History of the club

Compiled by Barbara Gatley

This history is taken from the minutes, the roll book and dance programmes, with additional stories from past and present members including the first History of the Club written by Margaret Johnstone in 1989.

February 1956 – formation of the Club:
“The first meeting of the Interim Committee of the Rotorua Scottish Dance Club was held at Mr G Straiton’s residence in Haupapa St, Rotorua on 29th February 1956.

Those present were Mr G Straiton, Miss Nancy and Irene Straiton, Mr and Mrs H Montague, Mr and Mrs W Renfrew, Miss Margaret Renfrew, Mr J Aitchison, Mr F Venman,
Mr K Geddes, Mr and Mrs L Sherson.”

Mr G Straiton was elected as Interim Chairman and Mrs N Sherson as Interim Secretary

A second meeting was held a week later. The Hamilton tutor had donated a Pocket Edition of dances to start them off, St John’s Hall had been booked for a General Meeting on 15th March, and the Druid’s Hall was available on Saturday nights. A permanent committee for the next 3 months was elected:
President: Mr W Renfrew,
Secretary/Treasurer: Mrs N Sherson
Tutor: Mr. J Aitchison.
The constitution of the Hamilton club was temporarily adopted.

March 15 1956 – First General Meeting:
This meeting approved the printing of 100 Membership Cards. Fees were set at 5 shillings adults, 2 and sixpence children under 14 with nightly fees of 2 shillings adults and 1 shilling children.
The first dancing evening was set for Saturday 24th March at the Druids Hall, Arawa Street. Miss Irene Oliver’s School of Dancing agreed to lend a gramophone and the Rotorua Pipe Band was invited. Members were asked to supply the records. The night was planned to be a learners’ night and was advertised in the Daily Post. Further nights were to be held each Saturday.
June 16 1956 – First Dance:
The Hamilton Club was invited over to a Dance at St Luke’s Hall. They showed films as well as dancing. Admission was 3 shillings for Gents, 2/6 pence for Ladies. The club would provide sandwiches and the ladies were “to provide a plate if they so desire.” It is not recorded how successful the evening was, but a few weeks later the two more committee members were elected to assist the tutor on club nights and to assist in the running of the social evenings.

October 1956
The Club was invited to Balls at Hamilton and Mangakino. The difficulty of how to get there was discussed as it was too late to raise funds to charter a bus. The committee resolved to join the NZ Association of Scottish Country Dance Clubs when it was formed. Records had been donated by members and the tutor was able to give back those on loan. Invitations to an end of year social were sent to Rotorua Pipe Band, Rotorua Caledonian Society, Hamilton, Whakatane, Tokoroa, Mangakino, and Cambridge clubs.
The First Annual General Meeting was held at the Ritz Hall Fenton St. on 4th April 1957. The club had started with 14 members and ended the first year with 62 financial members. They had learnt nearly 20 dances.

Tickets for the social and dance evenings were to be printed at 100 per social. Each evening would require 8 dozen cakes to be purchased and sandwiches would be made. It is reported that unfortunately the first social did not have enough food! A big “house to house” raffle was held to raise funds to hire a bus to go to various functions. This did not make as much money as hoped but the club was still able to hire buses and subsidise half the cost. Buses were used to get to functions at Hamilton, Mangakino, Murupara and even as far as Hastings.

By 1958 Wednesday nights became the regular dancing evening; the Ritz Supper room was the venue. Regular monthly socials were run which were planned to be an evening for non dancers as well as dancers. A children’s class was started on Saturday mornings, tutored by Mr Newman.

The First Ball
In 1959 it was decided to discontinue the monthly social evenings and have “one big night” instead. This was held at the Concert Chamber on 1st August and became Rotorua Club’s first Ball. Programmes were printed and all the surrounding clubs invited. Each club member took four plates, the club purchasing “bread etc” for sandwiches. Soft drinks were sold at 9 pence per bottle. WDDF assisted with the supper for a donation of £4.

There is more information about the following ball in 1960. It was attended by 84 dancers. Entry was 7/6 pence adults, 5/- children and spectators, drinks 9 pence, raffles 3 for 2/6 or 1/- each. Later that year there was a Special General Meeting called to discuss standards of tutoring and dancing, dancers’ inattention to the tutor when briefing the dance, and whether the tutor should be subsidised to go to Summer School. However by the AGM in March 1962 the then Tutor Mr Aitcheson reported that the Club was a pleasure to tutor and he “was proud of the standard of our Club’s dancing”. The club membership in the early 1960′s was about 48, and attendance at club nights was sometimes of concern. Club night fees were reduced in 1961, the venue was changed to St John’s Church Hall and 50% attendance was required to qualify “for any concessions including voting power at the AGM.”

In April 1961 the committee resolved not to join the Waikato Association as they could see no benefit in doing so, and there was ongoing disagreement about this in 1962 and 1963, and again in 1965. However the club paid an Affiliation Fee in 1966. Although payment of Affiliation Fees to NZSCDS is not mentioned until 1961, the Club was in regular contact with the NZ Scottish Country Dance Society much earlier, having been visited for a dancing evening by Mr Les Jack in May 1958.

The AGM in March 1963 saw Mr Gary Morris appointed tutor, and Mrs Craig was present at this meeting. She proposed that “members should refrain from drinking on buses to and from balls” and the motion was carried unanimously. The discussion on the motion was not recorded, but it is understood that the bus had to stop too often for “comfort stops!” Through the mid 60′s the club fees were 5/-, with a nightly fee of 2/6 for members and 2/- for non members. Mrs Craig was elected to the Committee in 1965.

The club provided a set for the Andy Stewart Show in 1963 and also organized mass dancing for the Highland Games held at Smallbone Park in November. In 1965 invitations to the Rotorua Ball were sent to 15 other clubs and the club was still using buses or mini buses for transport to balls around the Waikato and BOP. This cost members 10/- per trip in 1965, and three such trips were organized.

Mrs Craig was elected President at the 10th AGM in February 1966.A decrease in membership was discussed several times at Committee Meetings in early1966. Several long standing members of the club had left Rotorua or retired. The 10th Anniversary Ball, complete with Grand March, and Eightsome Reel played by the Rotorua Pipe Band was planned for June, in the Concert Chambers. At this time it was not customary to run raffles at a Ball so two Door Prizes were given * a bowl of fruit and a bottle of sherry. Soft drinks were sold at 6d per bottle. The Ball made a loss of *5- 8s- 1d, but otherwise club funds were in good shape. Shortly after the Ball, Mrs Craig was elected as tutor on the resignation of Mrs Aitcheson due to domestic circumstances. Mr and Mrs Aitcheson had been active members since the start of the Club, taking on between them committee work, tutoring and presidency. Mrs Craig was to remain tutor for more than 30 years!

In 1968 the Annual Ball was moved to September “when the roads would be in better condition and thus encourage clubs attendance from clubs further afield”. 128 dancers attended this ball which made the Geyser Hall “somewhat cramped.” The club subsidized for the first time, the Tutor’s attendance at the Teacher’s Class at Summer School.

Queen’s Birthday Weekend 1970 saw Rotorua SCDC hold its first Weekend School. 150 dancers attended and there were more than 200 at the Ball. The club was flourishing with an increased membership and regular children’s classes. Wednesday evenings had Children from 6.30 to 7.30, Adult Beginners 7.30 to 8.45, supper at 8.45 to 9.00 followed by dancing for Advanced members. Mrs Craig had help for the Children’s Class which had 20 children on average. The following year this programme was reduced a little with a Children’s Class (Beginners) from 7-8.00 pm and an Adult/Intermediate class from 7.45pm. This was still a lot for the tutor to plan for and take so for at least part of the year the Committee Members took a few dances each after supper.

The club discussed Life Membership for some of its foundation members in 1971 but decided that the club should be 25 years old before this could be awarded.

In 1972 a second Weekend School was held by the club. Mrs Craig passed her Prelim Teacher’s Certificate and in 1973 she became the first member of the Rotorua Club to pass the Teacher’s Certificate examinations.

The highlight of 1974 was the visit of Miss Jean Milligan, co-founder of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, to Rotorua on 4th and 5th September. A lot of planning went into this visit, including media interviews with NZBC (Women’s Afternoon Session), Rotorua Daily Post and NZ Herald. She was given a tour of the area, and presented with a gift by foundation member Mrs A Straiton. The evening function to which all the clubs of the Region were invited, was formal * the men had to wear kilt or suit and the ladies a skirt or afternoon frock. Club members still remember Miss Milligan telling them to hold their heads up “as there is no money on the floor!” She told the newspaper that Scottish Country Dancing was popular as it “has dignity, good manners and a real social friendliness.”

By the mid 70′s enough members had cars that buses were no longer hired to get to the region’s balls and the minutes record that members should share petrol costs with the driver. Noreen Hunter drove a Mini and took 3 other dancers. They took no luggage other than their make up bag with them * their dancing dresses being laid out carefully in the boot. There were several teenage members of the club whose good
behaviour is mentioned several times.

The 21st Birthday Ball and Queen’s Birthday Weekend School in 1977 was the next big event and the “Scotsmen Band” was asked to play. The club decided to have caterers for the functions so to fundraise for catering and band the club held a series of “flea markets” and jumble sales. A birthday cake was arranged and a piper, Ramsey McArthur, asked to pipe it in. Special invitations were sent to Rotorua Mayor, NZ and Waikato /BOP Presidents, the auditor, St John’s Church Minister and their wives. Over 300 people attended the Ball. The same year Club Night was changed to Monday and has remained Monday ever since! For the following 1978 Ball at the last minute neither the club’s Tutor Nona Craig nor Simon Barbour, President, were able to attend so Margaret Johnstone “stepped into the breach as MC and kept the evening swinging”

To encourage new members the club put a series of advertisements in the “Personal” column of the Daily Post and had a very good response.

In 1978 and 1979 Simon Barbour was elected assistant tutor, and he became president in 1979.

Another successful Weekend School was held in 1981 with the 25th Anniversary celebrations, but the year was generally “up and down” according to the President’s report. The club needed new members, both adults and children.

However Nona Craig enjoyed the break from teaching two classes each Monday. Fees had been raised several times in recent years and by 1983 there was “a very heated discussion.” on fees. However the club had been running at a loss so the door fee for non financial members was raised to $2.00 per session, and annual fees were raised slightly. The session was changed too * children and inexperienced dancers were asked to stop at 9.00 pm so that the last hour was for experienced dancers. 1984 started badly with the theft of all the club’s equipment from the church hall in the holiday break. HQ of RSCDS loaned the club $200 to help purchase new equipment, but this was later returned as a new turntable was bought with insurance. However by the time amplifier r and speakers had been purchased in 1985 club funds were very low $54! An application was made to the RDC Community Arts fund for a grant for the equipment purchase.1984 saw a small group of children join the club, but adult membership remained low – there were only 11 at the AGM.

By early 1985 the club had only 8 financial adult members but the group decided to continue and to advertise in the Daily Post with the same ads in the Personal columns as were used in 1977. These had the desired effect and there were two sets of dancers at club nights.

In 1987 the Queen’s Birthday Weekend School was again successfully held in Rotorua. Simon Barbour returned to Rotorua and became President and Assistant Tutor for a few years, taking the class once a month. St John’s Church and Hall were pulled down in 1988 and dancing was held at St Mary’s School Hall while the new St John’s was being built. Tutor Nona Craig was elected N.Island Vice President for RSCDS NZ Branch in 1989.

Simon Barbour left Rotorua in March and Jean Rawson started a term of 8 years as President. The acoustics at the new St John’s Church Hall were good so the club moved there for Club night. Balls were still held at John Paul College. Membership was down at the start of the 90′s * “3 TV Channels to compete with” was a reason given. In 1992 the Ball date was changed to early April, and has been at that time ever since, in conjunction with a Region Meeting. The venue changed to Western Heights High School. 150 dancers attended the Ball and the club “nearly didn’t cope with the crowd.” The Waikato/BOP Region was now 18 clubs strong and dancers were finding it difficult to get to them all. There was a children’ class but it was lamented that they didn’t last, but a small group of teenagers kept up regular attendance.

Nona Craig was made the first Life Member of the club at the 1994 AGM., for her services given in all areas of the functioning of the club. She had been tutor since 1966, and also acted as President and Secretary for several years. The 1996 40th Anniversary was celebrated with a pre ball dinner. The Club decided they had enough members to run the Queen’s Birthday Weekend School in 1998. A grant from the Civic Arts Trust was obtained which made it possible to have caterers for the tea breaks and lunches, to have live music for classes and to pay visiting tutor expenses. The Queen’s Birthday Weekend Ball attracted 160 dancers * many more than expected

The Club’s children’s class flourished with the grandchildren of adult members forming the core of the class. Jean Rawson wrote a dance that she used to teach the children formations. This was named Tamariki Dance by Victoria *** with the help of her father and the dance is still danced in the Region in 2006.

In 1998 Nona Craig was awarded a Rotorua District Community Award at a Mayoral function for long term service to the Rotorua Scottish Country Dance Club.

Jean Rawson resigned as President after 9 years in the position at the AGM in 1999.

Nona Craig had been threatening to finish as tutor for some years, and in August 2000 she resigned and left for a holiday so the Club had to find new tutors! Nona’s parting advice to “who ever takes the tutoring on” was that they “must have patience!” A tea dance in Nona’s honour was held the following October, and Gordon and Debbie Tonks briefed the “Night of Favourite Dances” As the new tutors were inexperienced, Nona arranged the chosen dances herself, into a suitable programme. More than 70 people attended this farewell.

The new tutors have been supported by Nona and Lynne Hudson from Papamoa/ Mount Maunganui Club being guest tutors on alternate Tartan nights, held the 1st Monday of the month. Nona also helps out with tutoring children and beginners’ step practice.

St John’s Church Hall floor had deteriorated over the years so the Club Balls were moved to Ngongotaha Hall for safety of the dancers in 2003, and in 2005 the Club’s long association with St John’s ended when Club night was moved to Westbrook School Hall.

In 2005, Kirsten Forbes was presented with Life Membership. She joined the Club in 1983 and has been a regular dancer ever since.

The average weekly attendance of dancers at Club for 2000 – 2005 has been (President’s Reports 2004/05) “a set and a half” – about 12 dancers! Though small in numbers the Club continues to organize an Annual Ball, provide a set for entertainment at various celebrations, community functions, and retirement homes, and to enjoy weekly Club nights. The challenge is to continue for another 50 years!

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