La danse des épées d’Anvers  

Bridlington FREE PRESS - PAGE 4 - Free Press, Thursday, June 1, 2000

Festival booklet being prepared on a village tradition
attracting much interest

Sword dance story set to go into print

IN APRIL, the Flamborough Sword dance team astonished their many friends by accepting an invitation to perform their dance at "Half Lent" (our Mother's Day) at a festival in Antwerp. Before this trip the team had seldom travelled out of the village within the past 25 years.

This event attracted experts from all over Europe, all keen to see the Flamborough dance, which they had so often read about. Judging from the audience's reaction, the dancers gave a first-class performance.

The trip brought home to many people just how important the village dance is regarded in the field of folklore. Probably the most important outcome was that the event increased interest in the tradition within the village.

As a result a sizeable amount of information came to light, including background information (such as names of dancers, venues and dates) about a collection of historic photos of earlier teams which were held in a specialist library in London.

However, compared with some other English sword dances, the Flamborough dance has not attracted very much in the way of written reports. To remedy this omission, Flamborough man Richard Traves has got together with local sword dance expert Trevor Stone to produce a booklet to record the background to this unique and very ancient dance tradition.

The booklet, already in draft form, is planned to be available for the village Flower Festival in August 2001, which is when the team members hope to welcome their Belgian hosts to visit the village - and it is also the 25th anniversary of when the team was last revived after a short break.

The authors of the booklet would welcome any photographs, reminiscences or information relating to sword dancing generally and to the Flamborough dance specifically. There has been a dance tradition in the village almost non-stop for more than 100 years. In the past, the village dance was taught to youngsters at the local school, and this has started again under the guidance of Mrs Carol Coultas.

It is hoped that a junior team will soon be dancing out. The adult Flamborough team can be seen in action each Boxing Day when it tours the village. It also plans to attend a small number of mainly local events.

It's a living custom

THE Flamborough Longsword dance is a valuable part of the village's heritage. It is not just of local interest but is also of national Importance.

In recent years, the team understands that the dance has been referred to in academic conferences as far apart as Italy and New York. In the 19509 it was taught to enthusiasts In Japan - and described in a poorly translated booklet as one of "England's Folk Dances". And yet, today, the team is virtually unknown a few miles from the village! It seems that the dance is popular with teams wishing to take up sword dancing, but members of the village teame are anxious not to be "swamped" by other versions of their dance.

They are "shy" end are less well known than other teams which perform long-lived dances. In Flamborough, the dance is a living (and changing) custom -it is not a museum piece of academic interest nor a curiosity to demonstrate dancing skills.

Antwerp performance

Members of the Flamborough Sword Dance team
pictured outside the Antwerp Cathedral.

THE Half Lent event in Antwerp attended by the Flamborough team in April, was organised by the Flemish dance team Large Wapper, from Antwerp. It attracted huge crowds, especially to the highlight of the event on the Sunday morning when the dancers danced in front of the magnificent Antwerp Cathedral.

The weekend also included informal dancing, a guided tour of the City of Antwerp and a social evening with the hosts from the Lange Wapper team, who also have a sword dance but which is very different to the Flamborough dance.

The Flamborough Sword Dance team visiting Antwerp comprised Richard Traves, Robert Kemp, Andrew Hall, Paul Crossland, John Allison, Jonathan and William Traves, Ian Robson, John Pratley, Gareth Ibbotson, Craig Redhead; and Sue and Eric Storey (musicians).

Organisations giving the team suport and encouragement: Flamborough Victoria Club, Tuesday Club, Flamborough Pigeon Club, North Wolds Lions, Mr and Mrs Birdsall (Lombard Nursing Home, Bridlington) and Flamborough Parish Council and Flamborough Buffs.

Many Individuals also helped both practically and financially, especially Mr R Bayes, Mr J Kay (of Leeds), Mr J Kemp, Mr T Silverwood, Mr J Stork, the pubs of the village, which arranged collections in support of this venture, and those people of the village who so generously supported fund-raising efforts.

For more than 20 years the Flamborough team had seldom travelled from the village, nor did they dance on any other occasion than Boxing Day. So it came as a surprise to be invited to Belgium - especially when it was suggested that the team should also practice for the event!

The trip needed much planning, and fund-raising - for such an important event the team needed new kit (such as a banner and extra caps) and the travel costs were great.

However, a measure of the respect local people have for their dance was the encouragement and support they offered the team.

The present day team has few links with other dance teams. Also, their dance has been published and is extensively taught (often by people unaware of the existence of a village team).

It is "in the public domain" but that does not prevent the Flamborough team from hoping that activities such as their visit to Antwerp, will result in a wider knowledge of, and respect for, this original village tradition.

The day of revival

The Flamborough Sword Dance boys team 1910-12: Back row, from left, Bob Emmerson, Billy Smith, Frank Bayes, Edward Cross, Herbert Woodhouse, George Chapman and Jack Stephenson. Front row, Robert Atkinson, Richard Bayne, George M Cross and William Collins. There has been a dance tradition In Flamborough for more than 100 years and the authors of the proposed booklet would welcome photographs, reminiscences and information.

WHEN the Rev Simon Stanley became Priest-in-Charge of Flamborough in 1975, a healthy and widely popular flower festival had been run for some years at St Oswald's Church.

Mr Stanley cast around for ideas as to how this event could be built on to make it into a village festival. In conversation at the Timoneer Hotel with, among others, Gordon Charlesworth, David and Peter Traves, late 1976 or early 1977, the tradition of the Flamborough sword dance was brought up.

It transpired that the dance, which had been taught in the Flamborough School and performed by village fishermen up until World War Two, was preserved from extinction first of all by a women's team and then, from the 50s onward, by children at the school. It seemed that there was dissatisfaction under the surface that it was not being danced by the men of the village. A revival seemed to be possible.

Mr Stanley shared the idea with a wide variety of people, both those who could remember it being danced by men in the old days and those who would be young and fit enough to resurrect it. Not one voice was raised against it.

The first public performance was at the newly expanded Flamborough Festival in August 1977, and subsequently reported in the parish magazine. A copy of this was seen by Eric Storey, the musician for Middleton Sword and Garland, who contacted Mr Stanley and arranged for a social evening for the Middleton and Flamborough teams.

The defining moment came when Mr Stanley and a few others went over to a dance evening in Middleton-on-the-Wolds, where the strong local men's team performed the Flamborough dance among others. When it was suggested by the visitors that they would like to revive their tradition they were encouraged to do so.

The team was reborn and practised hard over the ensuing months under the early tutelage of Kathy Mitchell, a renowned expert on regional dancing, who was delighted to know that the Flamborough Longsword Dance (as she insisted was its proper name) was again being performed by locals.

The tradition of doing the dance around the parish on Boxing Day was revived in the same year and has happened every year since then bar one (when the weather was too bad).

Eric Storey, the Middleton team's excellent musician (though, in fact, he came from Hull and was brought up in Flamborough) offered to provide music for the Flamborians, and initially this took the form of a cassette tape from which a local musician learned the tunes and played for the team's dance-outs for several years, often joined by Eric. When Kathy Mitchell retired, Eric took over the role of musician in person and has played for them ever since, usually accompanied by his wife, Sue.

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