I’m attempting to write a ceilidh dance scene for something I am working on and it keeps falling short of what I know the experience to actually be like.
I dunno how many of you ken what a ceilidh dance is, but they were a staple of my childhood and most of my teens and well into my 20s. I’m pretty certain we traumatized the American in-laws at our wedding in 2013 when we had a ceilidh band instead of a DJ and made it a rule that if you wanted access to the free bar, ye had to get up and dance.
My father-in-law—who dusnae dance—still sounds slightly shell shocked when he recounts the iron grip one of my bridesmaids had on his arm when he tried to refuse, and she pulled him up onto the dance floor anyway, dragging him into three different sets before he was finally able to break free. But by then the reel had everyone and the night becomes a whirlwind of movement and too many faces spinning past you to recall anything but their smiles and then you know it’s getting serious when all the lassies kick their shoes off because at this point they’re willing to ride or die for the sake of keeping the momentum going.
And no matter how hard I try I can never find the words to convey what it’s fully like to anyone whose never experienced it, except that it’s like a living assault course confined within a very limited space, set to the tune of triddle-de-diddle-de-diddle-de-diddle-de-do as you attempt to negotiate the footwork, your partner’s footwork—the people just trying to get by you to the other side of the hall—and also quite possibly chairs, tables and the innocent bystanders on the sidelines who risk life and limb to clap along to Orcadian Strip The Willow as you spin on by, convinced you’ll never feel more alive as you do in that moment while simultaneously thinking you’re about to die.
And then the dance ends and you’re allowed a moment to breath and clutch your sides as your mortal body demands recompense for dancing like there’s no tomorrow—and then the caller shouts “Dashing White Sergeant!” and you look to the people you’ve somehow landed next to and join hands as the whole thing starts again.