First let's briefly explain the difference between a Barn Dance and a Ceilidh, it's pronounced Kay-lee. The dances tend be very similar but there is usually a bit more expertise and energy shown at a Ceilidh than a Barn Dance. A Ceilidh is defined as a social event, usually Celtic, which incorporates singing, dancing and story telling. In the UK we've sort of comandeered the name to use for an energetic Barn Dance.
If you've never been to a barn dance then the following description will help. The whole evening is run by the caller. He or she will choose a dance suitable for the ability of the dancers and then teach it by walking through each of the figures of the dance and explaining, sometimes with demonstrations, how it all fits together. After a couple of walk throughs the band will play the music and the caller will call each of the figures to remind the dancers what they should be doing at that point in the music.
It's generally accepted, especially when there are lots of beginners, that there will be mistakes and much hilarity as people go the wrong way, miss out a bit, do the same bit twice. A really good caller will somehow keep this mayhem under control and usually after a few times through most people get the hang of it and everybody has a great time.
After a suitable pause the caller will introduce the dancers to another dance and the evening progresses in that way.
If you're organising a dance you will need a venue. Try and avoid dusty old barns, yes I know they are called Barn Dances but they only danced in Barns before they built Village Halls and similar social spaces.
If you are visiting a hall to see if it's suitable, stand in the middle and clap your hands and listen for an echo. If there is a noticeable one, take note of how hard it is to talk to someone in the hall. Echoey halls can be a nightmare, beware of those with a vaulted (barrel) ceilings and a hall where even though you're within a foot or two of someone else you seem to have to shout to make yourself heard. Fortunately there are fewer of them every year as managers invest in acoustic tiles and curtains, which damp things down.
It's good to have a stage for the band. They can then be seen and they can watch you dancing. If the band sits at floor level all they see is bums and knees going past all evening and sometimes the dancers get tangled up with the band, which can be painful. A stage also helps to get speakers up in the air and the sound quality improves as a result.
It's also good to have a plain floor, we have played in many rooms with carpets and it does work but it's better without. You also need quite a bit of space, more than you do for a disco. As a quick guide a hall with a badminton court painted on the floor will just about accomodate 80-90 dancers without tables round the side. Most village halls work well.
Weddings have rules of their own however and you are often at the mercy of what a Hotel is prepared to offer or put up with. Life is full of compromises.
If you are running a dance where people are paying for admission then we recommend that you sell tickets and start selling early. If people have bought a ticket then they are more likely to come and even if they don't you have got their money so you can pay for the hall and the band etc. Try to avoid people collecting and paying for tickets at the door. You're bound to get a few but hopefully not too many. If people don't turn up to collect the tickets and pay you could end up with unsold tickets after turning people away because you thought you'd sold out.
Most dances are three or four hours long with a food break of some sort in the middle. We are sometimes asked to do more than four hours but very few people can dance that long and we find most people are thinking about going home by 11:00 pm. Food can be almost anything from a simple ploughmans supper to quite elaborate buffets, even fish and chips. Some groups have a bring and share, which seems to work out well.
It's really nice if you feed the band too. They will have started out to your event at least an hour and a half before it starts and will be hungry by half time.
Sometimes we get asked if a friend of the organiser can do a spot in the interval and can we provide a mic etc. We are happy to do this but it would help if we had advanced warning so we can check that suitable leads and mics are available. Similarly we often get asked if we can play a cd player or similar through the PA, again we would need to know what sort of connection is to be used.