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The South Molton Reels were formed by Simon and Judy Friend some 18 years ago to keep the tradition of Scottish Country Dancing going in the area.

They have taught a lot of people the delights of taking part and over the last three years, we have continued with the good work.

Thank you to those for their continued support and please tell as many others as possible to get them to join in.

See what we will be doing and where by looking at our diary page.



South Molton Reels are not run to make any kind of profit, yet they do not wish to make a loss either! The proceeds from the sale of tickets cover the cost of hiring a band, hiring the venue and the catering.

Any surplus (if any!) will be donated to a local charity.


Our thanks go to all those who have generously given of their time and their homes for the gatherings.


The Country Dance

The Country Dance, probably a corruption of the French 'contra danse', is a form of dance in which several couples dance opposite each other in square, round or longwise sets. It originated in England during the 17th century, although its roots go back as far as the Court of Elizabeth I.

John Playford, a bookseller to the Inns of Court in London, published The English Dancing Master a collection of Country Dances in 1651 which ran to its 18th edition in 1728! At the close of the 17th century most of the dances were in the form of a longwise set with the defining and ingenious device of the 'progression'.  This allowed each dancing couple to have its turn at the top, and then progress down the the set to second and third places, etc.

The tunes used, which often gave name to the dances, were mostly traditional song tunes, and significantly many of them were Scottish or Irish.

The Country Dance spreads

Edinburgh rose in status in the 18th century, and formal balls and assemblies at which Country Dances were performed became part of the cultural life. Similar formal dance styles developing in the French Court were also based on the English Country Dance and there was a conviction in both England and Scotland that the French forms represented the highest art of formality and gentility. The French association was strong and resulted in several of the dance movements in both English and Scottish Country Dance having French names, for example 'allemande' and 'poussette''. The French form called the Contredanse or Cotillon subsequently led to the Quadrille which took over from Country Dances in England during the 19th century, and also crossed the Atlantic to become the root of Square Dancing. This is also considered the root of the 'round the room' type dances we are familiar with in Ceilidh and Barn dances.

Scottish Country Dance develops

 The Scots did not abandon the Country Dance but started to modify it by introducing more intricate steps, and elements of the separate, indigenous Highland reels that allowed more 'exuberent expression' of the Scottish music's character.

These Highland traditions, which extended out to the islands including the Shetlands, were based on a simpler form of alternating circles or reels and setting steps, the variations being in the intricacy of the setting steps, and the vigour of both music and dancers. This is the source of the Threesome Reel (based on the reel of three) and the Foursome Reel (reel of four, illustrated) - both Highland Dances, not Country Dances - and, together with elements of the Quadrille, the Eightsome Reel.

The defining character

This character for intricacy and precision of both footwork and figure became the hallmark of the many Dancing Masters in Scotland during this period. These itinerant teachers taught all the current forms of dance, minuet, country dance, highland reels and 'high' dances (we now call 'highland') both to the 'gentles' in the drawing room and the 'simples' in the servants quarters of grand Scottish houses.

This classlessness is evidenced by numerous accounts, such as one from Elizabeth Grant on dances at the Duchess of Gordon's house;'A few candles lighted up bare walls at short warning, fiddles and whisky punch were always at hand, and the gentles and simples reeled away in company'.

The Dancing Masters would also devise their own dances for these occasions, often to honour their patrons, so it was natural that the forms mixed, and for a Scottish style of the Country Dance to develop. The introduction of the energetic, springing steps and the figures of 'set to and turn corners', and soon after the 'reel of three', mark a true separation of the English and Scottish Country Dance traditions.

 Dancing Masters in the 19th century commonly had studied ballet in London or Paris, and introduced the five ballet foot positions, pointed foot and straight knees to the style of dancing for both the country dance and the high dances. This was the origin of the 'technique' we now associate with Scottish Dancing and which the more dedicated Scottish dancers aspire to achieve. The rest of us can relax in the knowledge that our footwork is from an earlier age when bent limbs were the norm!

A shared tradition

It would be wrong to think that the English and Scottish dances went their separate ways entirely. In the country areas of England, for example, Scottish dances were included in the repertoire alongside English dances up to the end of the nineteenth century, and the dance tunes were shared extensively.  Thomas Hardy, in his novels and poems written in Dorset, mentions over forty Country Dances, with over a dozen of these being Scottish Dances we still know today.  Hardy certainly based this on his personal experience as he, his father and grandfather were all musicians who played for Country dancing. They collected many dance tunes in their own manuscript books, and many of these tunes are played by Scottish Dance Bands today.


The modern legacy

Scottish Country Dancing waned towards the end of the 19th century and by the end of the First World War was at risk of being lost. Fortunately for us, Mrs Stewart of Fasnacloich set about restoring the old social dances of Scotland, and found in Miss Jean Milligan a person capable of helping her achieve that aim. Together they founded what was later to become the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS), and started the task of collecting the dances and writing them down in a standard notation.

The formations and steps were also standardised and, although this undoubtedly lost some of the variety and richness of the earlier periods, it has allowed Scottish Country Dancing to spread out across the world using a common language and style.

The RSDCS is still hugely important in maintaining and developing Scottish Country Dancing through its many local branches, and by training teachers and publishing new dances. But very many other clubs and societies have also grown up to spread further the enjoyment of dancing based on this common language, and creativity remains undiminished for devising new dances and dance figures.