Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Ceilidh Dances

In the Celtic communities, what we now often call Ceilidh dances were originally simply local gatherings which developed into a form of literary entertainment with story telling, recitations and songs; instrumental music and dancing were added later. In those days before radio and television, the performers would almost all be talented locals; any reluctance on their part would be mitigated by appropriate refreshment and the party atmosphere.

Events like these can still be found, notably in the more isolated Scottish communities, but dancing to a live band usually predominates. As a visiting participant, it is important to remember that there are many local variants of what we may think of as familiar dances and so it is wise to be a little circumspect. Do not rely on the Dance instructions listed below to be applicable everywhere. "When in Rome . . . ".

Nowadays, one is most likely to encounter a Ceilidh as part of the reception at a Scottish or, more commonly, an ex-patriate Scottish wedding. Even though there will usually be a caller, it is sensible for the organizer to choose those Ceilidh dances which are sufficiently traditional that the names, at least, will be familiar to those expected to participate.

Albeit inevitably subjective and extended to include a few modern Ceilidh dances which have become popular, most of the following dances would be recognized by those who have attended a few Ceilidhs. The first list covers those popular Ceilidh dances for which a MiniCrib or MaxiCrib exists:
Borrowdale Exchange
Britannia Two-step
Canadian Barn Dance
Circassian Big Circle
Circassian Circle
Cumberland Jig
Cumberland Square
Dashing White Sergeant
Domino Five
Duke Of Perth
Eightsome Reel
Fairy Ring
Flying Scotsman (4-couple or 3-couple version, only)
Galloping Carousel
Gay Gordons
Gypsy Girl's Headscarf
Gypsy Shawl
Hebridean Weaving Lilt
Highland Welcome (Forbes)
Jamie's Jig (St Amand) (the simpler version)
Kelly's Kaper
Knot On A Ferry
Lomond Waltz
London Celebration
Melbourne Cup
Nice To See You
Postie's Jig
Sausage Machine
St Bernard's Waltz
Strip The Willow
T. A. G.
Terrace Loggers' Jig
Virginia Reel
Waltz Country Dance

Neither MiniCrib nor MaxiCrib instructions are available for:
The Boston Two-Step
The Eva Three-Step or
The Pride Of Erin Waltz
all of which often appear on Ceilidh dance programmes. Instructions for these three and for some others which are more obviously part of the Old Tyme and Sequence Dancing répertoire may be found in Let's have a Ceilidh by Jim Johnstone and Robbie Shepherd; this pocket-sized guide provides instructions for 20 popular dances from the Scottish Country Dancing and the Old Tyme and Sequence Dancing répertoires which are often encountered at a ceilidh. It includes a good, basic introduction to Scottish Ceilidh dancing and the music for each dance, specially chosen by Jim Johnstone to highlight the steps, is ideal for musicians learning to play for these events.

Dance Information

Learn more about the etymology and history of the modern Scottish and English Ceilidh Dance here.

Additional search terms: cèilidh, céilí, cayli, ceili dance.

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