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First performance of the modern Cumberland Sword Dance

While I was their longsword foreman, I and the Carlisle Sword team reconstructed the Cumberland Sword Dance, trying to recapture the nature and spirit, and some of the movements described in several 18th and 19th century accounts (see
Sword Dance in Cumbria).

The first modern performance of the Cumberland Sword Dance was in April 1985 in front of the Old Town Hall and Market Cross in Carlisle, Cumbria, UK. The first version was in three separate "figures" with a pause between them. It ended with the Fool stepping into the ring, and putting his head through the "nut" for a symbolic decapitation. Since then, the dance has evolved in the traditional way; the Carlisle team refined aspects of all its dances in the light of performers' and audiences' response. In its present (more or less settled form) it is a continuous, hopefully flowing dance which lasts under five minutes and ends with the dancers scattering in all directions.

The mock decapitation has been moved to the end of another dance, the Bampton Weavers’ Dance for five people. This had its first performance in 1993.

Both dances have been performed in England at more than 25 festivals including Sidmouth, Whitby, Redcar, Holmfirth, Shrewsbury, the Wrekin, and Kendal, at international festivals in Dublin, Glasgow, Quebec and Ontario (Canada), Gannat (France), and Kaliningrad (Russia) at the 1989 longsword gathering in Goathland and at the International Sword Gatherings at Scarborough (1996) and Whitby (1998 and 2000).

The dances have been regularly performed by Half Moon Sword from New York, and have been taught by them in the USA. Several other teams in England and the USA have been given permission to perform both the Cumberland Dance (for 6 dancers) and the Bampton Weavers’ Dance (for 5).

I would be pleased to hear from anyone (or any team) either performing or wishing to learn one or other of the new Cumbrian sword dances. For the basic notation of each dance, click on its link below; I am happy to discuss any problems that arise - or even to do a workshop with you.

Mike Jensen

Half Moon Sword performing the Bampton Weavers' Dance in New York