Not to be confused with the often (wrongly) maligned Morris, Rapper sword dancing is a fast exciting form of traditional dance which originated in the mining villages of North East England at some point during the 19th century.
Performed chiefly for beer or enjoyment, it involves five dancers, five swords and some very intricate dance figures designed to shock, amaze and occasionally involve whoever is watching at the time.
Accompanied by traditional British music, the dancers adorn heavy soled shoes and strive to ‘improve’ the volume levels by hammering out complicated stepping patterns, ideally on a wooden pub floor to achieve the greatest clarity of sound / proximity to the bar.
The dancers and musicians are often joined by one or two members of the team dressed up as the traditional ‘Tommy’ and ‘Betty’ characters. The ‘Tommy’ will call the dancers on, try to explain what is happening to the audience, and then attempt to prevent any major injuries while the dance is in progress. The less said about the ‘Betty’, the better – apart from they regularly sport fine beards and can drink the rest of the team under the table.
Rapper dancing is currently experiencing a healthy revival in the UK and also further afield, with many new teams introducing new figures and record levels of excitement / inebriation.
Next weekend Leeds’ own rapper team Black Swan Rapper will be hosting the Dance England Rapper Tournament (DERT) attracting teams from all over the world to compete, share ideas and engage in moderately offensive banter. Since its origins in the 1980s, DERT has encouraged and been the exhibition stage for the development of new figures, tactics and styles, all of which have made rapper dancing the fresh and living tradition that it is today.
Competition lasts all day on Saturday and involves teams touring the city centre dancing in front of different judging panels located across 5 host pubs. Teams are marked on criteria including technical ability and style, music, the performance of the Tommy and general buzz factor. Marks from the 5 judging panels are collated to calculate a final score.
Either pick your favourite team and follow them around on their travels or strategically base yourself by your chosen bar and let the competition come to you. There is also a youth competition (DERTy) at the Wardrobe.
Entry to the pubs to watch the main competition is free, the evening showcase event at Left Bank has now sold out. Follow @DERT2014 on twitter for live updates or head over to the website for details of the venuesand schedules. www.dert2014.co.uk