Sunday, 9 October 2011


Dancing is good for the soul.  I have come to believe this to be true.  It's very difficult, in fact I think it's probably impossible, to dance and remain sad, or in a bad mood.  Try it sometime.  Put on your favourite music, loud, and practise your expert moves around the kitchen.  It's quite hard to stay really cross while dancing a jig or a samba, or even having a wee waltz.

What brought this to mind was the experience I had last night in a village hall deep in the depths of distant Aberdeenshire.  In fact, it was so deep into the depths, that I was probably in some other county altogether.  Not that counties exist any more, of course.  But I deviate.  It was a wedding ceilidh.  I was there to "call" the dances.  Contrary to popular/common belief, this does not just involve announcing what the next dance will be, i.e. "Please take your partners for a Strip the Willow" and then swanning around the skirts of the dance floor, or propping up the bar until the start of the next dance.  Oh no.  There's a lot more to it than that.  Especially when half the guests are not from "these pairts" as they say around here.  The bride was from across the pond, so naturally about half the guests had flown in from there as well.  Dance calling in this case involves arranging folk into the right "sets" i.e. lines facing each other, or circles of six folk, or couples facing the right way round the room.  This involves knowing which way is anti-clockwise on a dance floor, and hoping that at least half the dancers (or potential dancers, at this stage) can figure this out as well.  Then there are instructions like "set to your partner" and "turn your partner" and technical terms like "the ballroom hold".

That's just to start with.  It is then necessary to walk everyone through the dance, counting steps all the way, for example "Forward, two, three and turn; back two, three and stop" (guessed what the dance is yet?).  Ideally the caller should be demonstrating these moves at the same time, in the middle of the dance floor where everyone can see.  Even better, they should be doing the dance with a partner (most ceilidh dances do involve a partner), rather than with a microphone clutched in one hand.  But that is not always possible.  It seemed to work, as they all got the hang of most of the dances and by the time the Orcadian Strip the Willow came along at the end, there was no stopping them. 

PS The photo is of one of the wedding guests who was getting a bit fed up waiting for a drink at the bar... no, really, this tiger head was in a glass case in one corner of the stage.  Various other animal heads adorned the walls of the hall.  As one would expect in a village hall out in the sticks.