How to Run a Barn Dance or Ceilidh
Why Have a Barn Dance?
A barn dance or ceilidh is one of the best choices of entertainment for any gathering as
it is truly social dancing. It has often been described as the most fun you can have with
your clothes on. Everyone, from toddlers to grandparents, has a great time and no prior
knowledge of dancing is needed, as the caller is there to make sure everyone knows
what to do.
A Typical Evening
A full evening’s barn dance normally starts 7.30pm and finishes about 11pm, with half an hour break in the middle. We can usually squeeze in about 16 dances in that time.
Of course, any variations to this pattern can be negotiated with the band.
Leading the Dancing:
The caller will encourage people to get up and dance but it can be a good idea to
allocate to some of your more outgoing guests the job of ring leading the dancing by
example. People are often shy about being the first on the dance floor but are more
than happy to be coaxed into joining in by other guests. Party hosts (bride and groom;
anniversary couple; guest of honour, birthday boy or girl etc) should join in at least the
first and last dances.
What About Children?
Nobody loves a barn dance more than children. It is a good idea to make sure the
caller knows if there are going to be children present, particularly if you would like him or her to have a couple of dances prepared specially for them. Children can of course also join in the main dances from quite a young age. You may have difficulty trying to stop them!
For most dances people dance in couples – traditionally comprising one of each sex,
but anything goes. Most of the time the dancers will be grouped in “sets” of four or
Please see the separate document “Beginners’ ceilidh workshop notes” for more
information about dancing and barn dance etiquette.
You should make sure the dance floor is big enough. Barn dancers take up quite a bit of
room and a small raised dance floor will not be enough and may even be dangerous.
Make sure that there are no humps or ramps for people to trip over. A clear rectangular
shape is best. You probably need a minimum of 1.5 square metres per simultaneously dancing person. This may be rather squashed, and 2 square metres is better. Remember thatyou will almost certainly not get everyone dancing until the last dance, so do not worrytoo much if the calculations show it will be a little squashed, as long as there is room forthat last dance which is traditionally a bit of a squash anyway.
It is a good idea to request on the invitations or tickets that sensible footwear be worn
for dancing. (Stilettos heels and steel capped wellington boots are probably a bad idea).
Have a think about lighting for the dance floor and for the band area and consider
whether you need to hire any. You need more lighting than you would have at a disco,
but may still want to avoid harsh lighting. Basically people need to be able to see across
the room clearly. The band in particular will need a reasonable amount of light, so they
can be seen and see what they are doing (even if they don’t have music to look at, they
might have notes on the stage, as might the caller).
You will need to provide some seating for people when they aren’t dancing (probably
about 10% more than the number of people, assuming that everyone will want to be
sitting down at certain points in the evening, for example the interval). It is a good idea
to ensure that this is well integrated with the dance space. If all the seating is in a
separate room with the bar, then you run the real risk that everyone will spend all
evening there and won’t do any dancing!
Food for the Guests
If you have the space, having buffet-style food available all evening is an alternative to
having a formal break for food. A large meal may break up the evening somewhat and a
longer break will be needed to aid digestion. We would normally put in a gentle dance
or two to follow a break.
The band will want a 30 minute break at some point regardless of how you make these
arrangements. This is a good time for any speeches or for guests to perform their party
pieces. The band can bring background music if required.
At least one 13amp power socket is required on or very near the stage.
Stage Furniture for the Band
Please supply a small table for the band’s sound equipment and a chair without arms
for each musician and for the caller.
Refreshment for the band
Please offer food and drink to the band where this practical. They have often travelled a long way to be there, and will play better if they are fed and watered. It also incorporates the band into the evening better and the members of the band are always grateful.
Other Band Requirements
It is very helpful if the band can park as close as possible to the area that they are going
to play as the amplification equipment is heavy and the distance that it is moved is best
kept to a minimum.
The band will need to set up and adjust this equipment so access to the venue at least
1 hour before the event is needed for this.
Finally: It’s fun, go for it.