This simple choreographed reel is another of English Regency dancing-master Thomas Wilson's attempts to create new and interesting dances in the Scottish style, centering around the characteristic figure-eight pattern known as a reel or hey. It is an easy and delightful little sequence, and it is one of the few Regency-era dances that can be done with only three people.
Wilson notates this as a reel for two gentlemen and a lady or two ladies and a gentleman, but there is no reason it can't be danced by three dancers of the same gender.
The 1808 instructions for this reel make the sequence clear but are annoyingly lacking in detail:
The two Gentlemen and the Lady advance from A B C to D E F; the the Lady at E, and the Gentleman at F, hold up their hands, and the Gentleman at D passes under, they then hey, which finishes the figure.
Wilson leaves quite a few open questions. The "D" gentleman passes under to where? The hey starts with which dancers? In which direction? Does all of this repeat? Do the dancers change places? How much music does all of this take?
Wilson's later works give a slightly more extensive description, though still lacking in detail on the passing under and hey. This description below (click to enlarge) appeared in later editions of Analysis and in Wilson's The Complete System of English Country Dancing (London, c1815):
These instructions clarify the timing, if not the figures:
4b Two dancers make an arch; the third passes under
8b All reel (hey)
The musical breakdown does not separate the advancing and footing, but since there is only half a strain allowed, splitting it two and two is the only option.
For the passing under and the start of the hey, I've had to make some arbitrary decisions:
1. I have the dancers all retain hands during the passing under. The travelling dancer (D) moves forward across the center dancer (E) and passes under the arch back to his/her original place, pulling the center dancer around he/she goes. The center dancer steps in place for two measures (see the step notes below) then travels in a little counter-clockwise circle under his/her own left arm. Meanwhile the third dancer, whom I call the anchor dancer (F), steps in place for four measures. The three dancers end back in original places, all still facing forward and holding hands.
I experimented with having the non-traveling dancers simply stand still during this part and the travelling dancer dropping the center dancer's hand and moving alone, but this really disrupted the continuous flow of movement that I believe to be characteristic of reels. It also looked silly.
2. For the reel, the dancers drop hands and the travelling dancer continues on the same circular path as he or she traced on the passing under, passing left shoulders with the center dancer and then right shoulders with the anchor dancer as all three begin the reel.
Having gotten this far, I must note that these sixteen bars alone would not make much of a dance, but simply bringing everyone back to place and repeating them would be somewhat pointless; there's just not enough interesting going on. Here's how I would add both repetition and progression (dancers changing roles) to make it something worth spending some time dancing:
1. Make the reel progressive. After completing the basic reel figure, the original travelling and center dancers (D and E) make one extra pass at the end. This leaves the dancers in this formation:
E D F
2. Reverse direction on the advancing. The dancers end the reel facing the opposite way and move in the opposite direction across the room on the advancing. This gives each dancer a new role: F is now the traveller, D the center, and E the anchor. It also avoids the problem of continually advancing in the same direction, which would sooner or later result in the dancers crashing into a wall. After the next repetition of the dance, the order will be:
E F D
with E being the traveller and D the anchor, and the dancers will advance in the original direction again. Three more repetitions (a total of six times through the sequence) will bring all three dancers back to their original places. Sixteen bars of music played six times through or thirty-two bars three times through will fit this perfectly.
To orient the dancers as they each take the center, the passing under always involves raising their left arm and using their right arm to guide the travelling dancer forward toward the arch.
I considered the possibility of not reversing direction and simply having the travelling dancer be the one at a different end each time, but this seems to be more confusing for the center dancer, who has to remember which arm to raise for the arch, and it does not address the problem of eventually hitting a wall.
Since Wilson fails to specify any steps for his reels, I default to those described by Scottish dancing master Francis Peacock in Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing (Aberdeen, 1805) as being most nearly contemporary to Wilson's choreography. I've previously described each of these steps, so I will simply link back to those posts rather than repeating it all here.
For the two measures of advancing: two Kemshóole steps.
For the footing: any collectively agreed-upon steps taking up two measures will work, but I favor doing two (of the same) of any of the following: (1) the Single Kemkóssy, (2) the Seby-trast, or (3) the Lematrást. One could also use four Minor Kemkóssy or other minor (half-measure) steps, but I feel that makes the whole thing a little too busy when combined with the next figure.
For the arch-and-pass-under sequence: the travelling dancer does four Kemshóole steps. The anchor dancer does eight Minor Kemkóssy steps in place. The center dancer does four Minor Kemkóssy steps in place, then turns and follows the center dancer with two Kemshóole steps. The Minor Kemkóssy was chosen for the dancing in place because unlike most of Peacock's other steps, it neither travels nor involves extending the feet in any direction that might prove awkward while holding the arch.
For the eight measures of the reel: eight Kemshóole steps.
Special thanks to Nora, Christina, and Juliette for helping me test this reconstruction!