Up the Tradition?

Our own Byker Bill reviews the thinking behind the ‘Added value’ class at DERT 2007.

In keeping with DERT tradition, Whip The Cat, have included something new.

The 2007 organisers, have re-introduced a Traditional Dance category to be danced to a published notation. A separate trophy will be awarded.

The thinking behind the new class is partly a response to Sallyport winning the Premier with ‘Traditional’ dances in Preston and York and Sandbeck sweeping the board in 2005 with a simple but excellent dance in a deliberately traditional style.

The Cats also feel that rapid developments over the last few years have stretched the concept of Rapper. The influence of teams such as Black Swan and the Great Meadows sides, especially Beside the Point and Candyrapper, is accelerating the rate of development of the dance.

There is a feeling that perhaps the real roots of the tradition and its unique dances, are being hidden in a blast of competition induced innovation. That's not to say that all rapper teams are becoming homogenised but there are some innovations seemingly plucked out of thick air that are unrelated to any previous thread in the dance. It's also obvious that workshops are spreading only a few variations of the dance.

Originally, the North Eastern Competitions and Tournaments offered Trophies for Traditional Sword Dancers, specific representatives of their own village, family or pit dance. Each of these was a product of its own environment and usually showed a distinctive and unmistakable style. Variations in kit, characters, figures and especially stepping were the key elements. During the first half of the 20th century someone could have produced an Observers Book of Rapper Teams outlining the features of the Traditions and what to tick off in your little book.

By the late sixties the tradition was fading and the few teams around were almost all student driven and many reflected the ideas of Bill Cassie; that a rapper dance can include figures from anywhere.

The first DERT competitions in the eighties, held in Derby, included a Traditional class, winners were Old Moat from Manchester with brilliant displays of Swalwell, East Saxon showing Walbottle and then along came High Spen displaying High Spen.

At the 1991 competition in Ware, there was one team who entered the Traditional Class and who chose to display High Spen. An audacious decision, since High Spen were also competing with their own dance, but in a different class.

When DERT was revived in 1994 in Newcastle both the Open and the Premier classes included a ‘Named Tradition’ section where the dance had to be based on a known notation.

Gift Rapper the first all women's side to appear at DERT and were adamant that they learned Swalwell ‘à la Sharp’ from the original notation of 1912. They were not terribly impressed with the judges' comments which they felt did not make any reference to the actual Tradition itself.

In recognition of the old teams and their contributions to our own contemporary performances, the Traditional class at Nottingham is aimed at showing that ‘frozen in time moment’ much criticised by later observers.

Each named Tradition should show massive differences from the others.

Judging will be a matter of comparing a named dance to its elements as recorded in the notation. More or less a Display Dance, showing all the unique characteristics of the dance as observed on the day of its recording.

A breakdown of Style, Figures and Chorus is available to guide those who would like to enter. Interpretations and additions will be considered on merit in comparison with the published judging notes.

Further information on the traditional dances can be found at Rapper Online.

Byker Bill