Most of our records of Longsword dancing in England come trom Yorkshire and the southern part of County Durham. This area yielded over 70 references to dance performances and records which include performance details for at least 22 dances.

There are notable examples trom outside the North East of England. For example, the dance from Papa Stour in the Shetlands is similar to the Yorkshire dances but is danced by seven men insteed of the usual six or eight. In addition, it is now clear that a similar style of dance was performed in parts of Lancashire. Lincanshire end Nottinghamshire, although why these dances died out more rapidly, or were less well recorded than their Yorkshire counterparts is still a mystery.

One area worthy of more investigatian is the relationship between our Longsword dances and their continental counterparts. One theory of a link between sword dance and mining communities throughout Europe was put forward by Violet Alford in her book Sword Dance and Drama. But this does not bear very close examination as it is obvious that in England the dance often flourished in farming communities-further work is necessary In this area.

It was. therefore. particularly interesting to see one style of Continental Sword Dance at the longsword weekend held in Malton in 1981, The dance was performed by a team from Antwerp, who take their team name 'Lange Wapper' from the name of a local Ogre who terrorised drunkards in the town.

Eleven men perform the dance which lasts almost 20 minutes and includes some figures and movements identical, or very similar to those found in English dances. The dance is an unashamed reconstruction inspired by a Breugel painting and etching entitled ‘St. Georges Fair’ showing an eleven man dance.

Other influences include the stick and hoop dances still performed in the Campine region plus details from other sword and ceremonial dances from other parts of Belgium. Most of the details were gathered by Renaat Van Craenenbroeck, the captain of the team and prominent continentel dance expert.

This dance was first performed in 1970 but minor changes have been made since as a result of discussion among team members or the availability of additional information.

The display at Malton was the first time the full, eleven man version of the dance had been performed outside its traditional home Antwerp, and its usual time. It was so impressive that a group of us decided to travel over to Belgium to see the dance on its home ground.

On the morning of Sunday. March 21 st. Antwerp was very cold and dull.

The fact that the date was the English ‘first dav of Spring’ was a coincidence. The date was the Belgian celebration of Half Lent and was the date of a traditional town carnival. Indeed, a carnival parade takes place on the previous day with flag wavers, giants, stilt walkers, traditional costumes and many other attractive features but the sword dancers will have nothing to do with this event end dismiss it as commercial and artificial.

Regardless of the size of audience the first display outside the Cathedral commences promptly al 8.30 followed by five performances, all timed to coincide with the end of mass celebrations. Between dance spots the dancers, their large band of pipes, hurdy-gurdy, drums and violins, and a growing number of followers retire to a nearby community club to drink coffee, excellent Belgian beer, and to renew old acquaintances.
The atmosphere becomes more relaxed as the day wears on.
The crowds increase as the weather improves - they are attracted by an impressive amount of local publicity.

The dancers have set out to ensure that the dance is as faithful as possible to the few records they have available. For example, white collarless shirts and white shoes are made to traditional designs known to have been popular when the continental sword dance was in its heyday in the 16th Century when it would have been performed by the town guilds. In addition, dancers wear red belts and red leather straps around the calfs both of which carry specially cast bronze bells which give a very distinctive sound.

The swords used in the dance are a copy of those used by a Sword Dance group still existing in 1802 called 'de Michielen' of Tongeren. They are larger and longer than their English counterparts and owe more to the two-handed broad sword. Th. length of the sword (approximately four feet) added to the number of dancers in the circular figures result in the team covering a substantial area of the paved square outside the Cathedral. The antics of the jester and the tourney type hobbyhorse also occupy additional space around the dancers.

The dance itself includes same very distinctive features which have never been written down. These features include many moves involving weaving in and out of the circle, turning the circle inside out, and a range of dramatic set piece displays.

Parts of the dance are done to a distinctive hitch step and many of the set pieces involve a step in which the dancers lean and perform a sideways stepping sequence.

Many parts of the dance do not include the English feature of an unbroken ring but it does include a lock made with five swords and held high in the air while the dancers weave a sixman lock around the captain's waist.

The climax of the dance comes when the music changes, and to the beating of a drum the dancers interweave their swords to form a platform. The captain then stands on this platform which is raised slowly to above head height. He then unfurls a large red and white flag which is then waved and furled in traditional Flemish style.

Some performances of a ceremonial dance seem to feature a special quality - a rightness that must result from a combination of factors including the dancers attitude, the audience reaction, the circumstances, and the details of the performance.

The Lange Wapper sword dance has this dramatic quality. The team is very aware that their dance, no matter how recent in its current revival, has its roots in the folklore of the Flanders area. They are proud to be members of a team who create such a good reaction from the people who gather in the aid city centre.

We went to Belgium with no mental picture of their national characteristics nor any idea of their traditions or folklore. We returned with a view that the Lange Wapper team are generous hosts, very good company and have a very distinctive attitude towards their custom and traditions, which is refreshingly free from pedantic and dogmatic attitudes.
The Lange Wapper team have already put their names down for the next Longsword weekend to be held in Malton on May 13th and 14th 1984, but why wait until then. The dance has more character when performed on the forecourt outside the Cathedral.

The experience is well worth the journey!


In de loop van de maand september verscheen nevenstaand (bovenstaand) artiekel over ons in English Dance and Song (Volume 44 number 2 Summer/Automn 1982 – p. 16/17) het tijdschrift van de English Folk Dance & Song Society. Het is van de hand van Trevor Stone, de man, die ons destijds, op aanraden van vrienden van hem, ons uitnodigde op het Longsword-weekend in Malton. Onze dans maakte op hem, die zich intensief bezig houdt met het onderzoek op het gebied van de Longsword, een dermate grote indruk, dat hij met genoegen de uitnodiging aannam om de zwaarddans in zijn traditioneel kader te komen bekijken. Dat hij er gewoon wild entoeziast is bij geworden blijkt wel ut zijn eigen bewoordingen. Niet alleen rekent hij er vast op ons in Malton 1984 weerom te mogen begroeten, maar ook heeft ons rendez-vous gegeven op 13 maart, bij onze veertiende voorstelling, want dan wil hij er weer bij zijn! En lees even het slot van zijn artiekel, waarbij hij zijn engelse dansbroeders oproept de plas over te steken en de zwaarddans in Antwerpen te gaan bekijken: “The experience is well worth the journey!” !!!

Doet het niet goed aan het hart, als voorbeeld gesteld te worden aan de engelse groepen, in verband met onze opvatting van de traditie, die, zoals Trevor zegt, op een verheugende wijze vrij is van pedant en dogmatisch gezwam.

Houden zo, jongens. Echte folklore moet in ons zelf liggen. Het mag geen kleedje zijn, dat men aantrekt voor de sjo.

Dat we dat kunnen is de kracht van onze voorstelling en in die geest kunnen wij in Tsjechoslowakije ons waar maken.

rattle up, my boys (5)

Longsword ln Yorkshire
Rond 1910 veranderde er heel wat in de samenleving, en de zwaarddans werd aangezien als boers en ruw. Door de grote aantrekkingskracht van de steden, ontvolkte het platteland, zodat in de East-Riding (Oost-Yorkshire) rond 1910 van de dans nog enkel een vage herinnering over bleef. Rond die tijd werd de dans nog wel uitgevoerd in de buurt van Cleveland, Yord en ook, maar in mindere mate, in Zuid-Yorkshire rond Sheffield.

Iedere ernstige studie over de verspreiding en de ontwikkeling van een gebruik moet zich informeren naar het waar, het hoe en het wanneer een bepaald gebruik zich uit. Zo bv. Dateert bijna alle informatie over de verspreiding van de zwaarddans in Engeland van tussen 1830 en 1914. Dit heeft vanzelfsprekend invloed op onze interpretatie. Het is erg verleidelijk te veronderstellen, at de konsentratie in één enkele regio het gevolg is van een gebrek aan communicatie en de beperkingen van het reizen. Dit was zeker een faktor, maar wij moeten voorzichtig zijn. Er werd steeds gereisd: in een beperkte regio, maar ook door zekere klassen. Zo reisden soldaten door heel Engeland als er oorlog was en er was steeds oorlog! Ook seizoenarbeiders bleven net op één enkele plaats en zagen elders gebruiken, die zij thuis niet kenden.

Daarom menen wij, dat de oorzaak van regionale spreiding eerder terug te vinden is in de sterke emotionele verbondenheid met de lokale traditie, dan in het gebrek aan kennis van tradities, buiten de eigen streek. We konden opmerken dat de zwaarddans juist daar het best overleefde, waar er een hechte dorpsgemeenschap bestond. Dit is een bizonder waardevol kenmerk, dat wij de huidige teams ter overweging meegeven …

redaksie: renaat van craenenbroeck
vleminckveld 29 antwerpen
tl (03) 233 61 48

de dansgroep - de zwaarddans - Renaat Van Craenenbroeck

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