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Not Hose Reels, Scots Reels!: Dances of the Scots Countryside

Sep 12, 2008
We're all familiar with reels as tools, whether we're talking about fishing reels, hose reels for fire fighting, or demo reels in the world of filmmaking or video art. But one use of the word "reel" that many of us have forgotten about is the tradition of the reel in dancing--one of the four basic dances of the mysterious highlands of Scotland.

For all the Scots people will tell you about tradition, the reel in its present form is actually a fairly modern invention in the world of dancing. What's more, the reel didn't originate in Scotland at all. Traditional Scots country dancing began in England, close to Bath, largely as an entertainment for the aristocracy (comparable to the "shepherd" craze of the late sixteenth/early seventeenth centuries, where court ladies would go into the countryside, inhabit dilapidated shacks, and pretend to be merry, hardworking shepherdesses for amusement before they returned to the tedium of wealthy court life.) The English country dances slowly migrated north upon the unification of England and Scotland and the porous borders that unification created.

What is of distinctly Scots origin is the tradition of the "sword dance", one of the critical components of the modern "Highland Reel." The sword dance has a long-standing history in Scotland, going back to the days of William Wallace and running throughout the troubled history of Scotland and England in the days before the Kingdom was United. The tradition of the sword dance may have even played a part in that troubled history to some extent, owing from the account of a sixteenth-century plot to use sword dancers to assassinate the King of Sweden--an assassination requires a drawn sword, after all, and no one would suspect a paid sword dancer of secretly plotting murder.

At some point, the sword dance and the country dances of England merged into "traditional" Scots country dancing, with the reel being one of the major forms such dancing took (along with the more well-known jig.) The reel in particular is popular not just due to its colorful history, but due to its simplicity and the catchiness of its music. Classically, a reel is performed by sets of dancers, with a minimum of three to a set for a traditional reel. The dancers then circle one another in a complex pattern that brings them slowly down the length of the dance floor and back to their starting point. Considering the other meaning of the word reel--as we know, a tool for winding material--applying this name to this form of dancing is totally appropriate. (Less appropriate, though, when you consider the other meanings of the word reel--to stagger, as if drunk--although this is far from impossible at Scots social events.)

For hundreds of years, dancing has been a vital part of Scots culture, and for the past two hundred years the reel in particular has been central to the borrowed Scots ethnic identity. It may not be a tool with the utility of a demo reel or fire hose reels. But the Scots reel is a central tool through which the Highlanders can examine their own life--and the partial corruption of their history.
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Not sure which hose reels to choose? www.FireProtectionOnline.co.uk has information on all the different sizes and types
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