in everything she possibly could and won.”
Scott’s exuberance shined throughout the competition at El San Juan Hotel, despite a swollen ankle by the end of the fourth day. With more than 10,000 dancers from various countries competing in the San Juan championships, Scott helped put Naples on the map, Wilkie said.
“Her stamina never let up. Her energy just flowed,” he said. “I think a 20 year old would’ve blanched at the amount of heats. Dolly was like a machine.”
Scott entered her first competition in Las Vegas in 2005, just five months after she began taking lessons. Although she did not earn an award, she was inspired to press on, training hard and eventually winning several Bronze level awards. She advanced to a Silver level dancer and has met several famed ballroom dancers along the way. A picture of her with Tony Dovolani of “Dancing with the Stars” is proudly displayed at Dolly’s.
Scott said she is impressed with the way dancers train like Olympians. She’s equally impressed with the sport’s courteous culture. “The men are gentlemen, and the ladies are ladies,” Scott explained. “I could not be with any classier people.”
Dancing seems the perfect pastime for a woman who admits, “I want to be moving all the time.” At the restaurant, she’s constantly situating salt shakers and shuffling chairs.
“I’m grateful for everything I have,” she says as she smoothes a table linen and reorganizes the condiment holder. “And I’m grateful I’m dancing.”