What You Need to Know About Scottish Reeling

Scottish reeling is fun both to watch and participate in; but what makes it unique and how did it start? This form of national dance is almost as engaging to learn about, although nothing compares to kicking up your heels. Visit The Celtic Croft to shop for the perfect ensemble for your next Burns Night or cèilidh.

Scottish Reeling Isn’t Complicated

The good news about Scottish reeling: it isn’t the same thing as Highland dancing. You don’t need to have attended a dance school from childhood to be proficient. Reels are primarily social in nature, and are mostly intended to get people out on the floor.

How Scottish Reeling Got Its Start

To understand why reels are more friendly, communal affairs than dances, you need to know how it all began.

The earliest mention of reels begins in the 16th century. However, Scottish reeling really became popular in the 18th century, when lairds would host balls featuring the dance form. 

Reels used to be the provenance of high society, and typically only seen at exclusive events for the aristocracy. British military elites – who have historically counted many aristocrats among their ranks – were and are also big Scottish reel fans.

What Makes a Reel a Reel?

Scottish reeling has a few hallmarks, according to the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (yes, this is a real thing). 

First, you need at least two couples for a reel to work.

Next, members of each couple will travel between what are called “setting” steps, which are steps danced in place.

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (sorry, we can’t help ourselves, it’s so fun to say) describes a lively dance. They say reels are typically set to a brisk 2/4 or to a 4/4 time signature. 

The pair dancing the Scottish dance in a kilt

Know the Rules (They’re There to Help)

Normally, when people find out there are rules, they get nervous. After all, when there are rules, there is a greater chance of committing a faux pas.

Don’t be intimidated by Scottish reeling rules. They are actually there to clarify things and keep the evening moving. Once you are familiar with them, you may actually feel a little more relaxed.

Etiquette and Conventions

Here are some of the more common Scottish reeling practices you may see if you attend one. These guidelines aren’t hard-and-fast, but you are most likely to see at least some of them.

Dance Cards

You may see the tradition of dance cards, once a mainstay of social dances of all kinds. Dance cards are helpful because they work like a program; they tell you the order of dances for the evening.

That’s not the only function a dance card serves, however. Attendees should ask desired partners for specific dances early in the evening. This practice streamlines things and lets you transition seamlessly between dances without scrambling for a partner each time.

Hang onto your dance card so you don’t forget who you are dancing with and when!

Scottish Reel - Cairo. Date: late 19th century

Signalling the Next Dance

You may be wondering, “How do I know when the next dance starts so I can find my next partner?”

Not to worry, Scottish reeling has a convention for that, too.

The band will play the first four bars of the next song to alert attendees to the next dance. A pause will ensue which allows dancers to find their partners and to set themselves up for the next reel.

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

If you’re not familiar with a particular dance, stand further down the row of dancers. You’ll know where the line or row begins because it’s the end closest to the band.

Stick to the Order

Once everyone has arranged themselves for the next dance, someone will number then off. Dancers should stay in place once the person doing the numbering has assigned them an order. Moving around could throw off the whole thing, and you wouldn’t want to draw attention to yourself this way!

Scottish Reeling: What to Wear

Given Scottish reeling’s origins as a fancy dance for fancy people, you may have some questions about the dress code. Although reeling is primarily a means to mix and mingle with other guests, the occasion itself can be quite formal.

Now, if you are invited to an event featuring Scottish reeling, the invitation may actually specify white tie. In that case, attendees in dresses must wear floor-length ones, no more than four inches off of the floor. Unfortunately, however, wearers should eschew heels and dangling jewelry, since they will be dancing vigorously.

That doesn’t mean you can’t accessorize or have fun with your ensemble, however. You can complement a formal gown with a tartan sash or rosette, for example. Men can bring out their kilt (or rent or buy one).

9 Yard Premium Kilt

What Are Some Popular Reels?

Different clans and military units have their own favorite or signature reels; some reels enjoy widespread popularity. Scottish reeling favorites include The Gay Gordons, The Dashing White Sergeant, and The Reel of the 51st Highland Division. 

Whether you’re a Scottish reeling novice, or you simply want a refresher, consider finding a class near you. This dance form is a great way to meet people and a fun skill to learn and teach to friends.

Shop the Celtic Croft for Scottish Reeling Apparel

Maybe you’re invited to a Scottish reeling event, you know the steps – but you don’t have a stitch to wear. Visit the Celtic Croft and start planning the perfect Scottish reeling ensemble.

We offer a range of traditional and ceremonial Scottish gear for men, women, and children. We even provide kilt rentals!

Scottish reeling is just one colorful aspect of Celtic heritage, something we are passionate about here at the Celtic Croft. Your gatherings with family and friends are how traditions are passed down and kept alive.

We feel honored to be a part of time-honored family milestones when customers bring the Celtic Croft into their get-togethers. Whether you’re Scottish reeling or celebrating a family occasion, the Celtic Croft can make it something to remember for generations.

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