Ceili(dh) Dances

Ceili(dh) Dances

Does anyone know if there’s a way of notating, or some form of shorthand to describe, the steps and moves for ceilidh dances? Also, is there a website/something where I can find loads of dances? (I know the best place to learn them is at a ceilidh, but failing that.)
The reason I’m asking is that I’m thinking of (eventually) starting up a ceilidh (or indeed ceili) band in the college I’m at. I was surprised there isn’t already one, as there’s no shortage of folk musicians here. So I thought, if we’re going to do it, we should do it properly, and actually play for dances. But then I realised that although I know plenty of tunes, I only know about three dances by heart. And if I’m going to write them down to remember them, it’s a bit annoying to write "OK, so everyone gets a partner, and then all the couples stand in a big line, guys on one side, girls on the other…" etc.

There’s for sure people here on The Sesh who’ve got vast warehouses of experience and knowledge in this matter. Care to spare me some, perhaps?


Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Why yes there is. I’m a dancing novice, but I happen to have a small packet that uses a sort of shorthand (is that the right word?) vocabulary and numbers to describe various dances. I believe the numbers are bars, although I think dance bars and music bars may not be the same.

Ex. "Walls of Limerick"

Two facing two in reel time - progressive

Advance and retire twice 8
Ladies change places with 7’s and 3’s 4
Men change places with 7’s and 3’s 4

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Try googling ‘folk dance’.
I haven’t, but I’m sure you’ld come up with a lot of useful information.
And, yes, experience is the best way to learn this stuff.
Quick tips; always start calling the next manoevure a couple of bars early, to give the dancers time to catch up. And try to make the basic instructions on the walk-through as simple and unambiguous as possible. Plain english is not as easy as it seems.

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Dance bars and music bars are the same, so for instance advance and retire 8 will fit exactly once through a standard 8 bar section of a tune.

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Thanks Cathy. I shall defer to people who know things.

I’m realizing that my first post sounds pretentious and is not all that helpful. Sorry about that. Definitely not intentional. I think if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the web (which you probably can), if you can get in touch with a dance caller/teacher, they should be able to give you all the info you need.

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Joe CSS - I sent you an email, but my pc underwent a gratuitous total functionality failure just after I hit the tit and I can’t know if it went to you. You can mail me if it helps.


Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Hey Joe! You ever buzz through Mr. C’s page? He’s got a whole section with links to dances, etc. You can probable even drop him a line. He’s a wealth of information about dancing.


Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

Crooker River Set Dancers

Irish Two-Hand & Ceili (Figure) Dancing ~ Larry E.Taylor

There have been many versions of ‘dance notation’, and while I’ve learned a few, including Laban, I believe ‘simple is best’, tied to rhythms of dance music of course, for which a thorough understanding is best achieved by playing this music and dancing to it. In practice, not performance, the steps are relaxed and should not be higher than mid-calf, but even that is too high. The object is to move along the floor and not launch off of it ~ meaning ~ avoid an old fiddling friend’s critical observation ~ "like worms on a hot rock"… Avoid the ‘boing-boing’…

Not sure where you are Joe, but I have a couple dozen copies of the ‘official’ ceili book "“Ár Rinncide Foirne: Thirty Popular Figure Dances”, as published by ‘An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha’. The dance descriptions, though there are some minor problems, are easy to follow. We sell it for a fiver, which goes back into things here locally, but for a good cause I’d donate one…

Mr. C? ~ Is that me you’re talkin’ about SWFL? 😎

When I get back from a little music this evening I’ll notate a simple dance for you, an old standard, but there are some notations already on site, as SWFL suggested, check my details for links… Must rush off now ~ 😉

Teaching, calling, prompting ~ all are rhythmic in the best of hands, meaning they too move with the rhythm of the music….

"Rince Mhor Mixer" ~ a very quick example from a seriously exhausted ‘c’

Rince Mhor Mixer
Music: 32 bar reel, AABB or ABAB, but other tune 32 bar forms would also work…
Formation: A circle of couples facing forward, into the center, nearest hands held approximately chest high, with necessary compromises 😉
Basic steps: reel 3s & 7s, sidestep, ceili style, with the heel just off the ground, dancing on the ball of the foot. In moving forward this is basically a rolling action, one foot in front of the other. A four count 3 = 1, 2, 3, - = man: LRL-, RLR- / woman: RLR-, LRL- ~ etc… While that bit more fun with the steps, the whole dance can be executed with a simple walk too…

Bars | Music | Movements
1 - 4 | A - | 7 (sidestep/7-step) and two 3s to the Right / Anti-Clockwise
5 - 8 | - - | 7 (sidestep/7-step) and two 3s to the Left / Clockwise
~ dropping hold on 2x3s to face corner ~
1 - 2 | AA | ‘Double Quarter Chain’ = taking R-hands, thumb grasp, turn corner, 2x3s;
3 - 4 | - - | taking L-hands turn original partner;
5 - 8 | - - | repeat turns ~ corner by the R and partner by the L
1 - 8 | B - | Swing corner, taking R-hands, thumb grasp, left hand to partners R upper arm
(PLEASE, DON’T squeeze the upper arm, which usually leaves the evidence of a sore arm and five black and blue marks…)
1 - 8 | BB | Couples drop hold into a cross-hand/skater’s hold, Rs over Ls, and lead around/promenade round to the Right, Anti-Clockwise, 8x3s…
~ on 7 & 8 the couples all face in to the center of the set, man on her left/woman on his right, all having progressed, taking near hands at chest level to reform the cricle and begin the dance again ~ all have progressed = the Men one place ACW and the Women one place CW…

= a circle mixer…

“Ár Rinncide Foirne: Thirty Popular Figure Dances” ~ an example

published by ‘An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha’

The title and each first line ~ A., B., C., D. & E. ~ were bold. Neither bold or indentation works on this website. I’ve used a hyphen ( - ) to show spacing, including indentation…

The following is their description of the same ‘basic’ dance, as given in the book…


A. - Leaath-taobh I bhFáinne. - (Ring to Left and Right).

- All dancers in ring hold hands, and dance sidestep to left, finishing with two short “threes,” and return to right, finishing as before. - - - - 8 bars

B. – Luascadh leis naa Cailíní eile. - (Swing with Ladies on Left).

- Gents take crossed hands of ladies on their left, and couples swing in place, clockwise. - - - - 8 bars

C. – Luaascadh le Comhrinceoirí. – (Swing with Partner).

- Gents take hands of partners aand dance as in B. - - - - 8 bars

D. – Uillinn I nUillinn. – (Link Arms).

- Gents link right arm in right arm of ldy on their left and turn clockwise [2 bars]; link left arm in left arm of partner aand turn anticlockwise [2 bars]; repeat the right arm link and turn with laaady on left, and chain back to partner, take both her hands, aand turn her so tht gent is on inside of ring and lady on outside in preparation for next movement [4 bars]. - - - - 8 bars

E. – Gabháil Timpeall. – (Lead Round).

- Couples lead around anticlockwise, with Promenade Step [as at beginning of Eight- or Sixteen-hand Reels] for six bars of music, and during the last two bars form a large ring to recommence dance. - - - - 8 bars

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

The R.S.C.D.S., Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, developed a graphic shorthand for their dances, and there was one book, which I can’t remember the title for just now, which had them all in that format.

Some callers use business card books and create business card sized descriptions of dances they fit into the windows. Some of these books when opened to a page can show as many as eight (or more) cards, four dance descriptions either side, which could also be all you’d need for all the figues of a set of quadrilles, such as "The Cashel Set". This practice can also make it easy for planning an evening of dancing. That said, there’s not much more irritating in this business than a caller with their nose in notes… It should just be there for emergency referral, your attention should be given to the dancers and the musicians… Reading a dance from notes is even worse than playing music from sheets…

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances

…….and only yesterday I picked up a copy of Folk London ( you’ld never guess, it’s about folk music and song and dance in London ( UK, that is ) ), and there’s both an advertisement for, and a review of "Why Dance ?" by Jane Downes and Pat King, a full instructional and educational book on folk dance, plus two cds by the Catsfield Steamers.
Further information on;

This might be the ticket.

Re: Ceili(dh) Dances


I’d sent a link to this site to Joe via email, and now it is here as well. I’m pestering the webmaster to add more on the craft of calling, as he’s been to tons of workshops by some of the best and has given the occassional workshop himself. Yes, there are some differences, but the basics remain the same, timing the call to the music, the prompt, etc…

Re: Ceili Dances / Ceilidh Dances / Calling Dance / Prompting Dance

That’s just to facilitate future searches… 😉

Ceili Dances / Ceilidh Dances ~ CDSS Country Dance and Song Society


"Make it Happen!"

"West Virginia Square Dances" ~ Bob Dalsemer

& there is also the EFDSS, English Fold Dance & Song Society

Their "Community Dances Manual" has been a starting point for many a ceilidh, including beyond the borders of England…

Ceili Dances / Ceilidh Dances ~ EFDSS English Folk Dance and Song Society


The Welsh have produced similar collections of music and dance, as have there been publications featuring Scottish ceilidh dances, for one example:

"Scottish Ceilidh Dancing"
by David and May Ewart
Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London, 1996
ISBN: 1-85158-845-0