The Basics

Couples: In most dances (except the Dashing White Sergeant) the most basic unit are the couples, consisting of one person dancing the traditionally male part (M), and one person dancing the traditionally female part (F). 

Sets: Many of the dances begin with two lines, with couples facing each other and the M on the left as they look towards the band. Before the music starts a counter will come down the set to number each couple (usually numbering 1-6, but this can vary depending on the dance). These numbers not only dictate who starts the reel as a dancing couple (usually couples 1 & 4, but sometimes every odd-numbered couple), but also at what point to stop; where the counter restarts the numbering is the point at which your set ends and new begins, so you cannot dance below this point.

Start of Set

M1           F1

M2           F2

M3           F3

M4           F4

M5           F5

M6           F6

End of Set

Casting Off: This  is when the dancing couple moves behind the couple beneath them (i.e. M1 moves behind M2, and F1 behind F2) to end up one place down.

Corners: These are the imaginary corners of a square made by the two couples beneath the dancing couple. F will always dance with their top corner first and M their bottom corner, meaning F1 dances with M2 first and M1 with F3, before moving onto the remaining corner.

Figure of Eight: Also known as the reel of three, this can be between either two M and one F or two F and one M. All three dancers here are tracing a figure of eight on the floor, until they all end up in their original positions. In the example below the M turns to their left first and is dancing with two Fs:

  i)                                                   ii)                                                  iii)                                                  iv)  

     F2             M1             F3                    M1             F3             F2                    F3             F2             M1                    F2             M1             F3

Circle: Here all the members of a set hold hands and move round to the left for eight beats, and then round to the right for eight beats.

Setting: Also known as the Pas de Basque, this is not to be confused with a set (above). Setting and subsequently 'turning' a partner is very common in reeling. There are four beats of music in which to do this, and usually involves taking a step to the right (1st beat), moving the left foot next to it (2nd beat), taking a set to the left (3rd beat), and simultaneously moving the right foot next to it whilst clapping (4th beat).

Teapots/Wheels: So called as dancers resemble the shape of a tea-pot, dancers place their right hands in the middle, attempting to interlock their thumbs and curl their hands over the top. They then swing round clockwise for eight beats. Everyone then turns on the spot so they can repeat with their left hands in the middle travelling anticlockwise.


The Turns

There are a variety of different turns used in Scottish Reeling, some of which can be used in a variety of situations, but some of which must be used in certain situations. It is important to note that all turns involve the M and F moving in a full circle around each other. Below are some of the most commonly used turns:

Two-Hands Grip: Here M crosses their wrists (right over left) and presents his hands with the thumbs pointing up to F, who takes M's right hand in their right hand and left hand in their left. The couple spin clockwise, and should they wish M can raise his right hand over F's head to spin F as well. If this is done it is important for M to let go with the left hand and use the left hand to guide F into their next position.

Elbow Grip: Here the couple take each others left forearms, gripping under the elbow and spin . It is important to tuck the thumb under the elbow effectively making a cup with the hand to avoid bruising. Partners will always spin each other anticlockwise with their left arm, but if spinning someone who is not your partner it will be clockwise with the right arm.

Tulloch Turn: Partners face opposite directions, put their inside arm behind their partners back so that the crook of each others elbows are touching. Placing the outside arm behind their own back they can now grip each others hands.

Copyright © Hugh Rowan and Oxford Caledonian Society 2020