“Dance with your soul!” Miss Jean Milligan exhorted her students. It is the expression of soul—that quality of ‘soul’, which transforms a series of physical exercises into dance.
The desire to capture and keep alive this expression of Scotland’s soul and spirit prompted Miss Jean Milligan and her co-founder Mrs. Ysobel Stewart—supported by music publisher Michael Diack—to form the Scottish Country Dance Society in 1923.
To celebrate the ‘golden anniversary’ in 1973, dancers in the Wellington Region attended a ball in the rather cavernous Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall.
We were taken aback when the seemingly very large metre-square decorations with paper-sculptures depicting the titles of four popular dances were dwarfed by the space, however Peter Elmes and his Band soon filled it with music and the floor quickly filled with enthusiastic dancers from the Region and beyond.
Being a special occasion, Betty Redfearn, Gary Morris and I had put our heads together to devise the appropriately entitled Won’t You Join the Dance to tell the Society’s story. Rather than just ‘demonstrating it’, I concocted a floor show so that the dancers came on to the floor from the corners of the floor using their dance steps and figures to create an interesting spectacle.
I think they all enjoyed presenting the movements in ways rather different from the usual confines of their sets—exciting! Miss Milligan visited New Zealand the next year and she was delighted when we danced WYJTD for her.
Following the event’s success, it was decided to make it a biennial event. The next one celebrated fifty years since the Society first published a book of dances—one being The Triumph—so the hall was decorated with triumphal arches.
The wall at the back of the hall’s stage was enormous so I made a triangular linen ‘curtain’ to suspend from a hook at the top; for the year to mark the beginning of Summer Schools we attached red crepe paper strips to it to look like a ‘big top’ to tie in with the Lammas Fair in the town of St. Andrews which always coincides with the Schools. There was also a market ‘stall’ on the stage with a striped awning.
Another year, crepe paper again was used to create the Beehive; on the walls were honeycomb hexagons each emblazoned with the Branch’s Regions and a representative emblem—the beehive of course represented Wellington.
One of our dancers was an excellent artist so another year he painted a number of the castles in dance names; the round tables had a covering of green card depicting Robert Adams’ white plaster roundels (cf. Wedgewood vases) as found in the many stately homes he designed.
Speaking of these round tables; one year it was decided to have them at their lower level; during the evening there was frequently the sound of crashing glasses—the tables were at the right height for kilts to sweep them to the floor!
Since my school days Scottish Country dancing has brought me great pleasure, not only through the rewards from many friendships and sharing its joys with others as a teacher and a fellow-dancer and a Scottish entertainer, but also from the many and varied opportunities if has brought my way to explore other avenues for creativity … dreaming up scenarios and making decorations!
Edith Lauder Campbell
Dance with Your Soul – biography of Dr. Jean Milligan by Florence Adams and Alastair McFadyen
Won’t You Join the Dance – manual of dance instructions by Miss Jean Milligan
Photo: Loralee Hyde