A Strip the Willow where the lady first strips down the men, the man strips up the ladies and then both strip down the set together ...

The annotated Drops of Brandy

Described in the Community Dances Manual, book III as being the English version of "Strip the Willow". In this instance, the "Strip the Willow" is referring to the Scottish dance rather than "Strip the Willow" as a figure.

Here the bold shows the words 'as published', the notes and annotations hopefully make things easier.

Form: Longways Whole Set Dance. Four or five couples in a set

  • Longways means that you are in couples, facing your partner. You've got 8 or 10 people in a 'set', that is the group dancing together.

A step-hop (Highland Schottische step) is used throughout

  • This is a you what? type description. It may have been that people knew Scottish Country Dancing in the days when the Community Dances Manuals were put together but nowadays a description from first principles may be better....
  • If the band are playing a slip jig, your feet will know as they'll be wanting to do 9 steps in a sort of ONE two three FOUR five six SEVEN eight nine. The music will give an emphasis on every third step - and thus you'll find you're not starting each movement on the same foot. It's an odd feeling.

The Single Reel figure: Using short arm grip throughout, first couple swing once and a half with the right arm.

  • The short arm grip probably means a forearm grip as opposed to hooking your arms. As always avoid the temptation to grab too hard, particularly with your thumb, you'll know why when someone does it to you,
    Throughout means you use this same grip for all the swings.
  • This is really to get you prepared for the "strip the willow" figure. The 'one and a half' makes sure that the lady is heading towards the mens line - you do need to keep an eye on where you want to end up, particuarly in sets where there are men dancing the woman's role and vice versa

First girl then goes down set to each man and swings once with left arm and back to partner with right. First man remains in centre of the set while partner swings other men.

  • The mantra here for the woman is right arm to your partner, left along the line
  • If the lady looks at the track she's making, she'll find it's a sort of weaving in and out. A bit like a slalom.
  • The man does not do a lot at this time, he gradually moves down the set turning his partner with his right arm each time she has turned with her left

On reaching bottom he comes up set swinging partner with right and each other girl with the left until top of set is regained

  • Still the same mantra, this time for the man - right arm to your partner, left up the line.
  • If the man looks at the track he's leaving, he'll find it's more than a sort of weaving in and out, it's more like a figure eight figure. Yes, the man has to travel a little further than the woman because he is moving up the set.

The Double Reel figure: First couple now swing down lines simultaneously. Meanwhile the next couple begins.

  • That mantra again, for both: right arm to your partner, both left arm down the line - see the Strip the Willow description

The 'next' couple, the one waiting for their go can get going with the single reel when the first couple are out the way. A good guess is when they are half way down the set, you don't want to start too early and risk catching them up (it gets messy). You might also want to wait until the start of the phrase of music.

More information: Origins...

The strip the willow figure goes back a long way, there's a reasonably clear description in Trenchmore, published in the 2nd Edition of Playford (1652). The third part of which is:

  • ... then turn your Woman with your Right-hand, and the second Woman with your left, your Woman falling as you turn till you come to your place, then your Woman do the same, you following her, the rest doing these Changes.

Which is, perhaps, a description of the man stripping the willow down the set followed by the woman stripping the willow up. Trenchmore can be also be traced back quite a bit further

Variations Double Reels

Halfway through the dance, the caller may cry Double Reels only, or something similar. You then skip the dancing down an up with Single Reels. When you are at the top of the set, you wait (a little) until the way is clear and the start a Double Reel, the next couple waits (a little) and starts a Double Reel, then the next...

It goes faster and more furious and you find yourself doing a short set version of the Orcadian Strip the Willow

The Strip the Willow figure...

The 'Strip the Willow' figure is quite popular. The 'single reel' is characteristic of the Drops of Brandy dance but you'll find the 'double reel' appearing elsewhere; the Stoke Golding Country Dance, the Foula Reel, in some variations of Sir Roger de Coverley and, of course, writ large in the Orcadian Strip the Willow


See also...