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You’ll hear Barn Dances described as Barn Dances, Ceilidhs, Ceilis, Hoedowns, Hops. You’ll see adverts in libraries for English Folk Dance clubs or groups, English Country Dance or ECD. You could run into a wilder side English Ceilidh; or dances full of people in kilts; or check shirts and cowboy hats. You might have been at a wedding, been dragged to a charity fundraiser, know the organiser in the PTA or local folk club. The Band might have been playing fiddles, guitars, squeezeboxes, saxophones or hurdygurdies and turning out Jigs and Reels, Country, Bluegrass, Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal.
It can be a mix… and it’s more than likely than not you’ll like some of these variations and not others but not to worry, the question is finding more of the style you do like.
- They are first and foremost social dances. It’s not just you and your partner, there’s a roomful of people you’ll be meeting during a dance.
- There’s often a fairly recognisable structure, people arrange themselves in squares, circles, lines, and a fairly regular pattern, one couple does something, the second does it, the third does it.
- The dances can be done without having to learn particular steps or without having to remember complex sequences of instructions. There is a large range of dances done but it is normal that instructions (or reminders) are called out as part of the dance.
These mean that ‘Barn Dances’ are good dances for people who don’t dance – if you ask “Is it difficult?“, the answer is generally no…
You’ll notice that the county list mentions ‘Barn Dance’ or ‘English Ceilidh’ or ‘Country Dance”. There are no end of different names used to try to capture the range of different styles.
If your first exposure was a Barn Dance at a wedding reception or Parent Teachers event, it’s worth realising the caller there has job akin to an animateur, it just isn’t going to work unless he or she gets people out onto the dance floor. The atmosphere will be different at a dance series or festival event.
The musicLive or Recorded?
If you go to more than the one event, probably the first thing you’d notice was that some have a live band, some on a musician or two and some rely on recorded music. All have a caller who announces and talks you through the dance.
You might find that Scottish Ceilidhs have an MC who just announces the common dances and lets you get on with it. People south of the border need more help 🙂All bands are going to describe themselves as lively and it is worth listening to a track or two from the band’s website to hear what they really sound like. Webfeet has an index of English Ceilidh bands, if you like a touch of jazz or rock, and a list of Folk Dance bands if you are looking for something more traditional
It’s quite common that the weekly folk dance clubs rely on recorded music (and these tend to be community affairs where there’s effort to keep the costs down) but they can also put on some ‘specials’ with a live band. You can also find charity events which have a caller and a collection of CD’s
The dancesSimple or Confusing?
You’ll also find that in some places that dances require some thought, there are simple, straightforward dances and there are complicated ones. The different groups and different callers can concentrate in the ‘simple’ (like for a PTA or a wedding) and some for the more involved dances (where people have been dancing for a while and know a lot of the tricks).
You are also likely to meet ‘Barn Dances’ that have adistinctly American touch, hoedowns with check shirts and loads of square dances.
Events described as ‘Barn Dances’ are going to be picking the straightforward dances, ones that can involve everybody. If you visit a Folk Dance or English Country Dance group you will find the dances are likely to be more complex (even though they are also nearly always explained beforehand).
Stately assemblies or undignified mellées?
Yes, indeed, or anything in between.
You will find high energy, hot, sweaty dances. These are often flagged with the English Ceilidh label south of the border but both English and Scottish Ceilidhs can look to an observer like those cartoon clouds of dust with random limbs sticking out. They can be robust, energetic, exhausting…
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find people dancing who would not look out of place in a Jane Austin scene, dancing with an emphasis on grace and stateliness. You’d meet some of this in ‘English County Dance’ events (look out for the description ‘Playford’), and reenactment societies.
It’s more than the music, there’s the person who is telling you what to do… It is he or she who decides on the dances of the evening, picking the way between dances which are too hard or too boring, making sure that the band has a good tune which fits the dance (or they know good dances to fit the band’s favourite tunes). The skills needed when calling dances at a PTA, charity event or a wedding are quite different from when calling to a group who have done it before and know what’s likely to come next…
A good Barn Dance caller has the ability to encourage reluctant dancers onto the floor, help them through the evening with matter-of-fact explanations and minimum of jargon. It’s his or her job to get everyone involved with the understanding that a good proportion of them might not know the dances or have a very vague recollection from years before.
A good English Country Dance, or social dance, caller knows a wide range of dances inside out and can choose ones to challenge even the most accomplished dancers. A good English Ceilidh caller can put together an evening of simple and high energy dances with good matching of tunes and dances.