Sunday, 5 January 2014

Scottish Country Dancing - Hogmanay

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I am a keen Scottish Country dancer. A highlight of the SCD year is the Hogmanay Dance on New Year’s Eve. So too, this year.

The Wellington Region nearly didn’t have a Hogmanay Dance, as no one had offered to be this year’s organiser. However, at quite a late stage, Pat Reesby decided it would be a real shame if we didn’t have the yearly celebration, so she took up the challenge, and did a wonderful job. We had a grand evening.

Pat is not only a keen dancer (and secretary of the Johnsonville SCD Club), but also a keen photographer, and I feel fortunate that she has given me permission to use some of her photos, and links to her videos in this blog post. Thanks Pat!

There was a great band, consisting of Peter Elmes on button accordion, John Smith on the fiddle, and Aileen Logie on keyboard. The MC, Betty Redfearn, had prepared a lovely programme of popular dances. The dance was well attended, with seven “sets” (groups of eight dancers, required for most dances), which is quite a respectable number, considering that many local dancers would have been away on holiday, or attending the yearly SCD Summer School, which this year was being held in Cambridge.

One of the first dances was the Kelloholm Jig. Below are two photos of this dance – one where the sets are getting ready (Bronwyn with her finger in the air is indicating that her set needs one more couple), and one where we are dancing (that's me in the red skirt). Pat also took a video of this dance, the link to which is here.

Getting ready to dance the Kelloholm Jig (photo by Pat Reesby)

Dancing the Kelloholm Jig (photo by John)

A dance that was new to most of us, and which had the title “Oompah, Oompah, Shove It Up Your Joompah”, was a lot of fun. While the dance was devised by the well-respected SCD deviser John Drewry, the music for it was not your regular Scottish jig or reel, but a lively quickstep. Take a look at another one of Pat’s videos here. You can tell it was new to the dancers as there was a bit of confusion going on to begin with, but people soon got the hang of it, and it really was fun to dance.

About half-way through the evening, we were treated to a musical item by a newly formed group “Chintz”. This talented trio consisted of Cici Kong, playing an ancient Chinese lute known as a pipa, Moggie Grayson on guitar, and Emily Clemett on violin. Cici is a Chinese student who has been boarding with Moggie this year, and whom Moggie introduced to SCD – naturally! As well as being an outstanding musician, Cici turned out to be a pretty good dancer too!

We were treated to a musical item by “Chintz” (photo by Pat Reesby)

As the time drew close to midnight, we were asked to take a seat, and were handed song sheets and we sang the traditional songs “Scotland the Brave”, "The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen”, and “I Belong to Glasgow”.

Then it was time for the midnight ceremony. All stood up to clasp hands with their neighbours, arms crossed, for “Auld Lang Syne” and for Old Father Time and the Sweeper (sweeping out the old year) to do their round.

Aline and John Homes prepare for their roles as Old Father Time and the Sweeper (photo by John)

Auld Lang Syne (photo by John)

The “tradition” at the SCD Hogmanay dances is for a baby, representing the New Year, to appear through a hoop marked with the number of the new year. This year, however, a baby was not available, so the three-year-old grandson of one of the dancers was to take on the role. But the poor little boy, all dressed up in a kilt for the occasion, had been kept awake way past his bedtime, and when it came to his big moment, he wouldn’t have a bar of it! It must have been pretty frightening for him, when the lights went out, strong torch light shone, and he was expected to push through a hoop covered in paper. Result: one very tired little boy throwing a screaming paddy on the floor!

Fortunately quite a lot of the dancers have grandchildren of their own, and quite understood.

The next part of the ceremony involved the arrival of First Foot. This is the first person to come across the threshold in the new year. It is supposed to be a tall, dark man, carrying gifts of coal, symbolising warmth, salt or money for wealth, shortbread for sustenance, and whisky for good cheer.

The ritual went as follows:

MC: “Who is that knocking at the door?” Doorman: “It is a stranger”. MC: “Is he tall?” “Yes he is”. “Is he handsome?” “Yes he is.”

Then: “Does he have the necessary equipment?” At this, everybody burst out laughing. I wonder what they were laughing about? (!!) What the MC meant was “does he have his tray of gifts”, but obviously people had something else in mind entirely!

When the laughter had died down, First Foot was led into the hall by a piper and did a circuit before presenting his gifts to the MC and the representative of the RSCDS (Wellington Region Treasurer Kath Ledingham).

First Foot John Gregory is piped into the hall by Ross Edwards (photo by John)

First Foot holds aloft the gift of "money, for wealth”, and “Yes”, he said, “I do have the necessary equipment!” (photo by John)

The last part of the ceremony was for all to join in a toast, and for this, trolleys of whisky and shortbread were wheeled out. Actually, there was a choice of whisky, sherry or apple juice. The nips of whisky or sherry were very small – so there was no risk of anyone getting drunk!

The trolley of drinks for the toast. The apple juice has already been poured. The whisky and sherry are yet to be dispensed into the colourful tumblers (photo by Pat Reesby)

Finally, after the toast to the RSCDS (Royal Scottish Country Dance Society), and the all-round kissing and hugging and wishing each other Happy New Year, it was time for the last dance of the evening, the Eightsome Reel. This is a very energetic dance, in which each of the eight dancers gets a turn to “show off” in the middle of the circle, and dance some reels across the circle with their partner and another dancer.

The Eightsome Reel (photo by John)

What a grand evening it had been. Congratulations were due for Pat, the organiser, and her volunteers. Finally, people pitched in to help stack the chairs, take down decorations, and help the musicians take their equipment out to their vehicles. Before long, everything was cleared up, and we all headed home, thoroughly satisfied with a great start to 2014.

Happy New Year!

Note: My thanks to Pat Reesby for allowing me to use some of her photos and video links.

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