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.
Going back in time to the Roaring Twenties, groups of elegant dancers entered a beautifully decorated ballroom ready for an evening of dance and friendship: flappers in dresses decorated with beadwork, sequins or embroidery, feathers in their hair and long swirling strings of pearls; men in striped jackets, white trousers and boater hats or resplendent in black Prince Charlie jackets and kilts.
Wellington Region President at the time, Philippa Pointon, said the committee decided to have a 1920s ball to celebrate the decade in which the RSCDS was formed
Thanks so much to the committee of Melva Waite, Kath Ledingham, Eileen South and Philippa, who was also MC for the evening, for organising this grand affair on 5 July 2014.
As dancers arrived, they were offered punch by three smartly dressed bartenders; Kevin Lethbridge, Pat Waite and Peter Warren.
Everyone had the opportunity to pose in their finery in a gold photo booth, made especially for the purpose by John Gregory. Thanks to John for pulling together all the fantastic decorations for the evening, with the photo booth continuing to feature at formal occasions including the grand Johnsonville 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016
Lively music from Aileen Logie, John Smith, Peter Elmes and Terry Bradshaw (with some sets containing 1920s tunes cleverly arranged by Peter), got toes tapping and dancers on to the floor throughout the evening.
Old favourites on the programme included The Sailor, Cadgers in Canongate and Sugar Candie. Dances published by the RSCDS in the 1920s were represented by Flowers of Edinburgh (Book 1, 1924) and Blue Bonnets (Book 3, 1926).
“A great night was had by all”, says Philippa. “I don’t think the Charleston had ever been played on an accordion before!”
On a balmy Wellington evening, more than 12 sets of dancers saw off the end of a challenging 2020 by cheering in the New Year at the Wellington Region Hogmanay on 31 December in Lower Hutt.
Thanks to Ann and Andrew Oliver and their team for organising this superb evening which was full of smiles and laughter after a disrupted year of dancing. A constant refrain was one of thankfulness for being able to celebrate Hogmanay together when so many around the world could not due to severe Covid-19 restrictions.
Along with dancers from throughout the Wellington Region, we welcomed RSCDS New Zealand Branch President Linda Glavin, Vice President Debbie Roxburgh with Paul, and Communication, Publicity and Membership Coordinator Sue Lindsay. Others from outside the Region included Sue and Ian Pearson from Whanganui, Doug Mills and Lynda Aitchison from Marlborough and former Wellingtonian Xiaowen Yu, now living in Dunedin.
Thank you to the MCs who gave briefings and oversaw walkthroughs of dances during the evening—Ann, Jeanette Watson, Margaret Cantwell, Diane Bradshaw and Edith Campbell (who shared intriguing tidbits about the dance origins!).
We danced the night away to fine music from the Saltire Scottish Dance Band led by Mary McDonald on the fiddle, with Jason Morris (keyboard, clarinet), Duncan McDonald (drums), Glenice Saunders (fiddle) and Alastair McDonald (sound technician). Joining them were guest musicians Lynne Scott (accordion, octave-below fiddle, keyboard) and Moira Croad (flute, piccolo).
Popular dances included the old favourites De’il Amang the Tailors, Pelorus Jack and the toe-tapping reel Mairi’s Wedding. The more experienced dancers took up the challenge of dancing Culla Bay, Best Set in the Hall (repeated for those keen to dance it a second time) and A Capital Jig.
Before midnight, Damon Collin led a singalong of Scottish songs—this time with the words projected on to a screen rather than the printed copies we’ve used since the last century!
The ceremony for welcoming in the New Year began by sweeping out the old year, with Lee and Michele Miller taking on the roles of the Old Year and the Sweeper while we sang Auld Lang Syne.
As President of the Wellington Region, Ann announced the arrival of the First Foot—the first person to come across the threshold in the new year, carrying gifts of coal for warmth, salt or money for wealth, shortbread for sustenance and whisky for good cheer.
Led by piper Doug Sinclair, First Foot James Scott walked a circuit around the hall before presenting the gifts to Ann. The First Foot then raised a toast to the RSCDS Wellington Region and we welcomed in the new year of 2021.
After wishing each other Happy New Year, it was time for the dancers to tackle the final three dances—the Eightsome/Thirtytwosome Reel, City of Belfast and The Reel of the 51st Division.
Watch the compilation video below by Alastair McDonald