On weekends, the women gather, clad in pointy hats and netting and carrying broomsticks, to stop traffic with their bewitching dance moves.
Some come from Port St. Joe, others from Mexico Beach or Apalachicola. They call themselves the Forgotten Coast Dancing Witches, and in elaborate costumes they make themselves, they go out into the community to perform synchronized routines to "Schuttel deinen Speck" by Peter Fox.
The group of 30 or so regular dancers began performing their first routine in late September. Already, the dancing witches are in high demand, with performances scheduled at events and businesses as far out as January.
Caroline Ilardi of Apalachicola, the group’s organizer, said she started the dance troupe as a fun way to get to know other members of the community. Their popularity, she said, has been an added bonus.
"The best part about it has been all these lovely ladies I’ve met,” Ilardi said. “I knew one lady from Port St. Joe. I didn’t know anybody over there, and now I’ve got this wonderful group of not only nice ladies, but they’re so creative.”
Dancers spend weeks putting together their costumes, and they keep getting more and more elaborate – fake noses, green face paint, sequins. Some women have even decorated their canes to look like brooms.
The practice is even starting to catch on in other Florida Panhandle communities.
Ilardi said a woman in Tallahassee found the group on Facebook and learned the dance virtually to join the dancing witches for their performance at Apalachicola’s Octoberfest. Now, that woman is using Ilardi’s model to start a new troupe in her home community.
On the Forgotten Coast, the group is seeing more and more new members at their practices. They have already started work on their second routine, and they are now hosting practices in both Franklin and Gulf counties to accommodate growing interest.
Ilardi said the dance troupe has been a terrific way to meet new friends, with their roster getting longer and longer by the day. And Ilardi does not see interest decreasing, even with the spooky season ending in a few weeks.
“We’re not going to quit,” Ilardi said. “We’re going to dance year round.”
Though the group was started just for fun, Ilardi said that increases interest and community support has allowed the dancers to gather sizeable donations for the local humane societies.
At every performance, a witch or warlock will walk around with an elaborately decorated caldron, taking donations for the animal shelters. Lately, Ilardi said, the dancers have been raising several hundred dollars per performance.
"When we first got started, Jess, one of the ladies, said ‘What are we going to do with our tips?’” Ilardi explained. “There was no, really, discussion. We just decided OK. The money’s going to go to whichever humane society is in the county where we performed.”
“This past weekend, we got $215 for Gulf County.”
The dancers practice in Apalachicola on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. at the Trinity Episcopal Church and in Port St. Joe on Thursdays at 1 p.m. at the Senior Center. Ilardi said all are welcome, regardless of age, gender or dance ability.
The Forgotten Coast Dancing Witches can be found on Facebook and emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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