I was reflecting on our Annual Dance, and thinking how nice it was to see this year’s beginners doing so well on the dance floor.
As a club we are strongly supportive of our new dancers, and it’s very satisfying to see people who’ve joined us at beginners’ classes in February, having such a good time only six months later at our Annual Dance.
Life being what it is, only two of our beginners were able to make it to the Annual Dance, and I asked those two if they would be prepared to write something about their experience as beginning dancers.
Christine Crewdson and Ian Leask kindly agreed to share their experiences, and within three days had sent me their impressions of their first six months as Scottish Country dancers.
Ian and Christine’s stories are different, but with quite a few similarities. Both turn out to have Scottish heritage, neither of them had any previous dance experience, and both of them were surprised by the mental challenges involved.
Read Ian and Christine’s first impressions of dancing below to find out what brought them to Scottish Country Dancing, what makes them keep coming, and their Scottish family connections.
Ian Leask: Improving fitness and memory
Back in February 2022 I saw the Independent Herald article about the Johnsonville Club beginners’ classes and noted that the tutor was that maths professor guy who used to surf with my son Craig more than 25 years ago.
My great grandfather William Leask left Orkney in the mid 1850s and went whaling and gold mining before settling on a farm in Omakau/Ophir, Central Otago. My great grandmother Ellen followed him out from Orkney several years later and they were married in New Zealand.
So, with the definite link to Scotland and a rather more tenuous link to the Johnsonville Scottish Country Dancing Club, I thought I’d go along because I had always thought Scottish dance music sounded compelling and some of it quite beautiful too.
Fitness and memory
I’d been told that this form of dancing is great to help improve one’s fitness and memory. Improved fitness I could understand but memory? It took exactly one evening to sort me out on that score and reinforce something I knew already – that my short term recall is not good and there is plenty of room for improvement there.
Those three introductory classes were great. Rod and the other experienced members showed amazing patience and tolerance and encouraged us the whole time (and they still do). They were probably quite pleased to see some of the other starters who are pretty light on their feet, but really must have wondered about the wisdom of persisting with a leaden-footed tramper like me. But persist they did. The number of beginners dropped off over the next few months but a hard-core six or so have stayed the course so far.
After 6 months of attending club nights and some regional basics classes I think I’ve made some progress. The memory deficit is probably still the most frustrating bit. After a walk-through for a simple 32 bar sequence with 5 or 6 key elements and then a final (albeit high speed) briefing from Rod, you’d think a half intelligent person would be able to remember what to do and where to go. Even more so when the same sequence is then repeated 7 more times to really make it sink in!
But that works only some of the time. Often, when direct contact with my partner has been lost the hard disk gets corrupted and there’s a big blank as I’m wondering where to now? Keep a cosmic connection with your partner Rod said. But where is she? One or more steps ahead. I’ll need to take this short cut to reach the next waypoint on time. Finally, with helpful directions from the odd person on point duty and a firm nudge here and there we’ve got to the end of the 32 bars. And then it all starts over.
In strathspey time it seems to happen too quickly but in jig and reel time it really is relentless. Don’t worry my partner says at the end, it took me at least 5 years before I could relax. Jeez, that’s cheerful. At my age I’ll need to be careful or that might not happen.
I’ve enjoyed the club evenings immensely and the Annual Dance was a great experience. Overall it has been good, if sometimes frustrating fun. But with everyone willing you to improve you couldn’t be in better company.
I’ll be back for the challenge next week!
28 August 2022
Christine Crewdson: Appreciating the laughter and encouragement
When did you start dancing with Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club?
In the February 2022 Beginners classes. I hadn’t done any dancing prior, so it’s been a steep learning curve.
How did you get into Scottish Country Dancing?
It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time but didn’t quite get round to it. I saw a poster inviting people to beginners’ sessions this year. Since I was easing out of the workforce, I decided this was the time to have a go. I thought it would be enjoyable exercise but didn’t realise the mental challenges it involves – so that’s an added bonus.
What do you most enjoy about Scottish Country Dancing?
I’m enjoying meeting new people and discovering how truly friendly and encouraging they are. Everyone I’ve met at Johnsonville Club, the Region Basics courses and from other clubs are so welcoming, patient, positive and supportive. It’s very refreshing and energising.
I’m hoping the mental and physical challenges will keep my brain functioning. In addition, Club newsletters include snippets of interesting information to encourage follow-up learning.
Tell us a bit about any Scottish connections you may have.
My paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Burnett Johnstone (daughter of Elizabeth McKenzie and Charles Johnstone). She was born at Banks, Strichen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and emigrated from Dundee to New Zealand in 1926. My father retained a strong interest in his heritage and, until he died, he always wore a tartan tam o’shanter.
My maternal grandmother was born in NZ with the maiden name McTaggart. She was an active member of the Scottish Society in Levin for many years. Mum did Highland Dancing as a girl too.
What sorts of activities have you been involved with at the club over the year?
This is my first year so mostly it’s been getting to know people and learning about the dancing community. I haven’t weaned myself off spreadsheets yet, so I’ve done a little bit with those for the Club on wet days, updating historical membership lists and cataloguing the club’s dance books.
What club activity stands out for you?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Annual Dance – it was so energetic and entertaining. On a more regular basis I appreciate the laughter and encouragement at Club nights and trying to master new dances.
Previously, I always focussed more on lyrics than music so now I’m learning to listen more carefully to the music itself.
Tell us something about your life outside of Scottish Country Dancing.
I’ve been a Systems Accountant for various Govt Depts over many years but gave that away in March this year. I’m divorced, with 2 adult children and 2 grandsons. In June 2021, my daughter and I bought a house together in Khandallah for us and her cat.
I’m still adjusting to being out of the workforce. Mostly I’m occupied with family – especially settling my mother into a rest home and trying to sell her house. I enjoy walking, yoga, reading, crosswords and pottering in the garden.
28 August 2022