This year, 2023, is the Centenary of the founding of the RSCDS. It is also the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the Wellington-Hawke’s Bay Association in 1953. This was the first Scottish Country Dancing association in New Zealand, which later morphed into the RSCDS New Zealand Branch
In 1993, to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Wellington-Hawke’s Bay Association and the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the New Zealand Branch of the RSCDS, dancers gathered in Napier for a Jubilee Weekend from 8-10 October.
Below is a piece about the Jubilee celebrations from the organiser Carine Mayhew extracted from the New Zealand Scottish Country Dancer Volume 41, 1994 p17.
1993 was an important for Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand—it was 40 years since the forming of the first Association of Scottish Country Dance CIubs.
In 1953 the Wellington-Hawkes Bay Association was formed from clubs in Wellington, Lower Hutt. Wallaceville, Hastings, and Whakatane, with affiliated clubs in Napier, Napier Boys’ High School and Paraparaumu.
Also it was the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the New Zealand Branch of the RSCDS. What better reasons could we have to celebrate? On the weekend of 8 to 10 October 1993, dancers from Hamilton to Christchurch gathered in Napier to do just that.
From the Friday night Social Get-together, arranged by Madge Laing, to the Sunday Combined Classes and final lunch everyone appeared to have a happy and enjoyable time. which was the Region‘s aim.
Some 120 dancers from 25 clubs attended. Classes were held on the Saturday with Dianne Murdoch taking the Intermediate Class and Gary Morris the Advanced Class, and on the Sunday morning each took a Combined Class. The fact that eight sets were on the floor at 9.00am to commence the first class was an indication of the enjoyment and enthusiasm.
On the Saturday afternoon four sets of dancers from the Hawkes Bay and East Coast Region gave a display at the ‘Charity Tattoo in the Spirit of Hawkes Bay’ at McLean Park, which was organised and hosted by the Napier Caledonian Society and the Napier City Council.
The dances performed were The Reel of the Royal Scots, The Robertson Rant and the Thirty-two some Reel, which were well received.
However, the highlight was to have the special guests with us who were involved in the forming of the Wellington-Hawkes Bay Association 40 years ago.
These were Marion Cunningham of the then Wallaceville Club (now Upper Hutt), Bruce Fordyce of the Hastings Club, Nancy Baxter (founder of the Napier Club), and Jessie and Les Coe of Morison’s Bush, who arranged the first Scottish Country Dance Ball in New Zealand and hosted the ‘travellers’ at their farmhouse or the barn—wherever there was space to “put a body”!
Maurice Colbourne, originally from the Hastings Club, was to have attended but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. We were delighted to have our New Zealand Branch President, Min Jaeger, with us for the weekend, and also Ian Seton from Tauranga, Jack Seton’s son.
Jack, who will be remembered by many, was the prime instigator of the original Association, and who will forget his enthusiasm and wonderful organising abilities. Alma Secker from Featherston was there too, as she was at the first Summer School which was held in Napier in 1953.
Our Guest Speaker at the Dinner on the Saturday night was Bruce Fordyce, who spoke vividly of those early days. May Brooker, President of the Hawkes Bay and East Coast Region, and Carol Smith, President of the Wellington Region, spoke on behalf of their respective Regions.
Bruce also piped for the Grand March, playing a tune called Dancing Years which he had composed especially for the gathering.
The evening was a happy affair, with the MC duties shared between Joy Tracey and Gary Morris, continuing the Wellington-Hawkes Bay theme. Our Anniversary cake, which was made and iced by local dancers VaI Darragh and Margaret Vas, was cut by Min after she had given a delightful speech.
Forty years may have rolled on, but the enthusiasm is still there, as commented on by our special guests. We have much for which to thank them. They introduced us to a wonderful interest and the opportunity of making lasting friendships. Long may we retain these happy associations!
Carine Mayhew 1993
Photos supplied by the Fordyce family, except where otherwise noted
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wellington-Hawke’s Bay Association, dancers from around the country enjoyed an Anniversary Ball on Saturday 26 April 2003 in conjunction with a Wellington Region Anzac Weekend School at Onslow College.
With Carol Smith as convener (centre in the image below), the weekend school was promoted as:
The Place To Be in April 2003
Highlights of the 50th Anniversary Ball
A programme of well-known dances for all to enjoy
24 sets on the floor
Music from Peter Elmes((Tributes to Peter Elmes following his retirement from playing his accordion for 60 years in Wellington Region and throughout New Zealand, Harbour City Happenings, Volume 21 No. 3, December 2018)), Lynne Scott and John Smith
Floor show prepared by Ian Simmonds((Ian Simmonds retires after 52 years of teaching Linden Club, Harbour City Happenings, Volume 14, No. 2, July 2011))
“The Saturday evening function at Onslow College, the Anniversary Ball celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Wellington-Hawke’s Bay Association, was a superb night and it was a wonderful sight to see 24 sets on the floor with so little room between sets. Perhaps a little tight for dancing, but it gave a great atmosphere.”
“From the Grand March to the last dance the hall seemed to be buzzing and although a formal night was also great fun.
It was nice to be able to welcome the NZ Branch President Jenny Kuttel, the Region President Chris Kelly, along with many other Branch and Region executive members and make a special welcome to Bruce and Mary Fordyce. Bruce being the only member of the original Wellington-Hawke’s Bay committee still dancing.
The floor show prepared by Ian Simmonds was great entertainment and it was a delight to see a set of dancers enjoying themselves so much. Thank you Ian and the team for a great effort.
Peter Elmes, Lynne Scott and John Smith provided great music and it just seemed that the dancers and the band sparked off each other, responding to each others enthusiasm.
Janice Henson provided a lovely cake celebrating the 50th Anniversary. All in all a great night.”
The cutting of the cake was shared by Bruce Fordyce (one of the original committee members of the Wellington-Hawkes Bay Association), Peg Hutchison((Peg Hutchison Wellington Region President for four years in the 1970s; RSCDS New Zealand Branch President 1985-1986; RSCDS New Zealand Branch Life Member 1998)) and Gary Morris((Gary Morris Extract from Sociable Carefree Delightful A History of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand 1995 p150-151)) (long-time Region tutor and RSCDS examiner).
Lynne Scott, John Smith and Peter Elmes from the band are on the stage behind the group cutting the cake.
Highlights of the Anzac Weekend School: 25-27 April 2003
Intermediate/Elementary: Philippa Pointon, Wellington (Johnsonville Club President at the time)
New Dancers: Maureen Robson, Wellington
JAMS: Melva Waite, Wellington
Special Guest Musician: Jennifer Foong, Sydney
Other Class Musicians: Merren Simmonds, Peter Elmes, John Smith, Gary and June Stratton
Fiddlers Class: Guest Teacher Cathy Fraser, Australia
Read about the fun of the dancing and social activities at the April 2003 Wellington Region Weekend School in this review by Ellen Bracefield (‘a weekend school novice’), Harbour City Happenings Vol 6, No. 2 May 2003, p3.
A weekend to remember!
Thank you to all those who contributed to the success of this celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wellington-Hawke’s Bay Association and the Region Anzac Weekend School, particularly Convener Carol Smith and her committee of Eileen South, Shirley Kalogeropoulos, Ian Taylforth and John Gregory.
As Ellen said in her review of this celebration, “Anzac Weekend School in Wellington was the place to be in April 2003”.
Percy Scenic Reserve has a fascinating history, originally being the site of the Percy family’s mill, established in the 1840s. The family was one of the pioneer families of Petone, with Joseph Percy and (later wife) Anne Maria Welch arriving as settlers in the early 1840s.
Scene at Korokoro, circa 1860s, with Percy’s Britannia Flour Mill. Photographer unidentified. NatLib image
View from the Percy family property (later Percy Scenic Reserve) in Maungaraki, looking south down the Hutt Valley toward Petone, Somes Island and Wellington Harbour. In the left foreground is Percy’s flour mill. Photographer James Bragge, circa 1860s. NatLib image
From early on, ‘the mill soon became a social hub hosting dances and events.’ Land nearby was later developed as a private garden, and in 1939 three of the Percys’ grandsons gifted the park and its special plant collections to the Crown ‘for the purposes of a scenic reserve’.
Interestingly there is a family connection to Scottish Country Dancing through past Wellington dancer, Plimmerton Scottish Country Dance Club tutor and later Johnsonville member, Margaret Bailey (now Bailey-Allison).
Margaret tells me her 2x great-aunt was Anne Maria (Welch) Percy, wife of Joseph Percy, who was ‘the mother of all those Percys who didn’t marry, and who bequeathed the family land’. In New Zealand, you never have to look far for a family connection.
The Scottish Country Dancing connection with Percy Reserve began in the 1950s.
1955: A Scottish Country Dancing demonstration
Dancing at Percy Reserve seems to have begun with a Sunday afternoon demonstration in March 1955, at the request of the Petone Borough Council.
Fifty dancers from Wellington district took part, and the white frocks and tartan looked particularly attractive against the background of bush-clad hills. A light mist hanging round the tree-tops only increased the resemblance of the scene to thills of Home.
The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1955, p 19
Amazingly it was performed before ‘some 700 spectators’, and followed on from a January demonstration on the lawn in the moon-lit Botanical Gardens.
The 1955 season was deemed to be ‘highly successful’ with these two public demonstrations having ‘given fresh impetus to Scottish Country Dancing in the District’. (The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1955, pp 3,19)
1955-1956: Dancing under lights
By end of 1955, the Petone Borough Council had installed flood lights and a PA system, and offered the Reserve free to the Scottish Country Dance community to dance one evening a week throughout the summer.
Regular evening dancing started on 21 November 1955, broke for Christmas and resumed to coincide with the second New Zealand Summer School held 3-14 January 1956 at Wellesley College, Eastbourne.
On 12 January 1956 at this second summer school, the New Zealand Scottish Country Dance Society came into being, fulfilling ‘a recommendation made some 12 months earlier from the first Summer School’ [held 27 December 1954 to 7 January 1955 at the Boys’ High School, Napier]. (The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1956, p 11)
What Jack Seton had to say
At that inaugural meeting, dancer and musician Jack Seton was elected the first President of the New Zealand Scottish Country Dance Society. He was also one of three teachers at the second Summer School, and was very excited about summer dancing at Percy Reserve.
In the Hastings Notes from Affiliated Clubs in the 1956 magazine, Jack writes enthusiastically:
Since I came to lovely New Zealand, I often wondered if I could ever capture the same thrill at a massed display [as he’d experienced at a demonstration at Holyrood Palace]. During the last Summer School, the class together with members of the Wellington and District clubs performed at Percy’s Reserve. The setting, plus the lighting which added colour to the contrast of tartan sashes and kilts against the green sward brought back the same happy feeling, a feeling which made me inwardly proud of the leaders of clubs who have brought our dances to such a high standard of perfection and a love for every member who gave of his best.
The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1956, p 19
Percy’s becomes an institution
From the 1950s onwards summer dancing at Percy Reserve was part of the fabric of Scottish Country Dancing in Wellington. Some years were better than others weatherwise, with gatherings washed out on occasion.
In 1971 summer dancing was still going strong, with Lower Hutt Club writing:
This year we were very fortunate with the weather for all eight nights’ dancing at Percy’s Scenic Reserve. On the Hutt Club’s nights, approximately 10 sets turned out for dancing under the stars.
The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1971, p 36
In 1972, Wellington Club reported that ‘on two of our allotted nights the grass was too wet to allow us to cavort’. But large numbers continued to enjoy dancing at Percy’s throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
An exciting development in the 1980s was live music at Percy’s Reserve. Peter Elmes’ notes include a dance programme for 26-1-82 at Percys Reserve and the 1984 Dancer magazine mentions live musicians playing at some of the Percy Reserve nights in 1983.
Little other mention was made in magazines during the 1980s or 1990s. Other events took priority, with summer dancing at Percy’s Reserve having become a normal part of the Wellington Scottish Country Dancing calendar.
Clubs might go into recess for the summer months, but warmer weather never seems to deter the Scottish Country Dancer. Outdoor dancing at Percy’s Reserve during January and February … keeps the fitness levels up until clubs recommence in early March.
The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 1995, p 35
The end of an era
After 1995, I can find no further mention of summer dancing at Percy Reserve in my collection of magazines, and come 1999:
In January/February, outdoor dancing was held at Riddiford Gardens in Lower Hutt – each night being hosted by a different club.
The NZ Scottish Country Dancer 2000, p 25
Summer dancing at Percy Reserve was a feature of Scottish Country Dancing in the Wellington Region for at least forty years – a mighty fine run indeed.
A personal note
Rod and I started dancing in 1991 and we have happy memories of dancing in Percy Reserve in the summer (despite being eaten alive by midges). It was a lot of fun, and we were still young, so dancing on the grass didn’t impact our feet the way it does these days.
Rod became tutor of Johnsonville in 1997 and can remember taking some nights at Percy Reserve in that role, so it would seem summer dancing was still going strong at Percy’s into the late 1990s.
Summer dancing had transferred to Riddiford Gardens in Lower Hutt by January 2000. Harbour City Happenings Vol 2 No.5 November 1999, p6
A unique experience of our Scottish Country Dancing history
A lively crowd of close to 60 dancers from clubs across the Wellington Region along with Auckland tutor Katharine Hoskyn and a visitor from the UK, gathered at St John’s Anglican Church Hall in Johnsonville on Saturday 29 April for an afternoon of trying out dances from our past.
As part of the RSCDS Centenary Events, this special occasion celebrated the role of the extended RSCDS Wellington Region as the well-spring of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand.
Over the afternoon, four long-time tutors from the Region—Iain Boyd, Romaine Butterfield, Edith Campbell and Elaine Laidlaw—taught dances from the early days of Scottish Country Dancing in the lower North Island.
The tutors selected dances from The Morison’s Bush Collection (published in 1978 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Wellington/Hawke’s Bay Association of Scottish Country Dance Clubs), The Harbour City Collection (published by the Wellington Region in 1986), Silver Threads (published for the RSCDS New Zealand Branch 25th Anniversary in 1993) and The Linden Collection (dances devised by Wellington Region tutor Ian Simmonds).
To set the scene, tartan bunting and historical photos decorated the walls of the hall along with posters containing brief summaries of the tutors’ contributions to Scottish Country Dancing and photos of them MC’ing noteworthy events in the Region.
To add to this unique experience, The Cranberry Tarts—Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral—provided music for the afternoon from the original tunes and arrangements used by Peter Elmes.
A sizeable number of tutors from clubs in the Region from Carterton in the Wairarapa to Waikanae on the Kāpiti Coast attended the event.
Welcoming everyone to the occasion, event organiser Rod Downey explained the event was a celebration of the extended region as the ‘cradle of Scottish Country Dancing’ in New Zealand.
He emphasised the stars of the afternoon were the old dances, with the stellar group being the well-regarded tutors.
Programme organiser Iain Boyd introduced the teacher for each dance, mentioning many of the dances have special music with arrangements by Peter Elmes.
We took to the floor for Elaine Laidlaw’s first dance, Mirth’s Welcome (The Morison’s Bush Collection), devised by her husband Michael Laidlaw for Mirth Smallwood, a long-time tutor of Kelburn Club. Mirth went away to Rarotonga for a time and Michael took over teaching Kelburn during that period. He devised the dance for her return in June 1969, and also composed the music.
After a brief break to regain our breath, Edith Campbell taught her dance To Ane An’ A’ (The Harbour City Collection). She explained we celebrate the arrival of a new year at Hogmanay by singing the traditional Scottish song A Guid New Year (which she sang to us). She thought a celebratory dance was also needed, so devised To Ane An’ A’ as a Round-the-Room dance to encourage dancers to wish a good new year to ‘one and all’. Tom Barnes, a Wellington accordionist in the 1980s, arranged the music.
Iain Boyd took us through Under A Shady Tree (Silver Threads) devised by his wife, Wellington tutor Noeline O’Connor. This dance is connected to summer dancing in the past on the Puriri Lawn in Wellington Botanic Garden where a seat around a large puriri tree provided respite for the dancers from the sun. The music is traditional.
Ian Simmond’sdance Percy Reserve (The Linden Collection) commemorates the many years summer dancing was held at Percy Scenic Reserve in Lower Hutt. Romaine Butterfield described how hordes of dancers met on the lawn near the duck pond on balmy summer nights. She said it was essential to “watch out for low-flying ducks” when dancing! Peter Elmes composed the tune Dancing on the Lawn.
After four energetic dances, people chatted about the programme being rather exhausting, both physically and mentally. Before tackling Govandale Reel, (a 48-bar jig!), Rod shared a brief pertinent comment from our distant past:
”It is perhaps significant that these dances, from completely different sources, all show a tendency which could be characteristic of dancing in our vigorous young country.”
1958 New Zealand Scottish Country Dancer, p6
The room erupted with laughter!
Govandale Reel (The Morison’s Bush Collection) was devised by Jim Lean, who played the records for many years at Lower Hutt Club. Edith gave us a brief history of Govan, a district on the River Clyde in Glasgow. Charlie Jemmett, a well-known accordionist from Christchurch, composed the music.
Following a well-earned break for afternoon tea, Romaine taught her dance Joy Be Wi’ You (The Morison’s Bush Collection), a 5-couple dance with marvellous traditional music. She hoped the “joy would be with us” throughout the dance. Indeed, plenty of smiles and laughter from the dancers lit up the floor.
Elaine returned to the floor to teach Feshiebridge devised by long-time tutor Gary Morris in Edinburgh in 1962. The beautiful Feshiebridge crosses the River Feshie in the Cairngorms, conveniently located near a distillery! Gary also composed the music which was recorded by Peter Elmes, John Smith and Lynne Scott on the Scottish Country Dancing CD Thistle Hall.
Iain taught the last dance of the afternoon, Kelburn’s Reel (The Morison’s Bush Collection) devised by long-time tutor Betty Redfearn for the 10th Anniversary of Kelburn Club in 1969. This cheerful and social Round-the-Room dance was a perfect ending to a superb afternoon of dancing, listening to Peter Elmes’ arrangements of tunes and socialising.
Considerable work is needed to make sure an event like this is a success. Thanks so much to Region President Rod Downey for organising the afternoon, Iain Boyd for organising the programme, Kristin Downey and the Johnsonville team for the hall decorations, Elaine Lethbridge for hall-setup and preparing the delicious afternoon tea, Kevin Lethbridge for hall-setup and on the door, Loralee Hyde for promotion, communications and photography, and John Patterson for videography.
A special thank you to the four tutors, Iain Boyd, Romaine Butterfield, Edith Campbell and Elaine Laidlaw, for the time they took to select, research and teach their chosen dances. We very much appreciated their knowledge, expertise and insights into the Scottish Country Dancing history of our region.
Thank you also to the Cranberry Tarts, Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral, for their marvellous playing, bringing back so many memories of Peter Elmes’ fine arrangements of tunes.
Bruce Fordyce (Back row, fourth from the left) devised the dance Seton’s Ceilidh Band which is on the Ball programme to commemorate Jack Seton (Front row, centre), who was the original President of the Wellington/Hawke’s Bay Association.
1.00pm-4.00pm, Saturday 29 April 2023 St John’s Anglican Church Hall, 18 Bassett Rd, JohnsonvilleClick here for a map to the venue Afternoon tea provided. Bring own water bottle. Doors open 12.30pm. Cost: $10 cash at the door.
As part of the RSCDS Centenary events, the Wellington Region has organised a very special occasion for intermediate dancers and above celebrating the role of the extended region as the well-spring of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand.
Iain Boyd, Romaine Butterfield, Edith Campbell and Elaine Laidlaw have chosen dances from the early days of Scottish Country Dancing in the lower North Island, based around Morison’s Bush Collection and The Harbour City Collection.
These well-regarded tutors from our region will teach the dances as part of the Society’s Centenary Celebrations.
To add to this unique experience, The Cranberry Tarts—Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral—will provide music from the original tunes and arrangements used by Peter Elmes for both books.
Early Wellington Dances: Our Tutors for this Special Occasion
Iain has taught at classes and weekend schools in the Region and throughout New Zealand, including at New Zealand Branch Summer Schools, and across the world. Iain has many books of dances as well as dances in various collections which are widely danced internationally.
Iain has two dances published by the RSCDS: The Loch Ness Monster (2nd Graded Book) and TheTrysting Place (Book 35/6). His dance Wild Mountain Thyme is in The Morison’s Bush Collection and On the Quarter-Deck is in The Harbour City Collection.
Romaine has four dances published by the RSCDS (the most of any New Zealand deviser); Catch the Wind (Book 45/5), The Bonnie Tree (Book 46/6), The Kissing Bridge (Book 47/9) and Come What May (Book 51).
Romaine has taught at classes and weekend schools in the Region and throughout New Zealand including at New Zealand Branch Summer Schools. She was a tutor for many years at the Island Bay Club (now Capital City) and is the current tutor of Waikanae Club.
Her dance Joy Be Wi’ You is in The Morison’s Bush Collection, and Cabbages And Kings and Let’s Meet Again are in The Harbour City Collection.
Edith has taught at classes and weekend schools in the Region and throughout New Zealand including at New Zealand Branch Summer Schools. After moving from the UK to New Zealand with her Wellingtonian husband Bruce, Edith taught at Wellington Club (disestablished in 2006) for 10 years from 1963. In 1978, she and Bruce started Seatoun Club. She has now tutored the club for 45 years.
Elaine has been on the Wellington Region Committee for many years including as President from 2011- 2013. She and her husband Michael have been involved in organising a number of Wellington Region events including the Wellington Region Diamond Jubilee Ball in 2012 at Government House as well as Hogmanays and New Dancers’ Celebrations.
Her published dances include The Tui’s Call in the collection From North Cape To the Bluff which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand Branch, and The ‘Halfway House’, Petone (a tribute to the Community House in Britannia Street, Petone where the Region Committee meets) in The Wellington 60th Anniversary Collection.
Early Wellington Dances: Our Musicians
The Cranberry Tarts: Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral
Aileen’s musical life started in Scotland when she was five years old. As well as learning to play the piano, guitar and accordion, she learned Scottish Country Dancing. Aileen played in various bands before moving to Wellington in 2009. Within days of arriving, long-time Wellingtonian musician Peter Elmes contacted her and encouraged her to join in his gigs. From being Peter’s ‘apprentice’, Aileen now plays in a range of band line-ups, including the duo The Cranberry Tarts with Hilary Ferral.
As a child, Hilary initially learned piano, and then added violin lessons. The violin took over and she acquired a degree in violin performance. Hilary started Scottish Country Dancing at Tawa Club. Eventually, she was asked if she was interested in playing music for dancing. Subsequently, Hilary joined Peter Elmes’ band. After Peter’s retirement in 2018, she carried on playing with Aileen on a regular basis; in 2019, they named their duo The Cranberry Tarts.
At our special occasion of Early Wellington Dances, The Cranberry Tarts will provide music from the original tunes and arrangements used by Peter Elmes for dances from The Morison’s Bush Collection and The Harbour City Collection.
This ongoing project aims to build a historical resource, and in so doing, honour all the people who’ve been a part of the Region’s history.
Those who attended the Wellington Region’s 60th Ball this year, had the opportunity to enjoy viewing some of the historical photos and videos collected and digitised by the project team and other volunteers.
There’s been an exciting development – we’ve received material from the families of two Scottish Country Dance musicians who played in the 1980s, fiddler John Foden and accordionist Tom Barnes.
Margaret Foden has shared some of her personal photos, and Sono Barnes has donated cassette tapes of Tom and John playing for various Scottish Country Dancing events. These are valuable additions to the Region’s archival collection, many thanks to both for giving us this window into our Scottish Country Dance musicians.
If you have material you could share with, or donate to the region’s Archives Project, or recollections of those times, please email Region committee member Philippa Pointon
Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 24 No. 4, December 2021
“Dance with your soul!” Miss Jean Milligan exhorted her students. It is the expression of soul—that quality of ‘soul’, which transforms a series of physical exercises into dance.
The desire to capture and keep alive this expression of Scotland’s soul and spirit prompted Miss Jean Milligan and her co-founder Mrs. Ysobel Stewart—supported by music publisher Michael Diack—to form the Scottish Country Dance Society in 1923.
To celebrate the ‘golden anniversary’ in 1973, dancers in the Wellington Region attended a ball in the rather cavernous Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall.
We were taken aback when the seemingly very large metre-square decorations with paper-sculptures depicting the titles of four popular dances were dwarfed by the space, however Peter Elmes and his Band soon filled it with music and the floor quickly filled with enthusiastic dancers from the Region and beyond.
Being a special occasion, Betty Redfearn, Gary Morris and I had put our heads together to devise the appropriately entitled Won’t You Join the Dance to tell the Society’s story. Rather than just ‘demonstrating it’, I concocted a floor show so that the dancers came on to the floor from the corners of the floor using their dance steps and figures to create an interesting spectacle.
I think they all enjoyed presenting the movements in ways rather different from the usual confines of their sets—exciting! Miss Milligan visited New Zealand the next year and she was delighted when we danced WYJTD for her.
Following the event’s success, it was decided to make it a biennial event. The next one celebrated fifty years since the Society first published a book of dances—one being TheTriumph—so the hall was decorated with triumphal arches.
The wall at the back of the hall’s stage was enormous so I made a triangular linen ‘curtain’ to suspend from a hook at the top; for the year to mark the beginning of Summer Schools we attached red crepe paper strips to it to look like a ‘big top’ to tie in with the Lammas Fair in the town of St. Andrews which always coincides with the Schools. There was also a market ‘stall’ on the stage with a striped awning.
Another year, crepe paper again was used to create the Beehive; on the walls were honeycomb hexagons each emblazoned with the Branch’s Regions and a representative emblem—the beehive of course represented Wellington.
One of our dancers was an excellent artist so another year he painted a number of the castles in dance names; the round tables had a covering of green card depicting Robert Adams’ white plaster roundels (cf. Wedgewood vases) as found in the many stately homes he designed.
Speaking of these round tables; one year it was decided to have them at their lower level; during the evening there was frequently the sound of crashing glasses—the tables were at the right height for kilts to sweep them to the floor!
Since my school days Scottish Country dancing has brought me great pleasure, not only through the rewards from many friendships and sharing its joys with others as a teacher and a fellow-dancer and a Scottish entertainer, but also from the many and varied opportunities if has brought my way to explore other avenues for creativity … dreaming up scenarios and making decorations!
Edith Lauder Campbell September 2021
Dance with Your Soul – biography of Dr. Jean Milligan by Florence Adams and Alastair McFadyen
Won’t You Join the Dance – manual of dance instructions by Miss Jean Milligan
As part of the Wellington Region’s 60th celebrations, I’ve started combing through old NZ Scottish Country Dancer magazines, extracting items of interest relating to the Region.
I didn’t come to New Zealand until 1986, and didn’t start dancing till 1991, so this has been a voyage of discovery, and I’m really enjoying finding out about the history of Scottish Country Dancing in the Wellington region.
Although the Wellington ‘Branch’ (as it was then known) wasn’t established until 1961, Scottish Country Dancing was already alive and well. Here’s what I’ve found, apologies for any mis-interpretations or omissions, I’m happy to be corrected.
‘In May, 1949, under the auspices of the Wellington Association of Scots’ Societies, the Scottish Country Dance Circle came into being, and was affiliated to the Scottish organisation. The membership was approximately 60, and included members of the Hutt Valley Scottish Society.’ (1954 SC Dancer, p 4.)
‘However, owing to the small attendances and lack of interest, it was reluctantly decided, in April of 1951, that the dancing circle should cease functioning. A new start was made on 10October 1951 … and Scottish Country Dancing was soon firmly established in Wellington’ as the Wellington Dancing Circle.(1954 SC Dancer, p 5.)
Lower Hutt continued to dance as ‘a Scottish Country Dance Circle of the Lower Hutt Scottish Society’ (1957 SC Dancer, p 20) and ‘Wallaceville Scottish Country Dance Club began its career halfway through 1952 as ‘from Wallaceville to Wellington is a long trek on a cold winter’s night’. (1954 SC Dancer, pp 5-6.)
In Coronation Year, 1953, the Wellington-Hawkes Bay Association was established, with member clubs including Lower Hutt, Wallaceville and Wellington.
However ‘the distance for meetings had become quite a problem, and so in November 1958, the Hawke’s Bay Branch was formed’. (1973 NZ SC Dancer, p4.)
This led to the formation of the Wellington and Districts Association, which included clubs in the Wairarapa. It was an exciting time, culminating in 1960 with the ‘first truly Scottish Country Dance Ball held in New Zealand’. (1961 SC Dancer, p 13 – download below.)
In late 1961 ‘it was agreed … to dissolve the Wellington and Districts Association’ with the formation of ‘two new branches – Wellington Branch and Wairarapa Branch.’ (1962 NZSC Dancer, p 17.)
There is more to the story, including the formation of the NZ Scottish Country Dance Society in 1957, and then in 1968, the NZ Branch of the RSCDS. But that’s for another day.
Clubs in the Region have come and gone over the years, but Scottish Country Dancing remains in good heart in the Wellington Region, built on the shoulders of all those who came before.
This year the Region celebrates its 60th year with a 60th Anniversary Ball, and honours the Wellington Region dancing community by starting to collect and share its history.
Many thanks to those who gifted back copies of NZ Dancer magazines to help with this research. I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who has spare magazines covering the years 1954-1958. Please email me here
When dancing shuts down over the summer, Wellington dancers still enjoy their sport thanks to the annual Dancing on the Grass organised by the Wellington Region of the RSCDS. This takes place on four summer Tuesday evenings on the grass in front of the Old Government Buildings in Lambton Quay.
Before getting on to the dancing, what about the venue?
The building was designed by William Clayton to accommodate all of New Zealand’s public servants. Originally intended to be made of concrete so as to be fireproof, that proved too expensive and so it was constructed all in Kauri instead, made to look as if it was stone, presumably to make the government look solid and dependable. It was, as building projects often are, over budget when completed in 1876.
Surprisingly, for nearly fifty years the building was heated with open fireplaces, but because of its wooden construction, smoking inside was banned right from when it opened, unlike in Wellington’s wooden-bodied trams which even provided smokers with metal plates fixed to the woodwork on which to strike their matches!
Having served the Colony of New Zealand from 1876, the Dominion of New Zealand from 1907 and housing government Ministers until 1921, the Old Government Buildings are now the home of the Faculty of Law of Victoria University.
But what about the dancing?
Dancing is outside (on the grass) in front of the main entrance, so we provide a bit of a spectacle. In previous years tourists on Lambton Quay liked to stand and watch but there weren’t many tourists this year. One night this year one of the bus drivers gave us a toot on the horn and a wave as he drove down towards the city.
Dancing on grass is quite a novel sensation. It’s certainly different than dancing on a flat floor, it’s a bit bumpy and in summer if there’s not been much rain it can be quite firm and scratchy. There’s also a large floodlight sticking out of the grass which you need to look out for when casting behind your line.
Some people wear their dancing shoes and some like bare feet. There are little acorn-like things hiding in the grass which can give you a nasty surprise in bare feet, like stepping on a piece of the kids’ Lego in the dark.
Each of the four summer dancing sessions is led by a different tutor from one of the Wellington clubs. The dances are usually the fairly familiar ones that appear on many club dance programmes throughout the year although there were a couple of exceptions this year that confused quite a few of us. The tutors generally choose dances that are not too complicated and they’re walked, so it’s all a lot easier than trying to dance from just a briefing.
And what about the Lino?
Well, being Wellington in the summer, it can be wet and it can be cold. This year, for both those reasons, we danced inside for two of the four sessions.
The inside space is the student café of the VUW Law Faculty (it offers a very cheap vegan lunch). The door to the café is round the other side of the building from the grass and the main entrance.
The café is a good sized space with one extra feature, which is the series of columns that hold up the floors above. These are cunningly placed so that you have to dance round them when casting, or dancing a figure-of-eight, which adds to the excitement.
And the flooring in the café is lino, or to give it its proper name, Linoleum, which is made from jute and linseed oil. There’s a fine Scottish connection, as the city of Dundee was famous for “jute, jam and journalism”. Known in the 19th century as Juteopolis it was the centre of the global jute trade. Dundee was also famous for producing Keiller’s marmalade and for still being the home of D C Thomson, the publishers of well-loved comics like The Beano and Scottish cartoon strips The Broons and Oor Wullie.
Dancing on the grass is a great way to enjoy some dancing when clubs are closed for the summer. You get to meet people from other clubs, you might then see them later in the year at a dance. One of the four nights this year was a beautiful warm, still night and it was magical dancing outside as the dusk fell.
There’s also something special about being able to dance right outside the heart of government, just across from the Beehive. This year it felt extra special to be able to dance at all, given the situation in many less fortunate countries.