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Elena: Dancing in North America

During her travels to North America in December 2019, club member Elena Lark found some welcoming groups to dance with. She tells us about her experiences below.

Greensboro, North Carolina

First my work took me to Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina. There is one group in Greensboro (the city population is about 290,000), the Greensboro Scottish Country Dance Society

Mary McConnell, the tutor of many years, was very welcoming. The format of the night, as expected, was familiar, similar to what we are used to in Johnsonville. Though most of the dances were new to me, all the formations were familiar.

Elena, third from right, with dancers in Greensboro

There were two sets on the floor. Among interesting things, there were three students from the local university attending the club within a ‘study dancing of the world’ programme, where they visit various dancing groups and participate. The night started with a couple of ceilidh dances to get the new students involved.

Another interesting thing the club is practicing – a few of more experienced dancers take turns in teaching one dance a night for the rest of the group. This way, Mary can have some rest and the other dancers have a chance to practice their teaching skills.

The members of the club were surprised to hear that we have supper in the middle of the dance night, though they did appreciate New Zealand chocolate!

Toronto, Canada

After North Carolina, I went to Toronto for about a week. I googled Toronto Scottish Country Dancing in advance and was surprised by the number of events – there are 2-3 options for dancing every night of the week.

Elena, second from left, with the Shiftin’ Bobbins dancers

I landed on Saturday and the first event on was at a Shiftin’ Bobbins Scottish Country Dancing Social Group. They dance at the Grace Church on-the Hill and I managed to travel there on the Toronto underground and through the snow.

This social group turned out to be at quite an advanced level. It was a challenge to keep up, especially with unfamiliar square-set dances, like the Twelvesome Reel. But the group was very welcoming and patient with me. They invited me to a few other events over the week.

I can only recommend joining Scottish Country Dancing groups wherever you are travelling! It is a great way to feel welcome in a new place and to meet the locals as well as doing something you like.

from Elena Lark

New dancers: 1

Our tutor Rod Downey gives some tips to new dancers about practicing steps and formations.

If you want to practice any of the steps, begin with skip change (hop step) close step, where the first bit in parentheses happens on the first movement.

One of the local clubs, Lower Hutt has some nice videos online to demonstrate steps and formations.

You’ll recognise some of the names: allemande, pas de basque etc.

Another place to look at is the RSCDS Learn page which has a lot of teaching resources you can trawl through.

There is also a lot of technical information there about the music which is beyond my ken.

See more about music to dance to here

Dance instructions and videos

The Scottish Country Dance Database (SCDDB) is an excellent source of dance instructions and videos. When you click on the links for the dances below, select Videos in the menu to watch videos and listen to the music.

The New Rigged Ship is good for skip change

If you can find people to do it with, Linton Ploughman is an easy one with the elements we have done

The Linton Ploughman apparently was Robbie Burns.

Even listening to the music and imagining your steps will help. I suggest learning pas de basque (spring, beat, beat; R, L, R, and L, R, L) while washing up as you can lean on the sink, and keep your legs turned out.

Rod Downey
26 March 2020

More experienced dancers: 1

Our tutor Rod Downey has given us some tips on practicing formations.

All Round Poussette

More experienced dancers might care to look at the All Round Poussette and particularly look at The Gentleman

All round poussette: Begin on outside foot: In on 1 pivot, out on 2 pivot, in on 3, strong forward turn on 4, out on 5 pivot in on 6, forward for the turn on 7, retire on 8.

Key points diamond shape, inner person goes further out than the outer one to enable the pivots. Strong arms at shoulder height.

Music to dance to

Click here for suggestions about music online to dance to

Rod Downey
26 March 2020

Music to dance to: 1

Our tutor Rod Downey gives us ideas for music to listen and practice to.

The end of this video (from my YouTube channel) has nice circles and 3C promenade.

This video is from the teachers’ training class of 1998 in Redwood in Tawa. You might recognise some of the trainee tutors.

Dances include Golden Pheasant, Aultshellach, Miss Hadden’s Reel.

For the more experienced the strathspey at the beginning has a tournee.

Music online

Below are links to some music online.

They have been extracted (by John Patterson, thanks) from old 45s by Jack Seton and Bob Mellis from early New Zealand recordings – fascinating musical artefacts from the early days which will never be re-recorded.

Seton had an interesting history as an early figure in New Zealand dancing and band leader; one of the originators of Summer School. Mellis was a band leader in Christchurch where I think the recordings were made.

Also from an old vinyl recording of Peter Elmes, from his early records, recorded in Wellington and no longer available.

There is a mix of strathspeys, reels and jigs. Warning: they start playing immediately.

Rod Downey
26 March 2020

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

Covid-19: Suspension of dancing

For the health and well-being of our dancers, the Johnsonville Club Committee is suspending dancing as follows.

Monday night dancing is initially suspended till the end of March.

  • There will be no Monday night dancing on 23 March and 30 March
  • The committee will review our decision at the end of March and send out further advice
  • We will continue to send out regular newsletters to keep everyone in touch and informed.

Johnsonville Tartan Night on Monday 6 April is cancelled.

  • There will be no public event on 6 April
  • Depending on Covid-19 developments we could consider running a club night instead
  • We may be able to reschedule the Tartan Night for later in the year, but again that depends on developments.

We are following government guidelines around:

  • Social distancing of 2 metres
  • Avoiding gatherings involving close contact
  • Not shaking hands.

Thank you everyone for your understanding. Take care, I look forward to seeing you when we are next able to meet.

Kristin Downey, President
19 March 2020

Dancing shoes with a Royal connection

Two pairs of donated dancing shoes recently arrived in our club secretary Robert’s mailbox. Read about the history of these shoes from the donor’s daughter Pru Galloway.

It’s really nice to pass these on and it turns out there is a royal connection (well almost!).

My parents Jean and John Galloway bought the shoes for Queen Elizabeth II’s royal visit in January 1954.

Prior to that my dad had danced in his ‘sand shoes’ and they were mum’s first dancing shoes (she was a very recent convert to Scottish dancing after marrying Dad in 1953).

Jean and John Galloway in fancy dress in the 1970s. Jean is wearing her dancing shoes!

My mum is now 91 and dad is deceased, but mum remembers they were members of the Caledonian Dancing Club in Wellington. They were invited to dance for the Queen at the Basin Reserve as she was staying close by at Government House and it was thought she could easily attend. On the day, they danced as planned, but the Queen didn’t appear!

In mid-1954 mum and dad left Wellington for Mangakino (Dad was a hydro dam engineer] where there was no Scottish Country Dancing club, so the shoes were never worn much. I believe the laces are original. They have been living safely in mum’s camphor wood chest ever since. She has just moved into a rest home so we are pleased to hand them on.

They don’t fit me or I might be tempted to join your club!

A little more on the Scots connection. Dad was born in Banff in Scotland and grew up in Perth, he studied engineering at Glasgow University and emigrated to New Zealand after the war to take up a lectureship at Victoria University. He met mum in Wellington.

Pru Galloway

Wellington Region Summer Dancing 2020

What better way to enjoy our daylight savings hours than to meet with fellow Scottish Country Dancers from all over the Wellington Region at the Old Government Building on Lambton Quay?

Summer dancing at the Old Government Building Photo: Xiaowen Yu

I had previously attended only one of these a couple of years ago. This year I decided to join the enthusiastic group beginning on Tuesday, January 21 for four weeks.

Several other Johnsonville members were there too and it was so good to catch up after spending the Festive Season across the Tasman. It was also an opportunity to meet up with dancers from across the Wellington Region.

The weather was kind to us for the first and final sessions. However, halfway through the second evening, and all of the third, we needed to take advantage of the student common room (which is fortunately available for our use when it rains).

Dancing on grass is so different from our wooden floors so there was quite a variety of footwear, many preferring to dance barefoot!

Nobody cares about the standard of footwork on the different surface. I found it very relaxed, as the dances chosen by the tutor each evening were on the whole good old standards, which have appeared in many programmes.

Liz dancing fourth from the right. Other Johnsonville dancers include John M, Robert, Pat, Désirée and Jeanette.

This is a great way to get our bodies and brains ready for the new club season for just a gold coin donation.

from Liz Hands

Welcome home, Xiaowen!

Ten Johnsonville dancers joined dancers from around the Wellington Region on Friday 7 February to welcome Xiaowen Yu home from eight and half years of study in the United States – where she gained her doctorate in neuroscience from Northwestern University in Chicago and undertook research as a Postdoctoral Associate at New York University.

After dancing from a young age at Island Bay Club (now Capital City) before moving to the United States, Xiaowen continued to dance during her time in Chicago and New York. In 2019, she gained her full Scottish Country Dancing Teaching Certificate.

Xiaowen dancing Pelorus Jack with Johnsonville Life Member John Homes

The welcome home celebration was a surprise for Xiaowen with her mother Juping enticing her to attend by saying she’d been invited to brief two dances at a dance party. While thanking everyone, Xiaowen confirmed it was indeed a complete surprise as no one at the Region’s Tuesday session of summer dancing or at Capital City Club on Thursday evening gave even a hint of next seeing her at this event on Friday night!

Thank you to John Gregory and Helen Simmers for helping Juping set up for the dance with John creating another of his marvellous backdrops, this time with Xiaowen’s name literally lit up in lights.

Dancing Scott Meikle

Dancing to the toe-tapping music of Lynne Scott and Jason Morris with Sharlene Penman joining in the band from time to time, six sets of dancers enjoyed the programme of some of Xiaowen’s favourite dances.

Showing the depth and strength of Scottish Country Dancing in Wellington, we were treated to briefings from a series of well-known tutors: Jeanette Watson, Damon Collin, Elaine Laidlaw, Romaine Butterfield, Iain Boyd and Catherine McCutcheon, with Xiaowen herself briefing Mairi’s Wedding and Best Set in the Hall.

Xiaowen mentioned she’d had the pleasure of dancing with seven of the night’s attendees while in the US – Duncan and Mary McDonald, Sharlene, Gaye and Damon, her Mum and Margaret Pitt. Proof that when New Zealand dancers travel the world, they find dancing friends wherever they go!

Thanks also to James Scott for managing the sound for the evening and Elaine and Kevin Lethbridge for their hard work in organising supper and clearing up afterward.

 Xiaowen will soon be off to Otago University in Dunedin for her second post-doctoral position as a researcher. So, make the most of the opportunity to dance with her before she goes!

Dr Xiaowen Yu and Dr Aline Homes Photo: John Homes

See all the fun and laughter at this wonderful celebration with dancing friends in Loralee Hyde’s photos

Hogmanay Customs: New Zealand and Scotland

New Zealand has developed its own New Year’s Eve traditions over the years, and the Scottish Country Dancing community celebrates Hogmanay in its own particular way.

This year Johnsonville Club organised the Hogmanay dance on 31 December 2019, and member Pat Reesby videoed Piping in the First Foot and Sweeping out the Old Year. You can find links to her videos at the very bottom of this Wellington Region Hogmanay article.

Doug Sinclair piping in First Foot Jason Morris

Aileen Logie was leader of the band for our Hogmanay dance, and she found it interesting comparing these customs with how Hogmanay is celebrated in modern day Scotland. Read what Aileen has to say below.

Aileen Logie playing in the band with Iain and Jason at the Wellington Region Hogmanay

It’s wonderful this Victorian version of Hogmanay persists in Wellington – it doesn’t quite happen like this in Scotland now! Everybody cleans their house and gets all business/jobs finished ready to start the new year with a clean sheet and new resolve.

Celebration is immediately after the last bell of midnight – primed with a charged glass and counting the seconds down. Chaos for the next wee while – hugging, toasting and singing.

The First Foot is important – whoever first crosses the threshold after midnight (can’t be from your house) determines the luck of the household for the next year – a tall, dark, handsome, male scores top ratings.

Usually a neighbour appears (after bringing in the New Year in his own house) carrying the required items – traditionally, a lump of coal (warmth), black bun (sustenance) and whisky (water of life). But coal and black bun are becoming rare, so humorous substitutes turn up, but the whisky is a forever staple. He gives everybody a dram from his whisky bottle and gets some cake/singing/dancing in return. People then go from house to house in their street. If a fine night, sometimes dancing in the street.

Councils are now tending towards organising an event in the town centre to contain the noise/people in one place! These attract tourists in large numbers, so the council rigs up bands, weather cover, food stalls etc so Hogmanay is transmogrifying into something more like a music festival especially in cities. Older locals shake their heads, stay away and stick to the old ways at home…or just go to bed.