Line dancing is alive and stronger than ever in Marlborough, knock on wood

Knocking on wood, front row from left, Yvonne Anderson, Mike Fisher, Sue Fisher and Carol Lankshear, second row from ...
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Knocking on wood, front row from left, Yvonne Anderson, Mike Fisher, Sue Fisher and Carol Lankshear, second row from left, June McLaughlin, Cheryl Garret and Glenys Eyles.

They may not do the "cowboy dress-up" thing anymore, but line dancing is alive and stronger than ever in Marlborough. David James catches up with Gourmet Country Line Dancers head instructor Judith Cootes.

Pulling up to the hall, a warm glow pours onto the gravel car park, while the melodious clatter of feet on wood keeps company with an Elvis Presley tune.

I clumsily trip into the kitchen entrance only to find sausage rolls and lamingtons being plated for the evening's meal.

I've stumbled into a Gourmet Country Line Dancers social at the Fairhall Community Hall, and two ladies brewing tea in giant metal tea pots serve me up a strange look. 

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The club holds socials every six weeks, for members to have a shuffle and a chin wag. Some have been at it for a few weeks, some for many years.

Head instructor Judith Cootes leads the group, including, from left, Wendy Champion, Kathy Johnston and Eileen Cooper.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Head instructor Judith Cootes leads the group, including, from left, Wendy Champion, Kathy Johnston and Eileen Cooper.

The first time I bumped into head instructor Judith Cootes and the gang was at a cafe last year. 

They were dressed in branded T-shirts and jackets, planning rehearsals for a 21st birthday party they had been booked for. 

It's not like me to get giddy over this kind of thing, but I just love to hear that a line dancing club in Marlborough has been going strong for more than 20 years. 

Looking after the kitchen are Moira Conroy, left, and June McLaughlin.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Looking after the kitchen are Moira Conroy, left, and June McLaughlin.

"I have been teaching since the club was started in 1996," Judith says. "I find it rewarding to teach people to dance, and as line dancing doesn't need a partner, anyone can have a go.

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"When I first started, line dances were mostly choreographed to country music, now there seems to be dances choreographed to all types of music.

"I find that if people like the song they will generally like the dance that goes with it." 

Sue and Mike Fisher drove from Nelson just for the Gourmet Country Line Dancers social.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Sue and Mike Fisher drove from Nelson just for the Gourmet Country Line Dancers social.

Despite warm invitations to join the group on the floor, I stay focused on getting photographs and taking notes.

Sheryl Cameron has been line dancing for 15 years and says it is a fulltime gig for some in the group.

"Some of the dancers work during the day, but those who don't work anymore go to retirement homes and teach the residents. Or some are hired to teach line dancing at events or parties."

Line dancers don't do the "cowboy dress-up" thing anymore, Sheryl says. 

Tonight, at the Fairhall Community Hall, they are only dressed up for the night's black and white theme.

Newcomer Kathy Johnstone has been learning for just 10 weeks.

"I've got two left feet. But once you get past the first couple of dances you can go with the flow.

"I'm lucky because I'm retired. I'm a kept woman nowadays, but I go with my neighbour, and they are very social here which is lovely. Especially for some of the women whose husbands have died, or for whatever reason they are on their own, this is ideal because you actually can get up on the dance floor and have a go."

Judith says line dancing is still strong in New Zealand with regular socials and workshops around the country, some over a weekend, some just for an evening.

For many, line dancing cruise ships are a fantastic opportunity to meet other like-minded folk. 

Yvonne Anderson, Sue Fisher and Mike Fisher have just returned from such a cruise, the largest Australian line dancing cruise, with 500 line dancers and 2800 people in total, sailing from Australia to New Zealand. They were the only Kiwis on board.

"We had classes on the boat, and workshops. And there was heaps to learn from others," Mike says.

"It was interesting trying to do the steps on the boat when the water got rough," Yvonne says. "At times we just had to change the variation."

People often gain weight on a cruise but they managed to lose a few pounds by attending three-hour workshops in the morning and in the evening.

The Fishers have driven over from Nelson tonight just for the social, and they'll be driving straight back after. 

I'm starting to think maybe it's time to chuck out the dusty gym pass and sign up for a few classes at Gourmet Country.

Judith says the classes are for anyone who likes dancing, music, exercise, friendship and fun.

Beginner classes are held on Tuesdays; 2pm at Senior Citizens Hall, High St, and 6.30pm at Fairhall Community Hall, Fairhall.

For more information call Judith Cootes on 03 578 7554 or 021 234 1095, or email gourmetcountry@slingshot.co.nz.

 - Stuff

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