Definitions

reel of three

Reel (dance)

The reel is a folk dance type as well as the accompanying dance tune type. In Scottish country dancing, the reel is one of the four traditional dances, the others being the jig, the strathspey and the waltz, and is also the name of a dance figure (see below).

In Irish dance, a reel is any dance danced to music in reel time (see below). In Irish stepdance, the reel is danced in soft shoes and is one of the first dances taught to students. There is also a treble reel, danced in hard shoes to reel music.

Reel music

Reel music is transcribed in 4/4, 2/2, or 2/4 time signature. All reels have the same structure, consisting largely of quaver movement with an accent on the first and third beats of the bar. A reel is distinguished from a hornpipe by consisting primarily of even beats. Reels usually have two parts (A and B); in most reels each part is repeated (AABB), but in others it is not (ABAB). Each part (A and B) typically has eight bars, which in turn are divisible into four-bar and two-bar phrases. The structure follows a scheme of question-answer, where the first phrase is the "question" and the second is the "answer." The group of thirty-two bars (four times eight) is itself repeated three or four times before a second reel is introduced. The grouping of two or more tunes in medleys or "sets" is typical in Celtic dance music. Today many Irish reels are supplemented with new compositions and by tunes from other traditions which are easily adapted as reels. It is the most popular tune-type within the Irish dance music tradition.

Reels are popular in the folk music of South West England. It crossed the Atlantic ocean with Irish and British immigration and thus entered the musical tradition of Atlantic and French-speaking Canada including that of Quebecers and Acadians. Reels are featured in many pieces of Quebec singers and bands; for example: La Bolduc, La Bottine Souriante and even the more modern néo-trad group Les Cowboys Fringants (like the song Mon Pays suivi du Reel des aristocrates).

Reel (dance figure)

In Scottish country dancing, reels are figures in which three or more dancers follow an interweaving path, similar to the hey of other folk dance traditions. The most common reel is the reel of three, in which, as the name implies, three dancers weave in and out of one another, completing a figure 8 pattern on the floor, usually in six or eight bars of music. The dancers simultaneously follow the same path, but begin the pattern at different points: one each at top and bottom, and one in the middle. Two of the dancers will pass each other to begin the reel, and the reel is labeled a right- or left-shoulder reel depending on which of their shoulders are closest when they pass. When the reel is finished, all three dancers will be back where they began.

There are myriad variations, including:

  • Half reels of three, in which the dancers complete only half their path, usually in four bars of music. At the end of the figure, the dancers on the ends of the 8 will have switched places, and the dancer in the middle will be back where he or she began.
  • Parallel reels, in which two reels are danced simultaneously by two groups of dancers, usually one group on the men's side of the set and one group on the ladies' side of the set. The reels are "parallel" in the sense that each person in one reel dances exactly the same track as the corresponding person in the other reel, maintaining the same distance from them at all times.
  • Mirror reels, which resemble parallel reels, except that each person dances a mirror image of the track being danced by the corresponding person in the other reel (so that if one reel begins with two dancers passing left shoulders, the other reel will begin by passing right shoulders).
  • Crossover mirror reels, which are mirror reels that begin with two of the dancers crossing over to participate in the opposite reel. In double crossover mirror reels, they cross back to their original reels when the figure repeats.
  • Inveran (or sausage) reels, in which a couple crosses back and forth between two reels at both ends of the figure.
  • Tandem reels, in which two dancers take the place of a single dancer in the reel, one following close behind the other. In dolphin reels, those two dancers switch positions with each other at each end of the 8.
  • Reels of four, in which four people dance a reel, adding a smaller loop to the path in the middle of the figure 8 to allow the two inner dancers to pass each other.
  • Closing reels, which are six-bar reels of three danced by the active couple with their corners at the end of a dance. The active couple crosses over to their own sides on the final two bars of the figure.

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