Finding a venue
The village hall
The ideal venue for a ceilidh or a barn dance is a good sized village hall, church hall or scout hut. These are generally inexpensive to hire, and have often been designed specifically with dances of this type in mind. The only drawback is that you will have to organise your own catering. This is not usually a problem, just contact the local pub, and chances are they will be able to run an outside bar for you, and maybe even provide food. Village halls come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The biggest villages don't always have the biggest halls. It often depends on how old the hall is. So make sure you visit a number of places in your area to find somewhere suitable. See also comments below on choosing the size of a venue.
The social club
Another option is to go for one of the social clubs such as the British Legion, political party clubs, company sports and social clubs, etc... You don't usually have to be a member, but if you know someone who is, you may get a better rate by booking it through them. Again these types of venue usually have a good sized function room that is specifically designed for holding a dance. They will have a well stocked bar at the venue, and will usually be able to provide good basic food too. Beer prices at these clubs are usually cheaper than a typical pub, and far less expensive than the average hotel.
A posh hotel
A popular choice for weddings is a hotel or stately home. These may even be licensed to perform the wedding ceremony too, and will often be able to provide a whole package for you. This can be attractive as you just have one organisation to deal with, and they will take care of all the catering arrangements, etc... This does usually come at an extra cost, and you have less flexibility in how you want your event to run, as the venue will have their set way of doing things. Another advantage of a hotel of course, is that there will be accommodation available for guests travelling from a distance.
Another thing to consider is the size and suitability of the dancing area. Few hotels nowadays still have a traditional ballroom unfortunately. Function rooms that are used for business meetings and conferences are often carpetted which is not ideal. The main things to consider are the size of the room, and also the surface of the dance floor. See comments below for more on this.
A barn dance in a barn!
Often, people organising a barn dance, quite naturally think a barn might be a good suitable venue. The local farmer's barn may have been the traditional place to hold a dance a couple of hundred years ago, but they are usually dirty, dusty, draughty and smelly places. We have done some great gigs in barns, so it can work, especially on a nice hot summer's evening, but do make sure the space is going to be suitable for dancing. Don't forget you will need sufficient lighting, and the band will need somewhere to plug in the pa system.
The school assembly room
These are generally ideal venues for a dance. Unfortunately many schools seem to be reluctant to hire their halls out. It doesn't hurt to ask though.
These can be a good size, but are often very echoey places, so not the best acoustically, and visually not generally ideal either.
A marquee is another popular choice. A number of pubs and other venues now have a permanent or semi-permanent marquee which are often very good. If you are thinking of hiring your own marquee though you may be surprised at how expensive an option this is. Look into a couple of alternative options as described above to compare prices. There are a few other things to consider when hiring a marquee too. The most obvious is the size, see the notes below on this. Tent poles in the middle of a dance floor are not ideal, so think about that. The critical thing is the floor though. See the notes below on the dancing surface.
Outdoor events can be great fun. However, it is very important that due consideration is given to the vaguaries of the British weather. Firstly, ensure that you have a back-up plan in the event of rain or high winds (book the local village hall). Even on a nice summer's evening, the band would be happier with some protection for our instruments and the pa equipment. It is surprising how quickly a rain shower can come in, or the wind suddenly change.
Ask the band
If you are struggling to find a venue, or would like advice on any specific location, please get in touch as chances are we will have played at a number of places in your area over the years, and may be able to recommend somewhere suitable for you.
Is size important?
People often ask us for advice on the size of a venue. The best rule of thumb is to imagine all your guests holding hands in a big circle. That is the sort of space you would ideally need. Rooms are often long and thin, so it doesn't matter if the circle is more like an oval :-)
Often not everyone will want to dance at the same time, so you can get away with a smaller room, especially for a wedding party. We have managed in all sorts of odd size and shape venues over the years, but please do consider the size of the dancing area when booking a venue.
Note that you also need to make sure there is space for the band. If there is a proper stage that is great, but not absolutely necessary. You will also need to think about places for people to sit whilst not dancing. A single row of chairs around the outside of the room, gives the maximum space for dancing. If the room is big enough you may prefer to have chairs around tables, either at one end or down one side, depending on the shape of the room.
The dance floor
Something that is not always given due consideration is having a good surface to dance on. A good solid wooden floor is preferable. If you are putting down a temporary floor, make sure it is not too small. A typical floor designed for a disco in one corner of a room is not going to be big enough. It is preferable to dance on carpet, concrete, or even on grass rather than have people falling off the edge of something that they can't all fit onto comfortably.
If you choose a venue such as a village hall or a social club, there will be no problem as these types of venues will have been designed and built with dancing in mind. If you are using a marquee or a hotel conference room though, it is very important that you make sure that the dancing surface will be suitable.
Dancing on grass in a marquee or on a carpetted floor in a conference room, is not ideal, but is preferable to a badly designed dance floor or one that is not big enough. If the dance floor is too small, people may need to dance across the edge of the floor which can be off-putting or potentially even a trip hazard. Similarly a floor that is made in sections that are not properly connected together can cause an uneven surface.