22 Nov 2019 Admin

Ultimate Wedding Ceilidh Guide

So you’re getting married and are considering a ceilidh and covers band to liven up the crowd and get some energy on that dance floor.  But if you have never actually been to one, you may have some burning questions; what actually is a ceilidh, what do you do at a ceilidh and – quite a common one – how do I dance a ceilidh?

Never fear. We have your definitive Ceilidh guide right here.

First things first…

What is a Ceilidh?


Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee in case you were wondering) comes from the Gaelic word meaning a party, gathering or social visit.  Initially, dancing was not necessarily a requirement for a ceilidh and people would gather in their homes or pubs, sometimes bringing their musical instruments, to play folk songs, tell stories, recite poems or sing.  Now the ceilidh is mostly focused on the music and the dancing, although in some parts of Scotland, people still tell stories and read poetry, keeping that side of the tradition alive.  Ceilidh dancing (or Scottish Country Dancing) is a huge part of the social culture in Scotland to the extent that it’s even taught at some schools as part of their physical education curriculum.  It’s an extremely popular part of a Scottish wedding as well as big celebrations like Hogmanay, Burn’s Night and so on.

Why have a ceilidh?


Firstly, it's great fun; you can’t fail to have a laugh when you’re spinning, jumping and waltzing around the room in a fairly free format way.  Sure, there are defined dance moves but really you can just let the rhythm take control – Gloria Estafan style - and do what you fancy.  Secondly it’s a brilliant icebreaker as ceilidh dancing is very much a team effort, otherwise the dance won’t work quite as well as it should.  A number of the most popular dances involve switching partners several times during the course of the music so your guests will get to know one another.  And, with the ice broken, it will encourage your guests to mingle and get to know everyone a bit better.  Ceilidhs are also a great way to get reluctant dancers onto that dance floor – with a bit of guidance from the ceilidh caller, even the shyest of guests will be doing the Highland Fling with great enthusiasm.

So how do you dance a ceilidh:


Three of the most famous ceilidh dances are The Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sargent and Strip The Willow. So if you want to know how to do Scottish Country Dancing read on.

The Gay Gordons:


The Gay Gordons is one of the simplest dances and is carried out in couples. Participating couples form a circle, holding hands over one another’s shoulders – as per the image.

Beats 1-4: Walk forwards for 3 steps then turn to walk in the other direction. Walk backwards for 4 steps
Beats 5-8: Walk forward for three steps, turn, walk back four steps
Beats 9-12: The partner on the right turns under the other partner’s arm.
Beats 13-16: Take both of your partner’s hands and walk / skip round.

That's it! Easy peasy.

Watch it in action here (credit Gay Gordons Scottish Country Dance Perth Perthshire Scotland)

Dashing White Sargent:


The Dashing White Sargent is one of the most fun and sociable dances where people will get to dance with most of the room! This dance is perfect to break the ice at weddings. You’ll need to get into a group of 6 people, formed of 2 sets of 3. Once you’ve formed a circle, the dance can begin.

Beats 1 – 8: In a circle walk anti-clockwise for 8 counts then clockwise for 8, holding hands.

Beats 9 – 16: The circle then splits into two groups of three and the dancer in the middle of the two sets, dances by themselves for 4 counts and then spins each of the other people in the group for another 4 counts.

Beats 17 – 24: Gripping the partner’s elbow, the person in the middle of the 3 then spins each person twice, alternating between the two.

Beats 25 – 28: The two groups of three hold hands again, and face each other. They then walk towards one another, stamp their feet, walk backwards and clap their hands.

Beats 29 – 32: Still holding hands, the two groups walk towards each other again, with one group of 3 holding their arms high to allow the other group to pass underneath and join another group of 3, thereby switching groups.


Watch it in action here (credit BBC Scotland - Comedy)

Strip the Willow:


A personal favourite, Strip The Willow will inject the energy back into a room in 3 minutes flat. It’s a very easy dance but does require a lot of jumping and spinning so you’ll want to leave those high heels off! You’ll need to form a set of 4 pairs and stand facing each other - men on one side, women on the other.

Beats 1-8: The top couple join hands and swing around for 8 counts
Beats 9-20: The couple then proceeds to link arms with each of the people on the opposite side and make their way down the row, doing a spin in the middle with each other after each person in the row
Beast 20-28: …Before spinning round for 8 at the bottom of the set
Beats 29-40: The actions are then reversed with the couple going back up the row of people, swinging them around
Beats 41-48: Once the couple reach the top of the set, they swing around again
Beats 49-60: The couple then go back down the two rows again, with a slight variation in that they swing one another in the middle after each man / woman in the line.
Bars 61-68: The couple swings round at the bottom of the set for a final time
The whole dance starts again at the top of the set with the next couple.

Phew! You’ll definitely deserve a piece of cake after this one!

Watch it in action here (credit BBC Scotland - Comedy)

And that, in a nutshell, is how ceilidh dancing is done! Nothing brings the atmosphere and the energy to a wedding quite like a bit of Scottish country dancing.  When choosing a live wedding band, make sure you select one with a professional Ceilidh caller, who will guide you through each dance, make sure everyone's reeling in the right direction and thereby preventing a multiple pile up.

Convinced?  Have a look at two of our phenomenally popular ceilidh bands - CeilidhDonia and Sleekit Beasties - and give us a shout if you have any questions.

Happy jigging!