John Markham: Scottish Connections

John’s dancing life story

As told to Kristin Downey

At the left, John is dancing Kingussie Flower with Maureen Sullivan at the Johnsonville & Capital Coast Joint Annual Dance in August 2019

When John and his late wife and soul-mate Petra arrived in Wellington from the UK in 1969, John had no idea he was about to embark on a life of Scottish Country Dancing.

As new arrivals, they decided a good way to meet people would be to join a group of some sort. Petra heard about Kelburn Scottish Country Dance Club from someone at work and off they set.

Petra had danced at school, John had not, and knew nothing about it. He was expecting to go along and sit on the sidelines and watch. However, this was not to be.

Mirth Smallwood (founder of Kelburn Club) approached John on the sidelines and as John puts it, ‘dragged him up’ to dance Mairi’s Wedding

Download a summary of Mirth Smallwood’s contribution to Scottish Country Dancing below, from Sociable Carefree Delightful – A history of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand by Margaret D Laidlaw and Margaret M Hutchison

Despite being thrown in the deep end on the first night, John and Petra joined Kelburn Club where Betty Redfearn had recently taken over as tutor.

They continued to dance at Kelburn for some years, and in 1974 John remembers meeting Miss Jean Milligan at club one night. He saw an ‘old lady’ sitting down watching the dancing, and didn’t realise till afterwards that she was one of the two founders of the RSCDS. (Mirth had arranged for Miss Milligan’s tour of New Zealand and Kelburn was one of the clubs she visited.)

In 1975 John and Petra moved to Dunedin and joined Knox Club. Then in 1980 they moved back to Wellington, bought a house in Ngaio and danced at both Ngaio and Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Clubs.

John is recorded as a member of Johnsonville Club from 1981 and has danced with the club ever since. John’s son Michael came along to dancing with him as a young boy. At times, John even brought Phys Ed students from his Onslow College Scottish Country Dance class to experience club dancing.

John also continued to dance at Ngaio Club, where Marie Malcolm was the long-term tutor. Marie was a great support to John when, in 2006, he started working towards his tutor’s certificate in Scottish Country Dancing.

John has always loved teaching, and had no trouble passing the theoretical side of the certificate. However, his hips paid the price of so much physical activity over so many years and they didn’t stand up to all the work needed for the practical side.

Rod Downey teaching at club in October 2005 while on crutches following a knee operation – with John also on crutches following a hip replacement handling the music!

Two hip replacements later, John is still dancing at Johnsonville. Since 2015 he has also served as a club committee member and can always be relied upon to help with any club event and bring his enthusiasm and laughter to the dance floor.

John leading the singing at Hogmanay in 2010 which was organised by Johnsonville Club

John’s one regret is that he was unable to attend Johnsonville Club’s special 50 Golden Years celebration in 2016.

At Johnsonville Club’s first summer ceilidh on 1 February 2014, John gave a humorous recitation of the The Lion and Albert (perhaps inspired by Stanley Holloway’s rendition)

World premiere of John Markham’s Rant

On 15 June 2020, the first Monday back dancing after the Covid-19 lockdown, Johnsonville Club danced the ‘world premiere’ of John Markham’s Rant

Club tutor Rod Downey wrote this dance in lockdown in recognition of John’s long commitment to Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club – it’s a busy dance with lots going on, reflecting John’s enthusiasm for physical activity.

18 June 2020

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