Johnsonville Club’s first Life Members: Isla and Eric Norris

Isla and Eric Norris’ association with Johnsonville likely began as part of the St Columba’s Presbyterian club friendship group, which went on to become the Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club.

Despite much research by club member Pat Reesby, we can’t quite tie down the details, as records from that time are incomplete.

However, Eric and Isla were definitely amongst the 30 people listed as members in the earliest Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club attendance records, dated 1968. They danced into their late 80’s and are last listed as being members of Johnsonville in 2003. They died within months of each other in 2010.

In the centre of the set, Isla and Eric Norris dance Isla’s Fancy (devised by tutor Rod Downey) at the 2001 Johnsonville Annual Dance
Then President, Philippa Pointon presents Eric with his 90th birthday cake at the 2001 Johnsonville Annual Dance
Isla and Eric at the Ngaio 2005 Annual Dance

Isla (President 1968-1971) and Eric (President 1978-1979) were stalwarts of Johnsonville club, Ngaio club, and the Wellington region dancing community, and were awarded life membership of Johnsonville club in 1985.

Download the presentation below to see more photos of their contributions to Scottish Country Dancing.

Keeping their memories alive

Memories of Isla and Eric are kept alive by physical items still in use by the club today. Isla made the tartan tablecloths which were presented to the club by the Norris family (including daughter Gaye) in 1988.

Those tablecloths brighten up our supper tables at every Tartan night, annual dance and mid-winter dinner. This is especially appropriate as the Norris family were behind the teapots at supper time from at least 1976 until Isla and Eric stepped down as supper co-ordinators in 1997.

The tartan tablecloths took pride of place at the Johnsonville 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016

The club also keeps their legacy alive on the dance floor through the kilts and other Scottish regalia donated to the club after their deaths. Deborah Shuker wears one of Isla’s kilts, Maureen Sullivan wears Isla’s tartan sash, past member John Munro wears Eric’s kilt, and you might see Isla’s cheery red tartan bow popping up on Mandy Clarke’s wrist at dancing events.

Deborah Shuker wearing one of Isla’s kilts as she dances Fugal Fergus at the Johnsonville Tartan Night in July 2019
Maureen Sullivan wearing Isla’s green modern Macdonald of the Isles tartan sash while dancing Argyll’s Fancy at the Johnsonville Tartan Night in April 2019
Johnsonville President Kristin Downey with John Munro wearing Eric’s kilt in 2017

If you look closely you may notice some of today’s longer standing members wearing Johnsonville Club badges on their tartan sashes. These were designed by Isla and Eric in 1985, made available for members to purchase for some years, and then provided to new dancers until stocks ran out.

Club member Pat Reesby’s Boyd tartan sash with the Johnsonville Club badge

Dances for Isla and Eric

Rod and I benefited from all that Isla and Eric contributed to the club, including shepherding us as beginners. In recognition of the huge part they played at the club, and out of personal affection, Rod wrote dances for each of them.

In 1999 Rod wrote Isla’s Fancy (which of course refers to Eric) which is in The Cane Toad Collection, and in 2004 he wrote Short and Very Sweet (in They Stole My Wife From Me Last Night) in celebration of Isla’s 90th birthday.

In 2016 Isla and Eric were once again part of the club’s history when Short and Very Sweet was performed as a demonstration dance at the club’s 50 Golden Years event. It was wonderful to see their memories honoured by two sets of dancers from the Newtown Junior group, organised by Elaine Lethbridge.

The Newtown Junior Group dancing Short and Very Sweet at the Johnsonville 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016

Watch Pat Reesby’s video of Short and Very Sweet

Isla and Eric are well remembered by all those who danced with them, for their service to the club and their generous support of new dancers.

by Kristin Downey
7 May 2020

See more about their life

Maureen Sullivan’s memories of Isla and Eric

Obituary for Isla Norris, extraction from Harbour City Happenings, Volume 13 No. 3 October 2010

Obituaries for Eric Norris, extraction from Harbour City Happenings, Volume 13 No. 2
July 2010

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