Monday, 21 October 2013

Dancing, biking, and more dancing!

Yesterday, Saturday 19 October, was a very physical day. I danced for three hours in the morning, went for a two-hour bike ride in the afternoon, and went to a dance in the evening (more than three hours dancing, plus helping with the tidy-up afterwards). The anti-inflammatories got a good work-out!

As some of the readers of this blog will know, I am very keen on Scottish Country Dancing (SCD). I just love it! It’s a fun way to keep fit, and it is also great exercise for the brain – there’s a lot to remember if you want to do it well. I belong to two local clubs, which means dancing at least twice a week. I also attend most of the social events put on by the SCD community in the Wellington region. And I take advantage of any learning opportunities that are going.

One such learning opportunity happened yesterday morning. I was “stooging” for a group of candidates for the SCD Teachers Certificate, who are due to sit their final exams at the end of the year.

“Stooging” is a funny word. One of the definitions of “stooge” in the NZ Oxford Dictionary is “a person used as an instrument by or for someone behind the scenes”. I’m not sure it quite describes what stooging involves in the SCD sense, but in this context it means being part of a class for aspiring teachers to practice their teaching skills on. This session was a dry run for the exam.

For the candidates it means having a lesson plan, which involves teaching some step practice to a group of intermediate dancers, then teaching two formations by breaking them down into their elements, and teaching a dance which joins those two formations together. They have 40 minutes to do this. They are then assessed and given feedback by experienced teachers.

For the “stooges” it means a wonderful learning opportunity, as well as quite hard work. There were four candidates, who all taught different formations and different dances. It is great to be reminded of some of the finer points of SCD such as foot, hand and arm positions, rhythm, eye contact, and “covering” with other dancers in the set.

While dancing socially, many dancers don’t worry too much about dancing perfectly. They just concentrate on getting the formations right and on being at the right place at the right time (a skill in itself). They just enjoy the dance, the music, the socialising and the fun. There's a lot of laughter when things go wrong, and nobody gets upset. But it is such a treat to see dancers who dance beautifully.

The stooging went on for the whole day, but I only went for the morning session. I knew I would be going to the dance in the evening, and I wanted to still have enough oomph and “spring” in my feet to be able to enjoy that.

It would have been sensible therefore, to have taken it easy in the afternoon. But it was a beautiful day – just perfect for a ride – and the forecast for Sunday was for fine weather, but with strong gusty northerlies, not quite so good for cycling. By the time I got home from the stooging, it had started to get a bit breezy, so we thought the best place to ride would be the Hutt River trail.

We decided on the western side of the river, starting from the Ewen Bridge. At this point there is a choice between two tracks – the sealed one runs on top of the stopbank, the other on gravel nearer the water. We chose the smooth, sealed, easier one.

At the end of the stopbank, the track skirts the motorway, and you can’t see the river for all the trees at the water’s edge, as they are now fully greened up. The seal runs out at the Kennedy-Good Bridge. You duck under the bridge onto gravel, and when you get back up on the other side, it becomes a skinny, bald earth track through the grass of the Belmont Domain. Not very nice to ride on.

Past the Domain, the track disappears into a bush area, quite close to the river. It is very pretty, but I don’t like this part, as it is quite rough, and goes up and down. On last week’s ride I was able to manage the inclines (but only just!) because the surface was smooth and there was no wind. This time the roughness of the track and the wind made it much harder, and I did come to grief once, when I stalled going up the hill, and lost my balance. Luckily I fell against the bank, so no great harm done.

Stalling while struggling uphill is tricky when your pedals are in such a position that you can’t quickly put a foot out on the ground to steady yourself. I find I can only get off with my right foot, and start up with my left. Very odd. So when I stall with my right foot at the top, I keel over.

Once you come out of the bushy area, the track widens, and smooths out somewhat, but it is still gravel.

Emerging from the bush, the track smooths out (photo by John)

The track meanders between the river and the motorway, separated from one or the other by trees. At times it is quite close to the road. Away from the road, there was a lovely smell of freshly mown grass in some places, the smell of onion weed in others, and swathes of buttercups and little daisies in the unmown grass in yet others areas. Birds were twittering in the trees, and we saw the occasional butterfly.

Swathes of buttercups and daisies in the grass (photo by John)

The headwind had become quite brisk, and combined with the gravel surface, it made pedalling quite hard work. When we got close to Manor Park, the Hutt River trail comes to a ‘temporary’ end. There is a sign saying that the trail continues some kilometres further up the road, but to get to it you have to ride on SH2, which we don’t want to do. I was ready to turn around by this stage, but John wasn’t, so we explored a bit further across the railway line, into the suburban area of Manor Park and as far as the golf club (which occupies all the land between the two ends of the trail, and is the reason for the gap).

Along a nice flat stretch on the return trip, John asked me to backtrack a hundred or so metres so he could film me pedalling towards him. He wanted to use the video function of his camera, and get some practice using the camera stabilizer he has made. I won’t put the film onto this blog (it’s not very exciting), but you can read all about the stabilizer on his website. Warning: it’s a bit technical!

This is where John wanted me to film me pedalling along (photo by John)

We avoided the bushy and grassy track by the Belmont Domain, and returned by the residential streets – Owen Street and Norfolk Street – until we got to the Hardwick-Smith Lounge, which is a community facility. Next to it is a Rhododendron Dell, and quite a few of the rhodos are in full bloom right now. We didn’t go in to explore the dell, as we couldn’t go in there with the bikes, but John took a photo of one of the small rhodos at the edge.

At the Rhododendron Dell in the Belmont Domain (photo by John)

From here, rather than going back under the Kennedy-Good Bridge, we went across it, and rode on the smooth track along the eastern bank. When we got to the Melling Bridge, we crossed back to the western bank to get back to the car. We had ridden 23 kms, in two hours. That now brings my total since March to just over 700 kms. Not too shabby, eh?

I was pretty tired when we got home, and I zizzed off in a comfy chair for a short while before heading off to the evening’s dance.

The dance was a “New Dancers’ Celebration”. There are twelve SCD clubs in the Wellington Region, and this dance is a yearly event for all the clubs to celebrate their new dancers. It is an opportunity for this year’s beginners and more experienced dancers to get together, and introduce the new dancers to the joys of social dancing.

This year, the Johnsonville Club, of which John and I are members, was hosting the event. We should have been helping with setting up the hall in the afternoon, but went cycling instead. Fortunately we have a lot of new dancers in the club this year, so there were plenty of willing hands to help. And we did stay behind to help with the tidy-up afterwards.

Some of our very keen new dancers organised a “bunting bee” to make bunting (strings of flags) from tartan fabrics, to decorate the hall. Another new dancer made delightful little corsages for all the teachers, musicians, and committee members.

Debbie and Lee, the bunting bee queen bees (photo by John)

There was a great turn out, with over a hundred people attending. The hall was fairly overflowing with dancers. Many of the men wearing kilts, of course, and the women all dressed in their glad rags too, some of them wearing tartan sashes. As you can see in the photos, women outnumber the men, but that doesn’t worry us.

The first dance of the evening – The Kingston Flyer (photo by John)

The Illabo Rant is danced in a “square set” (photo by John)

As you can see in the above photo, there are several quite young people there. Scottish Country dancing is wonderful for both young and old (or should I say “not so young”) to get together to have a great time.

There was a formal part to the evening, when the Wellington Region President, Elaine Laidlaw, presented medals and certificates to some of the youngest dancers. The JAMs, as they are known (Junior Associate Members), range in age from six to nineteen, and are given the opportunity to take their medal tests. This year, nine Wellington JAMs gained medals ranging from bronze to gold. To see how well these youngsters dance, you can watch this video, taken at a recent JAM camp, in Christchurch. They are a credit to their teachers.

Johnsonville SCD Club’s teacher, Rod Downey, had prepared a great programme of dances, and briefed all the dances during the evening. The music was provided by Lynne Scott and Associates (in this case Lynne on violin, Jean Malcolm on keyboard and Richard Hardie on double bass). And the club’s secretary, Pat Reesby, who is also a keen photographer, took videos of the band and of some of the dances, which you can view here

The important people, from left:
Rod (teacher and MC), Pat (secretary, up on a chair, camera in hand), Lynne, Jean and Richard
(photo by John)

The dance finished just after 11pm. Having danced all 18 dances, I was pretty well “knackered”, and my feet were feeling just a mite the worse for wear (blooming sore, actually). But I’d had a great time, and I'm sure everyone else had too.

Finally, along with a bunch of club members, we helped to tidy up the hall – remove the decorations, put all the chairs away, help the musicians take their gear out to their cars, and sweep the floor. The wonderful kitchen crew (Elizabeth, Jean and Priscilla) had already cleaned up the kitchen after supper. All that remained was for us to take the plants, that had been used to define the band’s area, back to Rod’s home, as his car was already too full of other paraphernalia.

Home, shower, panadol, sleep!


  1. A lovely account of your day, the morning and evening of which I shared!


    1. Thanks Pat. And thanks for being OK about me linking to your videos. They are great, and should be shared.