Scottish country dance figures

This is a brief summary of some of the named figures that are not always explained in descriptions of dances. See the notes for further explanation.

Allemande
2 or 3 couples
1–4 In allemande hold, all step slightly forward and to the right, and 1C lead round to the left and down the men’s side, others following. At the end of bar 4 all should be facing down.
5 Turn to face into set, still in allemande hold, and step in to middle.
6 Ladies turn under partner’s R arm, keeping hold with both hands, to face partner across the set.
7–8 Move back to side lines.
Note: Start in promenade hold and change to allemande hold as the figure starts.
Axum Reel
Axum Reel Strathspey
4 couples, 1M facing up, 2M to 1M’s right, facing up, 3M back to back with 2M, 4M back to back with 1M, ladies facing their partners.
1–2 All pass partner LSh, each man to his partner’s place, 1L curving round to 2M’s place and 3L to 4M’s place, while 2L goes straight ahead to 3M’s place and 4L to 1M’s place.
3–8 Repeat 3 more times, following the same path: each M to his partner’s current place, each L to the next man’s current place.
Note: This completes half the Axum Reel. Each dancer is diagonally across from his or her starting-point. Repeat four more times (8 more bars) to finish in original places.
Corner chain
3 couples, 1C facing first corners.
1–2 1C change places RH with 1st corners.
3–4 1st corners turn LH in centre ...
5–6 and return to places, giving RH to 1C.
7–8 1C turn LH in centre to face 2nd corners.
9–10 1C change places RH with 2nd corners.
11–12 2nd corners turn LH in centre ...
13–14 and return to places, giving RH to 1C.
15–16 1C turn LH to middle place.
Crown triangles
3 couples, 1C back to back in centre, 1M facing down, 1L up.
1–2 Take hands, 1M with bottom couple, 1L with top, and set, 1C moving clockwise round each other to face the sides.
3–4 Take hands, 1M with 2M & 3M and 1L with 2L & 3L and set, 1C moving clockwise round each other to face 1M up, 1L down.
5–6 Take hands, 1M with the top couple and 1L with the bottom couple, and set.
Note: This figure usually comprises the last 6 bars of an 8-bar phrase, the first 2 bars being used to get into the starting position.
Dance to each corner and set Reel or Jig
3 couples, 1C facing first corners.
1–2 1C change places with 1st corners while 2nd corners set.
3–4 1st corners, now in centre, pass RSh and change places with 2nd corners while 1C set.
5–6 2nd corners, now in centre, pass RSh and change places with 1C (in 1st corner positions) while 1st corners set.
7–8 1C, now in centre, pass RSh and change places with 1st corners (in 2nd corner positions) while 2nd corners set.
9–10 1st corners, now in centre, pass RSh and change places with 2nd corners while 1C set
11–12 2nd corners, now in centre, pass RSh and change places with 1C while 1st corners set.
At the end, 1C is back in the centre, 2C is in 3rd place improper and 3C is in 1st place improper.
Diagonal rights and lefts
3 couples, usually in order 3 improper, 1 proper, 2 improper.
1–2 1C change places RH on the right diagonal, i.e., with the person in 1st corner position.
3–4 1C change places LH on the side, with the person who has just crossed to middle position.
5–6 1C change places RH on the left diagonal, i.e. with the person in partner’s 2nd corner position.
7–8 1C change places LH on the side.
Dolphin reel (Tandem reel)
Any reel in which a couple is dancing as a unit, one behind the other.
The reel proceeds in the normal way, except that when the couple turns at each end of the reel, they turn individually, without passing each other, so that if the man is leading in one direction the woman is leading in the other, and vice versa.
Note: This type of reel occurs in the dance ‘Pelorus Jack’. Pelorus Jack was a dolphin.
Double triangles Reel or Jig
3 couples, 1C back to back in centre, 1M facing men’s side, 1L facing ladies’ side
1–2 Taking hands with side people, all set.
3–4 1C dance (pas-de-basque) round each other to face opposite side of set.
5–6 Take hands with side people and all set.
7–8 1C dance (pas-de-basque) round each other to 2nd position proper.
Espagnole Reel or Jig
2 couples
1–4 1L & 2L, taking R hands, dance across the set, crossing, and dance back to each other’s place, while 1M & 2M dance across, turn in and cross back RH to each other’s place.
5–8 2C turn RH while 1C turn LH (women between men).
Gates of Edinburgh reels Reel
3 couples
1–8 1C cross down and dance full reel of 3 on the other side, 1M passing between 2L & 3L and 1L between 2M & 3M to begin.
9–16 1C cross down again to dance full reel of 3 on their own side.
Grand chain (3 couples)
3 couples, 1C facing partner, 2C facing down, 3C facing up.
1 Change places RH with facing person,
2 change LH with next (across set, at bottom),
3–4 RH with next (across set, at top).
5 Change LH with facing person,
6 RH with next,
7–8 LH with next, to finish in original places.
Note timing: 1 bar for first two changes, 2 bars for 3rd.
Half turn and twirl Strathspey
2 dancers facing each other across the set
1–2 RH turn halfway and face each other, staying close.
3–4 Turn alone over R shoulder, moving away into each other’s starting position.
Hello-goodbye setting Reel or Jig
3 couples, 1C facing 1st corners.
1–2 1C set to 1st corner, and on 2 spring into 2nd place improper, pulling R Sh back to face partner across the set.
3–4 1C set to partner, and on 4 pull R Sh back to face 2nd corner.
5–6 1C set to 2nd corner, and on 6 pull R Sh back to finish 1M between 2C and 1L between 3C, facing partner.
7–8 Petronella turn into 2nd place proper.
Note: End of figure may vary.
Inveran reel Reel
3 couples
1–4 1C cross down and dance half reel of 3 on the other side, 1M passing between 2L & 3L and 1L between 2M & 3M to begin.
5–8 1C cross at the bottom and dance half reel of 3 on their own sides, finishing in original places.
Note: 2C and 3C dance a continuous reel of 3. This reel occurs in the dance ‘Mrs Macpherson of Inveran’.
Knot Strathspey
2 or 3 couples
1–2 Partners turn RH into allemande hold facing down.
3–4 2C followed by 1C, or 3C followed by 2C and 1C, dance round to the left and up the ladies’ side.
5–8 Partners release RH and make sweeping LH turn to finish proper, in order 2, 1 or 3, 2, 1.
La Baratte
Described here for a couple facing each other across the set.
1–2 Turn halfway with RH and both face down, retaining hold.
3–4 Lady dances to L under man’s arm while man dances to R, taking L hands and releasing R hands as they pass.
5–6 Half turn LH.
Note: End result is to change places. The figure can also occur in other orientations. As it is a six-bar figure, there will be a two-bar movement before or after it.
Ladies’ chain
2 couples, 2C improper
1–2 Ladies turn RH approximately halfway, while each man dances to his right to meet his partner.
3–4 Partners turn LH, men finishing in original places and ladies in each other’s place.
5–8 Repeat from new positions, all ending in original places.
Men’s chain
2 couples, 2C improper
1–2 Men turn LH approximately halfway, while each lady dances to her left to meet her partner.
3–4 Partners turn RH, ladies finishing in original places and men in each other’s place.
5–8 Repeat from new positions, all ending in original places.
Pass and turn Reel or Jig
3 couples, 1C facing 1st corners
1–2 1C pass 1st corner R Sh; 1st corners turn halfway in centre while 1C, in corner position, turn to face in.
3–4 1st corners pass 1C R Sh to return to place while 1C dance into centre.
Note: Often repeated with 2nd corners.
Petronella
4 dancers at corners of a square or diamond, or 2 dancers at opposite corners of a notional square or diamond. All facing the centre.
1–2 Dance to the next corner to the right of the square or diamond, pulling R shoulder back and turning R 3/4 to finish facing the centre.
3–4 Set.
5–8 Repeat (for half petronella).
9–16 Repeat 1–8 (for full petronella).
Note: All pas-de-basque in reel or jig time. Normal travelling and setting steps in strathspey time.
Petronella in tandem
2 couples.
1–2 Set.
3–4 1C and 2C dance a petronella turn to their right, without overtaking, to finish with 1M and 2M side by side at the bottom, facing up, with 1M on the left, and 1L and 2L side by side at the top, facing down, with 2L on the left.
Note: All pas-de-basque in reel or jig time. Normal travelling and setting steps in strathspey time.
Poussette (Reel or Jig) Reel or Jig
2 couples, both hands joined, in middle of set.
1 1C dance out to men’s side while 2C dance out to women’s side.
2 Both couples turn 1/4 clockwise.
3 1C dance down men’s side while 2C dance up women’s side.
4 Both couples turn 1/4 clockwise.
5 Both couples move to centre of set.
6 Both turn clockwise halfway.
7–8 All dance back to side-lines, to finish with 1C below 2C.
Note: Pas de basque throughout. Last two bars may vary.
Poussette (3-couple) Reel or Jig
3 couples
1–2 As for a normal poussette, except that 3C also takes part, moving to the ladies’ side to begin.
3–4 1C dances down the men’s side below 3C as 2C & 3C dance one place up the ladies’ side.
5–8 All dance to centre, half turn and fall back.
Note: Pas de basque throughout.
This figure may be used in the second turn (for each couple) of dances such as Muirland Willie, where the poussette occurs at the end of each turn and 2C and 3C are immediately involved in the next turn.
Strathspey Poussette (Diamond Poussette) Strathspey
2 couples
1 1M and 2L step in slightly, with L foot, while 1L and 2M step in to take 2H with partner, all forming a diagonal line between 1M and 2L positions, each man above his partner.
2 1C step diagonally down and towards men’s side while 2C step diagonally up and towards ladies’ side, both couples moving at right angles to the original diagonal but turning 1/4 clockwise on the hop.
3–4 1C step diagonally down and towards ladies’ side while 2C step diagonally up and towards men’s side, turning 3/4 clockwise to form new diagonal line between 1M and 2L positions, 2C above 1C, each man above his partner.
5–7 Repeat 2–4 from new positions.
8 Fall back to side lines.
Note: The half strathspey poussette starts with the couples having already moved into the diagonal line at the end of the previous phrase. From there they dance 5–8 as above.
Promenade
2 or 3 couples, usually already facing up in promenade hold at the end of the previous phrase.
1 All dance up and slightly to R.
2–4 1C lead round to L and down men’s side, others following. At end of 4 all should be facing down.
5–8 1C turn in and lead up to original places, separating and moving out to sides on 8, or on 7–8 if only 2 couples.
Note: If the promenade is followed by a cast to 2nd place for 1C, turn in on 4 to leave time for the cast.
Rondel Strathspey
2 couples, 1C facing down, 2C facing up, both with nearer hands joined.
1–3 Nearer hands joined, 1C dance under arch made by 2C, then each L cross in front of partner and all join nearer hands on the sides.
4–6 Ladies dance under arch made by men, and all cross, 1st in front of 2nd, to join nearer hands with partner.
7–8 1C dance under arch made by 2C.
Schiehallion Reel
Schiehallion reel
4 couples in a square set, numbered clockwise, ladies facing out to begin
1–2 Men dance across set to lady’s position diagonally to the right (1M to 4L position, 2M to 1L position, etc.), all passing L Sh in the middle, while ladies loop round to right to face inwards in partner’s position.
3–4 Ladies dance across set to partner’s current place, all passing L Sh in the middle, while men loop to right to face inwards.
5–16 Repeat 1–4 from new positions 3 times to finish in original places.
Note: Ladies follow their partners throughout; each man follows the lady diagonally to his right (1M follow 4L, 2M follows 1L, etc.).
Set and link
2 facing 2.
1–2 Taking hands, all set.
3–4 Left-hand dancer in each line dances in front of the line to the other end, while the right-hand person casts and moves to their (original) left.
Note: Retain hands for most of bar 3.
Set and link for 3 Strathspey
3 facing 3.
1–2 Taking hands, all set.
3–4 Left-hand dancer in each line moves in front of the line to the other end, while the other 1 or 2 people cast and move to their (original) left.
Note: A 3-person set-and-link starting on the sides finishes in lines across, and vice versa, the middle person in each line moving round the corner into the middle of the new line.
Set and rotate Reel or Jig
2 couples
1–2 1C & 2C set.
3–4 All turn individually R in place and dance 1 place clockwise.
5–8 Change places with partner RH on sides, and dance on one place clockwise to finish proper, progressed.
Spoke Reel or Jig
3 couples, 1C in diagonal line, LH to each other and RH to first corners
1–2 1C balance in line with 1st corners, advancing on 2nd step to take hands with 2nd corners, while 2nd corners set facing in.
3–4 1C balance in line with 2nd corners, moving round to take hands with partner’s 1st corner, while 1st corners set facing in.
5–8 Continue, balancing in line with partner’s 1st corner and then with partner’s 2nd corner.
Spurtle Reel or Jig
4-couple set. 1C start back to back, improper, between 2C.
1–2 1C & 2C half reel of 4 across.
3–4 As 2C dance up to 1st place, 1C turn RH, finishing with 1M facing 3L and 1L facing 3M,
5–8 Repeat with 3C, finishing between 4C as 3C dance up to 2nd place.
9–12 Repeat with 4C, to finish with 4C in 3rd place and 1C at bottom. (All now improper.)
Targe Reel or Jig
2 couples in line across the dance in order 1M, 2L, 1L, 2M, 1C facing down, 2C facing up.
1–2 Ladies turn RH three-quarters, men dance CCW one quarter, forming line up and down the middle.
3–4 1M with 2L, 1L with 2M turn LH.
5–6 Ladies turn RH three-quarters, men dance CCW one quarter, forming line across.
7–8 1M with 2L and 1L with 2M, turn LH three quarters into progressed places, 1C facing up improper, 2C facing down proper. (Both with man on right.)
Three-couple rights and lefts
3 couples
1–2 All cross RH.
3–4 The people in the 1L and 3M positions cross diagonally LH, while the others change places LH on the sides.
5–8 Repeat 1–4 from new places.
9–12 Repeat 1–4 from new places. All now back to starting places.
Tourbillon Strathspey
2 couples
1 1C & 2C turn BH halfway, and release inner hand to face into set.
2 All move one place clockwise (as if to circle one quarter, but holding hands only with partner).
3–4 Set to other couple.
5–6 1C and 2C turn BH halfway and move one more place as in 1–2, releasing hands to finish on side lines.
7–8 Cross RH with partner.
Note: Last 2 bars may vary.
Tournée Strathspey
2 couples
1 1C move into promenade hold facing the men’s side while 2C move into promenade hold facing the women’s side, making a line of 4 down the centre of the set.
2–3 All dance anticlockwise to rotate the line of 4 halfway.
4 Couples turn halfway to form a line down the middle, men facing women’s side, women facing men’s side. (From normal promenade hold, with R hands above L, top couple (i.e. 2C) retain top hand and bottom couple retain bottom hand.)
5–8 2C turn RH once and three-quarters while 1C turn LH once and three-quarters to finish in progressed places.
Turn corner, partner, corner, partner
3 couples, 1C facing first corners.
1–2 1C turn 1st corner RH.
3–4 1C turn LH once and a quarter to face 2nd corner.
5–6 1C turn 2nd corner RH.
7–8 1C turn LH, usually to face 1st corner again.
Notes
My intention here is to provide a brief summary rather than to explain details of technique. There are many named figures that occur in Scottish dances, and I haven’t attempted to describe them all – just the commoner figures that beginners may encounter. In the past I have looked for such descriptions on the web without success.
Unless otherwise specified, the figures are described with the couples numbered sequentially from the top of the set, as the actual positions at the start of the figure may vary.
Allemande hold
Man on left, lady on right, with left hands joined in front, right hands joined behind lady’s R shoulder. (Start in promenade hold and lift R arms above and behind lady’s head.)
Promenade hold
Man on left, lady on right, with hands joined in front, left to left and right to right, right above left.
Proper and improper
The terms ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ are borrowed from English Country Dance terminology. ‘Proper’ means that the dancers are on their own side of the set, while ‘improper’ means that the man is on the lady’s side and the lady on the man’s side. They seem to me to offer a concise and unambiguous alternative to phrases like ‘on the opposite side’ or ‘on the wrong side’.
Turn over R shoulder
The phrases ‘turn over R Sh’ or ‘R Sh back’ can be confusing. (Sh = shoulder.) In a petronella turn, you are moving forward and to the right, but as you go you turn clockwise (as viewed by a fly on the ceiling). That is, your R shoulder moves back (and your L shoulder forward) relative to your head, as you move to the new position.
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