What Is The Difference Between A Cèilidh, A Céilí And A Barn Dance?

You’ve tied the knot, feasted on your wedding breakfast, and are now waiting for the barn dance or cèilidh. Wait, the what? Don’t fear, because we are here to help explain.

If you’ve never been to or planned a barn dance before, it can seem like a confusing and daunting task. With little experience, it can be difficult to get your head around the options and ensure you book the right thing for your wedding. So, should you choose a barn dance, cèilidh, céilí or hoedown?

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

When you scratch the surface it quickly becomes evident that these different terms essentially refer to the same thing. No matter exactly what name you call it, historically and collectively speaking, a cèilidh, céilí or barn dance is a get-together of country folk in the British Isles.

The history

As season followed season in the farming community, there were plenty of occasions for celebration. For example, the solstice, midsummer, the harvest, births and marriages would all have warranted a party.

Each of these special events would be marked with feasting, music, song and dance. The largest enclosed space in the community – usually the barn – would be the location for the occasion.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

So, what’s the difference between a cèilidh, céilí or barn dance? It depends where the party is!

Cèilidh or céilí? You’ll have a great time with either!

A cèilidh or céilí is a traditional Gaelic social gathering which involves entertainment. Historically this would be poetry, storytelling and ballads, but usually now involves Celtic music and dancing.

Its name originates from the Old Irish “céle” meaning companion, and became ceilidh, or céilí, meaning “visit”.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

The different spellings refer to the country of origin of the music and dances that will be played; cèilidh is Scottish and céilí is Irish. And if you are left scratching your head on how on earth you would go about pronouncing it, they are both “kay’lee”.

Nowadays specialist bands perform cèilidhs all over the UK, providing an experienced dance-caller to organise and demonstrate the dances to beginners and experts alike.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

The differences between a Scottish and Irish cèilidh are quite subtle. There can be slight variations in the instruments used, the dances performed and the music played. Even so, the end result is always an extremely fun and memorable night.

In Scotland, the cèilidh is the way to party

Reaching back into the mists of time, the cèilidh was a clan feast, encompassing story-telling, poetry, music, dance and song.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

In the modern day, you can look forward to a wild night of dancing. This includes tried and tested Scottish favourites such as “The Gay Gordons”, “Strip The Willow” and “The Dashing White Sergeant”. Each dance is huge fun. It’s no wonder the ancestors voted them “top of the cèilidh pops”.

In fact, cèilidhs are so much of Scottish culture that they are taught to kids in schools.

In Ireland, a céilí means a celebration of Irish song and dance

It has to be said – the Irish know how to party! In the present day, expect a selection of well-known songs that everyone can join in with, mixed in with Irish communal dance favourites.

The Irish have a great shared aural song tradition. They embrace recent classics such as “Fairytale of New York” and “The Fields of Athenry”, and the band will be lynched if they don’t sing “The Wild Rover”.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

Alongside the jigs and reels, dancing-wise, the Irish have over the years developed their own favourite dances that deserve their position at the top of the list. “The Siege of Ennis” is a dancing experience not to be missed and no Irish céilí is complete without “The Bridge of Athlone”.

The barn dance is the English way to celebrate

Any combination makes for a great rough and ready celebration in England. Of course, if you hold your family party in a barn you must include popular English country dances. These include “Galopede”, “The Dorset Four Hand Reel” and “The Cumberland Square Eight”. This will give your traditional country celebration an authentic English flavour.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

The term barn dance quite literally refers to any kind of dance held in a barn, but usually involves traditional folk music with traditional dancing. This could be couples dancing, square sets, or even Morris dancers.

The English barn dancing (or eCèilidh) typically has a slower tempo than its Scottish or Irish counterparts. Furthermore, there is a strong accent on the on-beat, which makes the movements jerkier, less fluid.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

Folk dancing events have more recently become referred to as “barn dances”. However, these are often held in locations considerably less rural than barns. These days, if an event is labelled a barn dance it is likely to showcase traditional English folk music. This is combined with appropriate organised dancing to match.

The Hoedown: as American as mom’s apple pie!

A hoedown is, quite simply, the American take on a barn dance. Characterised by battling fiddles and a fast tempo, a hoedown evokes olde time images of the Wild West.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

Square dances are arranged to fit in with the music to create a down-home hootenanny that all generations will enjoy. A hoedown can often be combined with line-dancing sets to really give that all-American feel to your wedding reception.

Book your cèilidh today!

So, if you have chosen a barn wedding venue, why not book a cèilidh for your wedding reception? It’s a lot of fun, and makes great use of your great venue.

There are groups like License to Ceilidh on The Wedding Secret directory. However, for a larger choice you can visit Hop Till You Drop, a wedding music and party music agency. These groups will be able to play to your chosen style, and often provide callers too.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh

Call it what you like – cèilidh, céilí or barn dance – a traditional family knees-up, country-style is a wonderful way to round off your wedding party. Whether you end up choosing a barn dance, cèilidh, céilí or hoedown for your wedding reception, rest assured you’ll have a riotous evening that everyone, young and old alike, will enjoy.

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