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Ceilidh, Ceili or Barndance – what’s the difference?
You want everyone to get thoroughly involved and have lots of fun at your wedding reception party, so you’ve thought a session or two of good old-fashioned country dancing would be a great ice-breaker and would appeal across a wide age-range. So far, so good – but what exactly are you looking for? Is it called a ceilidh, a ceili, a barndance or a hoedown? Are they all different, and if so, which is which?
Don’t worry unduly, because apart from national characteristics and repertoire, the different terms are describing essentially the same basic type of entertainment – organised traditional dancing in pairs, groups and formations or ‘sets’.
Perfect entertainment for an English country wedding – a traditional barndance
Find out more about booking a live barn dance or ceilidh band for your wedding reception.
It basically does what it says on the tin, but a typically English barndance generally borrows much of its repertoire of traditional dances and tunes from its immediate British/Celtic neighbours, although it is possible to restrict at least the music to purely English sources.
You don’t actually have to stage the event in a barn either, although obviously that would seem to be the ideal location for a barndance!
Is it a ceilidh or a ceili? – confusing, isn’t it!
Once again, the distinction is one of nationality; ceili is Irish and ceilidh is its Scottish counterpart, both deriving from the Gaelic word which translates approximately to ‘a visit’ or ‘a gathering’. At an Irish-style ceili, the dancing is often interspersed with songs, poetry and storytelling, whereas at a Scottish ceilidh the emphasis is more strongly on the traditional dances. Either way, there is invariably a considerable provision of refreshment to fuel the general merriment, so a good time is pretty much guaranteed for all.
In terms of other national characteristics, the respective repertoires of Scottish and Irish tunes and dances is quite distinct, although there is considerable overlap and much is shared between the two cultures. The instrumentation of a typical Irish ceili band often includes bodhran and flute or tin-whistle, and may additionally feature small bagpipes or banjo alongside the fiddles and guitars also commonly found in Scottish ceilidh bands, which otherwise tend to favour piano or accordion as main instruments, with drumkit underpinning the rhythm.
Across the pond – hoedown and squaredance
In the USA and Canada, traditional British/Celtic folk music and dance gradually merged with co-migrant French, German, Dutch and Scandinavian cultures to produce some interesting hybrids, from the zydeco tradition in Louisiana through to modern bluegrass and country music.
The basic outline of a hoedown or squaredance, however, conforms fundamentally to the same model as ceilidh, ceili or barndance – an organised social event featuring partner or group dancing to the accompaniment of traditional folktunes, most often played on fiddles, guitars, double-bass, mandolin and banjo.
For an amusing taste of the Wild West, a session of formation line-dancing can be included to good effect as part of a hoedown event, providing a contrasting break from the more traditional partner or group dances.
So there we are – ceili, ceilidh, barndance and hoedown are essentially all regional variations on a long-standing Celtic/British social tradition of music-making and dancing. The original concept of ‘a gathering’ is an absolutely ideal theme for wedding parties and other family celebrations, and the inclusive and interactive nature of the organised social dancing will ensure an evening of fantastic entertainment for young and old alike.