Fumble-y Celtic pseudo-dance moves

In Edinburgh, a budding playwright bonds with fellow students through a lively dance tradition.

By Sarah Grammar '18
2016 Artist Development Fellow

Sarah Grammar ’18, a resident of Currier House concentrating in Theater, Dance & Media, was awarded a Fellowship to attend the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School (SUISS) Creative Writing and Theater & Performance programs, as well as engage in research on British female playwrights. Grammar, who has studied advanced playwriting with Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English Sam Marks, has stage-managed, light-designed, and acted in a number of Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) productions. Grammar’s lighting design work was seen in the April production of Annie Baker‘s The Flick at Adams Pool Theater. She plans to pursue a career in playwriting and arts education. This is the second of two blog posts about Grammar's summer in Scotland; here is the first.

Ceilidh: noun, two-syllable word, pronounced KAY-lee. Definition: exhausting display of one's fumble-y Celtic pseudo-dance moves. And: eternal bonder of students and tutors from around the globe.

This lively dance tradition brought together students from all over the world this summer to Edinburgh, Scotland. The dances themselves that are done at the Ceilidh are fairly simple, with intricate steps thrown in here and there for flair. Most are fast-paced, large, raucous group line-dances to iconic Celtic tunes.

Mansfield Traquair Centre, “Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel”
Mansfield Traquair Centre, “Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel”
Those who didn't dance at the Ceilidh stood on the edges of the dance hall and chatted about Katherine Mansfield, Scottish weather and current politics while drinking Scottish cider and ales.

At the end of the traditional Ceilidh, Auld Lang Syne was merrily chanted in a tremendous circle. It's a much more enjoyable experience when one knows how to sing the Scots lyrics that go along with the song. Most everyone was sweating from a mix of the cider and intense shuffling.

For me, engaging in this piece of Scottish culture was a way to bond with the other students from around the world. We all had a deep unfamiliarity with the whole affair, but in that shared unfamiliarity we found common ground. Somehow, it is easier to form connections with other people when both parties try something for the first time and risk making large fools of themselves. My SUISS classmates and I forged international friendships through a shared confusion on how to Ceilidh.

The Artist Development Fellowship program, jointly administered by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Office of Career Services, awards 10-15 fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. The program is open to all undergraduates currently enrolled in Harvard College, and applications are evaluated by the Council on the Arts, a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit the OFA website or call 617.495.8676.