2011-01-31 Setting sail across the dance floor

32 dancers from around the Peninsula set a course for Fish Hoek on Monday 31st January for Clan Colquhoun’s first charity fund-raising dance for 2011. The chosen beneficiary for the evening’s activities was the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and consequently, the dances on the programme all had a nautical / maritime theme.

The turnout was encouraging and it was great to welcome dancers from three continents aside from Africa. Rod Downey, dance deviser and teacher from Wellington, New Zealand was in Cape Town attending a mathematical conference and had had the foresight to pack his ghillies. Our swallows from Ontario, John and Margaret Anderson continued with their loyal support of our dancing activities in Cape Town with their attendance and Tom Kerr was visiting from Europe. We also welcomed back Yvonne Ridley from her six months' stay in the USA.

It was a bit of a reunion for Rod Downey and Tom Kerr who had previously danced together at TAC Summer School, where Rod was part of the first set to dance Tom’s dance ‘Fare thee well’ and also helped to refine the phrasing of the formation ‘Untie the knot’. The duo spent the tea break sharing formations they have devised and volunteers were soon walking interesting progressions such as the Rose and Left and right switches.

The programme began with ‘On the quarter deck’ and was followed by a dance new to most of us ‘Gaelforce wind’, this Derek Haynes dance includes the formation Set and Link. The third dance of the evening ‘Ship of Grace’ (from the Lifeboat Dances book) describes a rescue and was the obvious choice for a programme benefiting sea rescue. (It was Jo Caesar who suggested the NSRI and this as pivotal dance.)

Dancers were reminded of the symbolism of the dance: on bars 1-8 the lifeboat is launched; bars 9-16 depict the rescue equipment; 17-24 describes the wheel; 25-30 the lifeboat hurries over the waves to the boat in distress; 31-32 the knot (lifeline) between the 2 boats is tied; 33-40 the lifeboat returns to safety, towing the rescued boat.

Tom then regaled us with the heroic tale of a remarkable rescue effort by the community of Cullercoats in Northumberland, near Lindisfarne. On 1st January 1861, the "Lovely Nelly" a brig had floundered off the coast at Brier Dene. The conditions were appalling with a blizzard raging so the lifeboat could not be launched at Cullercoats. Apparently the villagers, many of them women, helped horses to drag the lifeboat about three kilometres from the village to Brier Dene. The lifeboat crew then battled heavy seas to row out to the stricken ship and all from the Lovely Nelly were saved except the cabin boy.

You can read more about it here: http://www.east-durham.co.uk/seaham/lovely_nelly.htm

‘Piper and the Penguin’ was next on the programme.

For me, a highlight of the evening was Rod Downey’s teaching us one of his own dances ‘Spinnaker Hornpipe’ from his second book ‘They stole my wife from me last night’. (Instructions for both Rod's books are available for download from his web site: http://homepages.ecs.vuw.ac.nz/~downey/dances.html )

The dance features a variation on the poussette to achieve the progression – The Gay Gordon’s poussette. This 8x40 hornpipe for 2 couples is rather energetic and fun, but had us all gasping for a tea-break. (We elected to dance the first 16 bars with both the first and second couples dancing and not the less tiring alternative which Rod suggested. We didn’t heed his warning.)

Peter and Ann McLeod, assisted by Terry McBurnie, efficiently provisioned us with tea, coffee and yummy shortbread. The break provided the chance for socializing and to hear the latest scuttlebutt.

We danced ‘Never at Sea’ twice, the second time through using a track from Colin Dewar and his band's latest CD ‘Special requests 8’, which Caireen Alston brought back from her visit to the 2010/11 RSCDS Summer School in Dunedin, New Zealand.

I then taught ‘Birding on the beach’ from Martha Veranth’s book Feathered Friends in between two favourite well-known dances ‘Pelorus Jack’ and the strathspey ‘Culla Bay’.

We ended the evening with ‘Catch the Wind’ and, having run out of time and energy, scuttled ‘The Royal Yacht Britannia’ and ‘Fisherman’s Reel’.

There was no shortage of other suitable themed dances - ‘The Sailor’, ‘The New Rigged Ship’ and ‘Cutty Sark’, amongst others, which means we could easily repeat this charity event in future years.

I thank you for your support and for entering into the spirit – the Captain’s cap, lifejackets, Picton Castle, RMS St Helena and other nautical shirts were noticed. I look forward to seeing you at our next dance in Fish Hoek on Monday 14th February, St Valentine’s Day or at another of our charity fund-raisers.