Our new dancers of 2020

More than twenty new dancers came along to Johnsonville’s beginners’ classes early in 2020 to try out Scottish country dancing. Around half of those decided it was not for them, but the other half wanted to know more.

Club nights had only been up and running for three weeks when Covid got in the way, dancing was suspended, and many people’s lives changed. Despite this, four of our new dancers found the joy of the dance irresistible, and have become part of our dancing community.

Two of those dancers have kindly shared their experiences of being a new dancer at Johnsonville Club in 2020: Maggie Boag and Isabelle Joseph. Find out more below.

Isabelle and Maggie with Kristin Downey, President of Johnsonville Club

Maggie Boag: An incredible way to exercise the body…and brain

Maggie has a bit of a head start on many of us, having done easy Scottish Country dances as a child at school in Paisley, not far from Glasgow. She also lived in the Highlands, in the wee village of Foyers (famous for its ‘smoky’ waterfall) south of Inverness, on the shores of Loch Ness.

Robert Burns and Lord Kelvin, amongst others, visited Foyers, Burns wrote a poem about it, and there is a Scottish country dance named The Falls of Foyers. Maggie’s Scottish background surely set her up to find the joy in Scottish country dancing.

But outside of school, she only ever danced at Christmas dances, weddings and ceilidhs until a Kiwi friend brought her along to beginners’ classes in Johnsonville. As Maggie says: ‘It seems I had to come to New Zealand to learn RSCDS dances … all far more complicated than any I had done before.’

Maggie with her daughter Fiona in Johnsonville

If Covid-19 had not come along, Maggie’s allowed 6-month visit to family in New Zealand would have finished, and she would have headed back to Scotland in April. Happily for us and for Maggie, her visit was extended, and she danced with us all year. Long may it last.

Maggie says:

Since I recently became a widow, I found it difficult to meet new people and enjoy company. A good friend suggested that I might like to join her at Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club on a Monday night.

I was very nervous and, right up till the last minute, I almost pulled out. I am so glad that I didn’t.

From the moment I arrived, all of the members gave me a warm welcome. They showed an interest in me, encouraged me, and reassured me that I would soon learn the steps of the many dances.

They pointed out that, in the past, they too had been beginners, and it didn’t matter if you made a mistake, or got your right mixed up with your left, the patterns would soon fall into place.

Experienced dancers always took me and the other new dancers as partners for each dance. They would gently and subtly point out the correct way to go and what was coming next.

Of course that didn’t always work, and there were sometimes hilarious consequences. But these kind people never laugh at you, instead they laugh with you!

Every evening there is much laughter and communication. This is so very good for your spirit.

Our excellent tutor, Rod, is a very patient man. He breaks down each dance, explains each part of it, and demonstrates how it should be done. (He is so light on his feet!)

Before each class, he lets us know by email what new dances will be taught that week and includes videos of those dances. This is tremendously helpful.

Rod has a wealth of knowledge of all the dances and the music that  accompanies them. We all learn so much from him and are inspired by his enthusiasm.

I have also found that Scottish Country Dancing is an incredible way to exercise … not only the body, but also the brain. Since taking up dancing, I find the many hills of Wellington far less challenging.

After this first year of dancing, I am still very much a beginner compared to most of my new friends. With their kindness, friendship, and encouragement, I am keen to carry on and become more competent.

I still make many mistakes, and am often more like a baby elephant than a nimble elf, but when I get the moves in a dance right, and I glide across the floor with an excellent partner, I experience such a feeling of accomplishment and such a feeling of joy.

It really has astounded me that Scottish Country Dancing could make me feel so good. I really am so grateful to all at Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club.

Newer dancers from Johnsonville at the 2020 Wellington New Dancers Celebration – Elizabeth Judge, Maura Beattie, Bruce and Fiona Jones and Maggie

I am looking forward to future years of good company, a fun way to exercise both my mind and body, and to learn more of these amazing dances.

I would dearly love to stay in New Zealand permanently, not only to be near my daughter, but because I have found the people, the culture and the land of this beautiful country to be wonderful. Hopefully this might happen in the not too distant future.

Isabelle Joseph: Enjoying dancing allows me to have fun

Isabelle just loves to dance. From the moment she saw Johnsonville Club’s beginners’ ad for dance classes close by in Johnsonville, she was hooked.

Isabelle had done some traditional Malay dance at school in Malaysia, and danced to music and song at parties. She’d seen and liked the Irish dancing in Riverdance, but not seen Scottish country dancing before. That didn’t matter though, Isabelle just wanted to dance.

As she says: ‘I’m so glad that I took some time to read the Independent Herald in January, in which I came across the Johnsonville Scottish Country dance club. I “braved” myself to come in for the first night of dancing and have loved every session I attended.’

Since then Isabelle has earned renown for the delicious Malaysian curry puffs she prepares for Tartan nights and volunteered to join this year’s supper team. She also likes the sound of bag-pipes which she finds to be an amazing musical instrument!

We are lucky she was brave enough to join us on the dance floor, and are so pleased she’s staying on to dance with us. A friend has even made Isabelle a beautiful tartan sash to wear while dancing.

Isabelle says:

I came to New Zealand in December 2015. I moved here from Malaysia to be with my husband.

Working life in Malaysia was hectic with long hours so when I came to . it took some adjustment to the free time I had, to a point I became bored just sitting around the house and not doing much.

So I joined both a Tamil society here in Wellington and then joined the Malaysian society in 2017 where I am currently secretary. Apart from that, I volunteered as a teacher aid with MCLaSS, and with Mary Potter Hospice store in Porirua.

When my husband started his own financial business about three years ago, I stopped my volunteering and started working with him due to the banking background I have. However I still do volunteering, every Tuesday fortnight at the Home of Compassion, Island Bay.

As for dancing, back in my school days I’ve done traditional Malay dance, and in October 2017, myself with three other friends did a dance for the NZ Malaysian Society Deepavali event. Apart from that, it’s just free dance to any kind of dance music/song in parties.

I got to know about the Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club through the Independent Herald, January 2020 publication. I read the article in the newspaper (though it was small, it caught my attention). I decided to email the club to express my interest and get more information. I promptly received a reply, advising me on the day when the club resumes dancing.

Monday 3 February, I got ready and drove down to the Johnsonville Bowling Club. Though I was nervous I went with an open mind to be greeted by smiles and hellos. That put me at ease.

Then the dancing started, with some simple, do-able warm-ups. The experienced dancers looked after the new dancers, partnering with them for each dance routine. It was not easy remembering the moves but eventually you get the hang of it with the help of the experienced dancers.

Since then, Monday evening is a day I look forward to, a day/time I block off on my calendar. The dance is fun and keeps the brain active as you need to remember the formations and when it is your turn to move, of course with the guidance of our dance tutor.

I can’t say I knew Scottish dance before I joined the club. I must say it was unexpected. I didn’t know there were so many routines, formations, different kind of steps for different kind of music. It was pretty challenging.

Isabelle at the far left and Maggie second from the right dancing Spring Fever at the Johnsonville Spring Fling in November 2020

But the fact that I enjoyed dancing allowed me to have fun with it. Of course the more experienced dancers did a great job looking out for new dancers like me. And Rod is an amazing tutor.

Join us at dancing in 2021!

Scottish Country Dancing is a fun way to get fit and make new friends – all with toe-tapping Celtic music!

This year, our Beginner’s Classes are on 1, 8, 15 & 22 February, 7.30pm-9.30pm on Monday nights at Khandallah Town Hall, 11 Ganges Road, Khandallah, Wellington.

Find out more here

9 January 2020

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