European Hilt-and-point sword dances

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European hilt and point sword dance map

 The dancers in hilt-and-point sword dances hold the point of their neighbour's sword thus connecting all the dancers in a circle. In this configuration a range of figures can be performed whilst being connected by the swords. Most of these sword dances include a lock were the swords are crossed in an interweaving pattern that holds the swords in place. In some traditions the leader lifts the lock to show the audience, in others the lead dancer stands on the lock which is held at shoulder height by the other dancers.

The earliest records of hilt-and-point sword dances are from the early middle ages. By the 17th century the references cover most of the Germanic populated counties plus the Iberian Peninsula with the tradition most often associated with trade guilds and the traditional mining towns in Germanic regions.

In some places wooden swords, sticks, or flexible swords have replaced the metal swords. The flexible swords are unique to northern England where they were introduced in the 19th century and the dance is now known as Rapper sword.

It seems probable that the hilt-and-point sword dance, in the form seen today, has its roots in the Germanic trade guilds in central Europe and the Low Countries. This form of dance possibly reached Scandinavia, northern England, Scotland and Iberia with the spread of industry and trade guilds. The uniformity of the dance over a wide spatial area and a wide time span suggests the transmission method resulted in little mutation and adaptation, which could be expected due to the formality and organised nature of guilds and tradesmen. The current distribution probably resulted from the later effects of urbanisation and the distribution of centres of protestant religion in northern Europe.


© Eliznik2005, First issue Jun-05, Last updated Aug-06