Carrollton Ceili Thrills a First Timer!

written by Brandon Jones
SCMA Ceili Newsletter July/August 2007

Dateline: Carrollton, TX

I volunteered to work admissions for something called a Ceili on Saturday, May 12th. Now, I have worked the North Texas Irish Festival for 7 years and had seen the word Ceili on the schedule every year. Unfortunately, I’ve always been working a shift when it was going on, so I had never seen a Ceili.

I asked my friend, Christina Brooke, what a Ceili was, as she has been working at the North Texas Irish Festival since she was a kid, but she did not know for sure. So, I asked Lybo Buchanan, the secretary of the Southwest Celtic Music Association, the same question. She said a “ceili” is a gathering and a Dance Ceili was a Celtic dance party similar to square dancing, with live music. So, I saddled up and headed over to the Plaza Arts Center (1115 4th Ave Carrollton, Texas 75006) in the historic square of old downtown Carrollton. But, I still didn’t know what a Ceili is.

I got there about an hour before it started for a better look at the venue. The Plaza Theater on 4th street in Carrollton is a converted one screen movie house. The lobby now houses a neat little collection of jewelry and art pieces. The majority of the old theater has been replaced with a beautiful hardwood dance floor. Where the screen used to be is a stage with a curtain backdrop. The balcony has been converted to a seating area with tables, chairs and a collection of art along the back wall.

I found Lybo in the theater and the other volunteer, Sharon O'Rourke. She is an assistant teacher of Irish Dance at the Emerald Dance School. Once we got ourselves set up and settled in, I asked Sharon what a Ceili is. She told me that “back in the day” whenever you’d have any social gathering, you’d get a few musicians and people would dance and play and have group dances. It was just what happened when enough people got together for any social function, and that is a Ceili. With that question answered I was ready for the night.

About 8 pm, people started trickling in. We had lots of regulars and a few newbies like me. There was a four piece Celtic combo and two instructors, Michael & Susan Harrison, also from the Emerald School. They started off showing everybody some very intricate dance steps. Then, they broke the steps into small sections. Once we had it down, the music struck up and the dancers were off. The regulars were able to spice up the regular steps with some very fancy footwork.

The night moved along fast. There was some teaching, then some dancing, then more teaching and more dancing. Every few songs the whole floor would take a breather to get drinks and snacks. There were about 37 people there -- couples, singles, families, all kinds, all types. The whole group was wildly energetic. They danced and laughed and just had fun the whole time. By the end of the night everyone had met new friends and reacquainted themselves with old ones. As everyone was leaving and milling around, a young penny whistle student went up and jammed with the musicians for a bit. Everyone was glowing from the dancing and smiling and talking. What had been a bunch of strangers at the beginning of the night was now a community. It was great! I had never been to a Ceili before, but I will go back. This is the very thing I was looking for when I joined the S.C.M.A. and, boy, did I get what I was looking for.

Last updated:  October 5, 2007 10:24 AM