Stalking the Wild Ceili


I had heard the myth of the ceili dance for years. At the contra and barn dances I’d gone to, the ceili was spoken of in hushed tones. Held locally only once a year on St. Patrick’s Day, ceilis were said to be wild and more vigorous – full of revelry, sweat and shouts. Although intrigued and a bit daunted, the timing had never been right for me to join a ceili . . . until this St. Patrick’s Day.

That evening, more than fifty of us gathered in a large church basement on the hillside of the city. The event was a fundraiser for Loaves and Fishes, an organization that helps homeless people. I arrived early enough to hear instruction by the dance caller on the specialized (yet easy) dance steps, some of which are done in groups of sevens or threes. The first dance was a round dance (done in a large circle), the next was a long line dance.


This chap won my unofficial vote for best ceili clothing.

Then things started blurring together, but I recall one dance that involved couples dipping up and under each other in waves. Yes, the dances had faster steps and more vigorous movements than the other dances I’d been to, but any reasonably coordinated person could handle them – no need to fear!

I lasted about an hour-and-a-half until my little toes started to scream with blisters. I left before any shouting started, but I can attest that some clapping was involved.

If you ever go to a ceili, don’t dress too heavily, because you will sweat. For women, I recommend a skirt because they are easier to move in and cooler than jeans/pants. Bring a water bottle. Wear comfortable shoes. Most important, bring your smile. You will want it handy for frequent use. 🙂

At a big social dance like this, no partner is necessary. Either someone will invite you to dance or you’ll get a partner accidentally through the formations of the lines or circles. It’s also common for women to dance with women and men with men. No big gender deal. All you need to want to do is dance.

If you’ve never gone to one, I recommend stalking a wild ceili near you.

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