The Basics

What is reeling?

Reeling is probably the closest form of Scottish dancing to how dances were done in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is more fluid and less stilted than the Royal Scottish Dance Society style, yet more defined and formal than barn or ceilidh dances. Unlike the latter, callers are rarely included.


Almost all reels are danced in a simple, 8-beat time signature. Most steps take either 4 or 8 beats. The trick in reeling is to be in the right place at the right time. Even the most experienced reelers will count the beats in their heads as they dance, so don’t feel awkward about doing the same! The music carries the beat and if you listen even a little, it will carry you with it.


Right, left, clap!

At its most basic setting is a step to the right, a step to the left, and a clap - so long as you get those movements and the timing right, you're halfway home already. For many, a set is a signature move and in some dances - the Reel of the 51st being the main example - you can see some extraordinary examples.

Pas de Basque

At its most sophisticated and "proper", setting should be done by ways of a traditional Pas de Basque:

  1. Start with heels together, toes apart (as if standing to attention).

  2. Move the right foot slightly to the right, retaining the original angle

  3. Move the left heel to the right instep, and raise the heel

  4. Lift the right foot slightly, shift your weight, and

  5. Repeat on the left foot.

This whole movement should take 4 beats: Right-2-3-AND-Left-2-3. It is usually followed by a clap.


The Spinning Scot

The key to turning properly is to understand the music and finish your spin in the correct place and time, with each individual ending up where they are supposed to be. This may seem daunting at first but, with practice, it can be the most terrific fun.

Each turn outlined below hinges on your body's position - feet close together, and body leaning slightly at about 20 degrees. Your right foot will generally remain close to your partner's, pivoting only slightly as you turn, while your left foot does all the hard work and gets momentum through larger strides.

Crossed wrists

The gentleman crosses his right wrist over his left, while the lady presents her arms outstretched and takes the gentleman's hands with thumbs facing upward. Both should keep their elbows lightly bent.

Once the couple has turned, they have two options:

  1. Simply let go - though the gentleman should be careful to guide the lady to where she is meant to be next, not simply fling her away; OR

  2. Finish on an overhand turn - while by no means compulsory, it is possible to add an extra "twirl" here. To do this, the gentleman will lift his right arm and the lady will naturally spin underneath; gentlemen, be sure to let go of her the lady's left hand (you can use your free hand to guide and place her) and transfer your right hand grip to a "presentation" position to prevent broken thumbs!

Elbow grip

Cup your hand (keeping the thumb next to the forefinger) and move around each other. Do not put your thumb on top - it can cause bruises! This can be done with both right and left arms. Used extensively for "corners" in the Duke of Perth and Duke & Duchess of Edinburgh, it can make for a very fast turn.

Crossed elbow

A halfway house between the crossed wrists and elbow grips: start as you would with the latter, but use your free hand to meet your partner's above your locked arms.  This makes for a very simple, very stable turn that is often used at the beginning of the Duke of Perth and at the end of Postie’s Jig. Please note that an overhand finish cannot be used with this turn!

Tulloch turns

This is used predominantly in the Eightsome and Foursome reels. The gentleman and lady will face in opposite directions and put their arms behind their backs, stretched towards their partner. The near arms will interlink at the elbows - this is crucial! - while the free hand will grab your partner's free hand.


Lining up

Most dances are danced in "longwise" sets. From the band’s perspective, gentlemen will line up on the right, ladies on the left.

Sets are numbered (usually 1,2,3,4,5,6 - when danced "Aberdonian" style, 1,2,1,2). In a six couple set, couples one (at the "top" of the set) and four will generally start.

Moving down

Most dances require couples to wait one or two turns at the "top" of a set before setting off as a "dancing couple". The key is to have enough people to dance with without getting in the previous dancing couple's way.

Most reels are, by their nature, progressive, so after the dance has danced once, the couple will be one space down the set. This is one of the reasons why reeling is so social - you will dance with everyone in your set in a dance.