The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers emerged victorious in all categories at the Sword Dance Union (SDU) national longsword dancing competition, held in Southport on Saturday 8th October 2022.
The team picked up all four of the competitive awards on offer;
- Best Traditional Dance – Handsworth Sword Dance
- Best Own-Dance – Medlock
- Best Musicians
- Trever Stone Prize for Best Overall Performance
The SDU competition pits dance teams from around the country against each other to perform traditional ‘longsword’ dances.
We’re absolutely delighted to have had the quality of our dancing and music recognised at this national competition. All of the teams present danced incredibly well, so it was a real tribute to the dedication and practice time the team have put in that we came away with a clean sweep of prizesSimon Brock, Team Captain
The Handsworth team performed two dances for the judges; the Handsworth Sword Dance in the Traditional class; and a more recently-written dance called Medlock in the Own-Dance category.
The Handsworth Sword Dance is thought to be at least 150 years old, and has been danced continuously by the Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers throughout that time. The dance is performed by eight dancers wearing dragoon-style jackets, white trousers, leather gaiters and boots. A full performance lasts around 10 minutes and involves around a dozen intricate figures.
The dance was collected in the early 1900s by folklorist Cecil Sharp, co-founder of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and published in his Sword Dances of Northern England in 1913. In it, he calls the Handsworth dance “…certainly one of the best and most inspiring of the dances that still survive in Yorkshire.”
The team’s Medlock dance was written just before the pandemic, and only performed in public a handful of times before the competition. Performed by five dancers, it was devised to be danced in smaller spaces, such as city centre pubs and in a less-formal kit. It is named after Medlock Road in Handsworth, where many of the dancers in the 1920s team lived.