Rod and Kristin: Dancing in the USA

Kristin and Rod with the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers in the San Francisco Bay area

On their visit to the United States in September, Rod and Kristin Downey, our tutor and President, enjoyed meeting up with Scottish Country Dancing groups in the areas where they were based.

Kristin shares their dancing and teaching experiences below.

Madison, Wisconsin

In early September, Rod taught some of his dances to the Madison Scottish Country Dancers – RSCDS John Muir Branch, where he has danced a number of times on past visits to the University of Madison Wisconsin.

Dancers from all over the world were represented in Rod’s dances. Included in his programme on one of the night’s he taught were Wellington dancer Moggie G, ex-Wellington now New York dancer XiaoWen, Yu-san, Our Lady in Pink from Tokyo, and keen Heidelberg/Frankfurt/Darmstadt dancers Gillian and Joe Wheadon.

Find out more about dancing at Madison and in the USA here – with lots of interesting information under ‘links’.


Rod also taught the Milwaukee Scottish Country Dancers and enjoyed the company of old friend and Milwaukee tutor John McCormick, who kindly drove him from Milwaukee to Chicago. John is used to doing lots of driving for dancing, regularly travelling up to two hours to dance in Madison.

John is at the front right of this photo at the Milwaukee group’s open house for new dancers on 30 September, at the time they, like other northern hemisphere groups start their dancing year.

Rod’s newest dance John McCormick was devised as a gift to John, based on John’s favourite formation (the tourbillon) and his favourite dance type (the strathspey).

Some of us tried it out at Johnsonville Club and helped Rod come up with a final version. Download the instructions to the dance John McCormick

See more about dancing in the US midwest here – with lots of interesting links to groups, upcoming events, resources and even a shop selling T-shirts (and underwear!) with the Milwaukee logo. Or at their Facebook page

San Jose

The San Francisco Bay area has many keen Scottish Country dancers, with lots of options of classes (as they are known there, rather than clubs).

The dancing year had only just begun, as people returned from summer activities. I went along to the San Jose class on Monday 16 September for their first class of the year.

Our older son Carlton is now working in Mountain View not too far from San Jose, so he provided the transport and found Scottish Country Dancing came flooding back to him despite many years as a ballroom dancer.

As with Johnsonville at the beginning of the year, the night was structured with easy dances for beginners for the first part of the evening, and dances for the more experienced later on.

What a nice surprise to find the first dance of the night was The Mad Hatter – devised by fellow Wellingtonian Iain Boyd. The dance was not chosen because teacher Laura Cooper knew we were coming, rather because Iain’s dances are very popular in the Bay area.

The second dance was John McAlpine, once very popular in Wellington and still occasionally appearing on dance programmes.

Familiar dances and very welcoming and friendly dancers made us feel very much at home. And it was nice to see a group with such a good number of men. In fact, for the last dance there were seven men out of the 10 dancers on the floor for a five-couple dance to finish!

See more about the San Jose group here


Rod arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday 18 September, moving from the University of Madison, Wisconsin to the University of California Berkeley.

He arrived just in time to teach the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers on Tuesday night, together with dancers from other groups in the Bay area.

Dunsmuir has quite a different focus from groups in New Zealand. They are a “performance group dedicated to keeping alive the spirit and form of Scottish dances old and new” from the 18th century to present day. That includes Scottish Country, Highland, and Step Dancing.

Their teacher is Ron Wallace, who Rod has met up with over the years at TAC Summer Schools.  Ron travels an hour each way to teach the class. Dancers are used to commuting much further here than we do in Wellington.

Their normal class nights are all about perfecting technique and learning dances for upcoming performances. This was a change for them, instead spending the night dancing a selection of Rod’s dances.

Rod teaching a Highland Schottische Poussette movement in his dance Le Moyne and Roger Farrell of Ithaca

It was a fun night, and interesting dancing on a plywood floor laid on top of the hall floor.

It did away with the problem of a chronically slippery floor and also provided more cushioning. You just had to be careful not to stray off the plywood, as you can see in the photo.

Julee, one of the dancers, was at the most recent Masterton Summer School and I am told that Tim Wilson, also one of the Dunsmuir dancers, will be in New Zealand next year to teach at Christchurch Summer School.

There’s always a Kiwi connection wherever you go.

Find out more about the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers

From Kristin Downey


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