The New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing

Conference Report 2023

NZAHND Conference 2023 – Palmerston North
Welcome to the Mighty Manawatu!! This year dancers, teachers and judges all convened in the heart of New Zealand, Palmerston North, for the 72nd NZAHND Annual General Meeting, Conference and Dance Development Course, over the weekend of 22-24 September 2023. Conference weekend was hosted by the Manawatu Techers and Judges Association.
Friday evening kicked off with the Solo Seal examination, held at the Spiers Centre at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, which proved to be a superb venue for the candidates, examiners and audience. Linda Gray eloquently compered the evening. The two candidates – Annabel Watts and Neryda Duncan – both presented themselves with dignity and class throughout the night, and should be proud of the polished performances they gave. Official Piper Neil Baxter once again provided his professional accompaniment, which helped to enhance the candidates’ performances.
The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand also provided interim entertainment at Solo Seal. For many dancers this was their first outing with the Company, and the audience enjoyed a showcase of some newly choreographed numbers from our acclaimed Company.
The remainder of the Conference was held at the Palmerston North Conference and Function Centre, which proved to be a perfect venue for the weekend of meetings and festivities. Bright and early on Saturday morning, some members had an early start for the Youth Forum and Examination Organisers’ meeting. Youth Representative Imogen Grayson led a collective discussion on reducing steps in senior dances, retaining dancers and involvement in the Academy, and improving confidence in judging. The youth were lucky to be joined by the Academy President and P&D Liaison Officers during the latter part of the meeting, where members felt free to ask questions. At the same time, the examination organisers held a robust and collaborative discussion to share ideas.
The Annual General Meeting on Saturday morning was officially opened by Linda Stewart, Director Regional Relationships at Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency. Ms Stewart was extremely passionate about all that the Manawatu has to offer, so it was fitting for her to see first-hand the regions of New Zealand that were represented at the AGM. Life Members present, Mrs Beckie Rout and Mrs Sherilyn Hall, were acknowledged, and piper Neil Baxter played a lament in recognition of the passing of Academy Member  Mary Pat Hoare.
A number of Constitutional Remits were proposed and passed, in order for the Academy’s Constitution to meet the new requirements of the Incorporated Societies Act 2022. Imogen Grayson also presented a summary of the topics discussed at the Youth Forum that morning. Lewis Gibson and June Wright were re-elected unopposed as South and North Island Representatives to Executive Council.
Following the official business of the AGM, the retirement of Mrs Sherilyn Hall as Technical Director was acknowledged, and heartfelt comments were made by several Academy members who had a close association with Mrs Hall over the years. The Academy then presented Service Bar presentations to Anne-Lise Coll (20 years), Kylie Allison-Miller (30 years), Jacqueline Jones, Jacqueline Seque and Raewyn Weggery (40 years), and Adrienne Hill and Adele Swanson (50 years). All bar recipients received warm recognition of their many years of respective service given to the Academy. Guest Speaker, Associate Professor Kirsty Ross from Massey University, then gave an enlightening presentation on resilience and the importance of fostering a ‘growth mindset’ in our young dancers.
Saturday afternoon saw everyone break up into groups for forum discussions, where topics from the Queenstown 2022 Conference were revisited briefly. The topics for this year’s forum included the retention and attraction of pupils and competitors, especially in some North Island centres. Also, the financial sustainability of the Academy was keenly discussed, and groups shared ideas on how Conference should be funded, whether our Teacher Scholarship was delivering value for money, and the Academy’s overall spending priorities. Avalon Moffatt and June Wright as Liaison Officers then presented a report from the Piping and Dancing Association.
The final meetings of Saturday afternoon commenced the 2023 Dance Development Course, presented by the Technical Committee. The Academy Technical Training Course began (a first for Conference), while the remaining members attended a judges’ upskilling course focused on report writing. The workshop particularly yielded healthy discussions amongst older and younger judges, and it must be mentioned how appreciative attendees were of the demonstrators in both classes.
The Saturday evening function was held in the main hall of the Conference and Function Centre, which was a fantastic venue with plenty of room for dancing. Diploma recipients received a warm reception from all attendees, reflecting their years of work to attain their diploma. What a pleasure it was for family and friends to join in the evening’s festivities, and it was heartening for everyone to hear of these Diploma recipients’ love for highland dancing. A very special presentation was given to Mrs Diane Dellow in recognition of her 60 years of service to the Academy, which included mention of her 47 years as pianist for the Academy examinations in Manawatu.
The formalities concluded after Mrs Hall was presented with a memorable and cherished tribute from the Technical Committee – a specially commissioned hornpipe by accomplished piper Willie Rowe. Willie was on hand to play the tune live for the first time, a moment that will be remembered fondly by all present. Mrs Hall was also given the honour of cutting the Academy cake. Following this, two-piece band Amy and Dave then kicked off and everyone let loose, keeping the dance floor packed into the late evening. There was even a group line dance to Cotton Eye Joe!
The Dance Development Course continued on Sunday morning, beginning with a breakfast session with acclaimed former rugby player and academic, Dame Farah Palmer. Dame Farah spoke candidly about her love of rugby and the personal challenges she has faced in her sporting career, and it was stirring to make the connection that Dame Farah had briefly learnt highland dancing in Piopio as a little girl!
Members then attended a high performance dancers session, which focused on the Irish Hornpipe and Reel O’Tulloch. Following morning tea, attendees were treated to a session with Laura Donlan from Highland Wellness and Strength, beaming into Conference via Zoom from the United States. Laura presented some excellent strengthening and stretching exercises focused on highland dancers. After this, the ATTC continued for those members undertaking this course over the weekend, while the Technical Committee also presented “Rhythmic Reviews” – highlighting intermediate and senior step dance movements from past conferences plus a number of Irish Hornpipe steps curated by Mrs Sherilyn Hall, and “Keep Calm and Take Control” – a workshop aimed at developing techer skills for small and large dance classes.
All members came together on Sunday afternoon for the Addendum announcements, preceding the formal closing of Conference for 2023, but not before a final special presentation and slideshow for Mrs Sherilyn Hall, now departing her role as Technical Director. The weekend will have been especially memorable for Mrs Hall as several presentations were made to her over the course of the weekend, reflecting her many years of service given to the Academy as Technical Director. We are confident Sherilyn will enjoy her well deserved retirement.
Hosting an Academy Conference is a significant undertaking, so our biggest thanks go to the Manawatu Teachers and Judges Association for their warm hospitality and impeccable organisation across the many events of the weekend. Everyone is now looking forward to the next Academy Conference, to be hosted by the Nelson Teachers and Judges Club in September 2024.
The New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing Inc., PO Box 5470, Palmerston North
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