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Irish dancing family brings talent to Anna Maria Island Community Center

ANNA MARIA -- Deirdre Cawte was just 3 years old when she learned the art of Irish dancing. As a young girl in Ireland, she participated in weekend competitions and recalls having her hair pinned to get the ringlet curls -- popular among dancers.

The art form is in Cawte's blood. Her parents met through the dance and her grandfather co-founded the Irish Dancing Commission. In the 1970s, Cawte herself established her own dancing company, the Cawte Dance Acad

emy, in Dublin, Ireland.

Now 64, Cawte's passion for teaching Irish dancing has brought her to the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave. Recently, Cawte, her husband, Dave Cawte; their daughter, Victoria Cawte; and Victoria's son, Matthew Cawte, left their lifelong home and rented a place in Perico Bay Club near AMI.

"In 2011, I did a home e

xchange with a family on Anna Maria Island, which was my first time here. I didn't even hear of Anna Maria Island or know about it," Cawte said. "As soon as we came over that bridge for the first time, it just did something to me."

On a recent afternoon, Cawte sat inside the community center and recalled how she'd visit the 7-mile barrier island twice a year and decided in November 2014 to move to the area.

"I couldn't leave it," Cawte said, her light eyes brightening. "I just fell in love with the island."

She and her daughter, Victoria, a world champion in Irish dancing, teach classes at AMICC -- a youth class from 5 to 6 p.m. and an adult class from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday.

The mother-daughter duo also teaches a class for all ages at 6 p.m. Mondays at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, and youth and adult classes Saturdays at Dancin' on the Suncoast in Lakewood Ranch. They are still looking for a place to teach in Bradenton.

If all works out with their dance business, Cawte said she'd like to purchase a home on the island in a few years.

"It's hard work to try to get it started -- just to get the information out there," Cawte said. "I don't think they've ever had Irish dancing on the island."

Inside a dance studio at the community center, Victoria Cawte guided 8-year-old Brenna Heckler through proper footwork and different steps. The third-grader at Anna Maria Elementary School watched Cawte's feet closely before trying to imitate the moves.

"I love Irish dancing. I live to dance," Cawte said afterward. "For me, that's all I've ever known, so for me that's what I love to do. ... and I love teaching children."

Wende Webb, AMICC marketing and events manager, said she was excited and thrilled when Cawte approached her about bringing an Irish dancing class to the community center.

"I can't believe how lucky we are to have such expertise here," she said. "They are the best in the business, for their business, and that they want to be here and share it with us? I tell everybody about them."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.