From the Dominion to Dundee
When dancing shuts down over the summer, Wellington dancers still enjoy their sport thanks to the annual Dancing on the Grass organised by the Wellington Region of the RSCDS. This takes place on four summer Tuesday evenings on the grass in front of the Old Government Buildings in Lambton Quay.
Before getting on to the dancing, what about the venue?
The building was designed by William Clayton to accommodate all of New Zealand’s public servants. Originally intended to be made of concrete so as to be fireproof, that proved too expensive and so it was constructed all in Kauri instead, made to look as if it was stone, presumably to make the government look solid and dependable. It was, as building projects often are, over budget when completed in 1876.
Surprisingly, for nearly fifty years the building was heated with open fireplaces, but because of its wooden construction, smoking inside was banned right from when it opened, unlike in Wellington’s wooden-bodied trams which even provided smokers with metal plates fixed to the woodwork on which to strike their matches!
Having served the Colony of New Zealand from 1876, the Dominion of New Zealand from 1907 and housing government Ministers until 1921, the Old Government Buildings are now the home of the Faculty of Law of Victoria University.
But what about the dancing?
Dancing is outside (on the grass) in front of the main entrance, so we provide a bit of a spectacle. In previous years tourists on Lambton Quay liked to stand and watch but there weren’t many tourists this year. One night this year one of the bus drivers gave us a toot on the horn and a wave as he drove down towards the city.
Dancing on grass is quite a novel sensation. It’s certainly different than dancing on a flat floor, it’s a bit bumpy and in summer if there’s not been much rain it can be quite firm and scratchy. There’s also a large floodlight sticking out of the grass which you need to look out for when casting behind your line.
Some people wear their dancing shoes and some like bare feet. There are little acorn-like things hiding in the grass which can give you a nasty surprise in bare feet, like stepping on a piece of the kids’ Lego in the dark.
Each of the four summer dancing sessions is led by a different tutor from one of the Wellington clubs. The dances are usually the fairly familiar ones that appear on many club dance programmes throughout the year although there were a couple of exceptions this year that confused quite a few of us. The tutors generally choose dances that are not too complicated and they’re walked, so it’s all a lot easier than trying to dance from just a briefing.
And what about the Lino?
Well, being Wellington in the summer, it can be wet and it can be cold. This year, for both those reasons, we danced inside for two of the four sessions.
The inside space is the student café of the VUW Law Faculty (it offers a very cheap vegan lunch). The door to the café is round the other side of the building from the grass and the main entrance.
The café is a good sized space with one extra feature, which is the series of columns that hold up the floors above. These are cunningly placed so that you have to dance round them when casting, or dancing a figure-of-eight, which adds to the excitement.
And the flooring in the café is lino, or to give it its proper name, Linoleum, which is made from jute and linseed oil. There’s a fine Scottish connection, as the city of Dundee was famous for “jute, jam and journalism”. Known in the 19th century as Juteopolis it was the centre of the global jute trade. Dundee was also famous for producing Keiller’s marmalade and for still being the home of D C Thomson, the publishers of well-loved comics like The Beano and Scottish cartoon strips The Broons and Oor Wullie.
Dancing on the grass is a great way to enjoy some dancing when clubs are closed for the summer. You get to meet people from other clubs, you might then see them later in the year at a dance. One of the four nights this year was a beautiful warm, still night and it was magical dancing outside as the dusk fell.
There’s also something special about being able to dance right outside the heart of government, just across from the Beehive. This year it felt extra special to be able to dance at all, given the situation in many less fortunate countries.