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:
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.
Cèilidhs facilitated courting and prospects of marriage for young people and, although discos and nightclubs have displaced Cèilidhs to a considerable extent, they are still an important and popular social outlet in rural parts of Ireland and Scotland, especially in the Gaelic-speaking regions.
In Scotland privately organised cèilidhs are now extremely common in both rural and urban Scotland, where bands are hired, usually for evening entertainment for a wedding, birthday party, celebratory or fundraising event. These may be more or less formal, and very often omit all other traditional Gaelic activity beyond the actual music and dancing. Novices are usually among the participants, so a "dance caller" may teach the steps before music begins for each dance. The more versatile bands will demonstrate the dances too.