DERT 1995 - London
North East teams figured highly at “Rapper '95” - this year's Dancing England Rapper Tournament, held in April at Leytonstone.
Sixteen teams from around the country took part in the event, which in recent years has become a unique gathering for the rapper fraternity and the tradition's major event of the year. Hosts East Saxon organised a very enjoyable weekend, which opened with pre-competition dance spots in several local pubs.
The competition itself took place in a large hall in the Heathcote, a large pub with an upstairs concert room. After East Saxon themselves had “broken the ice” with an opening dance, there were non-competitive displays by several teams, some of which also put sets up for the contests. In this exhibition section, High Spen rendered their usual competent performance.
By now, nerves were tingling amongst those entered in the competitive categories. First was the Open Class, to which the Dorset Buttons made a welcome return with their tremendously entertaining clog rapper. This year the lads seemed to please the judges, coming second in front of Bath's Northgate. Ryknild's youngsters also impressed in the traditional division.
But it was Newcastle's Pengwyn Rapper who proved winners with a polished and entertaining dance. This women's team, based at Byker's Cumberland Arms, achieved their victory over some good opposition - despite the fact that this is only their fourth time out in public!
Next year they will be entered into the Premier section, where they would not have been outclassed this time.
Five teams contested the Premier section, which, as usual, was split into Traditional and Own Dance categories.
Two more Cumberland Arms-based teams - Sallyport and the Newcastle Kingsmen - mounted determined efforts to lift the Traditional title. It was a close call between two very different styles and two very good dances.
In the end, it was Sallyport's rendition of the Newbiggin dance which shaded it for their first win in the top section. Interestingly, it was also a “first” for the dance too, as the original Newbiggin team never progressed beyond runners-up spot in Newcastle's famous Cowen Trophy in the early years of this century.
The Own Dance class produced welcome newcomers to DERT in the form of Stevenage Swords, whose performance included some very interesting figures which were greatly appreciated by the audience. Grand Union made a reasonable entrance to the Premier league following their 1993 Open success, but it was the Hoddesdon Crownsmen who came out on top with a slick display.
Strangely, the organisers had omitted or dropped the overall champion's title this year. Introduced in 1994, it gave an opportunity for the Traditional and Own Dance categories to be compared. Would it have gone to Sallyport, Hoddesdon or even Pengwyn? Sadly, we'll never know.
Two other awards were missing - for best character(s) and musician, which would surely have gone to Pengwyn's Dominic Cronin, whose harmonica playing led the judges to comment: “It made us all want to dance.”
On the plus side, the judges' comments were summarised very well, their positive tone being a major advance on 1994. However, the lack of a definitive scoring system made it difficult for competitors to make comparisons or focus on particular areas for improvement. Many spectators also commented that the overall standard of dancing had seemed to have risen, a good omen for the future.
At the end of the day, DERT isn't really about winning. The biggest difference between the cut-throat competitions of the North East in the early years of this century and today's tournament is the atmosphere of friendliness which pervades. Modern dancers have a genuine interest in what each other are doing, and a certain respect for the different ways that they go about their dances.
Thanks are due to East Saxon for taking on the organisers' mantle and producing such an enjoyable weekend (how did they arrange the weather?).