New Dancers’ Celebration: Johnsonville as host

Each year it is the turn of one club in the Wellington Region to organise what is the highlight of the Region’s dancing year.

The 2022 New Dancers’ Celebration is the third hosted by Johnsonville since Rod Downey became tutor. The first was in 2003, and the second in 2013.

Johnsonville hosts the 2003 New Dancers’ Celebration

We have documents for earlier and later periods in the club’s history, but we are missing most documents from a period including 2003. We must make do with the New Dancers’ programme of dances, the accounts for the event, and a single paragraph in the 2004 NZ Scottish Country Dancer magazine.

The 2003 New Dancers’ Celebration was held at Onslow College, a popular venue for large events at the time, taking over from Newlands College.

It’s interesting to compare door fees. In 2003 they were $10 Adult, $9.00 RSCDS and $4 Juniors. In the last 19 years door charges have risen relatively little, in 2022 they are $16, $13, and $5 with a lower charge of $10 for new dancers.

Music was provided by longstanding musician Peter Elmes and associates (individual musicians were not listed in those days). We can see that musicians’ rewards have also not risen greatly over the years. In 2003, Peter received $450 for his three-piece band, these days it’s around $600 divided amongst three musicians.

Musicians John Smith, Peter Elmes and Merren Simmonds had a long association with Johnsonville Club Photo: Loralee Hyde

The 2003 dance programme listed 20 dances, more than we do these days – perhaps because our population of dancers is a little older. But many of the same dances are on the 2022 programme including perennial favourites Minister on the Loch, The Reel of the 51st, and of course The De’il Amang the Tailors.

It seems no-one wrote about the event as such at the time. The only written reference I’ve found was in the Wellington Region notes in the 2004 NZ Scottish Country Dancer:

There was some surprise but delight when Alan Burn (RSCDS NZ Branch Membership Co-ordinator) telephoned to advise that Wellington Region had won the ‘large region’ class of the Branch’s Membership Challenge. Murray Corps (NZ Branch secretary) presented the award to Phyllis Henry the Region Treasurer at the Region’s New Dancers’ Celebration dance hosted by Johnsonville Club.

The accounts show door takings of $1,040, so at $10 maximum entry fee, there must have been over 100 dancers. This was typical for the times, making for a very special night for all the new dancers that year – including Elizabeth Ngan, our very own Kitchen Faerie.

Elizabeth Ngan, Johnsonville Club’s Kitchen Faerie. Photo: Loralee Hyde

And again in 2013

Johnsonville tutor Rod Downey as MC at the 2003 and 2013 New Dancers’ Celebrations…and again in 2022. Photo: Loralee Hyde

By the time the 2013 New Dancers’ Celebration came around (this time with 18 dances on the programme), things were very different, with records galore.

Johnsonville Club now had a weekly email newsletter, with no need to rely on paper records.

Additionally, our photographers/videographers were taking digital photos and video recordings of our events.

In the Johnsonville Club newsletter of 23 October 2013, Secretary Pat Reesby wrote enthusiastically about the 2013 New Dancers’ Celebration held at Newlands Centennial Hall on Saturday 19 October:

What a wonderful time we had at the New Dancers’ Celebration, with lots of dancers (new and ‘old’) from other clubs. Twelve sets! And special thanks to Debbie and friends who organised the (tartan) bunting. It was much admired and I’ve heard on the grapevine that another (bunting) bee is planned sometime – there are heaps of cut-out pennants left over. The bunting is a wonderful club asset.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve set a trend. Bunting bees may pop up in all sorts of places …

Johnsonville Club members including new dancers Lee, Debbie and Shelley put up the new club bunting in the Newlands Centennial Hall

We had a wonderful band for the night – Lynne Scott, Jean Malcolm and Richard Hardie. Lynne says: “I think a lot of people enjoy the sound of the band with the double bass in it. And Richard and Jean are such good musicians! I really enjoy playing with them. Also, I do work quite hard to select and arrange music that suits the shape and formations of the dance, and perhaps that helps underpin the playing. It’s certainly fun!”

Lynne Scott, Jean Malcolm and Richard Hardie. Photo: Loralee Hyde
The bunting along the walls at the 2013 New Dancers’ Celebration. Debbie, Lee and Shelley who helped at the bunting bee, are dancing in the top set. Photo: Loralee Hyde

Pat goes on to say:

Loralee Hyde took lots of photos at the dance and has shared them with us. There’s a lovely one which shows at least four of our new dancers.

Club photographer Loralee Hyde, had been taking photos of dancing since the 1970s. In 2013, armed with a better camera than previously, Loralee recorded many happy memories of the 2013 New Dancers’ Celebration.

The floor was filled with dancers including former Wellington Region President Bernice Kelly (who is no longer with us) at the right. Photo: Loralee Hyde

Loralee has shared all her photos of the night as part of the Wellington Region Celebrating 60 history project. View them here

Fortuitously, Pat had also just begun her career as a Scottish Country Dance videographer, and filmed some of the dances on the night. Her videos bring back memories of our younger selves and fellow dancers, some who no longer dance, and some who are no longer with us.

The dances Pat filmed are still new dancer ‘staples’ at Johnsonville. Looking at her videos you can see the capacity crowd filling the hall, and feel the wonderful atmosphere of music and laughter.

Watch Pat Reesby’s videos of:
The Kingston Flyer
The Illabo Rant (and a second time through to accommodate the crowd)
Violynne (devised by Rod in January 2004)

You’ll see quite a few children on the dance floor and you may spot some parents swelling the crowd of spectators. It was a pleasure to include the presentation of RSCDS NZ Branch medals to the Region’s junior dancers on the night’s programme, making for lots of energy on the dance floor and an audience who really appreciated the skills and achievements of these young dancers.

Elaine Lethbridge, teacher of the Region Juniors, and Elaine Laidlaw, RSCDS Wellington Branch President, present RSCDS NZ Branch medals and certificates to the young dancers. Photo: Pat Reesby

Kristin Downey
7 October 2022

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