Naming dances

Rod and I were in Napier at the end of August for his talk on Mathematics and Scottish Country Dancing, organised by the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

We always take our dancing shoes when we travel, and we had a lot of fun dancing with the very hospitable Clive Friday morning group (as we did in our June trip to Napier). On this visit Rod took the whole session, teaching a selection of his dances which people would not have come across before.

Looking at the list of dances, I thought there was a story to be told about how his dances get their names, and sometimes their inspiration. They were devised between 2013 and 2019, and run the gamut from easier teaching dances to dances which introduce new formations.

You can see in the list below that Rod’s dances are named for dancers, musicians and events. They are often written as teaching dances for a particular formation, or with a new formation in mind, and sometimes the name reflects the formation.

  • Will Starr (2013) – a famous Scottish musician.
  • Moggie and the Fish (2014) – a well-known Wellington dancer, and a less well-known fish, with both a poem and a dance to record their meeting.
  • Patricia Reesby (2015) – a longstanding Johnsonville dancer, and a new formation.
  • My Golden Bear (2016) – a close family member and an auspicious occasion (or two).
  • Watchmaker (2018) – the teaching formation gives the name of the dance.
  • The Coleraine Rant (2019) – written for a Johnsonville Club occasion, with a double meaning in the name.
Dancing the World Premiere of The Coleraine Rant at Johnsonville in March 2019

Enjoy finding out all about the dances Rod taught to the Clive dancers below, together with photos and links to videos.

Kristin Downey

What’s in a dance name?

Each of Rod’s dances has a story attached to it, and as we dance, we keep those stories alive. Read on to find the stories and histories for each dance, as well as instructions and video links where possible.

Will Starr

Instructions here and video here (note both first and third couples begin in this demonstration version). Written as a teaching dance for Ladies’ Chain in quick time, and named after a very ‘quick’ musician.

Will Starr was a famous Scottish accordionist from the middle of the 20th Century (1922-1976), and was known as the King of the Scottish Accordion. The legend is that he had one speed (‘faster’), as you can hear in this video. You also get to see his fine leg, which he was proud to display in his performances.

Watch the video of this demonstration of Will Starr here

Moggie and the Fish

Instructions here. There is no video of Moggie and the Fish. However this video from Johnsonville’s 2015 Annual Dance shows the related dance The Viking’s Sheepskin which starts with the same new formation, a modified Sheepskin Hey.

Rod learned of this traditional English dance formation when he and Kristin visited Cambridge and attended classes offered by the Capriol Dancers

The dance itself was inspired by Wellington dancer Moggie Grayson’s finding of Rod’s lost ‘fish’ kilt pin at the Shetland Society’s Viking Ball. She mailed it back to Rod together with a clever poem. He wrote the dance to thank her.

Rod’s fish kilt pin on his Dress Macdonald kilt

Patricia Reesby

Instructions here and video here showing dancers from Lyon. It was posted with their thanks to Pat for her many videos of dances from around New Zealand.

Pat is a very keen dancer, a member of Johnsonville Club for many years, serving as secretary, and writer of fine newsletters. This is the first of Rod’s dances to include his new formation La Spirale, he named the dance in Pat’s honour.

Watch the video of Patrica Reesby here

My Golden Bear

Instructions here and video here (taken by John Patterson) from the Johnsonville Tartan night 1 October 2018.

Rod devised this for his wife Kristin, his ‘bear’, for her 60th birthday; and especially in appreciation of her work for Johnsonville Club’s 50 Golden Years celebration in 2016. It features his new formation Corners Pass and Turn in Tandem.

See more about My Golden Bear here


Instructions here, no video.

This is a teaching dance for the Tourbillon formation. The name comes from Abraham-Louis Breguet’s 1801 patented tourbillon (whirlwind in French), an addition to the mechanics of watches involving slow, continuous rotation of the entire assembly.

The Coleraine Rant

Instructions here, no video.

Devised by Rod for an Irish-themed St Patrick’s night, and as a teaching dance for Poussette. It was named for Te Mata Coleraine, one of the great wines of New Zealand, with a link to Ireland via original winemaker John Buck’s grandfather, who was born in County Coleraine in Northern Ireland.

See details of the premiere of this dance at Johnsonville Club on 19 March 2019

It seems devisors put almost as much thought into naming their dances as into devising them. Thanks to all our devisers who bring us the excitement of new dances and formations and stories.

3 September 2020

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