What is a ceilidh?

The word ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) comes from a Gaelic word for “companion”. In some countries, a ceilidh will be an evening of mixed entertainment – tunes, dances and readings – but in England it’s usually an evening of lively, fun social dancing and is also known as a Barn Dance.

Can anyone do this?

People of all ages join in at ceilidhs and, although being steady on your feet is a distinct advantage, it is possible to do some of the dances if you’re in a wheelchair – just look on YouTube. A few dances are strictly for couples but most dances are for groups of people, called sets. You don’t need to know how to dance when you come to a ceilidh as there’s always someone called the caller to teach you the dances (that’s the person doing all the shouting). Ceilidhs are friendly occasions and you will find the people around you will also help you, if you get lost.

Do I have to have a partner?

Not at all. Unlike at other dances, plenty of people come to ceilidhs by themselves, knowing that they’ll still be able to dance. In some dances, you start with the person that you’re next to and stay with them all the way through. In others, you don’t see them again until the end of the dance and never get to find out their name. This is normal. When the caller is organising a dance, it will be obvious when new dancers are needed. You don’t have to find a partner before you get up to join in. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself dancing with a man, sometimes with a woman. It usually helps to know which of you is going to be the man/woman for a particular dance and can get confusing if you forget. Don’t worry about it!

What’s this thing called Strip the Willow?

This is a type of dance or a move in a dance that is straightforward when you know the rules and all the men really are men and all the women really are women. When men are being women and women are being men, it can be quite difficult to work out where to go next, until you get the hang of it. You should expect to laugh a lot.

Where do your dances come from?

Most of our dances originate in the British Isles, particularly from England and Scotland. A few are modern inventions.

What are the tunes you play?

Again, most of the tunes we use are traditional tunes from the British Isles, although there are a few modern tunes slipped in from time to time and the odd tune from Europe or America. You will hear jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes and slip-jigs.

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