Long set of eight couples, with the top couple galloping down, swapping partners and galloping back. The bottom couple galloping up and swapping back. Strip the Willows from each end ending in arches in the middle and mayhem...

The annotated Willow Tree

An eight couple dance, which is a lot of couples to keep count of...

The dance is possible with an extra couple (you might have to dance faster) or, with a bit of imagination, just four couples and a collection of ghosts

The Dance

You need a partner and find your way onto the dancefloor and join a set that is forming up. There will certainly be people waving, look for them...

Top couple look down the set to see where the bottom couple is. Everyone else, make sure there's enough space between them for the top couple to gallop down the set...

The Music

48 bar Jigs.

If you've got a band who can play Horizonto, you're made...

A1: Top couple - Gallop down the set...

Treat "man" and "lady" as random labels. It only matters that someone takes someone down the set and brings someone else back...

  • Top couple gallop down to the bottom of the set, the "man" leaves the "lady" there and takes the hands of the bottom lady and they gallop back up to the top together.

The thrown-together couple at the bottom decide they are not happy with this, so...

A2: Bottom couple - Gallop up to the top...

  • The thrown-together couple dance back to the top, the bottom "man" takes the hands of his original partner and they gallop or dance back down to the bottom.

B: Strip the Willow from both ends...

It makes sense for the people waiting to strip to watch the couple on their end of the set as they make their way... If the set has an odd number of couples, someone has to make a decision.

The couples at the ends, start a Strip the Willow and remember the mantra:

Right arm with your partner, left arm along the line

They start swinging their partner with their right arms, then with the left arm with the person in the opposite line, then right arm with their partner again, then left arm with the next person in the opposite line...

... Ending in arches in the middle

When the end couples reach the middle, they join hands to make a circle and raise arms to make four arches. The poetical are free to call this a 'Willow Tree'.

They will have everybody trying to squeeze under the arches, so they will need their arms to be as long as possible. Arrange the arches so that people can duck under from the side of the set and, still ducking, get out going up or down the set.

With arches in the middle, there'll be new couples at the ends. These are the new top and bottom couples...

C: End couples cast out, find their way through the arches...

Variations are quite possible, even quite likely, here as well...

The new end couples, cast out individually and head round towards the arches. Duck through the arches on the sides, meet your partner in the middle of the circle and take them out through a different arch back to place...

It is likely to feel hectic, with two people trying to duck under each side arch at the same time and then trying, as couples, to get out under another arch to get back to place. There's not much room...

... Back to place and Swing

When you get back to place, swing if there's time... The end couples will probably find there's time the ones who had to fight to get through will probably not.

Get back into two lines as the top couple is going to be galloping down

Variations: More than one way of doing it...

This dance is an open invitation to mischief...

... Swapping Partners

In the gallop down, anyone in the top couple can decide to take anyone in the bottom couple up to the top. If you are at the bottom and someone invites you to dance up to the top, just go with the flow, it's not worth the fight... The only criteria is that the thrown-together couple at the bottom have to be able to get back to place and back together with their partners.

It's also been known that two couples gallop down, implying that two couples have to gallop back up again to get their partners back.

... Changing Ends

In the restrained version of the dance, if you are in the top half of the set, as you dance through the arches you head up towards the top and if you are in the bottom half, you head down towards the bottom...

You are not always in a restrained version. The four people making the arches can rotate the circle so the two couples swap places. The couple who were at the bottom of the set can now start dancing as part of the top half of the set.

It's also quite possible that a couple ducking under the arch, who would then have danced down to the bottom of the set, decide to head up towards the top of the set. When they are in the top half and get to be top couple, they have the fun of galloping down first. This means that a couple who used to be in the top half of the set, finds themselves unexpectedly in the bottom half. This is a pretty good definition of mischief...

More information: Origins...

Written by Hugh Rippon

See also...

With further writeups: