Before I moved to Edinburgh sight unseen, knowing no one, I knew I’d have to make an effort to create a social life from scratch. I had a plan: Meetup groups, volunteering, evening classes, pushing myself to get out as much as possible.
I’ve occasionally overdone it and am still finding the balance between pushing myself and honouring who I am: an introvert who often craves solitude. I’ve gotten down when the difference between the effort I’m making and what I’m getting back feels too vast. But the plan is solid, and I’m starting to feel more connected in my new home.
I make that sound easy, and it’s far from easy. I’ve done this before: I moved to New Brunswick, Calgary, Mexico City, Vancouver with few to no social ties, and it’s always difficult to forge them. It always requires huge reserves of energy to force myself to get out, to meet a group of strangers or near-strangers, or even acquaintances. I always cringe when I walk into a room alone. I do it anyway, because while I have hermit-like tendencies, I don’t want to be an actual hermit. I do it because I don’t think “easy” is the path to a fulfilling life.
In keeping with those hermit-like tendencies, I’m generally not a big New Year’s celebrant. But this was my first in Scotland, known for going all out for what they call Hogmanay, and when in Rome … or Edinburgh. Being so far away from friends and family, my options for the evening were limited if I wanted to join people I knew. Limited to one choice: the Snow Ball Ceilidh at the fancy schmancy Assembly Rooms.
The best description I’ve seen of a ceilidh (pronounce it like caylee and you’ve probably heard of it) comes from comedian Danny Bhoy. It’s like he captured documentary footage of my first foray into Scottish traditional dancing, except I went voluntarily:
Danny Bhoy wasn’t kidding about one thing: there are precise steps for these dances. The caller walks you through them at first, but that assumes my brain can translate directions like “set to your partner” or “reel of three” into actions for my body.
Dancing in a pair or group is easier when at least one of you knows what you’re doing. At the Snow Ball, I assumed the men in kilts would know how to lead. It was not a reliable assumption. One of my partners claimed Scottish dancing was “fighting set to music” as he pushed me into place. The dance floor was crowded, many toes were stepped on, many mid-dance collisions occurred, many laughs ensued.
One woman in our group sat on the sidelines, stoically watching the dancers, asking “is this an easy one?” when anyone tried to entice her onto the floor. Newbie tip: there is no easy one. I danced anyway. One of us had fun.
It wasn’t the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. I felt acutely how far away I was from friends and familiarity. After we went outside to watch the fireworks, I slipped away to walk home, proud of myself for having made it past midnight. I joined the dance, and that’s enough for now.