Three Hand Reel - Plethen a Dry
The Three Hand reel we dance today comes from both written and oral sources: Mrs Baker of Rilla Mill (1980), Mrs Gwen Masters of Blisland (1997), William Bottrel’s “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall”,[i] The Journal of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies,[ii] and Inglis Gundry’s Canow Kernow.[iii]
Mrs Baker was able to provide the basic step and pattern for the Three Hand Reel. She described it as a progressive dance, and as such each dancer would take a turn in the middle. Although this was all the information she was able to provide, the remainder of the dance was easy to work out from this formula.
Mrs Gwen Masters also recalled a form of dance specifically for three people. Although she did not state directly that it was a reel, the description does seem to fit with that of Mrs Baker’s. Gwen explained that, “Just the three of us […] would twist in and out”, and added that where she grew up in Blisland they would also turn under each other’s arms. Bottrel gives another insight into the Three Hand Reel and also the context in which the dance was usually performed, in this case at the local public house: "The sport of wrestling in the Plen an Guare, which was given up to the boys for the games at quoits, were kept up from daylight till dark night, when all went home for a hasty meal and on to take the girls to the public house, where the fiddle and fife in every room put life into the legs of the dancers; but they seldom found fiddles enough, and many a merry jig and three handed reel was kept going by the tune being sung…" (1870:146)
Like Bottrel’s reference to singing accompanying the dance, Mr W Arthur Pascoe remembered the following song for the Three Hand Reel, in an article in the 1929 Old Cornwall Society magazine:
“Some say the Devil's dead
And Buried in Fowey Harbour
Some say he's alive again
And ‘prenticed to a barber
Chorus Tra la la la la…
When Tom's father died
Tom and I we took a ride
Down to the riverside
And Back again for dinner
Chorus Tra la la la la…”
In ‘Canow Kernow’ Inglis Gundry writes that, on interviewing the same Arthur Pascoe, he was able to supply another couplet for the rhyme which was taken from the Whitehaven Mummer’s Play:
“Some say the King’s dead, and buried in a saucer;
Some say he’s up again and gone to be a grocer”
There is another reference to the Three Hand Reel in ‘An Old Cornish Chres’muss’ in another edition of the Old Cornwall Society Journal an article reads: “But the best time of all wus when Mester Trevenen tooked down he’s ol’ fiddle from the shilf an’ ‘way we all scampered in a dree-handed reel, singin’ so well es dancing’ to the music, though the words es fullish” Gundry explained that Mr Pascoe, who wrote the article, saw the reel danced in a farmhouse kitchen about 70 years before.
Formation: The dance begins with three people standing in a line, 'A', 'B' and 'C'. The dance begins with 'A' and 'B' facing each other, 'C' facing 'B's' back.
Step: Step onto the left foot and hop, whilst at the same time bringing the right leg forward with the knee straight so that the heel of this right foot strikes the ground. Repeat, hopping on the right and kicking with the left foot. (TRAVELLING STEP)
1 — 16 Reel of three ('A' and 'B' passing each other right shoulders), to finish with 'A' in centre facing 'C'. Unlike the Four Hand Reel, this reel requires wide sweeping loops.
17 — 24 'A' turns to face 'B' and sets. The ‘set’ in this case is simply the step outlined above danced eight times. ‘A’ will dance four steps facing ‘B’, and on the fourth step turn around and face ’C’ to dance the other four steps. The reel then begins again form this position ('A' and 'C' passing right shoulders).
This time 'C' will finish in the middle.
As collected bars 1 — 24 should be repeated six times, during which time each dancer will have done the dance from each position twice. However, at present most Cornish dance groups only perform the dance three times, so each dancer has had one turn in the middle.
The tune for Three Hand Reel in Inglis Gundry’s ‘Canow Kernow’.