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 practise 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 and other prestigious venues around the city. This Event was known later as the North of England Musical Tournament which began in 1919, 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. Other competitions have been and gone, such as Darlington, Durham and Sunderland. But DERT remains the biggest and best.

The Modern DERT Competition[edit]

The modern DERT competition has its origins in an event which took place during the Dancing England Event 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 performance.

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 U.K, United States, 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 for the Angela Lee Trophy. The Tommy and Betty characters employed by most of the sword dance teams are also subject to the judge's scrutiny.

The competition takes place in pubs in the host city with teams dancing 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 four judges in a quieter environment where accuracy and teamwork become very important. There is a Traditional competition, where teams must perform a traditional dance as notated in three defined publications. Veteran dancers are also encouraged to compete for the Adrienne Moss Trophy, a carved wooden sculpture of walking sticks.

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 practising and then performing in front of a judging panel.

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. Currently there are two rapper and longsword manufacturers keeping the tradition alive, Jimmie Killner in Hampshire and Frank Lee in Brampton, Cumbria.

Other Rapper Competitions[edit]

The North East Rapper Championship was devised by folklorist Peter Kennedy when he worked for the EFDSS in Newcastle. It was meant to revive the flagging competitions of the dying Newcastle Tournament and it had its first event in Hexham in 1949, where Royal Earsdon were the winners. Over the next few years it was held in various places in the North East, Royal Earsdon were invariably the winners until the competition ceased in 1956.

This competition has also had a revival and in 2011, the Newcastle Kingsmen won a new Trophy in Washington, Co. Durham. Other winners have been High Spen, Sallyport, and Star and Shadow. Venues have been Hexham, and the Sage and St Mary's in Gateshead. In January 2018, the N.E Championship with an extra Traditional class was held in the Cumberland Arms, Byker, in Newcastle.

Where, When, and Who Won?[edit]

The most recent DERT competitions took place in Sheffield 2018, Kendal in 2017, and Manchester in 2016. The 2019 event takes place in Newcastle and will be jointly hosted by The Newcastle Kingsmen, Star and Shadow, and Sallyport Sword.

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

Event Location Dates Overall winner DERTy winner
DERT 2018 Sheffield 23 - 25 March 2018 Whip the Cat NYFTE
DERT 2017 Kendal 07 - 09 April 2017 Newcastle Kingsmen NYFTE
DERT 2016 Manchester 11 - 13 March 2016 Newcastle Kingsmen Oakenyouth
DERT 2015 Bristol 10 - 12 April 2015 Newcastle Kingsmen NYFTE
DERT 2014 Leeds 7 - 9 March 2014 Star & Shadow
DERT 2013 Burton-on-Trent 8 - 10 March 2013 Star & Shadow
DERT 2012 London 30 March - 1 April 2012 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2011 Oxford 4 – 6 March 2011 Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 2010 Derby 9 – 11 April 2010 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2009 Newcastle 13 – 15 March 2009 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2008 Liverpool 7 - 9 March 2008 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2007 Nottingham 10 – 11 March 2007 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 2006 York 17 – 19 March 2006 Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 2005 Preston 4 – 6 March 2005 Maltby Phoenix
DERT 2004 Bath 26 – 28 March 2004 Black Swan
DERT 2003 Glasgow 4 – 6 April 2003 Black Swan
DERT 2002 Sheffield 12 – 16 April 2002 Black Swan
DERT 2001 Masham 2 – 4 March 2001 Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 2000 Greenwich 4 – 6 March 2000 Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 1999 Newcastle upon Tyne 5 – 7 March 1999 Newcastle Kingsmen
DERT 1998 Ryton, Gateshead 20 - 22 February 1998 Stone Monkey
DERT 1997
DERT 1996 Burton on Trent Stone Monkey
DERT 1995 Leytonstone, London Sallyport Sword Dancers
DERT 1994 Newcastle upon Tyne Stone Monkey


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