The sword dances collected in Northumberland and Durham are the Rapper Sword Dances, rappers being a flexible sword with a handle at each end. For most of the dance the swords are held above the dancers heads while they weave intricate patterns at high speed. The dance begins with five men, but often the fool characters, the Tommy and Betty, will join in before the end. Frequently teams will only wear dark breeches and a white shirt, but sometimes the shirt will be decorated with rosettes.
Bow Street Rapper dancing at the King John's Ring Meeting.
This group were formed from members of the Royal Ballet, apart from attending a number of Ales and Ring meetings in the 1980s and early 1990s, they took the dances with them when the Royal Ballet toured in the Soviet Union and Europe. At one stage the Royal Ballet Bow Street Rapper team had amongst others the young David Bintley in it. (David Bintley, CBE is currently Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet).
For more information about Rapper dances and music go to Rapper Online, where you can learn everything you need to know about rapper dancing, its characters, costumes, music, history, the teams, events and even how to get hold of rapper swords nowadays. See also the Rapper Book on the Sword Dance Union site.
Videos of Rapper Sword Dance
Take a look on Youtube at High Spen Blue Diamonds Traditional Rapper Sword Dancers at the Gateshead National Garden Festival 14-10-1990. Musician: Mike Douglass. The introducer is Chris Metherell.
Or see Stevenage Sword dancing at DERT in 1993 Mick (music) Alan, John, Chris, Neil, Pete, Tommy: Steve Laycock.
There are many other Rapper dance examples on YouTube, a list appears beside the Stevenage Sword video.