A Barn Dance Repertoire
by Thomas Green
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Strip the Willow (set dance)

Also known as  Drops of Brandy
Set dance, 5 or 6 couples
Difficulty:  1
Style:  English
Longways proper

1s turn with R elbows one and a half, then 1st W turns 2nd M with L elbow, turns partner in centre of set with R, 3rd M with L, etc to end of set; 1st M does the same up the line of W, starting with bottom W; on reaching the top again they go down both lines simultaneously.  Next couple starts as soon as there's a chance - i.e.  before the current couple has reached the bottom.

Caller should note that this dance isn't phrased, so if there's more than one set they'll soon be out of synch and once the dance has started you can't do much if they go wrong.  So explain clearly at the start.  Rule is 'right arm to partner, left to others, but don't hold the dance up if you or anyone else get mixed up, just take the arm that's offered'.
(I recently discovered that in Scotland whenever a new couple starts it's usual to take a cross-hand hold at arm's-length for the first swing and to go round lots of times until they get bored.  That means that you should stick to short sets or else it gets very boring in between turns.)

Colin says   In 2018 I had an email from Brian Farley in Bishop's Stortford:

Colin, it is true that in Scotland each couple turn for 4 or 8 bars, in 6/8 time, before first going down a Strip the Willow set.  The RSCDS (Royal Scottish Country Dance Society) members turn for 4 bars using a gentle hand grip.  Normally, they would only dance Strip the Willow at a ceilidh for simple dances.  Ceilidh dancers, who dance vigorously, prefer 8 bars in a fast “birl”.  That means using an elbow hold with right arms, and with the left arms above in a firm palm grip and thumbs entwined.  It can be a speed contest, and I have once been thrown across the room after losing hold in a ceilidh - good fun.  Note that, although the dance is listed in RSCDS book 1 in 9/8 jig time (tune: Drops of Brandy), everyone in Scotland now dances it in 6/8 time. 

The room-length longwise set with both partners only turning down the set, and not up, is from Orkney.  That's why it's called the Orcadian Strip the Willow.  As it’s a Scottish dance, I would expect it to also be in 6/8 when danced anywhere outside Scotland, and possibly with extra birling at the bottom of the set.

Music:  brisk slip jigs such as Drops of Brandy