Last night, I attended the Scottish version of a group workout session – in other words, a ceilidh! It wasn’t a ‘real’ ceilidh, in that it had a live band and there were potentially hundreds of people gathered in a small hall doing series of songs and dances like the Britannia Twostep or the Canadian Barn Dance. Instead, there were forty to fifty of us in a small upstairs room at Carrubbers Church, dancing to a soundtrack specially prepared to help us international students learn how to properly Strip the Willow (a quintessential ceilidh group/partner dance), in preparation for the Christian Union’s Easter Ceilidh next Friday.
The atmosphere at our tiny ceilidh was great (I can only imagine how a full ceilidh is!). The Gaelic word ‘cèilidh’ means ‘visit,’ in my opinion a great way to describe the atmosphere of a ceilidh, which usually involves a wonderful mix of strangers, acquaintances, and close friends. The dances vary from partner dances where you and your partner are dancing exclusively with each other to large dances that involve the entire group and in which you start with a partner or small group but end up switching people throughout the entirety of the song. Suffice it to say it is a lot of fun and an efficient way to work up a sweat!
I have been to many dances in the States, and even did ballet for three years when I was younger, but there was something singular about ceilidh-ing (the word one of our leaders last night used to describe what we were doing). It’s quite democratic and inclusive, insofar as everyone who wants to be involved truly can, whether you know the dance or not. It was very helpful to have demonstrations before we did each dance, but even then, there were still plenty of us tripping over ourselves and others, clueless as to which direction to turn. The first dance we did, the name of which I unfortunately forget, was a partner dance of I simply could not get a hold. It is comforting to know that you’re not the only one struggling at a ceilidh and also that it is absolutely acceptable to be struggling – the only thing you have to do is try. It’s also nice to have various dance types, some of which are partner dances and others that involve everyone in the group. Having been at many dances where everyone’s standing awkwardly separated or only a few people are dancing, it was refreshing to be in a hall where everyone feels a little ridiculous, quite excited, a bit confused, and open to dancing with everyone.
When you ceilidh, time really does disappear – before we knew it, about two and a half hours had passed. We were all exhausted, windows flung open to let in the 30-degree (Fahrenheit) air from outside, but invigorated. If this was only a practice session, I can imagine how tired and pumped we’ll be at the ceilidh next week!