The annotated Foula Reel

One of the most popular dances, a classic you are likely to meet at every festival. It has a gallop, a strip the willow and a sort of shunting back and forth to get from one end of the set to the other.

Longways sets of four couples... So you need a partner and you join up with 3 other couples. Men on one side, ladies on the other. It's good to make sure that you know where your set 'starts' and 'stops' (and, once you've got four couples, make sure any further couples don't attach themselves to 'your' set).

A1: Top couple dance to the bottom of the set

  • It can be a measured lead down or a mad gallop (way past the end of the set and then back up into place), you just have to be at the bottom of the set 'poised' ready for a Strip the Willow.

A2: Strip the Willow back to the top

As the result of a strange construct of geometry, the men will find they have more time when Stripping the Willow in the Foula Reel than in, say, Stoke Golding. This is because the working couple are stripping up the set.

B1: Arch down over the men, arch back up over the ladies

  • Back at the top, the working couple make an arch ...

There's an easy way and a difficult way of doing this. The difficult way is swing your partner when you get back to the top, untangle yourselves, make an arch and get the lady to the outside of the set, facing down, looking over the heads of the line of men.

The easy way is that the lady carries on with her left arm turn with the last man. That is keep that last turn of the Strip the Willow going, until she is facing down the outside of the set and launches herself down behind the line of men. Her partner just has to stay out the way, make it clear and obvious that the lady needs to make the most of the left hand turn and join in with the arch when she's heading down the set.

  • ... carry it down over the mens' heads, then back up over the womens' heads

B2: Poussette with first man pushing...

Listen out for ... First man push, other men pull

If you are going to pull:

Hold your hands to beckon your partner to follow you.
You don't have to step together to join hands only then to step back. Hold back and let your partner come to you.

If you are going to push:

Come into the move with your hands showing that you would like to push.

A Poussette is where the top couple gets to the bottom of the set with a shuffle forward and back while everyone else does a shuffle back and forward...

The common way it is described is to say "take two hands with your partner" and then telling the top man what to do...

  • The first man gently pushes his partner, while the other men gently pull theirs. This means there's one couple shunting one way across the room and all the others shunting the other way...
  • Two steps and reverse direction. The first man takes a step sides ways down the set and pulls his partner. If all is working well, he'll reverse into a gap ..
  • Reverse direction again, and the first man pushes, the others pull...
  • Reverse direction the last time, and the first man pulls and gets back into line at the bottom of the set

The top couple do have to make sure they have got to the bottom and out the way by the end of the music. If they are not careful, the new top couple will run into them as they gallop down.

Poussettes can be messy; people forget whether they should be pushing or pulling, people crash into each other, they can get out of time with the music and the first couple has cut and run for the bottom to get out the way.

More information: Origins...

A Shetlands dance, supposedly from the Swedish Väva Vadmal, or the 'Norwegian Country Dance' (The fiddler's companion, quoting Traditional Dancing in Scotland, Flett and Flett, 1964).

Väva Vadmal in the Swedish Wikipedia

Youtube shows quite a number of local variations of Väva Vadmal, which include moves which are quite recognisable - there are dip and dives, forms of strip the willow and thread the needle, arching down over the women and up over the men, and poussettes (variously in the Väva Vadmal från Väckelsång, Rönnenberga, Jät)

The dance was published in the Scottish Country Dance Book Book 4, in 1927, Foula Reel in Scottish Country Dance Book 4, (1927) and in the EFDSS's Community Dances Manual No. 7 in 1967

The version typically danced in English Ceilidhs is fairly standardised, although there are a number of similar dances based round a Strip the Willow (such as the Stoke Golding Country Dance).

The Edge of the World

There's a reference in the Foula Heritage site (on the Wayback Machine) about

... an old lady of 84 who tells me she was paid sixpence an hour as an extra at the cliff scene, and to dance the Foula Reel

for Michael Powell's 1936 film, The Edge of the World.


It may look a bit different north of the border. The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 4, 1927 (see the Strathspey description) has the first couple dance down and back and Strip the Willow from the top.

There is a second variation [citation needed] which drops the gallop down and double Strip the Willow back, replacing them with a single Strip down and back, a bit reminiscent of the Drops of Brandy

A Better Poussette...

If feels awkward to arch over the sides, get back to place and then change direction for the Poussette, then there's a variation that flows better. The caller will say:

  • ... First man pull, other men push

The working couple, who have been arching up over the Ladies' line, get back to the top and flow into the Poussette, no change of direction required.


Traditionally danced to the Shaalds of Foula, but there are many options, YouTube has Chalktown playing Another Cup of Tea

See also...