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How to Run a Barn Dance or Ceilidh

Collectively, Moggy in the Wood have many years of experience behind us of putting on barn dances, and we think that, without wishing to be prescriptive, a few tips on how to run one might be useful.

Why Have a Barn Dance?

A barn dance or ceilidh is one of the best choices of entertainment for any gathering as it is truly social dancing. It has often been described as the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Everyone, from toddlers to grandparents, has a great time and no prior knowledge of dancing is needed, as the caller is there to make sure everyone knows what to do.

A Typical Evening

A full evening’s barn dance normally starts 7.30pm and finishes about 11pm, with half an hour break in the middle. We can usually squeeze in about 16 dances in that time. Of course, any variations to this pattern can be negotiated with the band.

Leading the Dancing:

The caller will encourage people to get up and dance, but it can be a good idea to allocate to some of your more outgoing guests the job of ring leading the dancing by example. People are often shy about being the first on the dance floor but are more than happy to be coaxed into joining in by other guests. Party hosts (bride and groom; anniversary couple; guest of honour, birthday boy or girl etc) should join in at least the first and last dances.

What About Children?

Nobody loves a barn dance more than children. It is a good idea to make sure the caller knows if there are going to be children present, particularly if you would like him or her to have a couple of dances prepared specially for them. Children can of course also join in the main dances from quite a young age. You may have difficulty trying to stop them!

The Dances

For most dances people dance in couples – traditionally comprising one of each sex, but anything goes. Most of the time the dancers will be grouped in “sets” of four or more couples. Please see the separate document Beginners' ceilidh workshop notes for more information about dancing and barn dance etiquette

Floor Size

You should make sure the dance floor is big enough. Barn dancers take up quite a bit of room and a small raised dance floor will not be enough and may even be dangerous. Make sure that there are no humps or ramps for people to trip over. A clear rectangular shape is best. You probably need a minimum of 1.5 square metres per simultaneously dancing person. This may be rather squashed, and 2 square metres is better. Remember that you will almost certainly not get everyone dancing until the last dance, so do not worry too much if the calculations show it will be a little squashed, as long as there is room for that last dance which is traditionally a bit of a squash anyway.

Sensible Shoes

It is a good idea to request on the invitations or tickets that sensible footwear be worn for dancing. (Stilettos heels and steel capped wellington boots are probably a bad idea).


Have a think about lighting for the dance floor and for the band area and consider whether you need to hire any. You need more lighting than you would have at a disco, but may still want to avoid harsh lighting. Basically people need to be able to see across the room clearly. The band in particular will need a reasonable amount of light, so they can be seen and see what they are doing (even if they don’t have music to look at, they might have notes on the stage, as might the caller).


You will need to provide some seating for people when they aren’t dancing (probably about 10% more than the number of people, assuming that everyone will want to be sitting down at certain points in the evening, for example the interval). It is a good idea to ensure that this is well integrated with the dance space. If all the seating is in a separate room with the bar, then you run the real risk that everyone will spend all evening there and won’t do any dancing!

Food for the Guests

If you have the space, having buffet-style food available all evening is an alternative to having a formal break for food. A large meal may break up the evening somewhat and a longer break will be needed to aid digestion. We would normally put in a gentle dance or two to follow a break. The band will want a 30-minute break at some point regardless of how you make these arrangements. This is a good time for any speeches or for guests to perform their party pieces. The band can bring background music if required.

The Stage

Please make sure the ‘stage’ is big enough for the band. A space 5m by 3m should be enough for Moggy in the Wood. The stage does not have to be raised, but good lighting is helpful.


At least one 13amp power socket is required on or very near the stage.

Stage Furniture for the Band

Please supply a small table for the band’s sound equipment and a chair without arms for each musician and for the caller.

Refreshment for the band

Please offer food and drink to the band where this practical. They have often travelled a long way to be there, and will play better if they are fed and watered. It also incorporates the band into the evening better and the members of the band are always grateful.

Other Band Requirements

It is very helpful if the band can park as close as possible to the area that they are going to play as the amplification equipment is heavy and the distance that it is moved is best kept to a minimum.

The band will need to set up and adjust this equipment so access to the venue at least 1 hour before the event is needed for this.

Finally: It's fun, go for it.