If you’ve never been to or planned a barn dance before, it can seem like a confusing and daunting task. With little or no experience, it can be difficult to get your head around the options and ensure you are booking the right thing for your wedding – should you choose a barn dance, ceilidh, ceili or hoedown?

When you scratch the surface it quickly becomes evident that these different terms essentially refer to the same thing.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh


No matter exactly what name you call it, historically and collectively speaking, a ceilidh, ceili or barn dance is a get-together of country folk in the British Isles.

As season followed season in the farming community, there were plenty of occasions for celebration. Such as the solstice, midsummer, the harvest … family births, deaths and marriages.

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.

Find out more about booking a live barn dance or ceilidh band for your wedding reception.

Ceilidh, ceili or barn dance: it depends where the party is – Scotland, Ireland or England!

What is the difference between a ceilidh, a ceili and a barn dance

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 and 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.

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.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh


Folk dancing events have more recently become referred to as ‘barn dances’. Despite being 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.

Ceilidh or Ceili? You’ll have a great time with either!

A ceilidh or ceili is a traditional Gaelic social gathering which usually involves Celtic music and dancing.

The different spellings refer to the country of origin of the music and dances that will be played; ceilidh is Scottish and ceili is Irish.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh


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

The differences between a Scottish and Irish ceilidh 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.

Hire ceilidh, ceili or barn dance bands at Hop Till You Drop Wedding Music and Party Music Agency

In Scotland, the ceilidh is the way to party

Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is a Scots Gaelic word, literally meaning “visit”. Reaching back into the mists of time, the ceilidh 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 ceilidh pops”.

In Ireland, a ceili 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.

what is the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh


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”.

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 ceili is complete without “The Bridge of Athlone”.

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 old-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.


Call it what you like – ceilidh, ceili or barn dance – a traditional family knees-up, country-style is a wonderful way to round off your family celebration, whether it is a christening, birthday party, anniversary or wedding.

Whether you end up choosing a barn dance, ceilidh, ceili 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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