Reel (Form)

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REEL. A duple-meter dance form common to the British Isles and North America. Webster’s gives that the name ‘reel’ derives from the Middle-English word relent, although the Oxford English Dictionary says it is from the Gaelic righil or ruithil, probably from Lowland Scots. David Taylor (1992) says of the form "it is generally accepted that reels in the main originated in Scotland". The first mention of a dance called a reel in Scotland was in 1590, though Purser (1992) believes it was well-established in the beginning of the 16th century. In fact, the first mention of the dance form in print is in the 1591 publication Newes from Scotland, in which is related that one Agnes Thompson confessed that on All-hallow E'en that she, accompanied by two hundred other witches, "...daunced this reill or short dance..." The unfortunate Agnes was convicted of witchcraft, strangled and burnt. The movements of the dance involve a setting step and a traveling figure (in the shape of a figure eight) and have historically been performed by combinations of three, four, six or eight dancers. Musically it is generally characterized by two groups of eighth notes per measure. In Ireland one sometimes finds the term ‘single’ and ‘double’ reel, which means simply that in the former each part is played only once, while in the later the parts are repeated. Scottish reels are performed in the 216-240 beats per minute range. Although the range in Cape Breton can be from 195-250 bpm, reels are typically played in the 216-232 range. The reel in Ireland does not seem to have been established until around the 18th century

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