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Fitness and fun

Tartan swirling in time to Scottish folk music will make a canny start to the year for keen dancers.

If you want to impress founder of the Carterton Scottish Country Dancing [SCD] Club, Elaine Laidlaw, come with a sense of fun – and pay attention to foot placement.

SCD is an activity “that keeps you physically and mentally fit at your pace, in a friendly, social atmosphere”, dance teacher Elaine said.

“You do not need a partner – couples don’t dance with the same partner all evening, so you can come on your own, bring two or three friends, whatever you like.”

Of course, there is a focus on feet, so soft-soled footwear is essential. Committed dancers wear lace-up flexible ‘ghillie’ shoes to help achieve a pointed toe, but sneakers are fine for beginners.

“A lot of dancers, especially older ones, go for the jazz ballet shoe with a little heel, which really saves the Achilles heel when you’re standing still during dances,” Elaine said.

The Carterton SCD Club is a member of the Wellington Region of the NZ Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society based in Scotland and adopts their standards.

Weekly Monday club nights in the Carterton School Hall will restart in March, after some outdoor dancing in February. However, the club is running new dancers’ sessions for people to learn the basic steps and figures, starting this month.

“This runs for eight Monday nights commencing on January 29,” Elaine said. “The cost is $20 for all eight nights, which is deducted from your annual subscription if you join the club.”

The club holds monthly ‘tartan’ nights, where dancers are encouraged to wear kilts, tartan skirts or sashes and supper is provided by members.

Last October, the club hosted the Wellington Region New Dancers’ Celebration: “We booked the Wairarapa College Hall and more than 80 dancers attended, including 30 new dancers. A live band set the toes tapping,” Elaine said.

She and her husband Michael started the Carterton club after moving to Wairarapa in 1999.

“We opened the doors, put the music on and said: ‘I wonder if anybody will turn up?’ In walked about 15 people, a number of retired dancers who had moved here and eventually some younger ones.”

The school hall has the type of wooden floor preferred by dancers for acoustics and comfort.

“Modern halls often have a concrete slab and if you’re dancing for three or four hours, that can be quite challenging.”

Wairarapa was once a hotbed of SCD, with several clubs in the North Island forming a group that met in a hall at Morison’s Bush near Greytown in the 1950s.

“Dancers were so keen, they drove from the Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington to attend,” Elaine said.

“I enjoy seeing other people getting pleasure out of SCD. It’s the atmosphere, the challenges in the dances. The style is very like other folk dances around the world.”

In 1923, the Scottish Country Dance Society was formed in Scotland, when some teachers decided dances were losing some traditional technique and becoming “a bit of a romp”. That led to dances being standardised.

In 1946, then-Princess Elizabeth became patron, remaining so until she passed away. The society became the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in 1951.

“The two princesses [Elizabeth and Margaret] learnt SCD because of course, their mother came from Scotland,” Elaine said.

In the 1960s Florence Leslie, an examiner from Scotland, moved to New Zealand, making it possible for locals to complete teaching certificates here, rather than travelling to St Andrew’s in Scotland.

“SCD is exactly the same, whether it’s danced in the fields, or in the ballroom at Holyrood House, because the RSCD Society has standardised the formations and steps,” Elaine said. “If you know the basics, you should be able to join in anywhere.”

There is no pressure to elevate off the ground – this isn’t Highland Dancing.

“I teach how to do birling’ [turning your partner with an elbow grip] safely because I’ve watched young men do this and the girl’s feet leave the floor.” Grand chains, hands across, hands round, Poussette and Allemande are all moves in SCD.

“If dancers need to walk, that’s fine, as long as they’re listening to the music and getting to where they need to be.”

SCD is thought to be beneficial for people who have suffered stroke, or hip and knee replacements, for exercise both physical and mental.

“We’ve had deaf people take up SCD, as they can feel the beat through the wooden floor,” Elaine said.

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