Dancing England Rapper Tournament

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The Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) [1] is a continuation of the most significant rapper sword dance competitions that were held in Newcastle upon Tyne, the centre of the coalfields where the dance originated. The modern annual weekend event, held at different venues in the UK, brings together rapper teams and sword dancers from around the country and occasionally abroad.

While the element of competition is important, the social aspects are just as fierce. The essential idea behind the tournament was then and is now that teams have to practice well and develop their skills, giving their performance a damn good polish and their audiences a real rapper treat.

Historical background[edit]

The Newcastle Tournament of Music and Art, which included a Traditional Short Sword or Rapper competition for seniors and juniors was held annually in the City Hall from just after the Great War until the early fifties.

The event consisted of many musical and performance classes held over most of a week, but it was the Saturday Rapper competition that drew the most crowds. So prestigious was the Rapper, that judges were imported from the newly formed, London-based, English Folk Dance Society, founded and directed by the great folk song and dance collector, Cecil Sharp.

The pit villages where the dance was "invented" were known for their tight knit communities and fierce independence, and they sent their best teams along. The City Hall was packed and the press were ready to lionise the winners. The dances were honed to sharpness, the kit was impressive, the music was described as 'first class' and the pride of the Durham and Northumberland Miner was there to be seen. The pace quickened as first the Juniors, then a few women's and girls' teams and then finally the men competed for the Cowen Trophy, medals and glory.

In the early days, papers such as the Evening Chronicle and the Northern Echo had banner headlines of the results giving fame and pride to the village of the Trophy winners. Whichever team won was copied. Stepping patterns, new tunes and of course the best figures and movements were stolen or borrowed. Rivalry was high with reported fights backstage and around town. Stories are whispered of musician and dancer nobbling before and after the competition.

The modern event is not quite so cutthroat, but cameras, recorders and videos and a few free pints of beer have been part of a sword team's armoury for a while.

The modern DERT competition[edit]

The modern DERT competition has its origins in an event which took place during the Dancing England concert of traditional English dancing which was held in the Assembly Rooms in Derby between 1979 and 1987. A rapper competition known as the Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) took place on the afternoon prior to the evening concert.

Following the sad demise of Dancing England, the rapper sword competition continued under the name "DERT".

The competition travels around the country and is organised by a different rapper team every year with support provided by previous DERT organisers, the wider rapper community and the Sword Dance Union. In most years it is an international competition, with past entries from teams from the USA, Denmark, Canada and Norway. Between 25 and 30 teams compete for prizes, accolades and bragging rights for the following year. Entries are divided into three divisions; Premier, Championship and Open with potential promotions and demotions occurring depending on how the teams dance. Musicians compete too, along with the Tommy and Betty characters employed by most of the sword dance teams.

The competition takes place in 5 pubs in the host city with teams dancing in each one in front of two judges. The judges are tasked with grading the teams on their sword handling skills, teamwork, stepping and creation of 'Buzz factor'. There's also a Spotlight dance in front of 4 judges in a quieter environment where accuracy and teamwork become very important. There's a Traditional competition, where teams must performance a traditional dance as notated by in 3 defined publications.

The future of DERT and rapper sword dancing is also catered for, with a competition called DERTy. This section is divided into Youth and Junior sections with dancers practicing as equally as hard as the adult teams, just not competing in various pubs and bars.

DERT finishes with a Showcase event where all teams dance on stage in front of each other and the various prizes and awards are given. The overall winner of DERT receives the Steve Marris Trophy, which recognises the massive contribution made by Steve to the rapper sword community. For many years he was the UK's only manufacturer of rapper swords, without him rapper sword dancing as a traditional dance form would have been in very serious danger of dying out.

Where, when, and who won?[edit]

The most recent DERT competition took place in Leeds in March 2014, the next takes place in Bristol in 2015.

Details of the locations and dates of recent DERT competitions are given below.

EventLocationDatesOverall winner
DERT 2015Bristol10 - 12 April 2015
DERT 2014Leeds7 - 9 March 2014Star & Shadow
DERT 2013Burton-on-Trent8 - 10 March 2013Star & Shadow
DERT 2012London30 March - 1 April 2012Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2011Oxford4 – 6 March 2011Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 2010Derby9 – 11 April 2010Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2009Newcastle13 – 15 March 2009
DERT 2008Liverpool7 - 9 March 2008Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2007Nottingham10 – 11 March 2007Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2006York17 – 19 March 2006
DERT 2005Preston4 – 6 March 2005Maltby Phoenix
DERT 2004Bath26 – 28 March 2004Black Swan
DERT 2003Glasgow4 – 6 April 2003Black Swan
DERT 2002Sheffield12 – 16 April 2002
DERT 2001Masham2 – 4 March 2001Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 2000Greenwich4 – 6 March 2000
DERT 1999Newcastle upon Tyne5 – 7 March 1999Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 1998Ryton, Gateshead20 - 22 February 1998Stone Monkey
DERT 1997
DERT 1996Burton on TrentStone Monkey
DERT 1995Leytonstone, London
DERT 1994Newcastle upon TyneStone Monkey
DERT 1993


  1. ^ [1]. The Nut On the Web. Retrieved on 2009-05-29.

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