The city of Edinburgh is steeped in history and is very proud of its links with traditional culture and art forms. It presents the ideal venue for Ceilidh Culture, an annual festival held from mid-March to April each year, which showcases traditional arts and welcomes performers from all over the world.
The Gaelic word ceilidh (pronounced as “kay-lee”) refers to a party or gathering where stories are told, poetry recited and there is folk music and dancing. A ceilidh should perhaps be best described as the epitome of Scottish social culture, an event where everyone is welcome (or expected) to join in.
Just to emphasise their popularity, during the Ceilidh Culture festival, Edinburgh hotels are almost always fully booked, with waiting lists. Backpackers and campers arrive from many miles away and pitch their tents on the outskirts of the city just to get a chance to witness the spectacle.
Although most modern ceilidhs tend more towards the dancing side than the poetry or storytelling, they are completely non-competitive and not to be confused with some of the Scottish Country Dancing events which are often an exhibition of skill.
The Edinburgh festival is completely keyed towards full enjoyment by the audience and participation is expected, even as for novices. Dance step ‘Callers’ are often employed, similarly to barn dances. Shortly before the event, numerous websites offer advice and even step-by-step instructions for the staple dances for those who want to be a step ahead (no pun intended).
Music for ceilidh dances is generally provided by four or six musicians playing traditional instruments, which most often include the cittern (a mediaeval stringed instrument), the bodhran (a hand-held skin drum), Irish ‘D’ flutes and some unusual variations on the recorder.
Dances are divided into two types: couples’ dances and set dances. Many are familiar names for anyone who has ever indulged in English country dancing. The most popular ones are: ‘The Gay Gordons’, ‘Stripping The Willow’, ‘The Dashing White Sergeant’ and ‘The Eightsome Reel’.
This year’s four-week-long ‘Ceilidh Culture’ line-up includes old favourites such as Kim Edgar, who will simultaneously be launching her newest album ‘The Ornate Lie’ and famed storyteller Duncan Williamson, who will be presenting an ‘animated’ version of his book ‘The Coming of the Unicorn’.
Throughout the four weeks that the festival runs there are individual events within the programme to suit absolutely any member of the family. They vary from interactive children’s ‘Flute and Story’ workshops through to ‘Beginners Ceilidh Dancing’ for the older generation. Other musical and ‘darker’ poetry and story sessions run throughout the night for young adults or the insomniacs!
The festival is fast approaching its 10th anniversary performance, which will be the biggest and best yet and the whole city is expected to be taken by storm during March 2012. Edinburgh hotels are likely to be busier than ever this year, so if you are thinking of attending, make your bookings now to avoid disappointment.