Ceilidhs have always been popular for charity events, social events, Christmas parties, corporate team-building and so on… as well as weddings, birthdays and more.
It can sometimes feel like a big deal to organise your own Ceilidh, however, so here’s some tips that may help…
Firstly: What is a Ceilidh?
It’s an evening of active fun and socialising with (usually) English, Scottish, Irish, North American and European country-dances. There is someone – a ‘Caller’ – who walks you through every dance before you dance it. You don’t need any particular dancing skills – even two left feet will do.
There will commonly be two easy dances and then a quick sit down for a rest, then two more and so on in different formations – circle, squares, etc. Most dances are done with partners (of your choice, of course), with the odd dance being a ‘mixer’; where you get to dance with several people in turn.
What to call it?
To get the idea over to those who are going to come, call it what you think will work. The word used most frequently by those who go regularly to these things is Ceilidh, pinched from the Gaelic, and pronounced “kay-lee” or “kay-lay”. If you call it a Barn Dance, Folk Dance or English Country Dance people should still know what you mean. “Country Dance” may get confused with American country and western.
The best way to plan a Ceilidh is to go to a couple first and decide which bits you like the the best. Besides having a good evening out and maybe picking up some good ideas (you’ll probably have to sell the idea to others anyway), you’ll have an easier organising job if you know what to expect.
You may have a committee who you’ll need to help with jobs or just people to sell tickets to. Even if you’re running a “compulsory attendance” ceilidh at a wedding reception or birthday, you’ll need to give everyone the idea that it’s fun by joining in and dancing rather than just watching.
Where do I hold it?
Anywhere that’s big enough. When you’re looking in to venues, they usually tell you how many can fit (it’s an insurance thing) – take at least 20% off the number and that’s how much space you can have. Check out the costs and times available and don’t forget to formally book the venue – verbal agreements often go awry.
The room will need enough space for dancing, a space for the band and a space for sitting. Wooden floors are the best and the more space there is, the better. Hopefully, there’ll be space for all of those attending to dance at once, and a seat for everyone to sit down at once to get their breath back. Seats around the sides of the dance floor are best as it makes for a warmer atmosphere. The caller will find it easier to ‘recruit’ dancers too. If the dancers are in another room or space, the caller may have problems getting enough people up for each dance.
You don’t need a stage for the musicians, but if you have one, it doesn’t hurt, remember to leave plenty of room for them. The band should provide amplification and let you use the microphone for announcements, raffle prizes etc. They’ll need at least one plug in easy reach, but best to check this with the band. The band must be under cover whether your dance is inside or out – a small drizzle could kill their equipment (or them).
Social dancing can be done almost anywhere. Make sure that the floor is level, particularly if you are in a marquee. Any obstructions or loose carpets need sticking down. Dusty barns need sweeping out at least twice to save bronchial attacks.
If you’re thinking of holding the dance outside, or in a marquee or a barn of any sort, then you’ve got special problems to consider, starting with temperature. Even in a hot British summer, it frequently gets too cold to be outside much after 9.30pm, particularly for those sitting a dance out. So, start earlier, so that outside dancing can finish by then or sooner.
Booking A Band
To locate a band, you could ask around amongst friends for bands they’ve seen, or have a look at their facebook page to read reviews.
Band prices vary (we have a different set fee for charities for example). Some events have the budget for a big band like us, whereas for others cost is more of an issue and they prefer the smallest number of musicians to do the job. Don’t be put off contacting us – we have lots of contacts with other bands – we should be able to arrange or recommend something to suit – we’d rather the work we can’t do goes to our friends. Make sure that you book your band early enough – many of us get booked up over a year ahead!
The evening will need a “Caller” to act as MC and to teach the dances. Like most bands, Price of My Pig have their own caller – Ben Farmer, although we have links with most other callers in the North West too. You pay just one fee to include both. Many wedding couples will arrange a DJ to follow the ceilidh, allowing them to ‘cater for everyone’, although it is mostly unnecessary as ceilidhs appeal to just about everyone once they’ve given it a go. Price of my Pig offer a DJ service, using the same PA system and lighting, for a fast, smooth transition.
What about speakers and all that?
Most working bands have access to their own PA system and should have an idea of how large a system to supply for your event. Be aware that many venues require any electrical equipment to have been PAT tested (Portable Appliance Tested) and need paperwork to verify this for the venue’s insurance and peace of mind. Price of My Pig always carry a detailed and up to date list of PAT tested equipment for events and bring their own lighting and sound equipment, including a wireless mic. for speeches etc. Most bands will also be happy to allow their equipment to be used for the organisers to play background music when the band aren’t playing or for the first dance. Price of My Pig are no exception – simply bring your music along on a phone, usb drive or similar (anything with a headphone socket) and we’ll do the rest.
How much should you charge for tickets? That depends on the cost of the hall, food, bar (if applicable), ticket printing and advertising like posters; and if you’re aiming for a profit, or just to have a social evening. See what other ceilidhs in your area charge and what you get for the money.
In the event of some unforeseen accident during the evening, you might be glad to hear that Price of My Pig carries adequate Public Liability Insurance (£10M). (Although this is unlikely to cover 8” high heels – please try to wear appropriate footwear!)
We love playing for weddings – everyone arrives expecting a good time from the start. A ceilidh with everyone joining in can be the nicest end to a lovely day, with everyone involved, no matter what side of the family and what age. (It wouldn’t be a ceilidh if everyone could do it perfectly – it’s getting it ‘wrong’ collectively that helps make the night fun and break down the barriers).
Here’s a tip: Everyone will take their cue from the bride and groom, so unless they and their friends and relatives are looking forward to doing at least the first couple of dances, maybe a ceilidh is not the right choice for your event.