Part of the band (Anna and Martin) – should we say, 0.33 of Point Five? – recently traveled to El Portal, California, just outside Yosemite National Park, to go to a family wedding. As is becoming something of a custom, we were asked if we might play a few tunes for dancing – and teach a couple of Scottish social dances for a North American audience. After some quick thinking by the bride and scrambling by one of the guests, we ended up with a lovely borrowed fiddle, guitar, and sound system to plug right into the DJ’s setup.
And then we bit our nails for a while! Our usual caller Annie was left behind in Scotland, and she normally does a fabulous job teaching dances and leading bemused but laughing guests round the dance floor. What if no one knew how to dance, and we couldn’t teach them? What if if we ended up with one big mosh pit with people feeling awkward? What if no one wanted to dance at all and they just stood there looking accusing? What if everyone hated Scottish music?!
As luck would have it, the groom’s family included a number of professional salsa dancers who were eager to swap styles. Before the wedding, at a family barbecue, Anna traded a lesson in the Gay Gordons, Canadian Barn Dance, Cumberland Square Eights, and birling for a lesson on a salsa back flip, ensuring that there were at least ten ringers in the audience who could help support any dancers who needed a confident partner. The bride’s mother learned to call a few key dances as well, to step in for Annie’s usual required hollering. Then at the wedding, as we went to set up our sound check, there was the groom’s older brother teaching a salsa dance lesson to a few dozen people, all of whom looked delighted to be learning some moves. The nerves remained… but perhaps this wouldn’t be a disaster.
The wedding reception was a beautiful swirl of party and Latin ballroom dancing, with plenty of opportunity for folk to get their groove on. Before ceilidh time, the bride and groom rocked out with an amazing and stylish salsa performance of their own. Then, we got up to play a Canadian Barn Dance, an easy couples dance, for the bride and her father to do together as nod to her family’s heritage and to open the floor. They took three turns round the dance floor before Jean called for other guests to join them – which they did, no calling necessary. Annie calls this stage of a ceilidh “counting your guns,” where you gauge people’s capabilities so you can gauge what dances they’ll most enjoy. Our gun count showed that our worries were totally unnecessary, since the floor was overflowing with people who had all picked up the Canadian Barn Dance with no trouble at all.
Since the audience had just witnessed the bride and groom throw a backflip, and because everyone was obviously so good at dancing, we decided to give them a Cumberland Square Eights. This dance is similar to an American square dance, where you have four couples facing each other in a square, so we figured it would be familiar to at least some of the guests. It also has a great move in it called a basket, where the two tallest dancers facing each other twirl two shorter dancers at such speed that their feet leave the floor. Not recommended for people with sore backs, but definitely recommended for an energetic wedding party! As with the previous dance, the biggest problem we faced was not too few dancers, it was that everyone got up and filled the floor.
We followed it up with a Riverside Jig, another lovely easy dance with occasional risk of decapitation when the four dancers in the top couple make arches with their arms and run down the line of dance, making everyone else duck. In one memorable group, one of the dancers was a five year old girl who was too small to make the arch, so her father scooped her up to give the line of dancers high fives instead as they passed.
We followed up with a waltz by Robbie Leask called Shetland Times and Tatties, thinking we’d give everyone a nice break from the energetic dancing they’d been doing – but nope, there they were, straight back out on the floor, free waltzing away. No lack of energy in this crowd! So we rounded things up with an Orcadian Strip The Willow, then handed the reins back to the DJ.
Overall, we were delighted at how this American and Mexican audience took to Scottish ceilidh dancing. On the groom’s side of the family, the professional dancing really showed, and on the bride’s side, there was no lack of enthusiasm to give each other a whirl. And for a ceilidh, you can’t say fairer than that!