Abi SharpComment

The Blackbird Ceilidh with Movingsounds

Abi SharpComment
The Blackbird Ceilidh with Movingsounds

Find out the interesting, inclusive and joyful outcomes ceilidh dancing can provide when Keith Ellis from Movingsounds invited guests from a range of ages, Deaf and hearing to take part in his ceilidh dancing project!

January’s Blackbird Film Festival for social and environmental change hosted by gallery and community hub ONCA in central Brighton explored the question "What is true diversity?"

It was a huge success in many ways: the quality of the films, the talks with directors and filmmakers, the atmosphere of a culture that creates a better world. The greatest success, in my opinion, was the bringing together of people and communities who never usually mix and some of whom are very isolated in the city. The definitions of gender, race, physical differences and wealth could, for a while, be celebrated. At times I felt like a teenager discovering a whole new world of people, sub-cultures and modes of expression, and in celebrating that diversity we found unity. I learned more sign language than I have in my whole life, and cried, along with most of the packed venue, at incredibly moving films about social and environmental justice.

I was asked to contribute something creative to the melting pot and, with the knowledge that many of the people attending would be from the Deaf community, I took the leap of faith and said I would lead a ceilidh (pronounced kayley) for Deaf and hearing people of all ages. It turned out to be far more inspiring than I could have imagined.

A ceilidh is a usually a gathering of people dancing set dances to folk music. It can just mean a sharing, although for most it's known for dances like Strip the Willow and the Gay Gordons. It seemed to me to have just the right balance of structure and freedom to be inclusive to anyone and everyone who was open to it.

We have just seen a film about the closure of the Bristol Deaf Club, but the mood at the ONCA Gallery was still buoyant with many friendly faces. Next it was time for me to explain and convince everyone about my idea to do a ceilidh. Luckily I had my set of bagpipes with me, so even those with no hearing at all could be entertained by the appearance of this ancient instrument and my facial expressions that went along with it. But it was not the bagpipes or the drum that united us all in time but the simple act of standing in a circle and looking around at all the different faces. The youngest was six, the oldest - who knows? Then, gently at first, we started to step in time together. The sound and feel of the vibrations on the wooden floor grew stronger and stronger. The rhythm became more powerful and in our surprise it began to speed up and accelerate and finally explode in laughter. Next, while still standing in the circle, we very gently patted each other on the back. Again, without the need to have any hearing at all, we could all access one common rhythm that unified us and brought, out of nowhere, a sense of trust and creativity.

Then it was time to bring out the drum and the bagpipes and stand in two lines of children, teenagers, mothers, fathers and grandparents, all ready to learn the first dance. Although I don't speak British Sign Language (BSL), I had a willingness to communicate and have fun on my side and most of the dances could be mimed and demonstrated with an element of comedy. Another person with that enthusiasm for connection was a young man in a wheelchair who could interpret for me into sign language. Not only was he willing to join in the dances in his wheelchair with amazing agility, it was also his first time interpreting sign language to a large group. In short: steep learning curve + lightheartedness = loads of fun for everyone.

One participant wrote: "What a wonderful weekend, I feel totally content and nourished throughout with a great sense of peace and belonging having spent time with such a wonderful group of people. I have left with memories that will be cherished for life and am so grateful for the gift of Blackbirds!"

We hope this huge potential can be realised and many more people can benefit from the simple and ancient cocktail of a gathering of people, a safe space and some human creativity. If you can help, or know anyone who can help, to make this accessible to as many people as possible across Brighton please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Huge thanks to Lex Titterington and Alice Clayton for directing the Blackbird Film Festival, and of course to ONCA, for hosting it. For more info on ceilidhs or music for communities email: keith@movingsounds.org.

Keith Ellis facilitates positive social and environmental change through a wide range of collaborative methodologies and is a director of Movingsounds. Movingsounds runs workshops that transform lives and make true sustainability through the power of creativity and diversity.