Once again, the lack of clarity in the law that regulates
music and dancing has exposed fundamental differences of interpretation
between local authorities.
On Saturday 18 October thousands of people around the UK and beyond danced
in the Big National Ceilidh to raise money for WaterAid:
More info about WaterAid:
Most if not all the 90 or so events took place in venues already licensed
for dancing, including town halls and community centres. But need they
have worried about entertainment licensing?
I asked six councils whether they would allow such ceilidhs under the
Licensing Act's exemption for morris dancing and any dancing of a similar
nature. Four failed to reply, but of the two who did one (Camden) said
'yes' and the other (Swindon) said 'no'.
A spokesperson for Camden said: 'We would take the view that this [ceilidh]
would be of a similar nature to morris dancing and therefore exempt from
needing to be licensed. The exemption also includes unamplified live music
that is integral to such a performance.'
However, Lionel Starling, licensing manager for Swindon council, saw it
differently: 'I think this ceilidh is licensable mainly because it is
planned and widely promoted in advance. As with many aspects of the Licensing
Act 2003, a great deal depends on interpretation. An exemption for 'morris
dancing or any dancing of a similar nature' leaves many questions unanswered.
Is the distinction based on the 'traditional' nature of morris dancing
or is the emphasis on the fact that it is impromptu and therefore negligible
in its impact? A performance of Riverdance involves a 'traditional' style
of dancing but it would be perverse if that were exempt. For now, practitioners
can only focus on the 'impromptu' aspect, in my view. Clearly, that does
however leave us with the anomaly that a morris dancing festival is exempt
from the scope of the Act.'
Richard Bridge, solicitor and founder of the Performer Lawyer Group, commented:
'I'm interested to hear of the views expressed by Camden council. It seems
to me that part of the reason that one refers to a ceilidh as a ceilidh
and to morris dancing as morris dancing is that they are very different.
A ceilidh is one form of local social dance, whereas morris dancing is
a display dance and indeed has only recently permitted the two genders
to dance in the same displays!'