FAQ 14 Which dances work best and what instruments are played in a Barn Dance or Ceilidh Band?

- Dances

Over the years, Fiona has learned from playing in her own band that it works well if a Caller or a live band with Caller offer a wide variety of dances from all the British Isles and further afield, i.e. Scottish, Irish, English, Welsh, French Canadian, American and Continental dances which are good fun, straightforward and definitely NOT TOO COMPLICATED!

Some bands specialise in a particular music and dance style, but most Ceilidh and Barn Dance bands offer a more general and mixed repertoire. If you want more of an emphasis towards, say, the Scottish, or Irish style of music or dance, this is quite feasible – but do please make this clear when enquiring about booking a band and caller through Fiona.

There are so many styles of ceilidh and barn dance bands out there, some playing a very traditional style of music and others playing more in the folk - rock genre, so do let me know if you have a preference, and if not, try to listen to as many band samples as possible so you can compare the styles of various bands and let me know what you want for you own party.

You can expect to do some of the well-known favourite dances such as The Bridge of Athlone, Pat A Cake Polka, Cumberland Square Eight, The Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Strip the Willow, Farmer’s Jig, Ninepins, Canadian Barn Dance, to name a few. There can be regional variations and slightly different versions of some dances – for example, Strip The Willow – but they are all fun!

These will be danced to lively jigs, reels, polkas, rants, marches, schottisches, hornpipes or whatever is the most appropriate music for the particular dance chosen. Most bands have a set of dances and accompanying tunes which they do regularly.

The complexity of these social ceilidh and barn dances varies enormously. The simplest dances would be done at the start of the evening and the Caller will choose a programme of dances which are most suitable for the crowd on that night. The first few dances serve as a way of helping the most reluctant dancer to realise it’s easy and that joining in won’t be anything but a bit of fun! Having a laugh is definitely the top priority rather than getting the steps perfect.

In my opinion, and speaking from experience, I think that unless a band is playing for a specialised Folk Dance Club, it’s best to avoid the more complicated dances, because complicated dances take longer to explain and walk through, which can slow down the pace of the evening too much if there are total novices there. Some, but not all bands are able to play an old-fashioned Quickstep or Waltz, but other bands only play the more traditional folk dances. The really old-time favourites like The Veleta, St Bernard’s Waltz or even the original Barn Dance are in some bands’ repertoires and may be requested.

Do make it clear to Fiona if you wish to book a more specialised band, and also if you want a band that can perform some songs as well as the “diddly diddly” instrumental tunes for the called dancing.

This may sound obvious, but if you are booking a band independent of Fiona, do just check that any band you’re interested in is used to playing for dancing rather than just for listening.

- Instrumental line-up of bands

As for instrumental line-up, my own band JIGABIT has a varied line-up including piano accordion, bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, drums / percussion and multi-vocals for songs.

Instruments played by other bands include melodeon, concertina, button accordion, keyboard, flute, whistles, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, recorder, trumpet, tuba and other brass, bagpipes and other pipes, hurdy gurdy, fiddle, cello, viola, ocarina, hammer dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer . . . . . the list is endless.

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