Beginners often fall into the trap of adding an extra loop at one or other End of the Reel; it is important to remember to continue all round the loop once you have started it; only in the Middle do you change to the other direction.
At the Start of a Reel of three, the 3 Dancers are, at least roughly, in line along the axis of the eventual Figure with the End dancers Facing each other and the Middle Dancer Facing one of the Ends. The Starting Direction is defined by the way in which the Middle Dancer Passes the End Dancer whom s/he is Facing: the expression Give right shoulders, i.e., Pass By the left, generates a clockwise loop; Give left shoulders, i.e., Pass By the right generates an anticlockwise loop. The third Dancer follows the path of the Middle Dancer, initially going to the right if the Middle Dancer goes to the left (and vice versa) and starting slowly so as to leave room for the Dancer from the far End to Pass between the Middle Dancer and him/herself. S/he Passes this approaching Dancer by the opposite shoulder to that prescribed for the Dancers Starting the Reel.
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, unlike the situation in Figures of eight Across. The upper diagram shows twelve successive movements which, together, make up the full Figure. If the sequence is started at any other point, it wraps back to A after L; for example, starting from D, the sequence is DEFGHIJKLABC. The axis of the Reel is shown for view B, only.
Unless the following Figure requires otherwise, all Finish where they Started. The full Figure most commonly takes 8 bars though sometimes only 6 bars are allocated because 2 bars are needed for some other Figure as, for example, in bars 25-30 of both Duke of Perth and The Montgomeries' Rant where bars 31-32 are used by the Dancing couple to return to their Own sides. In the 6-bar version, the 12 Positions shown in the upper diagram each take half a bar and so a complete Skip change or Strathspey travelling step for both feet moves the Dancer four Positions, for example from the beginning point of A to the beginning point of E.
In the 8-bar version, the 12 Positions shown in the upper diagram each take 2⁄3 of a bar and so a complete Skip change or Strathspey travelling step moves the Dancer only three Positions, for example from the beginning point of A to the beginning point of D.
Note that, even though the diagrams show a curved path, in the 6-bar version each Dancer has a foot touching the floor only at each of the 12 successive Positions shown and so, strictly, the path should be shown as 12 straight lines. For the 8-bar version, there would be 16 straight lines of a little over ¾ the length.
It is very rare for a precursor Figure to leave the 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 the upper diagram as representing a Reel for the first 3 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 three Dancers exactly on the line of the axis of the Reel of three. View B shows the nearest approximation though the fit is not good. In the lower diagram, views B and C show how the initially stationary Dancers can adapt their first two movements so that, by view D, all are evenly spaced as shown in the upper diagram; in simple terms, the End Dancer who is not initially Facing another Dancer (3rd Man in this example) must hold back until the other two have Passed each other. Views L and A in the lower diagram show how the Reeling Dancers adapt their last two fractional movements so that they return to their Starting Positions.
The plural form implies some form of symmetry which may be made more explicit as Mirror reels of three (sometimes called Reflection reels of three) or Parallel reels of three. Reels of three across and Reels of three on the sides usually have a symmetry involving reflection both axially and at right angles to the axes.
The Reel of three in Scottish Country Dancing occurs most commonly in Longwise sets, where it may be performed Up and down (on the Side), Across, on the Centre line or on a Diagonal; i.e., the axis of the Reel is aligned in the defined Direction. Reels of three also occur in Circular sets, the axes of the Reels usually being defined by the Places of the Dancers at the Start of the Figure.