03/01/2014 06:01 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Surviving a Ceilidh and Loving It


credit: scotsmusic

Step we gaily on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and row on row all for ....... It might not be Marie's Wedding but the spirit of the Ceilidh was strong this Hogmanay (or whatever you're calling the mad old fest of getting drunk as a monkey and largely forgetting any common sense whatsoever in abandoning the old year and ringing in the new).

A few months back, Edinburgh announced its December 31st' Keilidh (because Gaelic wasn't unpronounceable enough) as the 'Largest Outdoor Ceilidh in the UK'. And I thought, 'yeah, probably because it's the only Ceilidh in the UK'. How wrong could I be? There are Ceilidhs everywhere this year. So many, that it wouldn't be remiss of me to suggest that if you're in possession of knees, hips and feet, the chances of you finding yourself in the midst of a prancing, tartan throng now that 2013 has waned and well into 2014 are fairly high.

If you went to school in Scotland or you're a member of the Scottish Law Society, you need read no further. You'll already know the neat wee Polka steps that are key to a successful Dashing White Sargent, there won't be a Gay Gordon's pivot you can't execute and, please, just don't get you started on the 'not sweating like a whisky soused hog' technique intrinsic to 'Strip the Willow'.

But for the rest of us: facing a Ceilidh and feeling a bit lost? I am here with some handy pointers to a non-humiliating experience. I have intrepidly gone there before, been a newbie, not known my Campbell from my Caledonian, skirled when I should have birled and felt the cold contempt of a thousand seasoned Celts on my feeble South African merrymaking. This will not be your fate come Ceilidh time in 2014 if I have anything to do with it.

The Ceilidh comes down to 3 D's: Dress, Dance and Decorum.



If the Ceilidh you're heading to has the word 'outdoors' in its description, you might want to ponder a bit on what the eminently practical Scots really wear under their kilts. Traditionally a cross between a blanket and a skirt, the kilt was sanitised for Queen Victoria and has recovered little dignity since. If you feel you must wear one: steer clear of nasty buckles and flimsy belts and make sure your material has a bit of serious heft. Good legs are an advantage and don't ever be persuaded to wear a 'dress' shirt - unless you want to spend the wee hours crying in the toilets.

But there's a fine line between deciding not to go high-stepping Victorian and being mistaken for a travel rug. A little tradition is a good thing, too much 'I like to sleep rough in Glencoe in January' is quite another - heed me well.

Safest bet is to dress as you would if you were going to dance like a mad thing for hours and really break a sweat. A touch of tartan is a pleasant nod to tradition and there's even a plaid specifically for those whose Celtic roots aren't as strong as they might be, Caledonian Tartan. So you can put a bit of the checked stuff about your person without going full Las Vegas Heritage Bridegroom.

Shoes should be sensible and comfortable and anything goes with one exception: dance pumps. Just don't. Even small, cute pageboys at Home County Weddings look sinister in these. And presumably if you're out at a feverish hoopla of a Ceilidh - you're not a small, cute pageboy!



Like most traditional dancing, the lassies have the advantage at a Ceilidh: lads are meant to lead and know the steps. Fortunately, most of the dances seem to go on forever and freestyle inventiveness isn't in the repertoire. So plenty of opportunity to shuffle and hop without too much shame while you pick up the basics.

Then the trick is: unbridled enthusiasm. Just keep moving and whirling strangers and grinning like a maniac and you'll be fine.

Notable exceptions are the slightly more formal dances like the Gay Gordons. My advice here, stand back and clap for one set, then slowly integrate yourself. By now, the foolish and unwary will be plenty tangled up and you won't warrant a second glance.

Good news is, lots of Ceilidh Callers about now for back up.

Drink lots - but keep the 'Scottish Fighting Juice' (whisky) down to a minimum. Every dance you dance will seem as if it's going on for hours. There'll be whirling and slinging and jigging and reeling and then it'll all start over again. The dehydrated dancer is going to burn out at the first set.



credit: The Queen's Hall

I'm the first to admit that the idea of Ceilidh Decorum doesn't quite fit, but there are a few hints you might like to think about before you sling yourself into the fray.

Ceilidhs are about boisterous, wild dancing and hooting and clapping and jumping about - not an activity that goes well with an overload of whisky, beer and shots. There's nothing more humiliating than going green at the gills suddenly in the middle of your big reel moment, take it easy.

Be kind to your partners, it might look like a free for all, but you'll be dancing with a lot of strangers.

And finally and most important of all, join in. Clap, shout, hoot, dance and have a great old time and if you're outdoors, think thermals.

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