The reel thing

John Munro, a former Johnsonville Club member and Secretary who now lives in the Wairarapa, tells us about reeling – what it is about and recent events in New Zealand.

During the Scottish Country Dancing off-season at the end of February, I went to a Reeling Ball in Martinborough. A week later there was a Southern Meeting at Larnach Castle in Dunedin. I didn’t go to Dunedin but many of the Martinborough contingent did and their numbers were supplemented by Otago reelers.

John at the rear in the white shirt reeling at the Martinborough Picnic Ball

What is reeling about?

Reeling is a long-standing Highland tradition. The Northern Meeting in Inverness was inaugurated in 1788 by 13 Highland gentlemen for “pleasure and innocent amusement”. The autumn and Christmas Balls and Piping Competitions are still grand occasions in Scotland.

Click here to see photos of twirling and birling at a Burns Night celebration

Reeling has become rather ‘smart’. In recent years, the itinerant glitterati have patronised lavish balls evolved from the Highland gatherings.

Taking place in St. Petersburg, Vienna, Venice, Istanbul, two Maharajahs’ palaces in India, Florence, and Oman, these were not budget events.

 ‘The Last Hurrah’ Desert Ball in 2018 in Muscat at the Al Bustan Palace (a luxury hotel), was appropriately Scottish since the Sultan (who died in January this year) served with the Cameronians after Sandhurst.

See more about these Highland Balls here

Reeling events in New Zealand

After the Oman Ball, it seemed proper the series should end with a Southern Meeting. Who better to organise it than Lady Lilias Bell; a reeling whiz, married to a Kiwi, long time Wellington resident, and impeccably Scottish as a daughter of the Duke of Montrose.

About 80 international reelers flew in from around the world including Scotland, England, the US, Canada and Zimbabwe and touristed their way from Auckland to Martinborough for a Picnic Ball and thence to Larnach Castle in Dunedin for The Southern Meeting.

Find out more about these events here

Picnic Ball: Martinborough 22 February

A few locals from Wellington, the Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay had a reel practice a week before the Picnic Ball. With three male dancers from The Royal New Zealand Ballet, we felt pretty flash!

On the evening of the ball, we had a convivial dinner at Colombo Vineyard where we got busy filling our dance cards; very cute with their attached little pencils. Then bused to the Martinborough Town Hall, hoping to match our card scribbles of Felicity (green dress), Joy (New York) … to one of many new friends.

The music was top notch as it was from Lynne Scott and a host of our excellent Wellington musicians.

The Schiehallion Ceilidh Band on the steps of Larnach Castle

Despite kilts, sashes, reeling dresses and ballgowns the dancing is defiantly not RSCDS. For example, in the Scottish Country Dancing version of Duke of Perth, first couple turn by the right hand and cast to second place. Whereas reelers rush in, bump hips, clap and cast.

There’s much stamping, clapping, twirling and birling. Plus a crazy formation (for the young and brave) called helicopter – as a foursome transitions from strathspey to reel time, the ladies become rotor blades.

The crazy reeling formation called a helicopter!

Carriages at 1.30am!

from John Munro

Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 23 No. 1 March 2020

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