Dancing at St. Andrew’s – the first 25 years: 1949 – 1974
The Society officially came into being on 28th September 1949 with some twenty members dancing in St Andrew’s Church Hall. In those far off days admission was 1/- and the Society danced under the aegis of Miss Scott to the tinkling of the piano as played by Vera Longston – both sadly no longer with us. As the years went by membership grew, reaching a peak in 1960 of 184 dancers. Each season saw activities in plenty with dances, classes, film evenings and participation in various Church social events, where members wrestled with Christmas trees, bran tubs, hoop-la stalls and other unmentionable delights.
Right from the start it seemed that the Church, struggling with a building in a poor state of repair, was in dire financial straits and many were the appeals for help that came the Society’s way. The Society contributed well over £1,500 to Church funds, in addition to which the members did sterling work in the maintenance of Church property.
As crisis succeeded crisis in the Church so the Society coped with the trials and tribulations of classes held in the old hall. Sometimes it was sweltering, in winter freezing, occasionally the sound of the wind howled through broken windows, and even more frequently raindrops fell on heads as yet another slate blew off the roof! Then came the happy day when the hall was to be repaired, and so reels were danced amid scaffolding and canvas awnings – all to no avail as the old Church was later demolished, and in 1972 the new St. Andrew’s arose from the rubble – much to the relief of one and all.
It was in 1959 that Marion Dean became the instructress and under her leadership and that of succeeding committees, the demonstration team came into being, day schools were organised, a children’s class was tried and the Winter Ball became a much looked forward to (strikes permitting) annual event.
The Society’s greatest strength was the emphasis that Wednesday evening was a social evening with instruction ‘thrown in’ as it were. Chairmen, Secretaries, Treasurers and Committee members came and went and new friends and old met regularly.
Dancing at St. Andrew’s – the next 25 years: 1975 – 1999
Twenty five years ago the Society danced in St Andrew’s new upstairs hall, going downstairs for a refreshment break: those on tea duty below were aware that the hatch shutter clattered dreadfully as their friends danced above. Then after a ‘rowdy’ entertainment item at a ceilidh – Morris men or cloggies perhaps – it was decided that the multi-purpose hall was not suitable for country dancing and we were banished downstairs before the floor collapsed! Today, we are still there coping with the odd-shaped room and the slippery floor.
Things have changed a lot over the years. Modern technology means that the Society now dances to CDs, but it still has records – the old 78s, 45s and the 33s – and we have to fall back on them from time to time. New dances are being devised all the time and many old favourites of 25 years ago have fallen by the wayside, as have a lot of the more modern ones! Special mention must be made of the teachers who have given valiant service during these 25 years – Marion Dean, Anne Walker, Anne Carter, Jean Nicol and Joan Desborough – and to all those who have stood in.
The demonstration team has continued to show the enjoyment of Scottish Country Dancing to the public and to earn money for the Society. The old tape recorder and the horn have been pensioned off and much of the music for demonstrations over recent years has been provided by piper Sandy Walker. That mantle now rests on the shoulders of Neil Esslemont. The team’s repertoire changes regularly but some of the old-stagers still hanker after the Duke of Gordon and Keys of the Castle.
The Annual Ball, is a highlight and supported by many friends from clubs in the area. For the last couple of years some of the ticket price has been donated to charity. Regular events include the Spring dance (incorporating the Ceilidh), the Day School and the Forbury Garden evenings, which seem to attract more bad weather than good. Summer dances are held, often in conjunction with a barbecue so that non-dancing other halves do not feel left out.
The turn-over of officers and Committee members has increased since the three year terms were introduced and it is heartening to see that so many members are prepared to serve again after a break. Over the years many stalwarts have moved away from Reading while others have retired gracefully. Sadly some members have died but they are remembered with affection and with thanks for their contribution and friendship.
But we must look forward to the future of the Club and foster the regular evenings – elementary, general and demonstration – which are the back-bone of the Society.
Let’s keep the spring in our steps and the smile on our faces as we put September 2024 in our diaries for the 75th celebrations.
August 2013 Reunion
Since the Society was formed back in 1949, there must have been several hundred people who have danced at Reading St Andrew’s. A reunion was arranged for Saturday 10th August 2013, to give an opportunity for former and current members to meet and reminisce about old times. Over 60 people turned up, the furthest from Holland, Southport, Falmouth and Suffolk. Tha afternoon started with tea and biscuits and plenty of chat. Several reasonably easy dances were walked through and then danced. Three couples from the present demonstration group then entertained with two spots from their current repertoire, which were well received.
The committee had arranged a splendid finger buffet which was much appreciated. Thanks were extended to all who had helped with the organisation, with a request for a further reunion in 2018.
70th Anniversary Tea 31 August 2019
Reading St Andrew’s SDS was formed in September 1949 and so we thought we should celebrate the club being 70 years old. As we had previously organised successful reunions of former members on 10 August 2013 and 10 June 2017, as a first event for our 70th year we planned another reunion on 31 August 2019.
Some 40 former and 20 current members attended, to be welcomed with a cup of tea and biscuits and a few words from the chairman, Gill Coulson. After much chatting and catching up there was some dancing for those willing and able. Duncan Barnet guided us through EH3 7AF, The Ladies of Dunse, Miss Gibson’s Strathspey, The Machine without Horses and Cramond Bridge.
Then it was time for a finger buffet – there was a wonderful spread with sandwiches and cakes provided by members of the committee, ably led and coordinated by Avril Bird. There was a “birthday” iced fruitcake, baked by Rita Cane, which was ceremonially cut by Mary Nance, the former member of longest standing.
Once all were replete it was time for goodbyes and to tidy up. It had been a good afternoon and the committee received a number of notes of thanks in the days following.
The Ball 1 February 2020
On Saturday 1 February 2020 we held our annual ball at the Abbey School in Reading, as part of our continuing 70th anniversary celebrations. Guests were welcomed with a glass of fizz to kick the evening off in style. Appropriately (but coincidentally!) 70 dancers enjoyed some fabulous music from the Craigellachie Band who were on top form. The programme had been specially put together for the occasion and drew upon dances done at previous balls which had been particular favourites of our members down the years. During the supper interval Gill Coulson, the current chair, and Peter Luke, one of our life members (who recalls both the 25th and 50th anniversaries!), cut a celebratory cake to mark this memorable year in the club’s long history.