What does Ceilidh mean? Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lee”) is the Gaelic word referring to a social event that involves music and dancing to traditional foilk music. In Wales it may be called a Twmpath. In England a Country Dance. In America a Hoe Down. It is often generically referred to as a Barn Dance (whether it takes place in a barn or not).
What is a Ceilidh? A Ceilidh is a great social event involving traditional music and dancing. It usually takes place in a village/town hall, a function room, a marquee, or any space with space for dancing. The numbers of dancers at a Ceilidh varies with every event and may range from a few dozen to many hundreds. A typical wedding or village hall Ceilidh would have 50-100 people. Like many social events involving music and dancing there is usually a bar serving soft and alcoholic drinks. Ceilidhs are a great opportunity for friends and families of all ages (and with no prior experience) to meet socially and mix and dance together in a friendly and informal atmosphere.
What happens at a Ceilidh? A Ceilidh will generally consist of say a dozen organised traditional dances which take place during a couple of hours of an evening. An experienced Ceilidh Band plays the music – typically celtic and western european folk-dance music – and an experienced folk-dance Caller directs the dancers. Before each dance begins, the Caller explains and walks the dancers through the forthcomiong dance steps. When the Caller is satisfied that the dancers have a good idea of what to expect and what to do once the dance starts, he tells the band to start playing and the dance begins. The Caller continues to conduct the dancers keeping them in time with the music throughout the dance until it finishes. Each dance lasts between 10 and 15 minutes and is generally followed by a short break for dancers to catch their breath, chat or get a drink, etc.
Do I need to know the dance steps beforehand? No prior experience is required. It’s the Caller’s job to teach everyone what to do in each dance, and in fact the Caller will not start the dance until he is satisfied that the majority of the dancers know what to do. It doesn’t particularly matter if one or two sets are not fully familiar with the dance steps when it begins as, by watching others, taking turns, and listening to the Band and Caller, they gradually learn the steps as the dance goes along. Much of the fun of a Ceilidh comes from everyone in a set either successfully completing a move or hilariously getting it wrong and frantically trying to organise themselves back into line and in time with the music.
How are the dances organised? Traditional dances were intended principally for ‘couples’, i.e. a man and a woman (although of course other combination pairs are permitted). In ancient times it was one of the only ways that couples could physically get close to each other without condemnation.Some dances start with individual couples standing together in a large circle around the room. In others the couples may join up with 2 or 3 other couples to form ‘sets’, i.e. combinations of 4 or 6 dancers arranged in a square or rectangle. In all cases, and from this starting point, the Caller will direct each couple in turn through a series of simple dance moves interacting with other members of their set. For example, joining hands in a line and circling around or between the other members of the set. Every dance is different, but none are complicated, and all are great fun.
What happens if I make mistakes? Everyone has a good laugh, the set reforms, and the dancing continues. The dancing is intended to be fun – it is not a display nor a competition – mistakes are commonplace and add to the general atmosphere of merriment.
Do I have to join in? No. You can simply chat with friends or family, or watch others having a go at the dance moves (and often messing up), or listen to the lovely music.