The rapper sword dance (unrelated to rap ) was originally performed in the mining villages of Northumberland and Durham ( Northumbria ) counties in northeast England. The dance has five dancers (often accompanied by two characters named Tommy and Betty ) who dance in an unbroken chain tied with short flexible swords (named "Rapper" ). The dance is related to the Yorkshire Long Sword dance as well as other European chain sword dances .
According to the early historical records, the dance likely evolved from an older tradition performed with rigid swords that was similar to the long sword dance. At some point in the 19th century, these rigid swords were replaced by the flexible rappers . This great development in tradition could possibly have been accidental - perhaps someone improvised a sword from a flexible piece of steel (like a saw blade whose teeth had been filed down) and had the inspiration to recognize the flexible rappers' full potential. We do know, however, that many nineteenth-century rapper teams had improvised rappers from mines' tools in this fashion; in any case, before the invention of the Bessemer process in 1855, which allowed steel to be manufactured cheaply, specially made rappers would have been prohibitively expensive.
During the 19th century, the rapper sword dancers of the mining villages traveled annually to the cities of Newcastle upon Tyne , Sunderland or Durham to perform the dance in front of the townspeople - and also to make some money. During the 1920s and 1930s this tradition was revived to make money during the miners' strikes and unemployment of the Great Depression.
Leading actors from the tradition in their homeland include the Newcastle Kingsmen and High Spen Blue Diamonds . A competition open to all rapper clubs called Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) is held annually.
These rapper sword dance images are from the Newcastle Kingsmen and World Millennium Sword Spectacular websites .
All of the following web links are in English