Caili is Practically CCD Class, Y'all

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We have an awesome place in Berkeley called the Starry Plough. It's an Irish pub that has hosted a ceili every Monday night for the last 40 years.

It's also a hotbed of practical Catholic theology.

Not by design mind you, this is Berkeley after all, but it accomplishes it regardless.

Ceili is a social dance. In order to learn the dance one must first learn how to move as an individual. It is important to learn what to do with your feet, and how to keep time with the music.

But one can't stop there, otherwise it's not ceili, one must also have a partner.

This partner is complementary to you, ideally in male/female pairs. You typically come back to this partner and you help each other throughout the dance.
It is up to the two of you to figure out how to make the dance work. You might be very dissimilar in height, ability, and experience, but your job as a partner is to get the other where they need to go.

But it is not enough to have a partner. The partners must also meet each other in groups - small groups or the whole room together, depending on the specific dance.
This makes the dance into a living organism of sorts, while still maintaining the integrity of the relationships of the partners and individuals within it.

I contend that the ceili lets us practice in an evening what we are meant to be doing in the larger world - working on getting our individual game together, interacting in a mutually beneficial way with a partner, and relating all of that to the wider community.

It also teaches a very important, but practical, lesson: how to physically relate in a respectful manner with someone of the opposite sex you have just met.
The dances are riddled with bows, courtesy turns, and rules about exactly what to do with your hands.

It's awesome.

You know what would have made middle school and high school dances a lot less awkward?
Knowing what to do with your hands!

Structured social dances, like ceili, teach us about physical boundaries and communication in a quick and fun way. It teaches respect for the bodies of others, awareness of space, and forces us out of our own heads.

It's Theology of the Body in an evening. No thick volumes of words required.


  1. LOVE THIS!!! I totally agree! One of my friends and I long ago agreed that this world would be a better place if ceilis and Jane Austen-style dances were held frequently in public settings.

    1. Going to these is the first time I could really understand how you meet people in a bar.
      For all other things at bars it just seemed like everyone came with their friends, stayed with their friends, and left when their friends did. With dancing you are forced to reach out. I think that's a good thing!

  2. They have ceilidh dances in Berkeley?! Since marrying my husband - who's from Scotland - this is the *one* thing that I have wanted to do whenever we go back to visit his family. And, as of yet, it has not happened (maybe I'm not trying hard enough?) How funny would it be if my first dance happened in California instead of the "old country"? I really like your insights into the dance... but I think you forgot a part: the JOY, individual and collective, during and after the dance. :) Pope Francis would approve, methinks.

    1. Agreed! Joy is that invisible thread involved.

      There is a big annual Scottish ceilidh that happens in Piedmont in March. Y'all should go!

    2. Ooo!I'll have to look that one up. Thanks!


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