Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Scottish Country Dancing

We have not been for a ride at all this week, partly because of the weather. Last Saturday we finally had a perfect day for biking, but we didn’t go because John was still in the grips of a humdinger of a head cold, and wasn’t feeling up to any exertions. I must say I was feeling a little stir-crazy.

Since I have no bike rides to write about, I thought I would write about my other interest, passion, obsession – call it what you will – Scottish Country Dancing.

Now that the main summer holiday break is over, thoughts are turning towards activities people might want to get into this year. As secretary of the Tawa Scottish Country Dance Club, I wrote a short article to be included in the local paper, to promote our beginner classes (see details below).

This set me thinking that I could do a little blurb in this blog about Scottish Country Dancing (SCD), and hopefully generate interest from people who are not already involved in dancing. I know that quite a few dancers do read this blog (as I am quite shameless in adding my blog link to my email signature, when I send out club emails!), so what I am about to write is not new for them.

I have been involved in SCD for the last seven years, but I so wish that I had found out about it much, much earlier. I know some lucky people have been dancers since childhood, and have a 30-, or 40-, or 50-year involvement behind them. I am a member of two clubs, and dance as often as I can, because I feel I have 40 years of dancing to catch up on!

SCD is suitable for people of all ages, from 9 to 90. It is a social style of dancing, which is based on standard formations. There are only three basic steps, and dances are made up of combinations of the different formations. Dances are typically danced in groups of four couples, called sets. It involves dancing with partners, but it is not necessary to have a regular partner. In fact, the custom is for dancers to change partners for each dance. This means that anyone can join in – singles, couples, widowed, groups of friends, etc. And as women tend to outnumber men, it is totally acceptable for dancing pairs to consist of two women.

While a certain ‘etiquette’ is maintained – such as a bow or curtsy at the beginning and end of each dance – there is an enjoyable informality at both club nights and “formal dances”, which can lead to great friendships.

Scottish Country dancing events are mostly quite informal, as at the Johnsonville SCD Club’s Annual Dance … (photo by John)

… but can occasionally be very formal. A formal ball was held at Government House, to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (photo by John)

Scottish Country dancing must not be confused with Highland dancing, which is a competitive solo style of dancing, requiring a lot of energy, stamina and strength. SCD can be done at any level of skill and fitness that one feels comfortable with. While it is a joy to watch young, highly skilled dancers (and perhaps an incentive to try to improve one's dancing just that little bit more), there is no requirement for people to dance at such a high level.

Some of our older members “walk” the dances. As they say, it is a matter of “being in the right place, at the right time”. SCD is all about the music and rhythm; the company and friendships; the fun and laughter; and the knowledge of the various dances, gained over the years. As well as keeping one physically fit, SCD is excellent for keeping the brain fit, too.

In 1923, the Scottish Country Dance Society (SCDS, later ‘Royal’ Scottish Country Dance Society or RSCDS) was founded in order to preserve traditional Scottish country dancing. This society has since spread all over the world, with 170 branches and around 360 affiliated groups worldwide.The New Zealand Branch consists of over 80 clubs, with a dozen of them in the Wellington region. For anyone interested in finding a club to join in NZ, check out this link.

So if you are a dancer, take your dancing shoes with you when you travel, because you will be assured of a warm welcome at any SCD club, anywhere in the world. You will encounter many familiar dances, and if you know the basic formations, which are standard everywhere, you will be able to join in with any unfamiliar dances too.

In NZ, clubs usually meet weekly, between March and November, and are taught by qualified teachers, certificated by the RSCDS. The two clubs I belong to, Tawa and Johnsonville, meet on Thursdays and Mondays, and have teachers of many years’ experience – Maureen Robson at Tawa, and Rod Downey at Johnsonville.

Both clubs will be running beginners classes in February. Unfortunately Waitangi Day falls on a Thursday, so Tawa will have only three beginner classes in February before regular club nights begin. Johnsonville will have four beginner classes, before the start of club nights in March.

Johnsonville SCD Club meets in the Johnsonville School hall, in Morgan Street Johnsonville. The beginner classes start on Monday 3 February at 7:30 – 9:30pm.

Tawa SCD Club meets in Tawa Union Church, Redwood Ave, Tawa (by the top roundabout). The beginner classes will start on Thursday 13 February at 7:30 – 9:30pm.

If this sounds interesting to you, please do join us, at one or other, or even at both, clubs. The cost is just $4 per class, and no partner or special clothing are required. Just wear casual clothes and soft shoes.

I don’t want to include contact specifics on this blog, but if you have or any questions or queries, leave me a comment below, and I will try to answer the question, and/or put you in touch with the relevant person.

I hope to meet some of you in class!

Finally, here are some links to videos of Scottish Country dancing. There are several videos of the same dance in each link. As you will see, some are better than others, both in the quality of the dancing, and in the quality of the video. But it gives some idea of the type of dancing we do. Both are very popular dances.

One is a jig, called “Pelorus Jack”,  This dance was devised by a New Zealander, Barry Skelton, and is named after the famous dolphin.

The other is a Strathspey (a slower tempo), called “The Minister on the Loch”, and was named after the painting by Sir Henry Raeburn.

And finally, finally, here is a video that has just been posted on Facebook. It is a dance that was devised by Helen Wyeth, a member of the "JAMs" (Junior Associate Members) class at the recent Summer School. It is entitled "The Magic of Summer School", and it is performed by the members of that class of young dancers.

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