If you know me at all, you will know I’m somewhat partial to throwing the odd shape on the dancefloor. I can recall one such occasion on a mostly unoccupied dancefloor at a work bash in some random part of Scotland working a Beyonce routine like no man has ever done so before (the song about the ring); I recall unashamedly thrusting my arms in various directions into the sweaty air of a Sheffield nightclub finely balanced on a podium when I felt untouchable, shirt unbuttoned, in my student days.
Essentially I’ve generally no issues with making a fool out of myself for the sake of a bit of fun. I had however, until very recently, never been confronted with a ceilidh. Describing this form of dance in official, culturally respectful terms – doths cap to the Scots and Irish – it is a social event with Scottish or Irish folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling. The singing here was thankfully limited to the band and required no audience participation. Traditional dancing? Yes, there was plenty, although I would describe it as a high-tempo deviation of the hokie-cokie that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hobbiton dance scene. Storytelling? Perhaps, but it was lost on me.
It was a fine occasion. One of my besties’ wedding celebrations in a fine hotel in the centre of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and a fair proportion of the guests were getting in on the action – the bride and groom, their parents and family and friends across the age spectrum. There were plenty who took to it as naturals. There were others who did not. From where I was standing – nay, prancing – I was one of the latter.
Here’s what I didn’t look like:
Billed beforehand, I knew a ceilidh was on the cards, I just wasn’t entirely sure what one looked like. Bless the brave first couples who stepped up. It soon became clear, as the band instructed them through their paces, that there were stringent rules on the sequence of dance patterns – they have to be repeated a prescribed number of times and strung together in order… over and over and over. Now, I’m more of a freestyler, more at home letting the beats be absorbed by my tipsy brain and translated through my limbs as mock-serious moves. I’m a fan of ‘the compressed dancer’ for example; fists bobbing at chest height, shoulders hunched in – it’s a classic; compatible with a wide range of musical genres.
Ceilidh intimidated me. My memory is a tad shaky at the best of times so remembering the steps with a belly full of wine in front of a room of people was something of an ask. It was this, and maybe some apprehension after my last attempt at cultural performance in Ireland – when, making my gaelic football debut, I fell full-frontal onto the heel of a friend, landing on my rib cage (an affair which led to six weeks dosed up on codeine as muscle damage repaired itself) – that saw me issue pleas of denial when the mother of the bride wandered over to our table of school friends and demanded I accompany her on the dancefloor.
My resistance was expressed in frantic pointing, to volunteer a friend across the table, alas it was in vain. An awkward ten seconds passed and I suddenly felt guilty for leaving the mother of the bride hanging like this with so many watching eyes on our exchange. So I stepped up like a gent… and proceeded to dance like an under the influence version of the Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley.
Stumbling through the moves, learned as we went along, my dance partner put me to shame. Where she recalled when and in which direction to swing round holding hands, then to trot around and negotiate a couple forming a tunnel with their hands held aloft before sidestepping around in circles in a group, I was none the wiser. In fact I highly suspect I’ve recalled the order incorrectly here. We repeated the maneuvers maybe seven or eight times and I was utterly shattered by the end of it. My performance had been ridiculous and I felt worthy of indulging in a cigar outside to regain my composure at the end of the night.
Ceilidh: approach with caution.