A Night Out In Edinburgh - Scottish Ceilidh

When you are on a student group tour, you often end up doing things that you might not do ordinarily when you’re staying at home or traveling on your own. Take disco dancing, for instance. I was in college during the mid-1970s and I managed to avoid this dance craze even when a date showed up in a three-piece white suit with no shirt and lots of neck chains. A John Travolta wannabe from Saturday Night Fever, he looked more like a “John Revolta” so this date was over before it even began.


Courtney Powell/Via Flickr

How easily we forget our high standards when we travel with our students! As a group leader, I believe in having a bit of fun with my students during the evenings. I have danced with my students after the end of the Elizabethan banquet evenings in London when the venue was transformed into a 1970s disco complete with the flashing lights. I have a vague memory of dancing at the Space Electronic Night Club in Florence, but I was probably just trying to make my way through the crowded dance floor to tell my students it was time to leave. I hope my dancing days are over, but you never know when you travel with students.

I will be departing for my spring break tour to England and Scotland in 28 days. On day 8 of our tour, we will be sightseeing in Edinburgh and later in the evening, my group will be going to a Scottish ceilidh, one of the optional excursions on the tour. Ceilidh (kay-lee) is the Gaelic word for an evening of traditional Scottish country dancing. Our ceilidh will be a two-hour evening complete with a three-course dinner and a floor show featuring Scottish music and dancing. On my very first tour to Scotland, I booked this optional excursion for my group and as they say, “a good time was had by all.” Some of my students were even invited to dance with the performers.

We ate a delicious meal, watched attractive Scottish girls in their kilts perform a sword dance, and listened to the Tartan Lads, a well-known box and song duo (“box” referring to an accordion), and several bagpipers as well. My students informed the master of ceremonies that it was our tour director’s birthday and the entire room sang “Happy Birthday” to him. The tour director, Mervyn Long, was embarrassed since it was not his birthday, but he knew it was all in good fun. Scotland’s national dish, haggis, was dramatically presented at the end of the evening as the master of ceremonies recited Robert Burns’ poem, “Address to a Haggis.” Before we left, everyone stood and linked their arms as we sang “Auld Lang Syne,” another Burns poem. The evening tried to echo Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve-December 31) and Burns Night (Robert Burns’ Birthday-January 25).

Several Edinburgh hotels specialize in these dinner evenings and floor shows for tourist groups. Will it conjure up memories of being in Las Vegas or a cruise ship? I wouldn’t know since I’ve never been to Vegas and I’ve never been on a cruise ship. Perhaps I should put them on my “bucket list.” Even if you are tempted to call this optional excursion “cheesy” or “touristy,” I still think it’s a nice way to introduce your students to Scottish music and dance, not to mention haggis. Haggis is a sausage made from ground sheep’s heart, liver, and lung, along with oatmeal, onions, and lots of spices, packed and traditionally boiled in the skin from a sheep’s stomach. The modern recipes substitute various sheep organs, for example, using a sausage casing instead of the stomach. I’m not afraid to eat haggis, which tastes pretty good on toast. Your students should feel a surge of Scottish nationalism when they taste the haggis.

Many countries have some type of “dinner-and-a-show” evenings that highlight their music and dance, not to mention their own national dishes. I have attended similar evenings in Hungary, India, Ireland, and Thailand, and I enjoyed them all. No doubt we will be joined by other tourist groups for our Scottish ceilidh. We are all in Edinburgh for the same reason and we may even meet some brave locals who might be there to entertain their out-of-town guests. To expose my high school students to some traditional Scottish music, I can’t very well bring a bus load of them to an Edinburgh pub like the Sandy Bells, well-known as a Celtic music venue. Booking an optional excursion like the Scottish ceilidh makes my job as a group leader very easy—at least for that one evening!

Readers, have you ever booked the Scottish ceilidh for your groups? What are your suggestions for a fun evening out with your students?

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(Editor’s note: If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)


Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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