The book to which this entry refers is Thomas Wilson’s Complete System of English Country Dancing containing all the figures ever used in English country dancing with a variety of new figures and reels etc., etc….

The book was originally published in 1808.This edition was published circa 1815.

Thomas Wilson was the Dancing Master at the Kings Theatre in London (where mostly opera was performed). His style is pompous, but very detailed. Indeed, I think I am correct in saying that his works form the basis of many groups who re-create country dancing today.

He refers to two different categories of reels: THE OLD SCOTCH THREESOME AND FOURSOME REELS

These Reels have for a number of years been a very favorite, and most generally approved species of Dancing, not only with the English, but also with the Irish and Scotch, and particularly with the latter, from whom they derive their origin. They have, likewise, been introduced into most of the foreign Courts of Europe, and are universally practised in all our extensive Colonies, and so marked in their favoritism, that not only among the amusements afforded at all Balls, these Reels are invariably introduced, but Assemblies are very frequently held for the purpose of dancing them only, and yet, in their construction, they consist merely of the Country Dance Figure of hey, with alternate setting. The threesome Reel or Reel of three, as will be seen by the Diagram, is composed of three persons, placed in a direct line, and is commenced by the three persons setting; the centre person setting half the time to one, and then turning and setting the remainder of the time to the other, and turning back again the centre person afterwards strikes the hey with the other two, and so finish the strain of the music and the Reel together, leaving one of the other persons in the centre, who commences the Reel, &c. as before. The foursome Reel, or Reel of four, is composed of four persons, placed in a direct line, facing each other, two and two, who thus begin, and after setting out the time of one strain to their partners, without turning, they hey till the next strain is finished, which also finishes the Reel. These Dances derive their name from the construction of the Figure of hey, of which Figure only they are composed, (see the Diagram) representing double S’s or serpentine lines, interlacing or intervolving each other, which describe a figure of 8, and exhibiting in the performance (by the dances being taken from the side) a Reeling motion. They may be applied to any Country Dance tune, as they require in their performance but two strains of music, and if the tune should consist of three or more parts, it is not objectionable, as the setting and the Figure are performed to different strains, and therefore, it is very common for the Musician repeatedly to vary and change the tunes, the novelty thereby produced affording a renovated energy to the Dancer, which is a great requisite in the dancing of Reels.


Taking into consideration that no species of Dancing has ever been so universally danced, nor has ever become so great a favorite, either in this Country or any other, as Reels; not even Country Dancing, and that most persons, whether in possession of the knowledge of Country Dancing, or not, are able to dance Reels, and particularly the Scotch, it is surprising, that in the course of the great number of years which have elapsed, since the origin of so generally approved a species of Dancing, nothing in the shape of novelty should have been produce. It was under these considerations, that in the last edition of his “Analysis of Country Dancing,” the author published several new Reels, (though only a few easy ones for 3, 4, 5, and 6 persons,) and, being well aware, that but the trifling variety could be produced in the dancing of the old Reels, (as is before observed, in the Introduction to them, that in their composition, they consisted merely of the Country Dance Figure of “hey,” with alternate setting, and from the natural consequence of frequent complaints being made by good Ball Room Dancers;

So it would seem that three is the minium number Thomas Wilson would reccommend for a reel.