The Elizabeth Lee & Duard Barnes SchoLarship
An Interview with
Elizabeth Lee Barnes
Founder of Thistle School
written by Sheila South
with information collected by
reprinted with permission from RSCDS Carolinas Branch News Fall 2019
In many ways, Elizabeth Lee Barnes, or Betty Lee as she is known, is like any other Scottish Country Dancer, and in many ways she is far extraordinary. Born 1925 in Tokyo, Japan, Betty Lee was raised in Peoria, Illinois by father of Norwegian descent and mother descendant of the Scottish Dunbars. Similar to many of us dancers, Betty Lee came to try SCD as an adult – she of age 38. Her first experience was at a beginner’s class in Washington, DC where she and her husband Duard have resided since 1946. At the conclusion of that class, the new dancers were invited to watch the advanced group. And so it began…the whole new world of Scottish Country Dance opened to Betty Lee. Betty Lee and Duard joined with the group there in Washington, DC and were active members and leaders in the RSCDS Washington group for many years. And as the tale familiar to many dancers goes, she has met hundreds of people from all over the globe many of whom have become life-long friends as a result of the opportunities that SCD affords.
Now let us delve into this story and see how Betty Lee’s experience has transcended... Later as an SCD demonstrator at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games near Linville, North Carolina, Betty Lee was frequently approached and asked the whereabouts for SCD instruction. Seeing the interest, she and fellow dancers started Saturday night classes. Nestor McDonald, the first chairman of the GMHG, decided to make lessons part of the games. Betty Lee organized a dance with instruction provided for the Friday night the week of the games. Word got around that Stan Hamilton’s Scottish Country Dance Band would be playing. Folks flocked to the dance and a tradition was born: Thistle School.
The first full week of Thistle School with day classes and night dances was an act of complete faith in the draw and sway of Scottish Country Dance. Betty Lee saw the interest in learning SCD was strong, but finding a suitable time to host classes was difficult. Saturday was not a good option as that timing conflicted with the games. Additionally, beginning dancers often had no class to which to return at home. A more lengthy and substantial instructional time seemed in order. Not knowing how many might respond, Betty Lee organized with Lees-McRae College to host Thistle School: classes every day for the week and a Gala at the week’s end.
Thistle School was officially held for 39 years. [There was that one year though, the “Shadow Year”, in which Lees-McRae was renovating and Thistle School was not officially offered. However, some attendees were so faithful that a remnant showed up anyway. They made a banner and proclaimed to Betty Lee and Duard, “We will not stop Thistle School!” Including that year would make Thistle School an even 40 years.] From the initial year with 29 participants to the blossoming year of 90 participants, Thistle School served 853 different dancers. That is 853 dancers who improved their art, built friendships, and celebrated Scottish heritage and tradition. That is the extraordinary personal contribution Betty Lee has made to Scottish Country Dance.
Photos from The Thistle School website:
Teacher's Class 2016
The Blue Ridge Scottish Dance School has been born from the tradition of Thistle School.
We are all ever so grateful to Betty Lee and Duard
for their many years of leadership and devotion to the art of Scottish Country Dance
and are establishing this scholarship in honor of their efforts.