Virginia reel (dance)

The Virginia reel is a folk dance that dates from the 17th century. Though the reel may have its origins in Scottish country dance and the Highland reel, and perhaps have an even earlier influence from an Irish dance called the Rinnce Fada, it is generally considered to be an English country dance. The dance was most popular in America from 1830–1890.

The Virginia reel was a popular dance, and in each area there would be slight differences. This has given rise to a large number of dances called the Virginia reel. All of the versions have certain similarities, such as the reel figure.

The dance

Described below is one version of the Virginia reel.

The dancers line up in two lines of 5-7 couples, partners facing each other. Traditionally men would line up on one side, and women on the other, but that is not necessary. The lines have a head and a foot, with the head couple being the nearest the band or music source and the foot couple at the other end of the line. This formation is the same for any version of the Virginia reel.

Head lady and foot gentleman forward and back.
The head lady and the foot man advance forward toward each other four steps and retire four steps backward into place.
Forward again with both hands round.
The head lady and foot man advance, join both hands straight across and make one complete turn, then return to places. The head man and foot lady do the same.
Do-si-do (pronounced dough-see-dough)
The head lady and foot man advance, pass each other right shoulder to right shoulder while crossing their arms, and without turning, go around each other back-to-back and retire backwards to places. The head man and foot lady do the same. It is then repeated by left shoulder (also called a see saw).
Head couple gallops four times through the aisle and back.
The head couple join both hands and chasse (side slip and close) down inside of the lines four steps and return to the head position.
Right arm to partner and reel. (Right to centre, left to the side.)
The head couple link right arms and turn around once and a half. (This leaves the lady facing the men's line and the man facing the ladies' line). The head lady turns the second man (the second man from the head of the line) once around in his place with left arms linked, while the head man does likewise with the second lady.
The head couple then return to the middle and turn each other again (once around) with right arms linked, and move on to the third couple.
This is continued until they reach the foot of the lines, where they turn only half way around, instead of a full turn, so that the lady ends up on her side and the man on his side. The head couple then join hands across and chasse (side slip and close) with side steps back to the head of the set. They drop hands and turn out ready for the march.
The march
The head couple separate. The man turns outwards and walks toward the foot directly behind the men's line, followed by all the men in single file. At the same time the head lady does the same thing on her side of the set.
Then the head couple meet at the foot of the set and walk together to the head of the set, followed by the other couples. When all have reached their original places, all the partners, except the head couple, join hands and hold them high to form a long archway under which the head couple, with hands joined, walk through the gate. The original second couple now become head couple and the whole pattern is repeated until all have been head couple.


As said above, there are many variations. One of the most common is this:

When the head couple reach the foot of the set, they stop, join both hands to form an arch while the couples behind them join hands and go under the arch and up the center toward the head position. This leaves the original head couple at the foot and the second couple now becomes the head couple.

Another variation involves all couples (including the head and foot) participating in the advance and retire, the two-hand turn and the do-si-so with their own partners.


The step is a light walk on the toes or balls of the feet.


The following calls are given by the leader for beginners, or where there are several sets, so that the different sets do the figures at the same time.


Music consists of lively old time reel music such as 'Durang's Hornpipe' or 'Old Zip Coon". Students at the University of Virginia dance the reel to 'The Rattlin' Bog' or 'Scotland the Brave' with variations on the chorus at the annual Colonnade and Restoration Balls.


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