The Sailor's Knot

- a sailors' dance from the South Island

This dance was apparantly presented to collector and choreographer the late Mrs. Mary Isdale MacNab in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was given to her by a Scottish engineer on a boat from Dunedin in New Zealand, which came into the harbour of Vancouver in about the 1950's.

He reportedly told the story that the River Clutha, the longest river in New Zealand, rises in Lake Wanaka right in the middle of the South Island and flows out east into the Pacific Ocean near Kaitangata, just about half way between Dunedin and the southern tip of the Island. Indeed the river flows through Clutha County past the townships of Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra and Balclutha, all of which have an old Scottish heritage.

His boat, apparently manned by a crew mainly from Glasgow - hence the possible connection with the Clutha - plied up and down that great river.

He stated that this dance was performed by the male sailors on board. However the dance can be done by 6 men, or 3 men and 3 women.

Note that with all due respect to Mrs. MacNab she was reportedly not the most accurate of notators of dances when collecting from those she met. And she was also an accomplished choreographer. Therefore the notation offered below, as transcribed and interpreted from her original notes, is not necessarily the exact version as danced as by the Scottish crew.

In the 1980s during a special visit to one Mrs. Suturius - her niece in the US - kindly allowed me to photocopy all of Mrs. MacNab's field notes and bring them back to the UK. I had the impression that whilst extensive (in a number of suitcases in the attic!) there were a lot that were likely thrown out during her lifetime.

Unfortunately subsequent work to interpret and publish Mrs. MacNab's notes did not eventuate, and many of the dances collected and choreographed by her still remain unknown. This was in a time before the advent of the Internet. Her field notes and transcriptions may, in course of time, be scanned and uploaded to the web.

There is a useful thread on the Strathspey Server describing how Mrs. MacNab used traditional dances or snippets therefrom to devise and choreography her own dances, and the thread also discusses the authenticity of her dances.

Many of Mrs. MacNab's dances have been published by the RSCDS - after some modification and suspected stylisation - in MacNab Dances - Combined Vols 1 & 2. There is a further list of most of the MacNab dances at Colin Robertson's excellent site.

It is interesting to note that only a few other 'traditional' European social 'folk' dances have been collected in New Zealand.

One is the rather more complex 'Derry Down Derry' collected by one Mr. Mumford of Timaru from a Mr. Ryan a Cumberland man who emigrated to the South Island in the early 1900s. It was published in the EFDSS "Community Dance Manual 7."

The other is a traditional buck 'Highland Reel' (a true reel) from the late 1800s of a wool shed dance in the South Island as illustrated in Charlie Hammond's Sketch Book.

London 2014.

The Sailors' Knot

Note: The handwriting below is likely to be Mrs. MacNab's original notes
The typed transcript with bar counts is likely to be from Professor Tom Flett

Dance: A dance for three couples. Should all be men, but can be danced by mixed couples as described below.

Music: The hornpipe from Ruddigore or Jessie's Hornpipe, etc.

Formation: Three 'couple' set - that is three men on one side and three 'women' on the other side facing them.

Order of couples is: 1 - 2 - 3

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