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An Un-reel time?

The Caledonian Society’s Martainmas Reeling Ball in Review

My ‘black tie weekend,’ as I have ceaselessly coined to anyone who would ask, started with putting my best foot forward and dancing the night away in Fingask Castle, at the Caledonian Society’s Martinmas Ball.

Vice-President, Sacha Murray-Threipland, eagerly detailed that reeling originated within the ruling classes of Scotland, with Druid lineages. Stone engravings in Orkney for example replicate similar patterns that a lot of reeling dances follow today, such as the intertwining of my personal favourite, the Reel of the 51st. President Theo Mackenzie then went on to illustrate the modern uptake of reeling. Particularly post-COVID, university students have brought back the tradition and become “the biggest reeling generation”.

Last Friday, our nearly 50-minute bus journey was welcomely greeted by a tipple of gin or whiskey from sponsors, Eden Mill. Ascending the stone stairs to a symphony of bagpipes, two crimson and gold dragons revealed themselves. Adorned with cascading fairy lights and chandeliers, one found themselves mesmerised by the venue's beauty. Beverage-induced mingling then aided the filling out of dance cards — a concept that secures your partner(s) for each reel. Friends greeted each other and introduced those from other universities to prospective matches. Cacophonies of keen reelers appreciating others' dresses and pitching important questions, like whether trews or kilts were better circulated. Glasses were topped up, and anticipation grew as the remaining places were filled (assuming it was Mairi’s Wedding that was proving hard to confirm).

The ball’s format is simple, each of the nine dances is done twice to the fabulous music of the band Super Grouse. The Dashing White Sergeant kicked off the evening — a perfect way to scout out who else was in attendance. The dances were fun, flirty, and frantic, and their transitions ran smoothly. We got in some good cardio, consumed a beverage or two, and, if so inclined, a cheeky cigarette. As the dancing portion of the evening wound down, the giddy excitement relaxed and the full English breakfast served as the meal was greeted gladly.

A boozy breakfast is often a bad idea, but at this ball, roll on the red. As for the food, the eggs were excellent, the sausages stunning, and I was partial to the black pudding. Though regrettably, I got too caught up in conversation to acquire the hot commodity of bacon.

Now fed and watered, limbs were moving more loosely and tulloch-turns became more spirited. We rocked and we rolled (some more than others…), and the evening concluded with the Scottish favourite, ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Despite much of the committee and guests in attendance being more Englishly inclined, the arm-in-arm unity of guests was met with enthusiastic camaraderie.

New to this year's ball is the society’s allowance of same-sex pairs to apply and attend the event. Theo explained, “It's more to do with gender…previously the wording was ladies and gentlemen…now removing gendered language opens up the ball for everyone”.

Largely, responses from this change have been positive, with more people feeling welcome. While claims over tradition, and visual confusion have circulated the three streets, Sacha reassured me this wouldn’t be an issue. The sets will still be presented as the ‘lead dancer’ in a suit, and ‘follower’ in a dress. On the night of the ball, while being spun at “100 miles an hour” (Sacha’s chosen speed), one could still look down the set without confusion. Furthermore, “girl-boy ratios shouldn't matter since there are so many more accepted genders…the aim of the society is to teach people how to reel, and as long as everyone is having fun…we've done a good job”.

The evening was sensationally smooth and visually vibrant, and the slightly bruised feet, perspiring faces, and frazzled hair were totally worth it. The Caledonian Society maintained their ethos of teaching many this old tradition, with guests leaving on a high that I for one will be chasing for the foreseeable future.

Photos: Harriet St. Pier and Mimi Pitman

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