Rapper sword dancing is a slick, fast-moving dance form with 5 dancers linked in a ring with a swivelling sword handle in their right hand and the next dancer's point in their left. The swords are about 0.8 meters long and made of spring steel so that they can bend until the handle and points touch and, to protect the hand holding the point, each sword is fitted with a wooden non-rotating pad. It is critical that once the dance begins, the swords are not released until either the dance ends or the "Lock" or "Nut" is held up for show as the spring steel can inflict a painful blow as it straightens.
The performance often starts with a Calling On Song in which each dancer is introduced. The music for the dance is played at a lively and driving pace and, if the audience is amazed at the intricacy of the figures and how the swords are plaited and undone, the dance has been a success.
Sometimes, additional characters are involved such as a "Tommy" (in mock formal attire) and a "Betty" (usually a man masquerading as a lady) and they may join the dance a various times. They also serve to sing the Calling On Song and link from the audience to the dancers by running from one to the other and adding comments.
Some researchers believe that the "swords" originated from tools used to scrape sweat off the backs of pit ponies.
The dances were collected from villages in the north east of England and, though each village had its own characteristic dance, we have used elements from various villages' dances here. The "Shuffle Step" of the dancers is another special element of the dance, punctuating the rhythm and serving to separate the sections of the dance.
© R. Stradling 2015 www.morrisdances.com