Pages in this section

You are here

CeilidhKids: Teaching Dance to Young Children

Guest Blog by Caroline Brockbank, CeilidhKids

Back in 2007, when my own children were small, I took them to a few family ceilidhs. However it seemed that many were geared to families only in the sense that they had children attending them (getting ignored or squashed underfoot, quite often). There often appeared to be no concession to children’s confidence levels, attention spans, stamina, noise sensitivity or bedtimes. So I thought it would be fun to organise a little group so that we, and other families we knew, could have some fun together to Scottish dance music. So I booked a hall for a pilot 6-week block and soon our numbers had swelled and we were into a second term…

Nine years later, my colleague Katy Gray and I run four preschool family sessions a week in Edinburgh, and have several bookings most weekends, mostly birthday parties and fundraisers. Schools and nurseries have invited us to lead sessions, and CeilidhKids has participated in some large scale family-oriented festivals, including Scottish dancing among the activities on offer. Overseas families, perhaps connected to the University, are keen to explore Scottish culture, and many local Mums and Dads want to share half-forgotten dances with their children but need a reminder!

Whilst we love families of any age, CeilidhKids’ main area of specialism is the 3-5 age group, accompanied by parents, carers, or older siblings. We look at the children throughout and address them directly, whilst in fact giving the instructions to the adults and trusting that they will take on board the information and guide their partner or partners accordingly!

Our wee friends have short attention spans, so the success of a dance must never rely on anyone being in the right place at the right time.  Little ones often wander off unexpectedly, or have their own ideas about how the dance should go (suddenly lying down in the middle of the floor being a particularly popular variant). If you are three years old and have been encouraged to spend eight bars heading for somewhere in particular, you need to spend the next eight bars settling into that place, not immediately heading off somewhere else. Similarly, if a preschool child is required to stand still for 8 bars, you have to specify this, otherwise they’ll just skip off elsewhere. To let go of your partner’s hand is very scary. To hold a stranger’s hand is usually impossibly threatening. Therefore everyone has to be allowed to cling to someone else at all times, and it’s too much to expect anyone to stand on the correct side of their partner, so the dance mustn’t depend on this either. An adult may bring multiple children, so every dance must be possible with two partners, or whilst carrying a baby or toddler.

A few dances need very little modification, Prince of Orange for example, and at CeilidhKids we finish every session with a ceilidh-style non-progressive Circassian Circle. We have made a few alterations to the Gay Gordons, Britannia Two-step, Swedish Masquerade, (a big hit – now retitled Giants, Trees and Frogs) and the Flying Scotsman, and written a few new dances of our own. Most are compatible with the ‘traditional’ version of the dance, so anyone familiar with the regular version can participate in the usual way. Children need to stand next to their adults rather than opposite, so the Flying Scotsman and Grand Old Duke of York involve a line of families facing a line of families, and two top couples slipstep down the middle simultaneously. It’s usually best to have only one main point of focus, so we tend to dance in one large circle or one very long set, rather than splitting into small groups. An advantage of this is that the set can progress at its own pace, so if a sequence takes an extra eight bars at some point, nobody gets out of synch. Having a sympathetic and alert musician is an advantage here, as he or she can just slip in a few extra bars as required…

We launched CeilidhKids in Glasgow in 2014, with local Mum and dancer Mireia Anon-Rebollo at the helm. Mireia runs most of her sessions in nurseries and through the Gaelic school. Word is spreading, leading to several fundraising ceilidhs in the area, and Mireia is planning to run monthly family dances. Meanwhile, for me, one of the huge advantages of living in Edinburgh is the immediate availability of the Festival Fringe, in which it became obvious that CeilidhKids should participate. In August 2016 we organised 35 free family sessions, which were exhausting, hot and chaotic, but great fun and massively popular.





CB @ CK Aug 2016