The tradition of Irish Ceili (or Ceilidh or Kaylee)


There are many forms of Irish folk music, from Irish ceili dances that may be held formally in village halls or for wedding receptions, two impromptu dances that may be done to an Irish instrumental music band playing at the local hostelry and performing primarily Irish pub songs. There are also many spellings, some genuine, some just plain wrong, e.g. Ceili, Ceilidh, Kaylee, Calee etc


If you are about to book our Coulan Sona Irish Ceili Band, it is important to be clear in your own mind what kind of band you are looking for and what kind of band is being offered. Every person will have their own preconception of what they consider an Irish ceilidh band, or an Irish session band or folk singing band to be like. Some people simply get the kinds of bands mixed up in their heads, others have a preconception of the mixture of singing or dancing or instrumental music they will get, probably based on holiday they had in Ireland or some Irish bands that is their favourite and happened to do things in a particular way.


We get people asking for Irish trad music and Irish jig music or Irish country bands and Irish entertainment who possibly have no clear idea of what they’re really wanting. So to help you here are some questions that would been asked with comments or responses to the questions.                 


Request: Irish dance ceilidh

We would take this as a band performing instrumental music that is suitable for dancing, with the caller to teach the dancing.  


Request: Irish dance kaylee.

Here there is a slight ambiguity about whether it is an event for people to dance at, or whether they may be thinking of a show event where a traditional dance team give a display. 


Request: Irish kaylee band.

This is an alternative spelling Irish ceilidh band


Request: Irish dance music.

The question here is the trying to find a session band that will play Irish dance music to listen to, perhaps as background music tore wedding reception, or are they looking for an Irish ceilidh band including a caller for dancing, or are they perhaps a group of experienced dancers, maybe from adult club, who are just looking for a band to play Irish dance music? 


Request: Irish dance party.

This normally is couched in terms of the higher are thinking of holding an Irish dance party. One would generally expect this to be a request for an Irish ceilidh band, including the caller. 


Request: Irish music bands.

This is request that one must be very careful about, as it is rather vague what they might be expecting. Some people an Irish music band is a singing band that performs all the well-known Irish pub songs.To other people it is the kind of instrumental band that they may have heard on holiday in an Irish pub, and which we regard as an Irish session band. Two other people, every Irish band is something to dance to, but even then we don’t know whether they are looking for a demonstration dance so that they get a re-creation of Riverdance on a small scale, or whether there wanting a band with the caller for them and their guests at the party or wedding to dance to.


Request: Traditional Irish dance.

Again, if this comes in on the enquiry form, we have to establish what it is they really thinking of. Many people, traditional Irish dance is what they had seen Riverdance do. But there are many forms of Irish traditional dancing: 


Irish Set Dancing.


Irish set dancing is a style of social dancing involving for couples in a group of eight dancers. It takes up a fair bit of dancefloor and is dance with the feet flat on low to the floor with a couples quietly pushing and swinging around the dancefloor. It’s a relaxed kind of dancing that is developed from the French quadrilles. In some ways it is quite similar to the American square dancing, indeed, with the number of Irish immigrants to the USA, a lot of American dancing and music has strong Irish influences and this may well be worth the American square dance originated from. 


Modern and Traditional Irish Step Dancing.

This is the form of Irish dancing that most people outside of island think of when traditional Irish dancing is mentioned. Probably two, they are thinking of the modern form of the dance that is performed on stage and virtually everyone must have seen on TV, whether performed by Riverdance or performed on top of the washing machine by Shaun the sheep and his friends (have you ever seen that? It’s supposed to be a children’s cartoon, but it’s really best understood by adults. I can recall a number of different episodes where Irish step dancing is included. The funniest is of Sean and two of his sheep colleagues dancing on top of a vibrating and overfilled with soap, washing machine. Hilarious.)

Irish step dancing in the traditional form, can be done as a soloist or with a partner. They are standardised dances i.e. they have a particular defined pattern of steps and moves and are not improvised like Sean Nos dancing. This would be typically performed in a pub to a band who having a session, could well be dance by anybody from children to the grandparents, the grandparents demonstrating their skill and knowledge dancing even though there athletic abilities may now be limited.


The modern version in contrast, is athletic, with highkicking, leaping, with pointed toes and on the balls of the feet. This is exhibitionist stuff and only for the young and fit, (or the old but exceptionally fit!).


We rarely get bands booked specifically to play for this kind of dancing. In the UK, it is only Northern Ireland where this kind of dancing could be considered common, and regrettably we don’t have band in Northern Ireland.


(I’m not sure why this the case. Northern Irish bands don’t seem to make contact with us, and although in the early days we would be the people to contact bands, because we are now a well-known music agency, the bands contact us in the first instance. Perhaps, in Northern Ireland, the music scene is so well integrated into society, that everyone who dances knows the bands in the area, and so are music agency is not so important. Although this is a possible reason, I’m not sure how valid it is, because although it could be the case with Irish folk music and ceilidh bands, it is unlikely to be a case that there is a great difference between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales for classical music (e.g. string quartets), or jazz bands. So it is a mystery. We get more people applying to go on a site from the USA, Australia and South Africa than we do from Northern Ireland.)


Although we rarely get bands booked specifically for modern step dancing, it is not unusual for there to be one or two expert dancers at somebody’s wedding reception or birthday party. When this is the case, they are usually keen to do a demonstration dance, and the band is always keen to play for the. It can be a real treat. The dancers and the band will get together for a few moments to choose a piece of music that the dancers would like to dance to and that the band know. A few more moments to establish the speed that the dancers would like music to be played at, (it can be critical to get this right, particularly if it has a lot of complex steps in the dance, which is usually the case, or even more so if there are some long and complex leaps. The band can never judge the speed themselves, as they have never seen or worked with a particular dancers. Every dancer has a particular natural speed for their dance steps, which is not only related to the particular steps that are being danced, but to the bodyweight and height, which affects the natural frequency of oscillation of their body and muscles, hence the speed of steps. Also the strength and agility of the dancers will have an effect. So it is imperative that the dancers define what speed they want to go at and the band stick to that.

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