Who doesn’t like to get super sweaty and stumble home after 1:00 am? We’re talking square dancing on Cape Breton Island folks, and there’s nothing dull about it.
Some locals say that Gaelicculture on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is on the decline, but visitors like us are delightfully oblivious. With a square dance happening every night of the week during summer months – which also includes much step dancing – travellers can plot out their vacation to match where the dance takes place each night.
On our last summer trip to Cape Breton, we stuck around Inverness County, which takes up most of the western side of the island. There was a square dance every night at a different community hall and we hit up as many as we could.
As a general rule, square dances start at 10:00 pm and the fiddlers play until 1:00 am or later. You’ll run into step dancers who will dance solo for a set, which is a delight to watch. Newcomers can make friends easily and jump onto the dance floor to give it a try. The locals will guide you around.
It’s best to pick up the Dancing Around Inverness Country brochure at visitor info centres (from June to September) for directions to all the community halls, as some are a bit out of the way and on country roads.
Square Dances on Cape Breton Island
There’s no better way to delve into the life and culture of Cape Bretoners than by joining them on the dance floor and listening to their fiddle music. It’s hard to leave without a smile on your face and step dancing throbbing through your knees.
Our favourite dance is on Thursdays at Glencoe Mills Hall (Glencoe Mills Hall, 628 Upper Glencoe Road), a long-running dance with a new-ish dance floor to spruce up the historic hall. This lively dance was once the regular gig of hometown fiddler Buddy MacMaster, although the scene is smaller now.
The biggest (and some say best) dance on the island is in West Mabou (West Mabou Sports Club Hall, 2399 West Mabou Road). This one runs all year long on Saturday nights. There are both indoor and outdoor dance floors to kick up your heels.
Other favourites are the Southwest Margaree, an adults-only long-standing dance; Brook Village, another adults-only dance that runs every Monday night; The Barn at the Normaway Inn, which has a square dance at 10 pm but warms up with a céilidh (a gathering of music, dance and singing) and a 3-fiddler competition at 8 pm; and Scotsville, another adults-only dance on the north east side of Lake Ainslie.
The best way to mix with the locals?
Although you can visit Cape Breton anytime in the summer to take part in the dances (and during Celtic Colours in October), every August there’s a Gaelic festival called the
Féis an Eilein that happens in Christmas Island. It is just shy of a week long and is filled with step dance and fiddle lessons, Gaelic language lessons, square dances, céilidhs and lots (and lots) of music.
Although it doesn’t have the fame or size of Celtic Colours, it’s a neighbourhood event with a ton of heart. This is the festival to find your way to.