Rapper Sword Dancing

The rapper dance is a fast traditional English dance whose origins lie in the mining villages of the Northumberland and Durham coalfields and involves five people connected by short, two-handled, flexible swords (called rappers) forming a chain. Without breaking this chain the dancers weave in and out of one another twisting the swords to form locks and breastplates, sometimes jumping or even somersaulting over the swords.

The dance commences by the dancers forming a circle each holding one sword in his right hand, often clashing their swords together before grasping in their left hands the free end of the sword held by the dancer in front. The only time this chain is broken is to present a star of five interlocked swords. At intervals throughout the dance the dancers step or ‘jig’ in a characteristic way derived from the clog dance tradition of the local area.

Intricate figures are danced with the dancers passing between and around each other, under and over the swords and into seemingly irretrievable tangles which resolve into displays formed with the rappers. Among other shapes, these displays can be open circles with the swords linking the dancers, or into a closed circle with the swords interlocked into the star which is presented aloft to the audience.

The rapper dance can develop a dramatic element from the sequence of the figures, which is enhanced by the addition of acrobatic moves, such as backward or forward somersaults. Traditional dances had a chorus figure such as a lock between each running figure, while modern and evolved dances generally have a free flow throughout.

More details of its history and development can be found on the excellent Rapper Online website.