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Artistic Director & Founders

Jennifer & John Kelly

Directorship: 1973-2018

Artistic Director Jennifer Kelly grew up in southern England where she began dancing at a very early age. With a foundation in ballet, her first Scottish dance teacher was Innes Russell, who was a member of the International Performing Team and a member of the famous 51st Highland Division. 


In 1966, Jennifer and her husband John, also a dancer, moved to California and started the San Jose Scottish Country Dance class, which continues today.  After the departure of C. Stewart Smith, Jennifer assumed leadership of the demonstration and performance group in Palo Alto, which soon became The Red Thistle Dancers who celebrated their 40th year in 2017.   


Over the years, Jennifer and John proceeded to build a wonderful community of devoted dancers, friends, and supporters spanning more than four decades of Scottish Country and Highland Dance and music in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Jennifer Kelly

John Kelly

Their body of work, including nearly 500 performances, an instructional video series for teaching Scottish Country Dance, production of music albums, concerts, international tours, and general promotion of this art form is a lasting tribute to their dedication, hard work, and ability to inspire and instruction generations of dancers.

In 2015, Jennifer and John Kelly were specially awarded the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society's "Scroll of Honour," the society's highest accolade, and traveled to Scotland to receive this recognition of their tremendous contribution to Scottish Dance.

A prolific dance devisor, Jennifer has created many original dances for both performance special occasions which appear in various publications.  A collection of Jennifer's choreography is available in the form of a special project - Jennifer's Dances - a selection of 24 social and performance dances presented in a booklet, DVD, and two music CDs from Red Thistle Music released in 2020.

Jennifer has been a guest teacher at numerous workshops and master class seminars, both at international folk and Scottish dance workshops, particularly along the West Coast. She enjoys working with folk dancers and is a popular Scottish dancing teacher at California's Stockton Folk Dance Camp. She was one of the distinguished complement of teachers assembled for the 60th Anniversary Camp.


Along with the production of the Scottish Country Dance Instructional Video Series, Jennifer and John, along with Red Thistle Music, have produced a music compilations, including "The March Hare - Twelve Scottish Country Dances in Strict Tempo."


Avid gardeners and travelers, the Kelly's are the authors of Wildflower Walks in the Sibillini, written in both English and Italian, with over 200 photographs of the spectacular countryside and flowers of the Sibillini Mountains, in the province of Le Marche, Italy.

Jennifer and John have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Fiona, particularly known to the world of Highland Dance through her namesake dance, "Fiona's Birthday," devised especially for John and Jennifer by C. Stewart Smith. Through Fiona,  John and Jennifer are now the proud grandparents of two lovely granddaughters, Tegan and Whitley, along with a grandson, Liam Joshua, son to Andrew.

Jennifer & John Kelly

From the Palo Alto Times article on the Red Thistle Dancers, "They Put Their Best Foot Forward in Traditional Styles." Original photograph by Gene Tupper, 1979

The Red Thistle Dancers
- Scottish Dancing & Music  -

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