- Era: 1850s, England
It is a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged that whenever I post about a dance on Kickery, I soon after turn up another source for the dance that offers a different spin on things. In the case of the Highland Reel in its country dance figure form, that process took a few months, but I have indeed come across another source, Diprose’s ball room guide to the figures of the most fashionable dances by J. Albert Jarvis, published in London in 1857. Looking at Jarvis does not make me change anything about my original two interpretations of the dance, but he offers an unusual enough variation of the Highland Reel that it is perhaps just as well that it has ended up in a separate post.
This dance is arranged by parties of three, in double lines -- a lady between each two gentlemen. They advance and retire; each lady performs the reel with the gentleman on her right hand, the opposite gentlemen remain in their places; hands three round and back; all six advance and retire, then lead through to the next trio, and continue the figure to the end of the room.
My interpretation of these instructions is much like those for the other versions of the Highland Reel, except for that pesky reel itself:
The Highland Reel (version three)
(formation: a column of trios of one lady between two gentlemen)
8b Trios forward and back twice
8b Each lady reels with the gentleman to her right (see below for details)
8b Each lady hands three around and back with her right-hand partner and the opposite gentleman
8b Trios forward and back, then forward and pass right shoulders through the opposite trio
The directions for the reel baffled me briefly: how could a lady reel with only one gentleman? The minimum for a reel is three, but Jarvis is quite specific that the other gentlemen remain in their places. But three is not, as I eventually recalled, the maximum for a reel. I believe Jarvis is actually suggesting a reel of four diagonally across the two trios with the two ladies and their right-hand partners. Each lady moves into the set to pass right shoulders with the gentleman on her right. A diagram of the reel as it begins, with the two gentlemen who are not part of the reel marked (G).
The sequence for dancing a reel for four is as follows:
Each lady passes her partner by the right shoulder, then loops around to the right on the ends as the gentlemen pass left shoulders in the center. The ladies then pass the other gentlemen by the right shoulder, then pass each other by left shoulders in the center while the two gentlemen loop around to the right at the ends. Ladies pass their partners by the right shoulder, then loop around to the right again while the gentlemen pass left shoulders in the center. There is one further pass of the ladies by the right shoulder with the gentleman not their partner, then the ladies pass each other in the center by left shoulders heading as the gentlemen loop to the right, the ladies heading toward opposite ends of the set for the hands three round with her right hand partner and the gentleman opposite.
This is much easier to do than to describe verbally; in essence, it is a figure eight with three loops instead of two, as in this diagram:
For the loops at the ends, dancers should look over their right shoulder and follow their noses, taking a generous curving path rather than turning sharply. Passes are always right shoulders at the ends (with two consecutive passes by right shoulders at each end) and left in the center, or by right shoulders with the opposite sex and left shoulders with the same sex. If all the dancers employ the chassé or Kemshoole step -- in modern terms, a skip-change, performed as (hop) step-close-step -- as suggested in some contemporary descriptions of the Highland Reel, they will be able to complete the reel more easily than by walking.
For the other figures:
As with other descriptions of the Highland Reel, advancing and retiring twice to start is not specified but is necessary to fill the music.
Also as usual, the personnel for the hands three round and back are not specified, but I’ve left it at hands three on the “ends” of the set, each lady circling with her right-hand partner and the gentleman directly opposite him who was left out of the reel. For the two dancers who were already moving, this flows nicely. Each lady has just passed the other lady by the left shoulder, and the active gentlemen has just looped around his own right shoulder. These two can just keep moving counter-clockwise in a curved line as if they were going to continue the reel. Instead, they simply take hands (her right to his left) and pick up the extra gentleman in order to flow directly into the hands three circling to the left (counter-clockwise)
I actually prefer this variant to either of the more common versions described in my original post on the Highland Reel since it lets each lady interact with both gentlemen in the facing trio (during the reel with one and during the hands three with the other). While I would not use a variation found solely in an English manual for an American Civil War-themed ball, for any other mid- to late nineteenth-century ball I would be strongly tempted to do the dance “Jarvis style”.