Proving ceilidhs aren’t just for weddings is the Scottish society EdinBal. From its base in Edinburgh the collective organises folk dancing classes and events.
EdinBal Chairman and Co-founder Jean-Christophe Denis said: “It all started in September 2013 with a group of friends who really enjoyed folk dancing. After attending festival and dance nights in Europe, we decided to run events in Edinburgh. So we organised monthly dance workshops.”
While hosting the workshops Denis was also involved in organising the Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival (lVFDF) a student-led event with alternating locations.
Combining the two projects, Denis and the team planned the 2014 IVFDF in Edinburgh.
He said: “It was a lot of work, but we loved the experience; 900 people attended the weekend and had a lot of fun.”
The festival’s success spurred the team to organise other events. So, in April 2014, they hosted the first EdinBal dance.
Denis recalled: “The dance featured one French and two Scottish bands, which was a lot of pressure but totally worth it.”
Getting great feedback from the event, Denis and team decided to formalise EdinBal by signing its societal constitution in November 2014.
The Chairman said: “We now have 40 members (signed up till the end of May) and four big nights planned.”
To support these nights EdinBal continues to build partnerships with foreign and local folk bands.
Denis explained: “EdinBal has had to develop music sessions to grow local artists’ European repertoire.”
While these sessions prepare the bands, EdinBal tutors prepare the dancers at each event.
Denis said: “We spend the first 30 minutes at our ceilidhs explaining everything beginners need to know to enjoy the night. There are always lots of friendly experienced dancers who are willing to help beginners.”
While the EdinBal ceilidhs can stand alone many dancers use them to showcase the steps they learn in the workshops.
Denis said: “We host workshops in Edinburgh and our sister society, GlasBal, holds classes in Glasgow.”
Workshops are £5 full price, £3 concession and Society members get a £1 discount.
The Chairman continued: “Our classes are pretty well balanced. Usually we have more ladies than guys, but a few times the opposite has been true.”
Denis said that most EdinBal dancers are in their 20s – 30s, but he explained the workshops are suitable for all ages.
He joked: “Some of the dances can be quite energetic, but there is always a way to save your energy.
“In Brittany it’s very common to see many 80 year olds dancing until 3am!”
Denis explained that each class starts by demonstrating steps before practicing them to live music.
He added: “The last part of the class about learning dance techniques, like improvising, non-verbal communication, space awareness and more technical dances.”
Denis admitted: “Beginners can struggle a little bit at the start. But folk dances are designed for everybody, so the basics are very accessible.
“By the end of each class I see beginners happily dancing and enjoying themselves!”
Fun, Denis explained, is the whole point of folk dancing.
He said: “There is no competition, we are not dancing to put on a show, we are just dancing for ourselves.”
Denis added: “The folk music creates a special atmosphere, with unusual instruments such as bagpipes or hurdy-gurdies joining the more common accordions and fiddles.”
With such a unique sound it is no surprise the European folk scene is growing.
Denis said: “Ceilidhs have always been popular in Scotland. In France folk dancing was seen as old-fashioned, but there has been a recent revival including young people and modern music influences.
“In Belgium folk dancing has moved from being non-existent in the 90s to almost mainstream now, and that’s really impressive.”
Encouraging people to join the scene, Denis said: “Don’t be shy, don’t hesitate, join EdinBal!
“We are a bunch of friendly people who create an engaging atmosphere at our events. Dances are easy and in no time you’ll have lots of fun!”