What's the difference between a Barn Dance, a Ceilidh or Ceili and a Hoe Down?
I don't tend to distinguish between the terms too much as which ever name you use, it’s really all about having good fun!
A Barn Dance, Ceilidh (pronounced "kaylee") or Ceili and a Hoedown are similar in that the dancing involves people dancing together either in couples or in small groups of couples. The dances at a Barn Dance or Ceilidh or Hoe Down are done in formations of couples in circles for as many people who wish to join in, squares of 4 couples, lines of boys facing lines of girls. Some dances are progressive with couples moving on to new couples to dance with, or one person in the couple moving on to a new dance partner as the dance progresses – it’s very sociable and therefore a terrific ice breaker for weddings and occasions where people don’t all know one another.
In bygone days, a traditional Ceilidh had song spots and other entertainment spots interspersed with the dancing. These days, some, but not all bands offer songs in addition to dances, as part of the evening’s entertainment. The bands who offer additional songs tend to be those who play professionally or semi-professionally.
A Hoedown may have slightly more of an American theme and people often dress up in check shirts and cowboy hats to add to the atmosphere. A Hoedown evening may feature more American style dances than, say, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English ones. Some bands are definitely more suited to playing for Hoedowns than others. Some people like to have a more Scottish or Irish theme, which again determines to a great extent which band will be the most suitable for the function, so do please let Fiona know if you have a particular preference for the style of music you wish the band to play.
The dancing is usually done to live music performed by experienced musicians, but can be just as much fun when danced to good quality pre-recorded music, which would be recordings of excellent live bands. Whilst there’s nothing like the atmosphere created by live music, for events with limited budgets, or for groups wishing to raise funds, using pre-recorded music saves on the costs of a live band.
In that the main difference between Barn Dances and Ceilidhs for private parties and public occasions is that the host or hostess usually pays for everything for a private party, whereas public events rely on tickets being sold and the event being marketed efficiently, often involving a Committee, organisers of public events often opt for a Caller using pre-recorded music in order to keep costs at a minimum, especially when the aim of the event is for charity fund-raising.
However NONE of these styles of music and dance discussed above are the same as Line Dancing, which is done solo rather than in couples and often to recorded not live music, and doesn’t create the same atmosphere at all.
It's also important to know that the music played for Ceilidhs and Barn Dances is definitely NOT Country & Western music. Occasionally people get these styles mixed up - it's important to be aware of this when booking a Ceilidh or Barn Dance band!
What makes a Ceilidh or Barn Dance or Hoe Down such a good form of entertainment?
This type of dancing is suitable for all ages and abilities. The joy of a ceilidh or barn dance is that it gets everyone mixing together, even if they’ve never done this sort of dancing before and don’t know one another.
Having a Barn Dance, Ceilidh or Hoedown is highly recommended as very suitable evening entertainment for Weddings, Civil Partnerships and marriages, anyone celebrating a “Big” Birthday, all special Wedding Anniversaries, any other private parties and corporate occasions, Charity fund raising events, School PTA gatherings, Church social occasions and really, just about any other event where the public can come along.
Very young toddlers can dance with their parents, and children of about 6 or 7 upwards can easily join in the dancing on their own. We’ve known 95 year-olds join in the fun, so all the Grans and Grandads, Uncles and Aunties can get involved too – there’s no reason not to! Having said that, some of the dances are far more energetic than others, so maybe advise Granny to avoid Strip The Willow as that dance really can whip along at a pretty fast pace by the end of it!
Some dances are what's called “progressive”, which means that you or your dancing partner move on to a different person (or couple) each time through the dance, which makes it a great ice breaker and very sociable indeed.
It's fine for girls to dance together if they want, and to the amusement of some people, yes, lads sometimes dance together too!
Good news - absolutely no previous dancing experience is necessary. Even better news - there’s no need to be particularly fit – just be willing to have FUN!
Do we need to book a Caller as well as the band?
Most definitely YES! The Caller (who used to be known as an MC or Master Of Ceremonies) really runs the whole evening.
If you book a band through Fiona, it is a "given" that the band will definitely bring a Caller with them.
Unless you are booking a band just for listening to, without any organised "called" dancing, it’s absolutely essential to book a Caller. There may be some people at a party who are experienced dancers, having done a lot of this kind of dancing before, and they may believe they know all the steps and don’t need the guidance of a Caller, but there will almost certainly always be people at Ceilidhs or Barn Dances who have never done this sort of interactive social dancing before and therefore need more guidance than others who may already have been to Ceilidhs or Barn Dances in the past.
The key to a successful and fun dance is an excellent Caller who does his or her job with competence and humour – as more of an entertainer than a teacher. The best Callers do a very good job of making people feel at ease at the start of the evening, so people are then willing to get up and join in when being invited onto the floor. The best Callers are very good at persuading people politely and with humour that they really should get off their backsides and dance – RIGHT NOW!!!
It’s very reassuring for novice dancers to have all the dance steps explained before each dance and it’s usual to be walked through the whole sequence of moves before the band (or pre-recorded music) is let loose on you, so no one is left wondering what to do next.
If you're worried about “getting it wrong”, please be reassured that the Caller would never expect people to get every single step of the dance correct. It’s all part of the fun of a Ceilidh, when people go a bit hay-wire, do-si-do the wrong person, fall over - whatever….. Three left feet? No problem!
Occasionally, the Caller will also play a musical instrument and will play in with the band once the dance has got under way and people don't need as much called instruction.
How much does a Ceilidh or Barn Dance Band and Caller or a solo Caller cost?
Without wishing to sound vague, with so many variables, it's not possible to be more specific than saying anything between about £250 and £900 and everything in between.
The exact cost will depend on the number of musicians in the band, whether they play for a hobby or for their living and the band's travel costs.
The average price for a 3 or 4 piece band plus Caller is from about £600-£800. For larger bands, you would be paying proportionately more, and there are solo and caller, duo and caller options available in some areas as well, which would cost from about £350 upwards but they get booked up very far ahead in time, for obvious reasons!
At the lower end of the scale, you can book an excellent Caller working solo (sometimes with one or more assistants) playing good quality pre-recorded music for the dancing. Recordings of real Ceilidh / Barn Dance bands are used, so although you don't have the musicians actually sitting there on the night, you still get the same good punchy amplified overall sound of a full band, and you have more money left in your purse!
If live music is a "must" for you, then of course booking a live band with Caller is your best option, but you’ll need to budget far more than for a solo caller. I strongly recommend live music wherever possible, but of course I'm very biased as a professional musician!
Other factors which can influence the cost:
How and when do we pay the Band and Caller?
Each band and caller has its own preferred method of payment but the usual is for the band and caller to be paid in cash on the night. Some bands and callers ask for a deposit up front to secure the booking.
My preferred method of payment is to ask for a deposit / booking fee up front by cheque or bank transfer when the booking is confirmed in writing, leaving the balance to be paid to the band and / or caller in cash on the night.
If a booker is unable or unwilling to pay cash to the band on the night, then I request that a bank transfer or cheque for the remaining balance is settled up directly with the band / caller at least 2 weeks ahead of the booked date.
I don't offer a credit card facility.
Venues – Important guidelines and essential requirements
This is a HUGE section of Q&A. It is well worth a read if you’ve not yet booked your venue, but even if you have, this information may still be helpful for you.
Who books the venue and which venues are most suitable?
It’s your responsibility to choose a suitable venue. There are some essential guidelines to bear in mind when choosing your venue as there are a large number of factors involved and some venues are far more suitable for a ceilidh or barn dance than others. If you’ve already booked your venue and some of the following points make you think that your venue is unsuitable – don’t despair! There are ways of maximizing the circumstances - feel free to discuss this with Fiona.
The venue for a wedding ceilidh will largely be determined by where everything else takes place during the day. However, if you’re in a position to choose a venue specifically to suit the Ceilidh, the choice of the right kind of room can make a massive difference to how the Ceilidh or Barn Dance goes.
The decision about which venue to use can largely be dependent on cost – for example, a village hall will obviously be far cheaper to hire than a hotel function suite.
Ceilidh and Barn Dance Bands play in many different places – hotels, village halls, community and leisure centres, marquees, stately homes, converted function barns, private homes, castles, restaurants, school halls, social clubs, pubs, market places, fields and farm barns...
The key suggestion is to choose a venue with the bar in the same room as the band, Caller and guests! If the venue has several rooms, your party may tend to split up into smaller groups. This is fine socially of course, but it is more difficult to involve people in the dancing when they’re spread out in different rooms.
What shape and size of venue is best?
I would recommend choosing a venue which is as square or oblong as possible – but it can still be possible to hold a ceilidh or barn dance if the room is an odd shape because all bands make the most of whatever the circumstances are!
The size of the room required will of course depend on the number of people coming to your party or event. It’s best to check the maximum capacity with the venue management or the marquee providers. It’s a good idea to take a tape measure along to any venue you may be considering, with the space requirements in mind, and pace it out so you know you’re booking a venue which is large enough. Arranging tables and chairs around the edges of the hall or room naturally creates the dancing area.
How much space is required for the dancing?
The space for the dancing should be at least 5m x 5m, ideally double or triple this, but it’s not essential for the dancing area to be square. I’d suggest that it’s best to discuss available space with the venue manager or marquee provider, to ensure that enough space can be created for the band and dancing. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.
Ceilidh dancing requires much more space than dancing at a disco, where you dance “on the spot”. Movements in Ceilidhs and Barn Dances include galloping up and down and swinging partners, so more room per person is required, and the more dancing space available the better.
At weddings, after any afternoon reception meal and speeches, the venue management should be prepared to move tables and chairs aside to make a good sized area for dancing. Putting some chairs around the edges of the room encourages people to remain involved in the Ceilidh. Ask the band and caller when they arrive which of the tables need to be removed, and ask the management to sort this out for you
How much space is required for the band?
This will vary depending on the number of musicians in the band, but the average trio Band and Caller will need 4-6m width and ideally 2-3m depth to set up comfortably. Approximately a square metre per person plus a square metre for each of the 2 speaker stands. It’s best if the band is able to set up fairly close to the dancing area but not so near that they get trampled!
What if we’ve booked a Disco as well?
If you are booking a Disco or other live band as well as the ceilidh or barn dance band, please make sure BEFORE THE DAY that there is sufficient room for both bands or one band and DJ to set up. It’s essential to check directly with the DJ beforehand about his space requirements.
Does the band need a stage?
No, the band doesn't need a stage. It’s a bonus if a good sized stage area is provided, but it’s definitely not essential. If you (or the venue) were to provide one, it must be at least 6m wide x 3m deep and no higher than 1m. Some venues have a ready-built stage, other venues are able to build a portable one, but a Ceilidh usually takes place with the band and caller on ground level. It’s better for the band to set up on the floor rather than trying to cram onto a stage which is too small. It's easier for the Caller to move between band and dancers if he or she is on the floor rather than a high stage.
What about Barn Dance events in farm Barns?
I generally try to steer people away from having a barn dance in a farm barn. You may think that a farm barn would be the ideal and most appropriate venue for a BARN DANCE – But, speaking from several of my own bad experiences in the very distant past, I advise that a farm barn is not ideal because grit and dust in a barn is a total nightmare to the musicians and dancers alike. Everyone inhales the dust as it flies around during the dancing, and you feel the next morning as though you’ve smoked a hundred fags. The dust settles on the band’s instruments and amplification equipment, meaning everything has to be cleaned the next day. Barns are draughty and it’s impossible for musicians to play well if they are cold. YUCK! Some bands actually refuse to play in a farm barn, although obviously a converted function barn is fine. If you have already booked a farm barn, we strongly recommend hosing it down during the daytime of the date of the event, arranging heating and reasonable lighting and making sure as much draught is excluded as possible, especially where the band is to set up.
Important things you need to know if your dance is in a marquee or outdoors
Some of the points in this section about marquees and outdoor events also apply generally to other venues, i.e. the space requirements, flooring, access and parking, power source, lighting.
If the event is to be held outdoors
Outdoor events have their own pitfalls – mainly the unreliable weather in this country, so it is your responsibility to have contingency plans for bad weather. While all attempts would of course be made to continue with the dance, if it has to be abandoned due to weather conditions, the full fee would still payable to the band.
If your event is to be held in a marquee
Please note that it is up to you to discuss and arrange all the following requirements with the marquee providers well before the day.
Access to the marquee, parking and setting up
Please supply address and post code for exactly where the marquee will be sited and bear in mind that the band and caller really do need to get their cars as close as possible to the marquee for unloading and loading their instruments and PA system.
Ideally, the band will be able to leave their cars where they unload, or they could possibly move the vehicles elsewhere if necessary, after unloading.
Arranging for a removable or openable flap in the marquee near to where the band will set up is a good idea, so they can gain access to set up without having to walk through the guests.
Power source in the marquee
Mains power is ideal, but a generator is fine too. The band will not be able to play amplified if they don’t have a safe and suitable power source. The band and caller just need access to one ordinary safely earthed 13A plug socket, which should ideally be easily accessible from where the band sets up, and no further away than 10m and if possible, not outside the marquee. Please let Fiona know if the plug socket is going to be any more than 10m away from where the band sets up. The band and caller provide all other extension leads for their own use on the evening.
The amplification equipment for a Ceilidh band does not draw more power than, say, a 2KW electric kettle. If a generator is used, it needs to offer a 240V (not 110V) supply, with a standard 13 Amp socket available for the band’s use. We recommend having the band situated well away from a generator as these machines can be quite noisy. Any cable, plugs and sockets should obviously be safely protected from the elements whenever leading outside.
Space in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
You will need to talk in detail with the marquee providers about the overall space required to "house" your group of guests, depending on the number invited.
We will need to know the approximate width of the tent “wall” along which the band will be setting up, and what the approximate area is that you’re allowing for the dancing.
A band of, say, 3 or 4 musicians and Caller needs an area with a minimum width of 4-6m and 2-3m depth, with the band situated against one side or end of the marquee and near, but not too close to the dance floor, or they get trampled! Allowing the required depth of space for the band is very important.
For the dancing area, I recommend an absolute minimum of 5m x 5m for the dancing, ideally double or triple this. The dancing area doesn’t need to be square. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.
Arranging the tables and chairs as close to the sides of the marquee as possible is the best way to create the dancing area.
The band doesn't need a stage, but if you were to provide one, it must be at least 6m x 3m and no higher than 1m.
Flooring in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
Grass is difficult to dance on, and concrete can be harsh on the knees if you take a tumble.
A solid wooden floor or heavy-duty rush matting or carpet is fine for dancing on. Wooden flooring isn’t critical, as the coconut rush matting does a perfectly good job for dancing on and costs less to install than a wooden floor. Wooden “mobile” dance floors often have steep edges and it’s almost better – and safer – for people to dance on matting than on a floor with steep edges.
If you are having a proper wooden dance floor laid, you'll definitely need to ask the marquee providers to allow a good 3m depth for the band to set up comfortably, so the dance floor is not too close to where the musicians set up.
Please note - the Band needs waterproof covering underneath where they are to set up – whether in a marquee or if they are playing outdoors – it’s not acceptable to put equipment and musical instruments on bare grass or dusty concrete or other potentially damaging surfaces. It gets damp in marquees later on and expensive instruments and PA equipment need to be kept dry.
It may seem obvious, but it’s essential to have the marquee set up on totally flat ground, because even the slightest slope will make it very difficult indeed for the dancers to dance and they gradually end up at one end of the tent either sitting on the knees of the band or in the bar!!!
The surface must also be level where the band is situated, as they have speakers on tripods to set up, and the musicians need to be on level ground for obvious reasons!
Lighting in the marquee
There definitely needs to be some reasonably bright lighting in the marquee, particularly over where the dancing is taking place and also where the band is sited so they aren’t in a gloomy corner of the tent! The caller definitely needs to be able to see what the dancers are doing, so this is an important thing to sort out beforehand. I recommend chandelier type lights from the marquee “ceiling” or side lights and strings of white / coloured lights, and maybe some uplighters too. We recently played in a marquee which only had up-lighters and it was rather gloomy, so I recommend having more lighting than just up-lighters. For the rest of the marquee, it’s up to you, and you may choose to have lower level lighting for the other areas.
Heating in the marquee
Even for summertime dances, I strongly recommend arranging for optional access to portable heating as it gets chilly in a tent later in the evening and it’s impossible to play well if musicians are cold. I recommend hiring or borrowing portable propane (or similar) heaters – for the guests and also for near the band.
Armless chairs and table
Musicians sometimes like the use of some armless chairs and may need a sturdy oblong table about 1m x 2m for a mixer / amplifier. The table should be available for the band on their arrival, to enable a speedy set up.