A very short history of Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers
In Yorkshire the main traditional dance is Longsword, also known as ‘Hilt and Point’ and is usually danced with 6 or 8 dancers. At one time, many villages had their own dances but now only a few still survive.
Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers is one of the few surviving teams. Originally the team danced in Woodhouse, which is a village 2 miles from Handsworth. We don’t know when the dance started, but a local clergyman, C.V. Collier, had seen the Woodhouse dance as a boy, which must have been around 1870. About 1890 more of the members lived in Handsworth so the team naturally moved from Woodhouse. This team was captained by Harry Siddall who was one of four Siddall brothers dancing at that time.
Around 1926, the Captaincy was passed to Billy Siddall, son of Harry. Handsworth Sword Dancers danced during both World Wars as the dancers were not conscripted because they worked in the mines or steelworks.
Cecil Sharp, founder of the English Folk Dance Society, saw Handsworth dance in 1913, just after he had published his 2nd volume of Sword Dancers of Northern England. He visited twice that year to record the dance, taking notes and photos, which were included in volume 3.
Longsword dancing is traditionally known as a midwinter dance, although it is danced all year. Handsworth danced around Christmas time, often visiting the big houses nearby. In 1963, it was decided to fix a traditional day of dance and Boxing Day was chosen. If it falls on a Sunday, then the dance is done on the Monday.
Handsworth Sword Dance is performed with each dancer holding the sword point of the dancer at his side, (on his left), forming a circle. The dance lasts about 9 minutes and is made up of a fast paced set of complex figures, finishing with the swords linked together making the ‘Lock’. The lock is then held aloft by the captain.
Most of the above is taken from 'Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers', written by Geoff Lester. (1978)