Our repertoire is made up of four dances, each with its own distinctive features.
Our traditional, showpiece dance is the Handsworth Sword Dance. Thought to be hundreds of years old, this dance was recorded in the early 1900s by Cecil Sharp and is one of the few folk dances with an unbroken performance tradition. Our newer dances all give a nod to this dance and are danced in the spirit and style of the Handsworth tradition. They have been written to be performed for different occasions and events when the traditional dance may not be appropriate.
Each of our dances has its own set of tunes.
- The Handsworth Sword Dance (eight dancers)
- New Barrack (six dancers)
- Medlock (five dancers)
- Richmond (seven dancers)
The Handsworth Sword Dance (eight)
The Handsworth Sword dance is our showpiece dance. The dance is performed by eight dancers wearing our traditional kit; dragoon jackets, white trousers, leather gaiters and boots. A full performance lasts around 10 minutes and involves around a dozen intricate figures.
The Handsworth tradition is different to other longsword dances in that it is performed at a run. Once the dancers link swords early in the dance they do not break formation until the lock. This makes it one of the most challenging folk dances to perform; one error by one dancer can throw the whole set into disarray! The dance is performed with an emphasis on the right foot, giving a distinctive rhythm to the figures. We have continued this feature throughout our dances.
New Barrack (six)
New Barrack (named after a local pub – the New Barrack Tavern in Hillsborough), was originally a version of the Handsworth Sword Dance for when the team could not muster a full eight dancers! It evolved into its own dance for dancing in pubs and on occasions when the traditional dance did not feel appropriate, for example at shared stands at days of dance and festivals. We developed a non-traditional kit of white shirt, britches and maroon socks for this dance, which we also use for our other non-traditional dances. This kit is more practical than our traditional kit and is better suited for nights out or long days dancing at festivals.
The dance features many of the features of the traditional dance but with several key difference. The dance is kept going at a faster pace and is more ‘upright’ (for visibility in crowded pubs); a lock appears early in the figures; and the final lock is triangular rather than the usual star shape.
Medlock was again written to be performed in pubs. The team was toying with the idea of introducing rapper to our repertoire. Instead, we decided to compose a five-person dance borrowing elements from rapper to create a longsword dance like no other!
Featuring a double snake, ‘donuts’, a basket and other rapper-esque figures, this dance is intended to show longsword at its most fast and furious.
The name ‘Medlock’ comes from an area of Handsworth from which many of the members of the team lived in the ealry 20th Century.
Richmond was written to ensure all of our members could perform a non-traditional dance at occasions when we were not performing the traditional dance. It is danced at a slower speed than our other dances, but maintains its key links to the Handsworth style, including an emphasis on the right foot and a linked set.
Richmond is another area of Handsworth where many early team members lived.