Rapper SWORD DANCING
This dance is about sex.
Thrales perform rapper sword dances based on the folk tradition developed by miners from the pit communities of Tyneside.
Some are our own creation, the dances of the Middlesex coalfields, and others are versions of the original dances from Northumberland.
The rapper "sword" itself is a strip of flexible spring steel with a handle at each end. Based on once commonplace tools, they are entirely unlike the edged weapon of the same name.
Rapper was probably invented when the lack of blades for a longsword dance forced a group of people to improvise with hoop iron, horse shedders or old saw blades.
The flexibility of the makeshift swords allowed them to dance with a freedom and at a speed that genuine, rigid, swords do not allow.
Rappers are now made to order and we dance with swords made by the inimitable Frank Lee.
The Admiral Duncan dance was named as a mark of our esteem for David Morley, the manager of the eponymous bar in Soho. “Sinders” was a great supporter and friend of the team. Sadly, he was murdered in 2004 and is much missed.
Our original dances are named after pubs that have supported and encouraged the team over the years. They have become part of our Middlesex coalfield mythology.
The Anchor is our main routine and was the first dance written by the team. It grew out of some figures collected in the 1920s from Lemington on Tyneside which we developed into a “called” dance with chorus figure.
We have several fixed-figure dances too, most of which were written for the Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT).
We are keen practitioners of traditional sword dances from Northumberland, especially those that are now rarely performed by other teams.
Chief among them is the Beadnell dance from the small village of the same name on the Northumberland coast. It was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1910 and published in 1912.
Beadnell is unique in rapper as it is not a miners' dance, but a fishermen's dance. The original team performed in their jerseys and were accompanied by two "Bessies" dressed in the washerwoman look of the period.
Inspired by the original Beadnell team, Thrales augment their regular kit with jumpers and baldrics, and wheel out Grandma Thrale and Red Betty, when performing the dance.
Amble is a small seaport north of Newcastle. The Amble dance was taught and performed mainly by members of the Flanighan family until the team's last performance in 1931.
Two versions of the Amble dance were collected. One by Bill Cassie, and a second by Joss Mellor and Brian Haydon. Thrales' Amble dance has been grafted from both.
When performing Amble, Thrales adapt their regular kit with the slim ties and "snake belts" referenced in the Mellor/Hayden notation.
Bedlington is a former pit village about 10 miles north of Newcastle, famous for its sword team and the Bedlington Terrier breed of dog.
The Bedlington sword dance was performed by the Muldoon family up to 1926. Versions were collected in the 1960s by Brian Hayden and Andrew Burgess. Our version combines that notation with original research.
For competition performances, Thrales swap our red neckers for a bow tie, as described in Bill Hayden's notation.
SWORD DANCE NOTATION
Notation for many Northumberland sword dances and more on the history of rapper can be found at Rapper Online.