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The Rapper Sword Dance


The Northumbrian rapper sword dance is a unique tradition from the North East of England. A dance in this form was originally performed by miners in the pit villages of Northumberland and County Durham, but in the last few decades it has spread with revival groups worldwide. Some suggest that the convoluted and fierce attack of a good Rapper performance is a mere reflection of the Geordie miner and his view on life (and Death!)

It is performed at speed by a team of five people continuously linked by flexible tools called rappers, which are weaved in and out of figures for display. It is a fairly recent tradition which has evolved over less than two hundred years from the much older hilt-and-point sword dance tradition found all over Europe.

The 'swords' are a development of spring steel which was first produced commercially in County Durham in the late 1700s. There are links both to the older, slower 'longsword ' dances which were a well known and documented feature of rural labourers. Rapper in its current form has its roots in the need for miners and their families to earn cash when the pits were laid idle over the winter... (the collier boats, transporting coal to London, the biggest market, were basically unsafe during the winter months, so the coal owners stockpiled during the Autumn and then laid the pitmen off ! ) Being the careful people they were, the colliers were constantly repressed by the Gentlemen coal owners looking to increase their profits by taking risks with workers lives, and reducing the wages of their 'rats underground' as that nice Mr. Churchill Iater called them. So Strikes, Walk outs and Lockouts were a constant feature of the pitmen's lives. lts 'nee bluddy wonder that they wor bluddy militant!'

The 'wrapper' or Rapper sword dance was developed as an attention grabbing, money making (but keep it in wor family) concern. Clog dancing steps, racy music and rough knockabout humour became the norm and the dance became iconic and very competitive.

Oddly, the Northumberland Durham coalfields, the powerhouse of the lndustrial Revolution before even Wales had deep pits, was full of immigrants from Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, Derbyshire, Kent, lreland (who made poor pitmen, being scared of the dark), and from all over Europe dragged in by the owners and their agents on the promise of sky high earnings. All these workers were drafted in because basically Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland were empty. But very soon they all became absorbed into the culture and became 'Geordies'.

So here before your eyes is that strange being...a Geordie refinement.

You can find out more about rapper sword dancing by clicking here or by clicking here