She is a journalist with The Northern Echo, a regional newspaper sold throughout the North-East of England.

Dancing 'til you drop

by Helen Cannam

JONAH'S feet were tapping to the music. They hadn't yet cleared the tables away so the dancing could begin, but he was ready to go. He already had his shoes off.

Then a new sound suddenly burst into the air against the lively notes of the ceilidh band. It was the same tune, but raucous, piercing and very, very loud. Jonah's head shot round. He directed what I think you might call an old-fashioned look at the figure in kilt and bonnet who'd emerged from a far door, bagpipes under his arm, the chanter to his lips. Then he pointed. "I don't like those," he said emphatically.

I do like bagpipes myself, but I have to admit they sound rather better out of doors than they did that evening in a small crowded village hall in the Midlands. But this was a celebration and I suppose everyone with something to offer was eager to do their bit. Anyway, the piping didn't last long and very soon the dancing began.

Some people hate ceilidhs. They hate all that jolly music. They hate being dragged onto the floor to make fools of themselves in front of complete strangers - or worse, in front of their nearest and dearest. I have to agree they aren't much fun if you have two left feet and you're trapped in a room with folk-dancing enthusiasts who know every step and hate you for spoiling Strip The Willow by always going the wrong way and bumping into them.

The best sort of ceilidh is the kind where the music is so good you can't help wanting to dance and nobody there cares how well you do it so long as you have fun. In fact, if you get in a complete muddle it only makes it all the more fun. It's dancing for non-dancers.

That was the sort of ceilidh my aunt and uncle held to celebrate their golden wedding. They're nearly 80, but still running an organic smallholding they started long before The Good Life was even thought of, and very long before anyone ever talked about downsizing or getting out of the rat race. Their own good home-produced white wine was set out on the tables, their own fruit and vegetables used in the buffet meal. There was a cake decorated with tiny caulifowers, carrots, aubergines, beans and apples made out of icing. Even the teenage ceilidh band was led by one of their organic box customers.

Friends and relations had come from as far away as Canada to celebrate with them. There were cousins we hadn't seen for decades, passing round ancient black-and-white snapshots of long-dead relatives. There were photos of the wedding 50 years before. There was a lot of catching up to do on who was doing what, and a lot of new friends to be made.

There were mature people in suits and ties, or best dresses; there were teenagers in jeans and T-shirts. I'd guess my mother, at 88, was the oldest person there. The youngest was a babe in arms.

Second youngest was Jonah.

He'd never been to a ceilidh before, but no-one had to tell him what it was all about. He knew as soon as the music started. He likes dancing, even if for him that just means jumping up and down to a catchy tune. But then isn't that what a ceilidh is all about?

There's always a shortage of men willing to dance at these things, so Jonah and Nana stood in, holding hands, and nobody seemed to mind being partnered by an OAP and a two-year-old. It was a bit tricky when the opposite couple were supposed to duck under our raised arms, but we muddled through somehow. If it got too complicated then he could always be carried for a bit (who needs weight training? Try dancing with a two-year-old in your arms instead). There was a lot of laughter.

Jonah joined in every dance, though by the last one his legs just wouldn't carry him any more and he lay down in the middle of the circle and smiled at the people dancing round him. After that, it was definitely time for bed. He slept so soundly that, for the first time in ages, his parents had a Sunday morning lie-in.

There can't be many better ways to celebrate a family get-together, with such a wide age range. Even the people who didn't dance enjoyed watching what was going on. In fact, we had such a good time we're already wondering when we can do it again.

Come to think of it, my mother will be 90 the year after next. Time to start planning that ceilidh.

Published: 30/09/2004 

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