Loralee Hyde: A Wintery Weekend in Hanmer Springs

With an outlook over snow-capped mountains and big frosts (-2 degrees on Saturday morning!) followed by clear blue skies, along with streets and shops bedazzled by lights as part of the town’s Alpine Winter Festival, Hanmer Springs was the perfect location for a wintery weekend of Scottish Country Dancing.

Over 90 dancers from Waipu in the north to Dunedin in the south, made the trip to the Nelson/Marlborough Region Weekend School from 23-25 July 2021.

Hanmer is a ‘one dance hall’ town, so with nearly three times the number of registrations than expected, having 10 sets dancing at the Hanmer Memorial Hall was rather cosy—which definitely fitted into the aim of the school being a great social experience!

A hall filled with keen dancers on Saturday morning!

After months of disruptions throughout 2020 and early 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions, people were keen to dance, catch-up with old friends and make new. Thanks to the work of Doug Mills and the Region Committee, the weekend was a fun-filled and lively gathering.

Loralee (centre) catching up with Christine and Robyn from Lochiel Club in Hamilton, who she danced with when she started dancing over 45 years ago!

Ruth Budden did a magnificent job of teaching the large combined class, with dancers having a wide range of experience. She devised a comprehensive programme of interesting and sometimes challenging dances to revise formations, phrasing and covering—along with emphasising dancing as a team and acknowledging other dancers with eye contact, which all adds to the social aspect of dancing.

Reasonably well-known dances Ruth took us through included The College Hornpipe, The Triumph and Old Nick’s Lumber Room.

To learn and hone formations we don’t often encounter, we met the challenges of Asilomar Celebration (En Rond) and Argyll Strathspey (Tournée).

Tutor Ruth Budden (centre right) emphasising the position of hands in a circle while teaching Argyll Strathspey

Two dances in particular, provided me with proof Scottish Country Dancing is a great help in building and maintaining the fitness of both body and brain!

During Sir Murdoch MacDonald’s Strathspey, which contains setting and crossing diagonally, a double wheel and an arch, it was essential to remember at all times both who your partner is and your position in the set!

Whereas Burnaby at Forty (an 80 bar square set strathspey), introduced both the Glasgow Highlanders setting step and Schiehallion Reels to many. After much concentrating and practicing, the smiles and laughter emanating from the sets following their achievement of this intricate dance was a highlight of the school.

MC’d by Graeme Plank (who visited Johnsonville Club in 2017), and with a programme of popular dances, the social dance on Saturday evening was another opportunity for more fun, laughter and friendship. Dancers flocked on to the floor for favourites such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Best Set in the Hall and Scott Meikle.

Dancing Best Set in the Hall, always a popular dance
Loralee dancing at the Saturday night social Photo: Kirsty Prentice

At the social, we enjoyed a number of short items. One by a group called Tartan Dolls and Tea Towels from Picton, caught the eye. The dancers held small knitted dolls embellished with tartan including bagpipes! They proceeded to throw the dolls to each other during the dance, showing great balance and focus. The club decorates their hall with the dolls and tea towels at events, which inspired the dance.

Tartan Dolls and Tea Towels from Picton

It wouldn’t be Scottish Country Dancing without great toe-tapping music. Throughout the school at the classes and social, two Wellingtonians who’ve been in bands for events organised by Johnsonville Club—Jason Morris and Iain Matcham—played spirited and lively music on the keyboard and fiddle which inspired us to take to the floor. With dancing on Saturday morning, afternoon and evening and on Sunday morning, it was a large programme of music for them to organise and practise.

Iain Matcham and Jason Morris playing for the class on Saturday afternoon

With all that dancing, muscles got tired and sore. A marvellous way to recuperate was to soak at the Hanmer Hot Springs just across the road from the hall. This large complex has many different types of pools set amongst beautiful landscaping and native vegetation. My legs very much appreciated the water jets massaging my calves and Achilles in an aquatherapy pool and then a long sojourn in a mineral pool.

Hanmer was a delightful location for the school – with this fabulous outlook over the Southern Alps and restorative hot pools!

Thanks so much to Doug, the Region Committee, Ruth, Graeme, Jason and Iain for their hard work in preparing for and running this weekend school. Their commitment meant the aim for the school was met; a fabulous social and relaxing weekend of Scottish Country Dancing and music in the middle of winter in a beautiful region.

Loralee Hyde
28 July 2021

Photos: Loralee Hyde

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