Accessible Ceilidhs

Suffolk musician and dancer Poppy Price-Dowhan writes about her new classes run in Wangford Community Centre, Suffolk twice a month.

What’s the difference between a regular ceilidh and an accessible one? Put simply, an accessible ceilidh enables everyone to dance instead of a regular ceilidh, possibly alienating people. Irrespective of disability there’s a way to join in and take part safely.

I’m a firm believer that ceilidh dancing should be welcoming to all however due to lack of accessibility this isn’t always the case. Trying something new for the first can be daunting for anyone but if you have a disability there’s an added level of complexity. The practical element of where the ceilidh is being held can be a limiting factor before even thinking about dancing. Now consider if you have sensory issues or a physical disability that can lead you to being injured easily. Will people touch you without consent? Is the caller going to take this into account let alone able-bodied dancers? Few ceilidhs advertise themselves as being accessible in part because they don’t know what is required to call themselves accessible.

As a disabled caller once I’ve established that a venue is as accessible as possible, taking into account what is realistic e.g if calling in a field having wooden boards to dance on but not expecting a paved area, the next step is focusing on teaching dances. I’m a wheelchair user and over the course of several years I’ve learnt to adapt different figures resulting in me being able to offer both accessible ceilidhs and workshops. The basics of making a ceilidh accessible are having an inclusive venue, clear instructions with lips visible and a willingness to adapt. I’m in a unique position as a former able-bodied dancer with specialist skills. That being said, it doesn’t mean all callers can’t provide some level of accessibility.

Poppy Price-Dowhan was a recipient of the EATMT’s Ruddock Bursary for 2022-3 and won a space on the week long Summer Music School run in Cambridgeshire that is The Burwell Bash. For more details about Poppy and her bursary see HERE.

March 2023