‘Pop ceilidhs’ bid to attract young people

Jig time: the steps are the same but the tune has changed. Picture: Sean Bell
Jig time: the steps are the same but the tune has changed. Picture: Sean Bell
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CEILIDH has just gone chic. Traditional Scottish dances are being put to modern music in an attempt to attract more young people.

Ceilidh fan Kat Jones has taken classic reels such as Strip the Willow and the Dashing White Sergeant and set them to contemporary tunes.

She has shunted aside accordions and fiddles in favour of pre-recorded funky rhythms, such as Rose Royce’s 1976 classic Car Wash for the Virginia Reel.

In an eclectic mix, Strip the Willow has been paired with Underworld’s Born Slippy, which was featured in the film Trainspotting. And the Dashing White Sergeant may never be the same again after being accompanied by LMFAO’s I’m Sexy and I Know It.

Jones said: ‘Disco Ceilidh takes the best bits of traditional ceilidh – the fun, the atmosphere and the way that it brings people together – and fuses it with the dance floor fillers and the anthems of a disco.

“It turns out to be the formula for a brilliant party.

“People may experience a ceilidh once or twice a year, at a wedding or perhaps at New Year, but many haven’t danced the Canadian Barndance since gym lessons at school.

“The Disco Ceilidh combination will bring a new audience, who respond to popular music, to the joys of ceilidh dancing.

“There is a real sense of fun at a Disco Ceilidh, people sing along to the classic pop and disco tunes and dancing with friends and with strangers.”

Jones hit upon the idea after acting as “caller” – guiding novices through a dance’s steps – at community ceilidhs in the Broomhill area of Glasgow two years ago. She said: “I felt that there just aren’t enough opportunities to go to a ceilidh, and a band is really expensive to hire, so I started my own.

“Disco Ceilidh is about bringing even more people on board – widening the audience through using popular music and making it more affordable for people’s parties and celebrations.

“I’ve run ceilidhs as local fundraisers and they are enormous fun.”

Jones has staged two Disco Ceilidhs in the west end of Glasgow, including at the Christmas party for bird conservation organisation RSPB Scotland, where she works as a public affairs manager.

The events have produced devotees keen to spread the word.

Pippa, a lawyer who attended the event at Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union, said: “I’ve been telling everyone at work about this brave new revolution Kat has started. “Disco Ceilidh is the new black! You’ll have revellers young and old queueing up to pas-de-basque to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.”

The next one will be at WEST brewery on Glasgow Green next month.

Founder and managing director Petra Wetzel admitted it would be a leap in the dark.

She said: “They said German-style beer in Glasgow’s East End brewed by a company called WEST would never work, so I guess you can never tell.

“Having experienced two amazing nights of opera in the WEST beer hall last month, I am a firm believer that ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, so I think you should always keep an open mind.

“I for one, will be dancing my socks off to the disco music in January.

“I love the dancing part of a ceilidh. It’s the traditional music that does my head in at times, so I think it’s a great idea.”

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, which has 13,000 members across the world, welcomed Disco Ceilidh as another way of getting people involved with dance.

Executive officer Elizabeth Foster said: “We do not see a problem with it. If you have popular music that has a steady rhythm, you can certainly dance traditional dances to the tunes.

“Some people are very traditional in their approach and they want to do Scottish country dancing to original music.

“However, there is a growing interest in keeping it contemporary and relevant to people by being more adventurous.”

But Fife-based traditional music producer David Cunningham said: “I think Scottish dances and traditional music go hand in hand – it’s what makes a ceilidh, and the Scottishness of it.

“We should not lose sight of where it all comes from. I’m not convinced it will attract more people.”

However, Cunningham said although traditional dances were not written to be accompanied by contemporary music, the combination should work for casual, social dancing He said: “If it’s for people just having fun, a solid, regimented rhythm would fit with the reels.”

But he added that many reels had a different “time signature” to many pop songs, which could upset serious dancers.