As regular readers of this blog will know, I enjoy a good ceilidh. It was that time of month again last night and the band supported another evening of hard physical exercise . . . and fascinating social insights:
In the 1970s and 1980s when I first started barn-dancing, PC stood for Police Constable and nothing else. We didn’t even have Personal Computers let alone Political Correctness. Ceilidhs in those days were simple: a couple was a man and woman, with the man on the left. In longways sets the men stood in one line with the ladies facing them. Easy: everyone knew were they stood: literally.
For those that don’t know, a key person in a ceilidh is the caller. He or she stands on stage with the band and, before the dance starts proper, explains exactly how the dance progresses: when to circle left, when to swing your partner and so on. During the dance they’ll remind you what to do next. In pre-PC days their descriptions would be based on what the men or women would do: it was simplest way of being clear as to who does what, when and thus avoid chaos on the dancefloor. They can’t do that anymore. A couple now are As and Bs or ‘inners and outers’ (e.g. if the dance calls for two concentric circles) . . . or all manner of creative ways of NOT say ‘men’ or ‘women’. I really feel sorry for the poor callers navigating the PC minefield.
In the original days of ceilidhs, long before even police constables, barn-dances were a time for the community to let its hair down, perhaps celebrating a good harvest or a wedding (an event that, even todays, often gives individuals their first taste of a ceilidh). After the hard graft of getting the harvest in or as a reaction against a puritanical society, the locals needed a chance to express themselves freely, to dance with gay abandon: letting the music take them, naturally living the joy of movement.
And so it is today. With so many pressures on us and uncertainties surrounding us, don’t we too need a chance to let our hair down and to express ourselves freely? Beyond any gender labels, to find our own, natural, self-expression. Within the form of a given dance, ceilidhs allow us to do that. I, for example, love to ‘swing your partner’ . . . and adapt that swing to whoever I’m dancing with at the time.
Observing my fellow dancers clearly illustrated this in action! There are as many different ways of barn dancing as there are individuals . . . and I’m not sure it has much to do with the gender label someone chooses for themselves. From the timid to the exuberant, from the unpracticed to the expert: there’s a place for them all on a ceilidh dance floor. Although there were one or two who’s abandonment did stray, at time, into the dangerous! Being our true self is all very well, but we do have a responsibility for those we share our expressive space with!
However, I guess, that’s what both political correctness and good ceilidhs are all about: encouraging and enabling each and every one of us to be fully our unique selves.
And the labels? It’s maybe worth remembering that philosophers generally agree that ‘the description of a thing is not the thing itself’. On my conscious evolution journey, I long ago realised that I am far more than any label or category that I, or anyone else, might associate with me. Labels have their place, as for a ceilidh caller, as practical aides for helping life to flow smoothly. Or, sometimes, the original meaning and use of certain words and phrases might actually have as much to teach us as their modern PC versions. So, let’s all dance with gay abandon . . .