The call of the ceilidh
Ceilidhs seem to be finally making their mark on the city consciousness; Anna Docherty investigates what all the fuss is about
Ceilidhs are cool. There, I’ve said it; now it’s a fact. Seriously though, ceilidhs do seem to be slowly creeping into popular culture and are no longer regarded as something twee and refined to the Highlands and rickety old village halls, with triangle sandwiches and a raffle between dances.
The Ceilidh Culture arts festival, held in Edinburgh this spring, will see traditional dancing brought right slap-bang into the cool of the city. This will be the seventh year of the festival and each year the ceilidhs receive an even bigger reception from city dwellers and tourists alike. Steve Perry, one of the organisers, finds that; ‘more and more people seem to be drawn to this traditional Scottish excuse for a party’.
Where Scottish Country Dancing is something that you were made to learn at school (when you had to dance with the boy with sweaty hands), ceilidh dancing has definitely found a much more hip persona of late; ‘ceilidhs are definitely “in” just now and seem to have been adopted by a younger generation’ Perry says. And it seems he still hasn’t quite recovered from the excitement of last year; ‘the opening ‘Shindig’ was my best ceilidh ever; jigging to the band Ceilidh Minogue and taking advantage of the free whisky samples - it was great fun’. And such is this traditional form of dancing’s recent popularity that many Edinburgh club and pub venues are now organising their own regular ceilidh dancing nights.
Perhaps the popularity is due to do the fact that the word ‘ceilidh’ historically describes any form of mass social gathering and this is something that appeals to the Scottish persona. Perry explains; ‘the festival is derived from the original meaning for ‘ceilidh’, so it isn’t just about ceilidhs; we celebrate the wider meaning’. So, basically anything that a group of people can gather round and enjoy like one big, cosy family.
And so the festival also offers Scottish storytelling, live music, dance classes, group talks and modern art. This year it is running for a mammoth three weeks and has a schedule that makes you tired just looking at it. In total there are nearly twenty ceilidhs over the period and, although not the only focus, there is no doubt that they are a massive part of the festival’s popularity. Where else do you get to clasp hands with strangers, embrace them in your arms and then fling them around a room?
It seems the ceilidh has perhaps come to symbolise more than just a mass social gathering; it offers up a chance for a tactility that is often lost in fast-paced city life. Maybe this is why we have once again come to cherish them. And perhaps it is also why a tiny part of every Scottish person fears them as much as they love them. You want us to hold hands with a stranger? AND DANCE?
Ceilidh Culture takes place from 27 Mar–19 Apr. For more information phone 0131 228 1155 or visit www.ceilidhculture.co.uk
TOP 4 CEILIDH CULTURE PICKS
Canongate Cadjers Ceilidh Band
A traditional ceilidh band (by that read noisy, wild and full of Celtic energy) provide the back-drop for the opening weekend’s dancing shenanigans. Fri 27 Mar, 8pm, The Merlin Roundhouse, Edinburgh, £8 (£6).
A funky afternoon ceilidh with an off-beat set of tunes provided by the Cosmic Ceilidh Band. ‘Gandalf’ will be on hand to lead you through the dances. Sat 28 Mar, 2pm–5pm, Roxy Art House, The Ceilidh Hall, Edinburgh (F5), £7 (£4.50).
Carrie On Dancing and Wailing Miserere
Now this is what we’re talking about; three Edinburgh bands show you how to rock out in true ceilidh style, taking you right into the tiny hours of the night. Sat 4 Apr, 8pm–3am, Teviot House Undeground, Edinbugh (F5), £5 (£4).
Ceilidh Collective: Hud Yer Wheesht
Ceilidh Collective are an ethical group who raise money for charity whilst hosting bonkers ceilidh nights; this one includes off-the-wall improvised masquerades. Sat 18 Apr, 7pm, Roxy Art House, The Ceilidh Hall,Edinburgh (F5), £10 (£6).