Sheffield sword dancers perform at Belgium festival

The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2015.
The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2015.
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A traditional folk dance team have travelled to Belgium to represent England by performing in an international dance festival.

The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers performed alongside teams from across Europe at the Zwaarddanstreffen festival in the Belgian city of Sint-Niklaas.

The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2017.

The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2017.

Team captain, Simon Brock, said: “We’re incredibly proud and excited to represent Sheffield and England at this gathering of sword dancers. It was a great opportunity to put one of our folk traditions - which originates here in Yorkshire - in front of an international audience and in turn see related performances from other cultures.

“Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers are a proud team with a long history, but unfortunately in recent years our number of dancers has dropped and we’ve been unable to go to these type of events.

“Thankfully we’ve had a resurgence of interest in the last year, and with several new recruits the team is now in a fantastic position to continue this tradition - hopefully for another 100 years.”

The team were presented to the Mayor of Sint-Niklaas and performed at a number of events, including the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate at Ypresm and were .

The ceremony was held every night at 8pm in honour of the memory of the soldiers of the former British Empire and its allies, who died in the Ypres Salient during the First World War.

The Handsworth dancers paid their respects to the men from Sheffield who fell in battle in the area and laid a wreath of ‘locked’ swords in their memory.

Member James Merrylees said: “Being there was something else. It was very moving and it was good to honour the men from Handsworth who would have seen our dance done 100 years ago.”

In England sword dancing describes two types of dance; rapper dancing, which is danced using flexible swords called ‘rappers’ and comes from the North East; and Yorkshire longsword, which is danced with rigid swords around a metre in length. In Sheffield there are two rapper teams and two longsword teams - Handsworth and Grenoside Sword Dancers.

Handsworth are one of the few truly traditional teams in the country, with a history stretching back at least 130 years.

This unbroken heritage is unusual in folk dance as many dancers were killed during the wars and their teams folded.

Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers will be holding open workshops over summer for anyone interested in trying Yorkshire longsword dancing.

The team practice between 8pm and 10pm every Wednesday at the Burton Street Foundation in Hillsborough. E-mail handsworthsword@yahoo.co.uk.