Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Ceilidh

On Saturday 1 February, the Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club had a great start to the dancing year, with a ceilidh and pot-luck dinner at the home of the club’s tutor, Rod Downey, and his wife Kristin, who happens to be the club’s president.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), it is a social gathering which usually involves music, (Gaelic) social dancing, and musical performances or dance displays.

It was a fantastic afternoon/early evening. In all, we had 25 people there, including a few non-dancing family members. People started arriving from about 3pm, and Rod soon had us dancing.

Rod Downey – this afternoon’s host, Johnsonville SCD Club teacher, and Maths professor
at Victoria University – briefs the first dance (photo by John)

The first dance was a really easy “ceilidh dance”, The Kingston Flyer. This dance, devised by NZ’s Noeline O’Connor, refers to the vintage train of that name, that used to run in the Wakatipu District in the South Island. The dance is very simple, and is often used to introduce new dancers to the joys of Scottish dancing.

Playing trains, in the first dance “The Kingston Flyer” (photo by John)

For the occasion the lounge, with its beautiful wooden floor, had been cleared of furniture, and offered just enough room for one set (four couples) to dance.

A couple of years ago the Downeys had their lounge and deck extended, and it is now perfect for dancing. The deck was large enough for a set to be able to dance on it. How lucky we were that it was a perfect day – sunny and not much wind. The lack of wind was especially important, as being in one of Wellington’s windiest suburbs, this house is exposed to a lot of it. But they do have a jaw-dropping, fabulous view, looking out to the harbour entrance and Cook Strait.

What a fantastic backdrop to dancing! (photo by Pat Reesby)

The dancing was interspersed with musical items by some of the club members. What talented people we have in the club. The first person to perform was Peter Sullivan, playing a medley of Irish/Scots melodies on his 12-string guitar, including a firm favourite, “Marie’s Wedding”.

Peter Sullivan, playing his 12-string guitar (photo by John

The attentive audience listen to Peter’s item (photo by John)

More dancing was next. Another traditional ceilidh dance, called “The Dashing White Sergeant”. This is a round-the-room dance, usually danced at large gathering, in a large hall. It involves groups of three – woman, man, woman (or man, woman, man) – facing each other in a large circle. They dance in their groups of six, then “progress” to meet the next group of three, etc. However, in this case, with limited numbers and limited space, we just had four groups of three. So at times, the end threes had to “idle” while the middle six danced, as there was nowhere or them to progress to (I hope that makes sense to any non-dancers reading this).

The Dashing White Sergeant (photo by John)

The next performance was by Sally Taylor, playing "Czardas" by Vittorio Monti, on accordion. This piece was originally composed for violin, mandolin or piano, but it sounded great on accordion too. I don't think many of us knew that Sally played the accordion. And she played so amazingly well!

Sally Taylor and her piano accordion (photo by John)

More dancing followed. This time John and I were both in the set dancing on the deck. We danced "The Duke of Atholl’s Reel", which is a very old dance, devised in 1776, named for the Duke of Atholl, the hereditary Clan Chief of Clan Murray.

John and I, along with Maureen and Sally, dance a formation called “rights and lefts” in the Duke of Atholl’s Reel (photo by Loralee Hyde)

Our next musical artist was Jennifer Timmings, playing some Scottish songs on the piano. Jennifer is a professional pianist who used to provide the lovely background music for lunchtime shoppers in Wellington’s oldest department store, Kirkcaldie’s.  The intention was that we would all join in and sing – songsheets were handed round, but sadly the singing was a bit feeble. We really needed a strong baritone to lead the singing, but nobody offered …

Jennifer Timmings played some Scottish songs (photo by John)

More dancing. This time we danced a strathspey, which is a slower tempo – a bit more “stately” than the more exuberant reels or jigs. Lady Glasgow includes a three-couple promenade.

Peter and Joan lead the three-couple promenade in “Lady Glasgow” (photo by Loralee Hyde)

The next couple of items involved pianist Malcolm Leitch. In one he accompanied Sono Barnes, on flute, playing two beautiful pieces from François Couperin’s dance music. When I emailed her the photo below and commented on how I had enjoyed their performance, she replied that she wasn’t sure whether her kind of music (i.e. Baroque music) would be people’s cup of tea. Well, how could anyone not like such beautiful, gentle music!

Sono Barnes, on flute, and Malcolm Leitch, on piano, play a dance by Couperin (photo by John)

The other item that Malcolm was performing, consisted of two duets played with Bill Roberts. Malcolm mentioned that he had known Bill for over thirty years, and that during most of that time, they had got together every week to play duets. Malcolm also plays the organ, and in fact is the organist for Sunday services at the Khandallah Presbyterian Church.

Malcolm Leitch and Bill Roberts played two duets (photo by John)

More dancing followed, and another musical piece by Peter on his 12-string guitar. The final item for the afternoon was a recitation by John Markham, regaling us with the poem Albert and the Lion by Marriott Edgar.  John M delivered the monologue in a Lancashire accent (I presume, as he started out by apologising to any Lancastrians that might be present, if his accent wasn’t the real deal). Albert was a character invented by the late actor Stanley Holloway, and the monologue was the first of 16 written for him by Marriot Edgar.

John Markham recites “Albert and the Lion” (photo by Loralee Hyde)

One of the last dances before dinner was called “The Machine without Horses”. This is another very old dance, first published in 1772. Apparently the machine refers to either a sedan chair, or a chain plough – not a steam locomotive, as this was not invented until the early 1800s.

The very last dance was called "De'il Amang the Tailors", which is a boisterous reel that is often used as the final dance in social evenings. When everyone is ready to drop, the lively music of this dance is enough to make people get up for just one more dance!

Three couples dance “six hands round”, while Judy, half of the fourth couple, looks on, in “De'il Amang the Tailors” (photo by John)
To end the evening there was the pot-luck dinner. Everyone had contributed a dish, and what an interesting variety of dishes and desserts there was. Supplemented with French bread, salads and a glass of wine, we definitely did not go hungry.

It was great to be able to sit down and spend time talking with our fellow-dancers. When we are at club classes, there is usually not much time to chat between dances – Rod likes to keep us on the move! So it was interesting to talk and find out more about people – i.e. their jobs, children, holidays and other interests. For instance, most of us had no inkling of the musical talents that were hiding amongst us.

Rod and friends enjoy after-dinner chat on the deck (photo by Loralee Hyde)

It was well after 8pm when dinner was over, and people started to drift off home. Some of us stayed behind to help return furniture to the lounge, including the mega-heavy dining table.

We had a fabulous time, thank you Rod and Kristin for a terrific afternoon and evening. A final thought – with 29 new hopefuls joining the beginners classes on Monday night, how will you accommodate that many people next year?

A final look at the view, with dusk starting to close in, before heading home (photo by John) 

NOTE: My thanks go to Loralee Hyde and Pat Reesby for allowing me to use some of their photos. Thank you Loralee and Pat!


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