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SALTWATER PORTRAIT

Holly Lane: From dancing queen to singing machine

Bartender turned a love of performance arts into globe-trotting career
December 24, 2019

Story Location:
Café Azafrán
18 Baltimore Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Sitting in her Rehoboth home, on stools for her custom-made bar, with jazz singer Becky Wilson performing old standards in the background, Holly Lane reminisced about her decades of performing abroad, scrolling through old pictures on her iPhone.

Lane was first a dancer, then dancer and singer, and then just singer. There’s no hint of what-ifs or should-haves. With a wry appreciation of her time on the international stage, Lane acutely remembers where she was in her life as she swipes from one image to the next.

A dozen or so photos into the trip down memory lane, a picture from 1977 pops up on Lane’s phone. She’s performing a dance routine to “Sweet Georgia Brown!” during a time in her life when she was living in Martinique, a French island in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Her arms are out, fingers are in full jazz-hands mode. Her right foot is firmly planted on the ground. Her left foot is high in the air, past her head, perpendicular to the stage. She’s performing a standing split, with a smile, in heels.

“I sure was limber,” said Lane, when asked what she was thinking as she looked at the picture.

Lane was born in George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C. From an early age she knew she wanted to be a performer. She attended the Washington School of Ballet as a child, where she’d dance part of the day and do academics the other part.

Lane said as a child she was also a swimmer, but by age 11, she was told she was going to have to choose. She said the swimming was making her too muscular to be a dancer.

“My shoulders were getting too big,” she said. “That’s when I became very serious about dance. There were 10 people in my graduating class.”

After graduating from ballet school, Lane briefly went to Chicago before heading to Montreal. Next it was the Bahamas and Martinique, where she got a job working at a Club Med that was under construction. While in Martinique, Lane was in a motorcycle accident. During her recovery, as a way to earn money, she helped translate between local English speakers and construction workers who spoke French. It’s a language she knew because her mother is French.

After healing, Lane took an opportunity to travel to Europe, performing at other Club Meds in places like Switzerland and Greece before landing in Paris at the age of 27, where she would adding singing to her performance repertoire. 

Lane learned to sing on the fly while working at an American-themed restaurant owned by a Texan who loved Paris, but also, she said, wanted to be able to eat a T-bone steak and baked potatoes. The place was full of transcontinental cowboys, and the owner didn’t want French girls as waitresses, she said.

“It was the best music school I could have gone to,” said Lane.

While in Paris, Lane worked in cabarets, on cruise ships, in hotels and jazz clubs. She made a few records and was part of an American rock band.

“It was me and six French guys. We rehearsed a lot but really only had a few shows,” said Land, adding in a that’s-what-you’ve-got-to-do-to-make-it tone, “I hustled for gigs.”

Lane said she danced until she was 37 years old, but she doesn’t really miss it. “There comes a time in a dancer’s life when they have to be realistic,” she said.

Lane moved back to the United States because her parents, both of whom are 98, still alive, and also living in Rehoboth, were getting older and her 13-year marriage had failed. She described herself as having been in a lost state after she fell in love with a Frenchman, but he died, so she returned to Rehoboth, a place she and her family visited as a child and where her parents were living. She said she and her parents vacationed in the apartments above Lingo’s Market.

Nowadays, and for the past decade, Lane has gotten her performance kicks as the singing bartender on Thursday nights at Café Azafrán in Rehoboth. The whole time she’s had pianist John Flynn accompanying her.

Lane laughs about how that gig started. She was working two nights a week at Café Azafrán in Lewes. Restaurant owner Richard Steele was opening a second location in Rehoboth on Baltimore Avenue.

Lane said she expressed interest in bartending at the new location. Steele asked her if she knew how. She said she did, but she didn’t.

Fortunately for Lane, Steele was more concerned if she had a following and could bring in customers, which she did, because by that time Lane had established herself locally as one the Cape Region’s top performers, singing five nights a week at Blue Moon and as the lead singer for jazz ensemble Shore Jazz.

“It’s grown into a thing,” said Lane of her and Flynn’s show. “People get there early.”

Looking back on her career, Lane said she’s only got good memories. “If I didn’t have fun, I didn’t do it,” she said.
Lane said she always wanted to travel, and being a professional entertainer allowed to do that.

“I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I always tell young people they should take time to see the world. It’s wonderful. It opens a person’s horizons.”