VIDEO: Handsworth Sword Dancers take on West Street

Swords and beer isn’t the wisest of combinations, but for Handsworth Sword Dancers it’s common practice.

They took to West Street last night to showcase their folk dance in front of many pub locals.

The troop started at Bar One and by the end of the night had performed at the Interval, the Devonshire Cat, Cavendish and the Beehive.

Handsworth Sword Dancers are always on the hunt for more members and last night was an opportunity to recruit a few more to enjoy celebrating the tradition.

Dancer James Merrylees, 31, said: “When I joined there was only one other person under 30 in the team and most actually were over 50 so that wasn’t really sustainable.

“We’re always looking for more people because it’s an unbroken tradition that we want to keep going and it’s really good fun.”

Longsword dancing is traditionally from Yorkshire and is often confused with Morris dancing.

The Handsworth Sword Dance is one of the longest established traditions with it beginning back in the 1870s.

It involves swords that are about a yard long, which are held at the handle by those wielding and at the point by their neighbour, for the entire dance.

At the end the swords are put together in a lock, held together by friction, and is lifted up by the captain in a star formation.

The dance usually involves eight men but last night the group conducted a six-man rendition.

Dance captain, Simon Brock, hails the occupations of the Handsworth Sword Dancers as the reason why it still exists today.

He said: “The Handsworth sword dance involved coal miners and steel workers so they were in reserved occupations. It is an unbroken link that goes back thick end over 150 years and probably a lot further back than that as well.”

The dance is usually performed in the winter with costumes featuring velvet jackets, full trousers, heavy leather boots and velvet hats.

Despite the traditional aspect, the group believe there’s plenty of social benefits that come with it as well.

Mr Brock, said: “The main thing is that we’re really enjoying ourselves whilst were doing it and that’s the purpose of it. That’s what the guys who were dancing it 140 years ago would have been concerned about – were they having fun? – and that’s the main focus of what we do today.”


Written by Tom Holden

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