Barn Dances and how
to make them work !
This page is written by a Barn Dance caller to give members
of the public ideas about how to have a successful barn dance.
I live near Cambridge, England.
If you are thinking of organising a barn dance, perhaps you
could benefit from reading about my experiences. It could save
you money and embarrassment.
Please e-mail me with any suggestions
as to other topics that you would like to be covered on this site,
and also any suggestions or additions either from people who have
held successful or unsuccessful barn dances or are barn dance
callers who have a contribution on the subject. Or just send me
a message to say you have visited.
is a Barn Dance ?
A Barn Dance (sometimes called a Ceilidh) is a collection of
dances which can be done by anyone who can walk, and knows their
left from their right hand! The dances are usually fairly straight
forward and can be learnt on the night of the dance with the help
of the caller. No previous knowledge is required.
The music may be either from a live band or on CDs or audio
tapes which have been especially recorded to use for the purpose.
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Do I Really
want a Barn Dance ?
Strangely, this is a question that most people who phone me
and ask for a barn dance, have not asked themselves. When I ask,
they have not really thought about it. Of course, if you do not
know why you want one, you will not know whether to bother organising
one or not. On several occasions, I have convinced the person
that they want a different type of entertainment.
If you organise one, but are not committed to making it work
it will fail. See below for suggestions as to how to make it work.
Some barn dance callers work exclusively with one band. Others
work with several bands and will enlist the services of a suitable
band on your behalf. This second type will usually be prepared
to arrange a dance using CDs or audio tapes for music.
Many callers are not professionals, that is, they have another
job outside dance calling. Paying more for a professional may
or may not give you a better evening. Sometimes a caller who only
does a few dances each year will give a better performance as
they are more committed to having a good time, but you run the
risk of getting a bad caller who never gets repeat bookings. Professionals
can usually be relied on to give a fairly good performance.
Most bad amateur callers give up fairly quickly, bad professional
callers soon go out of business.
What makes a really
good Barn Dance ?
The big answer to this question is not what you would expect.
Most people who telephone me ask for a live band and think that
having a live band will make the evening go well. In my experience,
this is only a small factor.
Live bands usually sound better and give a better atmosphere
to the evening, but obviously you will be paying for more people
to give up their time so expect to pay up at least five times
as much for a dance with a live band.
There are more important factors to consider
- Do you have a suitable place to hold the dance ? Some
of the best barn dances have been held at village halls or school
halls. I know it doesn't sound very grand, but there is usually
plenty of space, a firm flat floor, toilets nearby and a kitchen
area suitable for catering for a large group.Will there be enough
space for the dancers to dance without falling over each other?
Think of them all standing in a circle with their arms outstretched,
lots of good dances are circle dances.
- Layout. Ensure that the layout of the venue is appropriate.
It greatly affects how the dance goes. An extremely common trap
is to put the food or the bar out of reach of the dance floor.
Make sure you do not encourage people to collect away from the
dance floor, because it is impossible to get enough back to the
floor to start a dance. 'You always find me in the kitchen at
parties' syndrome! Ensure that the people who are getting a drink
or food can hear the music and see the caller and see the other
dancers enjoying themselves.
- The Floor. The dance floor must be flat with
no overall slope, although a slight unevenness is OK. It must
be well supported if it is a temporary structure ( eg. in a marquee
). It must be supported by beams below and not too springy. The
floor must not have any projections which could trip the dancers.
The surface should be slightly slippery, ideally. Coconut matting
or carpet is not suitable as it has too much grip, lightly polished
wood is ideal.
- Outdoor dances. By outdoors, I include marquees. These
can be successful, but are more risky. Outdoor dances are really
only a success on warm summer evenings.
- Children. Children can be very good for getting dances
going. They are usually less inhibited and will drag mums and
dads onto the floor. They also have more staying power than most
adults. Work out how many children will be present and tell the
caller in advance, so that they can arrange dances for the age
group present. It is very rare for a dance to be spoilt by children
misbehaving, they enjoy it too much, and lots or children do
some country dancing at school.
- Do you have time for the dance to get going ? Sessions
of less than one hour are useless. The dancers are always a bit
shy to get up at first, but once they are up and dancing they
need to get used to doing it and enjoying it. I usually suggest
about one hour of dancing followed by a break for food or refreshments,
followed by about one or two hours of dancing.
- Treat your caller as a friend ! Well, I would say
that, wouldn't I ? Ensure that the caller and band have space
to do their work with good lighting. Ensure they have been told
the expected time that the dancing will start.You need
your caller to be enthusiastic. Welcome them, and offer them
a drink, preferably non-alcoholic. Ask them if they need anything
and if they are happy with the set up. Moving a few tables can
make all the difference. Remember, your dance is a partnership
of you, the caller and the band.
- Invite people who will dance. Sounds obvious, I know.
Make sure that the people who are invited would like to have
a dance. Ask them. Not everyone does. Not everyone is able. Even
the best caller cannot make people dance who do not want to.Will
you get up and dance? If you will not lead the
way, it can be very difficult for the caller to get others to.
- Drunkenness and rowdy behaviour. Do not invite people
who are prone to over-drinking. It makes others feel uncomfortable
and does not encourage people to get up and dance. One of the
best dances I have ever been to had a large jug of orange squash
for the dancers. They got all the excitement they needed from
the dancing. Consider not having a bar at all.
- Choose a good caller and a good band. It is difficult
to achieve this. Ask your friends if they have been to a good
barn dance, or ask for references from the caller. Most callers
carry business cards or will give you a contact phone number,
so if you find a good one, keep their details. A good caller
will get a good band. Most callers will be pleased for you to
visit another event before you book, either at a barn dance club
or at another person's party. Go and see the caller in action
- it can be very revealing, as can the caller's response to this
Please remember, most barn dances go very well and everyone
has a very enjoyable time.
If you would like more information about anything on
this website, or have anything to add, please send me an e-mail.
To avoid getting masses of junk mail, I have slightly hidden my
email@example.com , but
with the "x" removed.
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Last revised: 2nd June 2005.