Dance & Culture
6:49 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

Party with the Scots at the Celtic Ceilidh: 'Cause If It's Not Scottish...

Apprentice students doing Highland dances at the Bullard School of Dance
Apprentice students doing Highland dances at the Bullard School of Dance
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

...Well, you remember the famous Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Meyers.  

This weekend you can celebrate what it means to be Scottish at the Celtic Ceilidh in Kalamazoo. The Ceilidh will take place Saturday at 4:30 at the Kalamazoo Ballet’s Bullard School of Dance on South Street.

Artistic Director Terry Bullard says a Ceilidh is basically just a big party with singing, dancing, and food.

She says Highland dances are a lot like traditional Irish step dances.

“Highland the legs turn out and Irish they don’t. And the heels are not on the floor in either of them and the bodies are not used either,” says Bullard.

Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

 “It was a man’s dance originally and a military dance. So it’s a very strong body and back and arms. And the Highland Fling is a dance of celebration and the sword dance is a dance of war. And it’s danced on the spot because it’s in the Highlands and there’s no big grass spaces for a country dance.”

This Ceilidh is in honor 89-year-old Battle Creek resident Georgia Woolner and her daughter Loraine.

They were two of Bullard’s first Highland students when she came to Kalamazoo from Canada where she danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

The Woolner’s came over from Scotland after World War II in 1955. They lived in Detroit for a few years, and then moved to Battle Creek where they became dedicated members of the Scottish Society of Southwest Michigan.

Woolner says she didn’t really attend Ceilidhs in Scotland until they moved to America.

“When the war started because everything…we were on black out from 1939. So we couldn’t do those kind of things. We didn’t get out very much," she says. "You were lucky if you got to the movies.”

Woolner remembers the first Ceilidh she did with Terry Bullard near Bullard’s home on Gull Lake:

“We had the Mishawaka Pipe Band escort the Highland dancers down to the waterfront and the audience. And the pipes sounded across the lake and boats anchored to take part in the performance from the lake.”

At this year’s Ceilidh, Bullard will teach everyone a dance called The Gay Gordons. It’s a popular country dance at festivals in Scotland, England, and Canada.

“Here [in America] they have square dancing and it’s like that but it’s Scottish dancing. And everybody knows the dances,” Bullard says.

The dance is pretty simple. With a partner, you both move forward four steps. Then, turn the opposite direction while switching arms and move backward four steps. Then, repeat. After that, the women in the circle turn (while walking in a line) for four counts and face their partners. Lastly, the pair gallops for a few counts, kind of like a polka.

But even if you aren't the best dancer, Bullard says that's ok. The point of the Ceilidh is to bring people together to celebrate Scottish heritage and generally have a good time.

“They’re very high energy and they’re fun," she says. "I mean, how can you sit still to bagpipes?”

The entertainment lineup includes bagpipers, harp music played by Carol Payne Smith, and Irish and Scottish songs by Arnie Johnston.