Lessons learned from the chaos of the ceilidh

Some of you will know that it was my sister’s wedding celebration on Saturday night. Indeed, some of you were there! The celebration took place in the town where my parents live, in the beautiful Scottish Borders. But I would say only about 20% of the guests live in Scotland; the rest travelled – mostly from England, a couple from the Netherlands.

The party took the form of a ceilidh. For those of you not versed in this Scottish tradition, a modern ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lee”) is an evening of Scottish Country Dancing. All over Scotland, we learn these dances at school during P.E./ gym lessons. I hated being forced to hold hands with horrible boys, despite loving the dances and even attending the odd evening Scottish Country Dancing class with my mum. I don’t mind holding hands with boys now (well, maybe except for the horrible ones) and my love of the ceilidh has only deepened over the years.



On Saturday night, I enjoyed how well the format works for a wedding. What you really want at a wedding is to feel that everyone is bonded and united, that the people in the room are all in it together, not in little cliques or with anyone feeling left out. At a ceilidh, enthusiastic dancers (that would be me, as those who witnessed my whirling and whooping could attest), ceilidh-newbies, and spectators alike are united in the fun, hysteria, and oftentimes outright chaos.

We had a wonderful caller (who also happens to be a dear family friend) who explained the dances beautifully. However, when 80% if the room have never (or rarely) ceilidh danced before, there is inevitable confusion and messiness. But this is actually one of the very best things about it. The caller lets us know what to do and there will be a few in each set who understand or already know. They then need to guide the confused parties around the floor, indicating who they should be spinning around and in what direction.

I love the look on people’s faces during these scenes. Hardly able to hear one another over the music, one person in the middle caught up in the dancing but confused, looks helplessly from one “expert” to another, hoping for guidance. But they are not alarmed or embarrassed. They feel enjoyed and supported as hands reach in to guide them, or their waiting partner catches their arm and swings them around. The onlookers may well be in hysterical laughter, but there is no mocking, only a sense that “we are all in this together”; a team where mistakes made actually add to the fun.

Lovely chaos

Lovely chaos

I have ceilidh-danced with little children, with people who speak no English, with people in wheelchairs. It all works – it is somehow the most inclusive format I have seen. Of course, now I have reflected on it I am wondering how we could translate this to other aspects of our lives. Where chaos is welcome, structure is handy but not revered, and every dancer is enjoyed for whatever they bring. It seems to me there is a lot to be learned from the ceilidh.

(photo credits to Stella Birrell and James Ley!)



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4 responses to “Lessons learned from the chaos of the ceilidh

  1. I love this concept! I also love how you have tied it into a Universal practice.
    And this is coming from a wallflower đŸ˜‰

  2. Anna

    Lovely! A glimpse of an evening sorely missed. X

  3. You were much missed too, Copey C! X

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