Monkseaton are renowned for their performances of the Rapper sword dance, and they specialise in dances from two villages namely Walbottle and Winlaton
Walbottle, a village on the north side of the Tyne, about 5 miles west of Newcastle, with Winlaton just to the south west of Newcastle on the south side of the Tyne.
At this stage, the dance was only performed in midwinter and was the major part of a longer performance starting with a short play. The play resembled a mummers play with historical characters, mock executions and revivals of the dead by doctors - these were meant to symbolise death and rebirth, and such symbolic midwinter rituals were common in much of northern Europe. Mock executions were sometimes also part of the dance, just as they still are in many longsword and continental sword dances.
The introduction of the flexible rapper to replace the rigid sword occurred at some time in the nineteenth century following the invention of the flexible spring steel. The exact date is unknown, but the rapper was certainly in use by 1880, and there is some unreliable evidence that it may have been as early as 1820. Nor do we know how the rapper was discovered - but it is most likely that it was discovered by accident when mining tools were adapted to be used as improvised swords.
The coal mining communities where the rapper sword dances developed were tight knit places brought closer together through the tough and uncompromising working conditions. It was out of these adverse conditions that a spirit of solidarity grew between the miners. Coupled with this was the desire to make the most out of every moment of their limited free time - and so pastimes, including rapper, were taken very seriously indeed and practiced to the point of perfection.
The solidarity between miners in a pit village was exceeded only by the bitter rivalry between adjacent pit villages, sometimes only hundreds of yards apart. This rivalry led to hard-fought competitions between villages, whether in football, leek growing, chess or rapper
A sword dance has been danced there every Christmas within living memory, though of late years the performances have become rather irregular.
As described by Cecil Sharp; "The dance is, perhaps, the most primitive example of its kind now to be seen in the North of England. It would be difficult to exaggerate the force and energy with which it was executed when I saw it in December, 1912. The performers were men well-advanced in years-the leader, Mr. William Prudhoe, is sixty-five years old-and, although the dance is a short one, they were quite exhausted by their efforts.
"Although its figures are few in number, and none of them, technically, of special intricacy-compared, at least, with those of the Earsdon and other dances-the dance is by no means an easy one. The great difficulty is to catch its barbaric spirit, to reproduce the breathless speed, the sureness and economy of movement, the vigor and abandonment of the "stepping" displayed by the Winlaton men. The movements must be absolutely continuous, and, from the conclusion of the Calling-on Song to the final exhibition of the Nut, there must be no stop or pause of any kind".
This is the Monkseaton Morris men interpretation of the original dance, which only slightly deviates in that we don't utilise the Betty character in this dance. This is reserved for the Walbottle dance.
The dancers stand in a ring, facing centre, each holding his rapper erect in front of him in his right hand, hilt at breast-level, thus:
Figure 1 - Ring-Clash-and-Step
All dance round, clockwise, each placing his left arm over the left shoulder of the man in front, while holding his rapper erect, hilt at breast-level, and extending his right hand toward the centre of the circle (8 bars, A music). The pace should be so regulated that at the conclusion of this movement Nos. 1 and 5 may be at the top with their backs to the audience, thus:
On the first beat of the first bar of the following strain, all clash their swords together, place them over their left shoulders, each grasping with his left hand the tip of the sword in front of him, and, standing still, "step" (8 bars, B music).
Figure 2 - The Nut, Rose, and Ring
(a) The Nut
Nos. 1 and 5 stand still and make an arch with the sword between them (No. 5's). No. 1 makes rather more than a whole turn counter-clockwise; while, simultaneously, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 move forward together under the arch, face centre by turning counter-clockwise, separate their hands and lock the swords together, hilts under points. This operation must be executed very smartly, and should be completed in two bars of the music or even less.
(b) The Rose
Immediately the Nut is tied the dancers raise it above their heads, horizontally, and "step" to the end of the phrase (8 bars, A music).
(c) The Ring
The Nut is now lowered to waist-level and all move rapidly round in a ring, clockwise (8 bars, B music) to the following step, which is executed sideways, the legs alternately opening and closing scissor-fashion:
so regulating their pace that at the conclusion of the movement Nos. 1 and 5 are facing the audience, thus:
The above movement is an extraordinarily effective one, when properly executed. The dancers should incline outward a little, keep their feet fairly close together, take short steps, and move, or whirl, round rapidly and rhythmically.
Figure 3 - The Roll
All, except No. 5 (who stands in his place throughout the figure), face counter-clockwise and raise their hands. No. 1, followed by Nos. 2, 3, and 4, then moves down in front of No. 5 (i.e., between No. 5 and the centre of the circle), turns to his left and moves round in a circle, counter-clockwise, twice. At the beginning of each circuit, No. 5, as No. 1 passes him, raises both hands and makes a whole turn clockwise.
On the completion of the second circuit, No. 5 moves forward to his place in the ring, all face centre, separate hands, lock the swords together and then dance the Rose and the Ring of Figure 2.
Figure 4 - The Needle
The dancers bring their hands together and loosen the swords. Whereupon, No. 1 moves forward (i.e., up) and, followed by Nos. 2 and 8, turns to his left and moves round in a small circle counter-clockwise. Simultaneously, No. 5 moves forward and, followed by No. 4 (who turns out to his right, clockwise), moves round in a small circle, clockwise. This initiates the Needle, which, from this point, is danced in precisely the same way as in the Swalwell dance (see Part L, p. 77), No. 3 changing from one circle to the other in alternate circuits.
This movement is continued until No. 1 calls "Nut," when the dancers at once repeat Figure 2. No. 1 must be careful to make the call when he and No. 5 are at the top, facing the audience, and when No. 3 is in his circle, thus:
Figure 5 - Face up
Nos. 1 and 5, who are now facing the audience, raise the sword between them (No. 5's). No. 1 then makes a whole turn clockwise, while, simultaneously, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 move down together, pass under the arch, turn clockwise, face up (2 bars), and stand thus usually referred to as Coach and Horses:
No. 3, standing in the centre, holds his hands at breast-level with No. 2's sword over his left shoulder and his own sword over his right shoulder; while No. 1 rests his own sword, and No. 5 that of No. 4, on inside shoulders. Standing thus all "step" to the end of the phrase (8 bars).
No. 5 now lowers his sword, over which No. 3 leaps, and all "step" (8 bars).
No. 3 now summersaults backwards back over the sword between 1 and 5, returning to his place, Whereupon the dancers repeat Figure 2.
Figure 6 - Mary Anne
The beginning of this Figure is executed in the same way as that of the preceding Figure, the dancers falling into the formation shown in the diagram.
No. 1, raising his left arm, then turns out to his left and, followed by No. 2, dances completely round No. 3, counterclockwise, and returns to his place., while, simultaneously No. 5, raising his right arm, turns out to his right and, followed by No. 4, dances completely round No. 3, clockwise, and returns to his place. When the two couples meet, behind and in front of No. 3, Nos. 1 and 2 pass inside Nos. 5 and 4.
Upon reaching his place, No. 1, followed by No. 2, makes a complete turn (or loop) counter -clockwise, and again dances round No. 3, counter-clockwise; while, upon reaching his place, No. 5, followed by No. 4, makes a complete turn (or loop) clockwise, and again dances round No. 8, clockwise. When the two couples meet in the second circuit, Nos. 1 and 2 pass outside Nos. 5 and 4.
Upon the completion of the second circuit, Nos. 1 and 5, followed respectively by Nos. 2 and 4, make a complete turn (or loop) as before, No. 1 counter-clockwise, No. 5 clockwise, and face the audience. Whereupon, without pause, Figure 2 is repeated.
Figure 7 - Straight Line
No. 1 makes a whole turn, clockwise, and faces the audience; while Nos. 2, 3, and 4 move forward under No. 5's sword and stand in line facing the audience, No. 2 turning to his right, making a whole turn clockwise and standing on No. l's left; No. 4 turning to his left and standing on No. 5's right; No. 3 making a half-turn, clockwise, and standing between Nos. 6 and 1 (2 bars), thus :
It will be found that, when the hands are lowered to hip level, Nos. 4 and 1 have their hands crossed right over left, and Nos. 5 and 2 have theirs crossed left over right; while No. 3 has his hands wide apart.
Standing in this position all "step" to the end of the strain (8 bars).
The next call is for turn the line where all the team make half a turn with number 2 moving between 1 and 3 and No. 4 moving between 5 and 3 This done to a missed 2 call and the team step to the end of the phrase. The Nut is then tied
At the conclusion of the Ring, No. 1 raises the Nut in his right hand, arm erect, and all stand in line, facing the audience, thus,
and "step" to the end of the tune (8 bars, B music). This brings the dance to a conclusion.