Dancing down the DERT Years

Vince Rutland remembers

More than two decades of DERT have seen the rapper scene change irrevocably.

Early DERTs took place at Derby Assembly Rooms as a part of the splendid and much-missed Dancing England concerts, which were already well established.

In those days, DERT was something to do when the pubs (i.e. The Dolphin) closed at 3pm, when we had to sneak into the very posh venue through a service entrance.

It was the first time most of us had seen more than a couple of rapper teams together, let alone a dozen or two, and was our first chance to get to know the ‘opposition.’

Early DERTs comprised entirely men's teams, with the likes of Hoghton, Old Moat, Isaac Walton's, Beltane and various others taking part. East Saxon, Hoddesdon and Grand Union Rapper were the south's flag bearers and the North East had their own category, acknowledging the origins of their dance tradition and culture. These North East teams mostly danced named traditions with age-old figures, whilst many of the others had introduced newer figures of their own.

After a few years break, competitions resumed in 1992 at Ware in Hertfordshire. Organised by Hoddesdon, technically it wasn't called DERT but it filled DERT's boots and we flocked to it. Somewhere along the line the ‘North East’ and ‘Rest of the World’ categories disappeared, ‘Premier’ and ‘Open’ taking their place in stages.

The following year saw a return to Derby for ‘Daughter of Dancing England,’ sadly a one-off. Phil Heaton claims that DERT '93 was the first pub tour competition, with teams dancing into Derby centre.

But people were not prepared to let it drop there and 1994 saw Sallyport and the Kingsmen pick up the baton and jointly organise the first DERT proper outside Derby. Based in Newcastle, it brought rapper back to its North East roots; they even included a bus tour of traditional rapper villages on the Friday.

Also around this time the first women's teams appeared – Gift Rapper in 1993 and Pengwyn and Short Circuit in 1994, and Black Adder - something rarely challenged in most of the rapper world (though some dinosaurs do remain) and their absence these days would be astonishing.

Stone Monkey's emergence around this time was another milestone. They danced with such vigour yet still very much in a North East style, their innovative figures widely copied since.

Around the same time, one or two UK teams visited the Half Moon Sword Ale in New York, meeting a host of US sword dancers – mainly women – and cementing new connections across the Big Pond that was to be strengthened more by the Sword Spectacular Festivals. But it was to be some years yet before they could be enticed to DERT.

Touring England, DERT revisited Newcastle in 1999 when the fabled Cowen Trophy made its first appearance at the leading rapper competition since Winlaton won it outright in 1924. As a star guest, it was truly fabulous! The format remained similar – a couple of warm-up pubs followed by a tense competition at a single venue throughout the afternoon. In 2003, this was all to change.

We left England and went to Glasgow, where the bars are ‘paved’ in hard floors. In a reaction to the four-hour one-dance-each rappathon, Kevin Theaker and organisers Clydeside, instead put the judges in the pubs. One or two traditionalists didn't approve but the masses did and the new die was cast.

Going back to 2001, the Masham DERT saw a new team in the ‘Open’ class – Black Swan, formed by an itinerant Stone Monkey/Sallyport/Kingsman with a funny hairdo. Promising, but a bit rough round the edges. 2002 saw them return with a Sheffield performance that simply took the breath away from many of those who saw it.

That dance took rapper to a new dimension and what happened over the next couple of years in many ways reflected the ‘Stone Monkey effect,’ with other teams falling over themselves (literally) to embellish their dances with complex new figures.

The international aspect came first in 1996 at Burton, when Jack the Rapper made their first appearance as ‘Norway's National Rapper Side.’ And we all loved them. Then, in 2005, the Yanks arrived in droves - not one but THREE teams from the Boston area, two of them from the rapper academy known as the Great Meadows High School. They were back this year and we hope to see them plenty more.

But the story doesn't end there. Also in 2005, Maltby Phoenix – a team not even of women but GIRLS – became the first Open team to lift the Steve Marris Trophy+ as overall winners. Not only that, they did it with a straightforward dance, very well performed, and thoroughly deserved their win. A lesson to all. And the good news is they are far from being the only team of teenagers at DERT.

Again in 2006, Sallyport again won with relatively uncomplicated traditional dances – which they adhere to not because they disapprove of ‘made-up’ dances (they don't) but because they feel that someone should benchmark broadly the shape of dances at an earlier stage in rapper's history.

So what exactly does DERT achieve? Some people say they don't like competitions. For a while, they even wondered if DERT could be done without the scores. The change in format at Glasgow seems to have ended that and not a single non-competitive team entered in 2006.

Somehow, it wouldn't be the same without the competitive element. Not only does it extract constructive comments from the judges, DERT forces us to perform in front of our peers, the other dancers. For many of us, these are a more important audience than the judges and we want to be at our very best.

And this is surely the real nub of it all. We work hard to sharpen up our dances and the benefits last for months to follow. And the results are plain to see - the standard of dancing at DERT has never been higher. Long may it continue.

Which teams have competed at every DERT? I can't think of any except for – guess who – Sallyport and Kingsmen. Team Cumberland wins again!

And is there any trainspotter out there who can name every team to have taken part in DERT from the very beginning? Here's our best shot. Can you add to it?

AddisonMersey Morris Men
Beside the PointNewcastle Kingsmen
Black AdderNew Haven
Black BoyNorthgate
Black CapNYFTE
Black SwanOld Moat
Candy RapperPeckham Girls
ClydesideRagged Rapper
Dark HorseRapparound
Dorset ButtonsRedcar Longsword
East SaxonRed Rose
EastwoodRidley Rappers (DERTy)
Ellen Vannen (?)Rowlands Gill CP Primary School (DERTy)
Faithful City Royal Earsdon
Fallen AngelsRydon Spring
Flying DucksRyknild
Fossbrook BoysSt Aidan's
Gift RapperSt Monday's
Grand Union RapperSandbeck
Green Velvet OutlawsScrambled Six
Grim RapperSeven Stars
High Spen Blue DiamondsSharpe
Hoddesden CrownsmenShaun the Sheep
HoughtonSilver Flame
InswordSteel Rose
Isaac Walton'sStevenage
Jack the RapperStone Monkey
Kelvin Grove CP PrimarySweetie Rapper
School (DERTy)Thrale's
Knit your OwnTriskele Sword
Lamb and FlagWhip the Cat
Mabel GubbinsWhite Star
Maltby Phoenix

Toronto Women's Sword submitted a video entry in 2001. Stockton Blue & Golds entered in 1994 but could only get three dancers there.


+ Steve Marris Trophy - awarded to the overall DERT champions in memory of the man who kept the manufacture of rapper swords going for decades virtually single handed. First appeared at DERT 98.

# Who won eh? And where is the most prestigious trophy now?