Category Archives: History Articles

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.

Kristin Downey: Leaving Johnsonville School

Memories of Johnsonville Club in 1991

 As many Wellington dancers will already be aware, Johnsonville Club is relocating, and will dance at Johnsonville Bowling Club in 2020.

We welcomed dancers from across Wellington to our final night of dancing at Johnsonville School hall

Our Tartan and Final night on November 25 this year, really was our FINAL night at Johnsonville School hall. It was a great night’s dancing, and it was fantastic to have so many dancers from across Wellington joining us on the night to mark the occasion.

Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club has a long history at Johnsonville School hall, moving there from the Union Church hall in Johnsonville Road in 1970/71.

The club has continued to dance there ever since, except for a year at Raroa School hall in 1974 and some time in 1978/79 at the Terrace Centre in Johnsonville.

Although I danced for a short time in Singapore in the early 1980s, I began my real Scottish country dancing journey at Johnsonville School hall after I moved to New Zealand.

My children also attended Johnsonville School, and l feel some sadness in losing that personal connection after 29 years. In recording my earliest memories of the club, I’m aiming to keep that time alive.

I started dancing at Johnsonville School hall as part of a beginner group of ten in 1991. I had considered joining a local square-dancing club, but they kept beginners separate from more experienced dancers for a whole year, and I didn’t like the sound of that!

Marjorie dancing at a Johnsonville Club social evening in 1993

Marjorie Crawford was club tutor, while Barbara Kent taught beginners in a separate room for the first ten weeks.

Barbara’s quiet patience, good humour, knowledge and precision came to the fore in her teaching, as did her model footwork. Following her excellent preparation, I felt equipped to join Marjorie and the experienced dancers, initially after supper and then later for the whole evening.

Marjorie took the beginners on with enthusiasm (and a somewhat impenetrable Glaswegian accent). I found her love and knowledge of both the dance and the music inspiring and exciting.

I also particularly remember Arthur and Margaret Elliott, Isla and Eric Norris, and Muriel Thompson for their warmth and enthusiasm, and for taking me under their wings as I transitioned into the main club.

Johnsonville club in 1991 was a bustling, vibrant club with 4 or 5 sets on the floor and regular guest tutors across the year. I have an abiding memory of Edith Campbell demonstrating graceful use of arms, with kerchiefs as props – I have only to picture her for my arms to rise to the occasion.

Rod and Kristin dancing at a Bad Taste Evening at Johnsonville in 1991!

My first dancing outing with Johnsonville Club was at a joint dance with Linden Club, on Easter Monday 1991.

My husband Rod came along to see what this Scottish country dancing business was all about, and then there was one more beginner at Johnsonville, a tutor in the making, and a need for a babysitter on Monday nights!

In June we joined the rest of the club at a midwinter Christmas dinner at the Fisherman’s Table at Paekakaraki, and in August it was time for our first Johnsonville annual dance.

My main recollection of that night is the sheer exhilaration of walking into Newlands College hall to the sight of a dance floor full of women in white dresses and tartan sashes, men in their Scottish regalia and rousing music by Peter Elmes’ band.

I have an assortment of other little memories from that year:

  • Never ever considering wearing trousers (!) to dancing
  • The invisible line down the middle of Johnsonville hall that was rarely crossed by those who sat on one side or the other. Once you’d put your shoe bag down, that was it, you were committed to dance only on that side of the hall.
  • Feeling so much more a member of the club once I’d bought a club badge for my tartan sash
  • Isla’s tartan tablecloths, and her friendly face behind the teapot.

Johnsonville Annual Dance 2001 – Margaret Elliott second from left. Isla and Eric Norris in the centre.

Many dancers have come and gone from Johnsonville since I started dancing. It is interesting to note that there are only four current members who danced at Johnsonville before 1991 and are still dancing with the club – Aline and John Homes, Elizabeth Rendell and John Markham.

Former member Catherine McCutcheon also maintains her club connection, as a regular guest tutor rather than a member. So I guess I have now become one of the old-timers.

If you have memories to share from your time dancing with Johnsonville Club, I would love to hear about them and add them to our club history. Please email me

From Kristin Downey

Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 22 No. 4 December 2019

See Loralee Hyde’s photos of our final night of dancing at Johnsonville School

Wellington Region Hogmanay: Come along and celebrate!

Hogmanay is what Scots call New Year’s Eve. Marking the arrival of the new year on 31 December, the origins of Hogmanay hark back to the Vikings celebrating the winter solstice with wild parties.

The late Ross Edwards piping in First Foot Chris Totton at the 2010 Hogmanay

There’s great revelling throughout Scotland on Hogmanay. Here in New Zealand, we’re often fortunate we can celebrate at a local Hogmanay with Scottish Country Dancing.

We can dance the night away to toe-tapping live music, take part in a sing-along (including Auld Lang Syne where we join hands with old friends and new ones we’ve just met), and welcome a piper leading in a First Foot—the first person to come across the threshold in the new year, carrying gifts of coal for warmth, salt or money for wealth, shortbread for sustenance and whisky for good cheer.

My very first Hogmanay was in 1974 at a Nelson Summer School during a trip around the South Island on my motorbike. My friend Christine, who had talked me into starting to dance just a few months before, persuaded me to ride to the school (yes, in my evening wear!) for the dance. The fun I had at that evening convinced me Hogmanay was the only way to celebrate New Year’s Eve in future—anything else paled in comparison.

Since then, I’ve danced at Hogmanay at many Summer Schools throughout New Zealand, at Wellington Region events and once in Pitlochry in Perthshire in the heart of Scotland—where we danced Duke of Perth at least three times!

High-spirited turns to the music from Peter Elmes and his band in 2014

The Wellington Region organises a Hogmanay in the years when there’s not a Summer School nearby, which gives us a fine chance to celebrate.

I’ve enjoyed Hogmanay at various locations around Wellington including Onslow College in 2006, Newlands in 2010 and Ngaio in 2014.

With lots of smiles and laughter, Hogmanay is a relaxed and fun-filled evening with the lively music encouraging dancers on to the floor.

This year with music from Aileen Logie, Iain Matcham and Jason Morris, Hogmanay is on at 8:00pm, Tuesday 31 December at Crofton Downs Primary School Hall

With Rod Downey as MC, lots of popular and well-known dances on the programme and most dances walked, it’ll be a grand welcome to 2020. Come along and join in!

From Loralee Hyde

Download the 2019 Hogmanay programme and crib sheet here

Click here to see more of Loralee’s photos from Hogmanays from 2006-2018 in and about Wellington

Published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 22 No. 4 December 2019

Rod and Kristin Downey: Honorary Life Memberships

Rod and Kristin with their Honorary Life Membership certificates

To great acclaim from the nine sets of dancers at Johnsonville’s Tartan and Final Night on 25 November 2019, Club Tutor Rod Downey and President Kristin Downey were awarded Honorary Life Memberships of Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club.

Rod and Kristin both started dancing at Johnsonville in 1991. Club member Loralee Hyde (Club President 1998-2000) has known them since that time and she undertook considerable research to prepare extensive commendations for their Honorary Life Memberships—which she presented during the evening.

As well as detailing Rod and Kristin’s significant achievements during their time at Johnsonville, the commendations provide a comprehensive history of the activities and the essence of our very successful Club over the last few decades.

Rod Downey: Tutor

Within a couple of  years of starting dancing, Rod began training as a tutor. He got his full RSCDS certificate in 1996 and very soon after that, Rod took over from Marjorie Crawford as Club Tutor at Johnsonville.

For 23 years now, Rod has dedicated considerable time and energy to develop dancers at Johnsonville and contribute to Scottish Country Dancing in the Wellington Region, New Zealand and internationally.

In a piece Rod wrote in 2016 about what he most enjoys about Scottish Country Dancing, he said:

  • The wonderful music, the rare instances where you are completely in sync with the music as a dancer, and the flow of formations of a really well constructed dance, together with the technical challenge of making less well constructed dances work
  • Teaching and seeing people happy and improving in their dancing
  • Seeing the club develop into a supportive and caring environment with the necessary sense of humour.

This year, in his paper Mathematics, Computer Science and Scottish Country Dancing, Rod said, “To me the music is the core of Scottish Country Dancing… As a dancer I love a great set of tunes… As a teacher, I consider the musical structure of my programmes for social dances as a key element.”

As tutor, Rod endeavours to help members understand and master phrasing to enable the flow of the dance from one figure to the next (and thereby increase their happiness and improve their dancing).

Rod works hard to give all dancers a good time, no matter the level of dancing experience. He brings energy, enthusiasm, experience and great music to beginners’ classes, Club nights, and social events.

As a bonus, Club members are also privileged to dance the ‘world premieres’ of his new dances and progressions. Thank you Rod, for all you bring to the Club.

Download the Rod Downey Honorary Life Membership Commendation

Kristin Downey: President

Rod and Kristin with Loralee

Kristin has always loved dancing of any sort, and things Scottish—the pipes, the music, the song and dance—so Scottish Country Dancing was a natural choice of activity.

Once she began, Kristin was hooked, loving the sheer joy of dancing, of working hard physically, of learning new things and how to do them well.

Along with her love of the dance, the music and the laughter and the spirit that is Scottish Country Dancing, Kristin has dedicated many years of service to the Club. She was Acting Secretary in her early years, served as Secretary for three years, Treasurer for three years and President since 2009.

Over her terms as President, Kristin has kept the Club aim of ‘fun, fitness and friendship’ to the fore while implementing innovative and appealing activities that help build Club membership and community spirit.

And it is important to note that at all times, Kristin credits the committed teams working with her (including the tutor, office bearers, committee members, supper team and many other volunteers) for the success of a wide range of endeavours.

In her 2018 paper, Recruitment and Retention of New Dancers at Johnsonville, Kristin detailed an extensive array of strategies she and the Committee and tutor have put in place since 2012 to actively recruit new dancers each year and retain experienced dancers.

Results speak for themselves—the Club has increased membership from 23 dancers in 2012 to 78 this year.

Johnsonville Club’s underlying philosophy is one of good humour, having fun, and increasing participation with a goal of building an inclusive community of dancers.

Kristin’s significant contributions have helped ensure the Club community spirit continues to shine through, growing stronger every year. Thank you, Kristin for the great impact you have made.

Download the Kristin Downey Honorary Life Membership Commendation

Click here for more of Loralee’s photos of the evening

Early History

Past Johnsonville club secretary, Pat Reesby, has pieced together some of the club’s early history, and it would seem:

  • The club began as a branch of St Columba’s Church Friendship Club, dancing in then Sunday School hall, Haumia St, Raroa
  • There were 10 foundation members – all women
  • The first tutor was a Mr McLellan
  • St Columba’s and St Aidan’s (now Linden club) groups visited each other monthly, prior to becoming separate clubs
  • Jenny Gubbins (now Chisholm) tutored in the early 1960s, followed by Garry King in 1967
  • Glenys Mills, during her time as secretary, was responsible for the club becoming associated with the RSCDS
  • Glenys went on to become club tutor in 1968, continuing for many years
  • The club’s first formal dance was held in 1968 – 130 dancers attended
  • In 1970 the club moved to Johnsonville school hall, where we still dance today.

Originally published in Kiwi News Volume 21 No. 1 April 2016

See some of our early documents here