Kristin Downey: Leaving Johnsonville School

Memories of Johnsonville Club in 1991

 As many Wellington dancers will already be aware, Johnsonville Club is relocating, and will dance at Johnsonville Bowling Club in 2020.

We welcomed dancers from across Wellington to our final night of dancing at Johnsonville School hall

Our Tartan and Final night on November 25 this year, really was our FINAL night at Johnsonville School hall. It was a great night’s dancing, and it was fantastic to have so many dancers from across Wellington joining us on the night to mark the occasion.

Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club has a long history at Johnsonville School hall, moving there from the Union Church hall in Johnsonville Road in 1970/71.

The club has continued to dance there ever since, except for a year at Raroa School hall in 1974 and some time in 1978/79 at the Terrace Centre in Johnsonville.

Although I danced for a short time in Singapore in the early 1980s, I began my real Scottish country dancing journey at Johnsonville School hall after I moved to New Zealand.

My children also attended Johnsonville School, and l feel some sadness in losing that personal connection after 29 years. In recording my earliest memories of the club, I’m aiming to keep that time alive.

I started dancing at Johnsonville School hall as part of a beginner group of ten in 1991. I had considered joining a local square-dancing club, but they kept beginners separate from more experienced dancers for a whole year, and I didn’t like the sound of that!

Marjorie dancing at a Johnsonville Club social evening in 1993

Marjorie Crawford was club tutor, while Barbara Kent taught beginners in a separate room for the first ten weeks.

Barbara’s quiet patience, good humour, knowledge and precision came to the fore in her teaching, as did her model footwork. Following her excellent preparation, I felt equipped to join Marjorie and the experienced dancers, initially after supper and then later for the whole evening.

Marjorie took the beginners on with enthusiasm (and a somewhat impenetrable Glaswegian accent). I found her love and knowledge of both the dance and the music inspiring and exciting.

I also particularly remember Arthur and Margaret Elliott, Isla and Eric Norris, and Muriel Thompson for their warmth and enthusiasm, and for taking me under their wings as I transitioned into the main club.

Johnsonville club in 1991 was a bustling, vibrant club with 4 or 5 sets on the floor and regular guest tutors across the year. I have an abiding memory of Edith Campbell demonstrating graceful use of arms, with kerchiefs as props – I have only to picture her for my arms to rise to the occasion.

Rod and Kristin dancing at a Bad Taste Evening at Johnsonville in 1991!

My first dancing outing with Johnsonville Club was at a joint dance with Linden Club, on Easter Monday 1991.

My husband Rod came along to see what this Scottish country dancing business was all about, and then there was one more beginner at Johnsonville, a tutor in the making, and a need for a babysitter on Monday nights!

In June we joined the rest of the club at a midwinter Christmas dinner at the Fisherman’s Table at Paekakaraki, and in August it was time for our first Johnsonville annual dance.

My main recollection of that night is the sheer exhilaration of walking into Newlands College hall to the sight of a dance floor full of women in white dresses and tartan sashes, men in their Scottish regalia and rousing music by Peter Elmes’ band.

I have an assortment of other little memories from that year:

  • Never ever considering wearing trousers (!) to dancing
  • The invisible line down the middle of Johnsonville hall that was rarely crossed by those who sat on one side or the other. Once you’d put your shoe bag down, that was it, you were committed to dance only on that side of the hall.
  • Feeling so much more a member of the club once I’d bought a club badge for my tartan sash
  • Isla’s tartan tablecloths, and her friendly face behind the teapot.

Johnsonville Annual Dance 2001 – Margaret Elliott second from left. Isla and Eric Norris in the centre.

Many dancers have come and gone from Johnsonville since I started dancing. It is interesting to note that there are only four current members who danced at Johnsonville before 1991 and are still dancing with the club – Aline and John Homes, Elizabeth Rendell and John Markham.

Former member Catherine McCutcheon also maintains her club connection, as a regular guest tutor rather than a member. So I guess I have now become one of the old-timers.

If you have memories to share from your time dancing with Johnsonville Club, I would love to hear about them and add them to our club history. Please email me

From Kristin Downey

Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 22 No. 4 December 2019

See Loralee Hyde’s photos of our final night of dancing at Johnsonville School

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