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Old New Year danns a’rathaid could be perfect way to keep party spirit alive and kicking


By Liza Mulholland

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As we settle into a new year, and with spring still a long way off, many of us are wondering how best to banish the winter blues.

Well, nature never fails to be a tonic for physical and mental wellbeing, with a good riverside or country walk on a fresh, blue-sky day guaranteed to lift the spirits.

There’s something about being wrapped up against the cold, with the low winter sun on your face, that not only enlivens and energises, but frees and calms the mind.

But for a sociable, fun way to warm the cockles on these dark nights it’s got to be, for my money, dancing. Over the festive period, I’ve seen, played for and done a lot of dancing and, boy, do I feel the better of it.

Firstly, there was the senior Christmas dance at a Highland secondary school. I was playing with a ceilidh band for the event and I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that these S5 and S6 students were the best crowd of enthusiastic dancers I’ve seen in a long time!

Upwards of a hundred were on the floor immediately for every dance, giving it laldy and having terrific fun. I was impressed they knew all the dances and they not only looked lovely in their smart kilts and glamorous dresses, but they danced beautifully.

In a brief break from the ceilidh sets, the hall was a capacity mass of synchronised line-dancing to Mariah Carey and it was fantastic to watch. Hats off to these fabulous youngsters!

Then more festive gigs in Inverness with our band Dorec-a-belle, including the wonderful Red Hot Highland Fling at Hogmanay. Musicians love nothing more than when an audience is moved to dance, shoogle, twitch, bop or boogie to their music, and – whether a local bar packed with punters getting on down to These Boots Are Made for Walking or 10,000-plus folk in Inverness’s Northern Meeting Park swaying in waltz time to That’s Amorè – it’s a heart-warming sight indeed.

Revellers bring in the New Year with a dance at Inverness's Red Hot Highland Fling. Picture: James MacKenzie/HNM
Revellers bring in the New Year with a dance at Inverness's Red Hot Highland Fling. Picture: James MacKenzie/HNM

In the early hours of New Year’s Day the band and friends gathered in ‘Party Central’, our saxophone player’s spacious living-room, to do a bit of dancing ourselves – and though none of us are, what you might say, in the first flush of youth, we danced and grooved with reserves of energy that surprised us all. Music of all genres was belted out on a brilliant sound system and we had a blast; it was feel-good fun from start to finish!

The only element I did not manage (so far) this year was our family’s traditional danns a’rathaid – Gaelic for road dance – which harks back to an earlier era and which we like to keep going, for old time’s sake as well as simply how great it feels to dance outside.

In my granny’s youthful days on the Isle of Lewis, in the early 1920s, the young people of the district of South Lochs would meet to dance at a crossroads. With no village halls or venues in which to gather, they simply walked from their respective villages to the biggest space available, where someone would produce a fiddle or a melodeon, and dancing would begin.

I’ve often reflected on what it must have been like at that time, post World War I. Tinged with much sadness no doubt for the many young friends and family who’d been lost, but how life-affirming and asserting of youthful spirit and aspiration, to dance under the stars, without care, to the tunes and Gaelic songs that were part of their lifeblood.

I’m clinging to the hope it’s not too late though for a wee New Year’s danns a’rathaid, with my son on the pipes or myself on the squeezebox playing some tunes. With the traditional Old New Year of the Julian Calendar, still celebrated by many, falling on 14th January, I’ve a feeling we won’t need much persuasion to get a good Strip the Willow going.

If you haven’t yet managed to shake a leg over this festive break, feel free to join us!


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