Once the Figure has become established, the dancers should be evenly spaced around the path, thereby ensuring that there is no risk of collision and avoiding any unwarranted concern about Precedence. Unless the following Figure requires otherwise, all Finish where they started from.
In the standard form, danced either on the Centre line or the Side of a Longwise set, the Figure usually starts with the End dancers Facing each other, the Middle dancers Facing the Ends and each Middle dancer passing the adjacent End dancer by Giving right shoulders; when meeting in the Middle, the dancers pass each other by Giving left shoulders.
Diagram 41: Idealized Reel of Four.
Successive Positions in an idealized Reel of four, each movement being 1/16 of the full Figure; arrow heads show the Positions of the equally spaced Dancers after each half bar. The vertical lines show the axis of the Reel of four; when danced on the Side lines of a 4 Couple, Longwise set, the horizontal lines show the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions in The set.
Diagram 41 shows sixteen successive movements which, together, make up the full Figure. If the sequence is started at any other point, it wraps back to A after P; for example, starting from C, the sequence is CDEFGHIJKLMNOPAB.
It is rare for a precursor Figure to leave the Scottish Country Dancers in one of the evenly spaced Positions around the path which they will have to follow, though most dancers, even Beginners, compensate for this wholly intuitively when starting the Figure. For example, if one treats Diagram 41 as representing a Reel for the first four Men starting from their Original Places, none of the successive Positions shown has the Men all in the Men's Side line; the evenly spaced Positions around the path never have all four dancers exactly on the line of the axis of the Reel of four. Diagram 41 B shows the nearest approximation though the fit is not perfect, albeit much better than in the Reel of three: the 2nd and 3rd Men are in the correct Positions; the 1st and 4th Men need to start quickly and move sharply to the left in order to reach the evenly spaced Positions by the beginning of Diagram 41 C. More commonly, the 1st and 4th Men are as shown in Diagram 41 A whereas the 2nd and 3rd Men are as in Diagram 41 B; this means that the 2nd and 3rd Men must start slowly to allow the even spacing to be established and must speed up at the end of the Figure (Diagram 41 P) in order to Finish in their Original Places.
Some precursor Figures naturally leave the Middle dancers Facing each other rather than Facing the Ends as, for example, in bar 16 of Osgood MacKenzie of Inverewe; in this case, they pass Giving left shoulders before Giving right shoulders to the End dancers who must hold back in order to allow the Middle dancers enough Time to pass each other By the left. Sometimes, as at bar 1 of The Meeting Of The Waters, there is so much Time for the End dancers (2nd Man and 1st Lady) to wait that they can comfortably, and more elegantly, Cast (Man Up, Lady Down) into the Reel whose axis is Across The set.
The full Figure takes 8 bars (except in some Interlocking reels of four for which 12 bars are allocated); the 16 Positions shown in Diagram 41 each take half a bar and so a complete Skip change or Strathspey travelling step for both feet moves the dancer four of these Positions, for example from the beginning point of B to the beginning point of F. Note that, even though the diagrams show a curved path, each dancer has a foot touching the floor only at each of the 16 successive Positions shown and so, strictly, the path should be shown as 16 straight lines.
In both Longwise and Circular sets, the Figure may be performed on the Side, Across, on the Centre line or on a Diagonal (see Diagonal reel of four); i.e., the axis of the Reel is aligned in the defined direction. When the Figure is performed on the Side in a Circular set, it is usually called a Crescent reel of four.
Reels of four often occur in pairs with the axes parallel, as for example in Mirror reels of four and Parallel reels of four; Covering is important in these. In one form of Interlocking reels of four, the axes are at right angles.