Here come de Judge - Talking DERTy
Two days of sitting in a pub. Just fill in a form occasionally and that's all there is to it. Never trust festival organisers, and whoever said “never work with children and animals” should also have included rapper teams. I'm referring, of course, to the Dancing England Rapper Tournament, held in the City of Glasgow, which, as the mosre astutely geographical of you will have noted, is not actually in England at all. Mind you, the invasion of sundry sword-bearing English was greeted with that Glaswegian understatement which characterises this great city. The dance fitted Glasgow and vice versa like the proverbial hand and glove.
The actual competition took place in a series of pubs in the heart of the city's east end. The teams toured in groups, each taking a circuit of all eight pubs. It was a marathon. It was also an unqualified success. My fellow judges and I worked in pairs, for standardisation purposes, and ensconced ourselves in the hostelries to which we were assigned. The dancers arrived and performed in front of us; the very best theatre production could not have done it better. It is amazing how rapper varies, given that each team is, at least in theory, performing much the same dance. The standard was very high in all cases and stepping and sword handling were of a high quality.
So what does this mean in terms of folk dance? Is competition a good thing? There are mixed views on the subject but DERT would covert most sceptics. The competitive edge makes demands on dancers beyond the ability to skip about screaming with ten pints in them. The urge to be ‘the best’ means that the dance is examined and analysed in detail and assembled with care. Precision is balanced against risk taking and musicality is paramount. Describing the stepping of this year's champions, Black Swan, a fellow judge remarked “That's not stepping, it's Samba!” This is respect for the dance and for oneselves; competition ensures this and lifts the dance to heights that mere involvement does not. It is useful to remember that Rapper grew and thrived in competition, Longsword too has a similar history, at least in North Yorkshire, and both Dover's Cotswold Olympicks and the Kirtlington Lamb Ale were competitive in the early days.
As if to emphasise the national, rather than regional, nature of rapper, it was good to see Northgate win the open class and to note that they will host DERT 2004 next year. The laurels though, went to extraordinary Black Swan, who swept the board. They finished the day as fresh as they started. One suspects that the old boys would have been pushed to do any better.