Callies Bastille Day Ceilidh (l écossaises ceilidh)

The Cape Town Caledonian Society, colloquially known as The Callies offered a ceilidh with a difference on Saturday 14 July 2012, as it was also Bastille Day. The ceilidh had a French twist and celebrated the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. The lineup included piping, dancing, feasting and singing and a fun evening was had by all.

Cape Town Scottish Country Dancers enthusiastically participated in the event, not just with our dancing display but also with a poetry recitation and singing as well as offering Ceilidh dancing for all.

The venue, the dining room of Rosedale (SA Legions home), was transformed with bunting, tartan as well as South African, Scottish and French flags and looked rather festive. It wasn’t just the hall though that was decked in red, white and blue; guests were also wearing these colours combined with tartan, berets and scarves!

Nibbles on the table included home-baked (and restaurant-baked) shortbread, nougat and very yummy profiteroles. (Yes, they were profiteroles and not éclairs. The difference between them is simply shape -  the former being round and the later oblong. The important bit though is both are filled with pastry cream and then drizzled with chocolate and good to eat.) I have suggested to Tommi Offret that she share her recipe with us for inclusion in the Callies recipe book which is due out soon. (Thanks Tommi and Danny, Jacinta and Vito of Café Dulce for the baked goodies.)

The Chief, Stuart Munro welcomed all to the ceilidh and he very briefly explained the history behind the  special relationship between Scotland and France known as the Auld Alliance. La Marseillaise was played and we raised our glasses to South Africa, France and Scotland.

The first item of entertainment on the programme was a session of piping by the society’s own Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band.

Most of us are familiar with the Scottish blessing Lang may your lum reek which literally means Long may your chimney smoke. Well Alex Frew entertained us with a funny recitation of a poem ‘The Reekin Lum’, his accent giving an evocative authenticity.

It was then the chance for all to warm-up with a dance or two - Gay Gordons followed by a round-the-room dance appropriately called ‘Welcome to the Dance’. It was great to see the dance-floor filled with guests enjoying themselves. 

I then had an opportunity to introduce the French Connection in Scottish Country Dancing. Country dancing in Scotland was influenced by the long special relationship with France through the Auld Alliance and dance teachers brought back steps and rules of etiquette from the French Court dances.

The Quadrille, with its Country Dance formations was developed as a court dance for Napoleon in France but quickly spread to other countries after 1815. An amalgamation of the square formation of the Quadrille with elements of the Country Dance, and the Reel, produced the universally known ‘Eightsome Reel’.

The first dance we performed wasn’t the rather lengthy ‘Eightsome reel’ but it was a quadrille called ‘Jubilee Quadrille’.  Our next dance ‘Culla Bay’ also had an appropriate connection. Culla Bay is a small bay on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, between the islands of North and South Uist.

It was from Benbecula that Bonnie Prince Charlie left for Skye with Flora MacDonald in 1746 dressed as a women – disguised as her maid Betty Burkes. Flora MacDonald’s cousin Neil MacEachen was in the boat with them – he was a friend of Charles Edward Stuart and he played an important role in helping Prince Charlie evade capture and eventually escape to France.

The MacEachen family isn’t just remembered in Scotland’s history they also played a role in France’s history. This is eloquently recounted in an article from the Daily Mail which I found when preparing for the ceilidh entitled:  ”From Benbecula To Bonaparte: the amazing story of a crofters son and the legacy of Napoleon “.

The eight dancers who danced these two dances in a square formation were Andrew and Heather Hodgson, Alex Frew, Kim Mills, Gill Gordon, Heather Carson, Jo Caesar and Michelle Parker.

 This was followed by the Piobaireachd item. John Decker ably piped a lament ‘The Glen is Mine’, which he started learning only two weeks ago. We’d heard a rumour that John was also going to play a different kind of pipes – next time please? (I must say it was a little disconcerting for the audience that one of John’s opening remarks was that he’d dropped or needed to put in his ear-plugs!)

Folks then mingled at the Bring and Share Buffet which was laden with delicious eats: Crudités, sandwiches, profiteroles, shortbread, nougat, pate, biscuits and cheese (but of course it was brie) and sausage rolls ensured nobody went away hungry.  The recorded music that was played in the background while we socialized over a cuppa tea of coffee included Breton pipes.

There was once again an opportunity for all to burn up some calories on the dance floor with some Ceilidh Madness. (‘Ceilidh Madness’ is in fact a dance that reminds me of the ‘Flying Scotsman’ but is only danced four times through.) The recording I used with the traditional tune ‘Black Bear’ had folks clapping along which was great.  The next two dances in this session gave everyone not only the chance to clap along but also to sing along ‘Convict Ship’ which is a round the room reel was danced to the ‘Drunken Sailor’ and then ‘Mairi’s Wedding’.

The pipers had another opportunity to impress us with their fine playing, including a rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’ which had us all on are feet singing along.

One of the highlights was to listen to Philippa van Ryneveld and Kim Mills singing ‘When pipers play’. This stirring song was sung for the most part unaccompanied, for just a couple of verses Tony Reis and his wife Lesley joined in on the pipes and drums.

Whilst Kim caught her breathe I introduced the next Scottish Country Dance display:

The elegance, manners, and footwork of the Scottish Country Dance have its roots not only in the French Court as mentioned earlier but also French Ballet. In 17th century Scotland, this French base, combined with Celtic dance patterns danced for centuries by the Scots, resulted in an extraordinary musical form of dance. It embodied not only grace, but also an exhilarating spirit!

The effects of that influence have survived in Scottish Country Dancing to the present day. Poussette, pas de basque and allemande have found a permanent place in country dance terminology and the influence of the French ballet can be seen in the use of the balletic foot positions we use to define the structure of the steps of the country dancers.

The second Scottish Country Dancing display of the evening was performed by Andrew and Heather Hodgson, Jo Caesar and Kim Mills and Gill Gordon and Heather Carson. We danced two dances for three couples ‘Byron Strathspey’ with the petronella and allemande and ‘Seventh Wonder’ one of Andrew’s own dances written to celebrate Table Mountain’s selection as one of the new 7 wonders of the natural world.

The evening’s theme carried through to the Raffle prizes – red wine, shortbread, coffee, Lavender scented lotion, cheese boards, sparkling wine and whisky were included in the prizes for lucky winners.

There were also some spot prizes which Margaret Currie, Philip Marwick, John Mark van Niekerk and Alan Carson won. They were required to perform an impromptu Can-Can before they could receive their prizes.

The evening ended with the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne accompanied by the skirl of the bagpipes.

Members of the Organizing Committee from Clans Munro and Colquhoun have been encouraged by the positive comments we have received and even questions of "when is the next one?"  

Thanks to friends, family and dancers who supported the event and joined in the fun. We are looking forward to seeing you at the next ceilidh.

Heather Hodgson

20 July 2012