watervole: (Default)
On my birthday, my family and I started playing around with my longswords.  I set my husband and daughter a challenge to see how many locks they could find using six swords.  In the process, they invented one new one and created an improved version of one that I've seen in a book.  Here's some of what we came up with. 

This is the Mohr lock - I learnt it from an American Rapper dancer





Black Joker lock (or you can call it a farm gate if you prefer.) This is a more rigid version of a known lock.

I found a good way of making it quickly, too.



Lindsey's lock. She found this one that I hadn't seen before.



Richard's Yacht lock.  This may actually be one that nobody else had before.



If you want to play yourselves, just cut out some strips of cardboard from a cereal packet or similar, and interweave them.

You'll probably manage to fins the six pointed start before long, but there are others, as well, that I've not shown here...





watervole: (Default)
 If anyone would like to see a wide selection of longsword dances, try my Pinterest page -https://uk.pinterest.com/judithproctor/longsword-dances/

Some are picked because they are good examples from other countries, some show details of a move that is almost impossible to understand from a written description, some are old traditional dances and some are excellent modern ones.
watervole: (Default)
My fledgling longsword team is slowly gaining people.  We have two figures of one dance and one figure of a second dance at a reasonable level now.   (a 'figure' in longsword is equivalent to a whole dance in any other tradition)

Southern Star Longsword dancing 'Yorkshire Pudding' at Wimborne Model Town.  this was the first public performance for many of the side, and only the second time out for the rest of us.  This is a dance I wrote for the days when we only have four dancers.  (We had six on this occasion, but I didn't keep the video of the six man dance as it had several mistakes in it!)  



watervole: (Default)
 Good longsword session last night in spite of my voice being crap.

My possible new dancer did show up and she enjoyed herself.

Even better, her daughter did too.  Not dancing, but sitting down reading the library books. Her daughter has Down's Syndrome, but she was in her element sitting in the children's corner with all the picture books.

In spite of the usual problems of being a small group (the odds of being below critical numbers are high, as it only needs a few people to fall ill...) we managed to work on the new four man dance I'm writing - now called 'Yorkshire Pudding' -and progress further  on Lingdale - a traditional 6 man dance.

It's starting to come together, but once people master the basic moves it becomes important to work on the timing and that's where we still need to improve.

Not sure if any of you will be at Redemption this weekend, but if you are, come and join in the longsword workshop!
watervole: (Default)
 Two asthma attacks in a couple of weeks and the medication is sending my voice into the pits. Which is unfortunate as I'm teaching longsword tonight and doing  a couple of dance workshops at Redemption this weekend.

Still, dance teaching is one of the few things I'm willing to do even when my voice is shot to pieces.  Though it would be easier if I could persuade someone else to call the count when people are learning figures.

It's all about getting the feet to fit the music.  There's 16 beats in a lot of the tunes and each person's moves have to fit in with that pattern.

Left, right, left, right, hop on right, left foot over sword, hop on left, right.  

That's one person going over the sword in their left hand, starting outside the circle and stepping into it (lifting their own sword over their head and turning clockwise as they go).

That's 6 steps in total, so 6 dancers will do it exactly in 3 passes through the music. (three verses of Bobby Shafto in this case)

It's also a lot of calling, as they have problems getting the steps right on new moves unless I call them.

But, there's an outside chance we might have a new dancer tonight, so no way am I going to cancel!
watervole: (Default)
 I've been very busy the last few weeks sorting out dance notation for Southern Star Longsword.

We're learning a dance originating from the village of Lingdale in Yorkshire and I'm gradually, with help from other longsword dancers, finding more records of early performances of the dances.  It's an interesting and time-consuming project understanding what all the different writers were referring to. Some like Roy Dommett were so detailed that you have to work out what they meant by:

Over Neighbour's Sword
Each man takes 8 steps, 4 bars. The man in front lowers his sword almost to ground level.

Stepping:

l r/l r/hr l/hl r//

 

Left foot over first. Half turn to face back, completed as left foot goes over, completing turn that man raises his own sword and ½ turn anti-clockwise under it to face back, hop over, getting straight by raising neighbour's sword, which helps next man to turn ready to go over. 

Whereas others are very brief and just say 

OVER YOUR NEIGHBOURS SWORD: Right arm overhead first, then turn to left from inside outwards: left hop/ right hop.

Those two are actually the same figure...

All in all, I prefer the first version, but I freely admit that it took me a couple of days to fully understand his notation system.  Once I know the figure, the second is sufficient, but if you don't know it, then the detail really helps.

Because I'm finding Dommett's notes so useful, I'm retyping them. They were written around 1970 and have circulated in ever fainter photocopies since that time.  It's a fairly major job as there's about fifty pages of dance history and notations, but I'm making progress.  We started with an OCR file, but some of it came out looking like this:

"4gJ>+e;

-L,-~ 1/M t.,§v~¢1 ‘-vi-o r-f\~\~7

Ll P 4;“ K-»G\j~4- c£-~=c

32 .

2° ;*

Q

so I'm using the OCR where I can read it, and just doing the rest from scratch.

It's actually quite relaxing, as long as I don't over do it and trigger the RSI.

Dancing

Oct. 17th, 2016 10:00 pm
watervole: (Default)
 There's nothing like dancing for the soul.

 I can be all stressed and twitchy, and after two hours longsword practice I'm at peace with the entire world.

Southern Star are only just large enough to survive as a side, but I think we're going to make it.  We're a mixed ability bunch to say the least, but the dances are starting to flow.  We're moving with the music now and that's making a big difference.

The timing in longsword has to be a bit intuitive -in morris, if you make a mistake, you just nip back into the correct position. That's not possible in longsword, you have to find ways for the group to get back in sync with the music.  After a while, you realise that at least some of the moves in traditional longsword dances are designed to give a bit of catch up time.  Moves that can be a bit variable in length are often followed by  simple circle moves that can soak up time until a new phrase of  the music begins.
watervole: (Default)
 Southern Star were practicing this evening when we found a group of local teenagers having a fag break from the rain under the porch of the library.

So, as one does, we invited them in to watch us practice our dance.

When they were impressed by that, I gave three of them swords (the 4th one decided just to watch) and proceeded (as one does) to teach them the dance. They picked up really quickly and greatly enjoyed it.  I think there's a fighting chance we might see one of two of them again. I hope so. They were a nice group of kids and have real potential as dancers.

I was amused near the end when one of them commented how much energy I had. I'm three times her age and this was a dance done at a brisk walk.   It really is nothing on the energy front.

Last week, I was on the canals, running between locks in a flight, winding stiff paddle gear and pushing open heavy lock gates. Now, that requires energy!  (and I'm aware that I can't run long distances without slowing down for a break now and then.)

Take up morris dancing and  retain the illusion of staying young and fit...

Longsword

Sep. 10th, 2016 04:46 pm
watervole: (Default)
 I'm having general fun with longsword related stuff.

I did four informal longsword workshops at Discworld and people really enjoyed them.

I'm getting a lot better at teaching the dances now. Once upon a time, I would probably have gone into great detail, telling people where they had to move, and the steps they should take, and which way they should turn at the end of the move. In a typical longsword dance, there are 6 people and each of them will be taking different actions.
 
Now, my typical approach is to give everybody a sword, get them to stand in a straight line behind me, say: "Follow me and do what I do."
 
This usually gets everyone through the first four moves of the dance without any difficulty at all. The more complicated moves, such as a double under, can often be tackled by saying: "You two make an arch; Julie and I will go under it. When you get to the other side, turn round and come back again. Steve follow Julie, Jennifer follow me."
 
This works 9 times out of 10. People instinctively turn in the correct direction, even when they've never done a sword dance in their lives. Sometimes, giving too much detail can actually confuse people.
 
The detailed instructions for double under come to several paragraphs and can be surprisingly difficult to understand.
 
Longsword, possibly more than any other kind of dance, is easiest to learn by actually doing it. And it's more fun that way.
watervole: (Default)
 The local paper did a short article about my Sword dance group

watervole: (Default)
 Here's the first picture of Southern Star longsword.

Photo:


I know we'll often have different numbers of dancers, so I'm working on sword locks for different numbers of dancers.  This is a sword lock for four (in fact the only possible lock for four - anything else would fall apart).

You can see two more photos (including a six man lock) on the Southern Star Longsword website along with pictures of longsword dancers in Lingdale, Yorkshire in the 1960s.


watervole: (Default)
 One of the things I've wanted to do for the last few years is to start a longsword dance group.

A couple of weeks ago, I realised that if I didn't do it soon, I'd get too old to be able to do it at all.

So, I've taken the plunge. Southern Star Longsword will meet at our local library on Monday evenings.

I'd write more, but I'm knee deep in sorting out insurance, publicity, bank account, etc.

Even if the team doesn't get enough members to be viable, all these things still need to be done.

And, I also know from experience (getting Anonymous Morris started) that if you have the faith to do all these things and publicise and dance at every possible opportunity, then the odds are greatly increased that you will get your team off the ground.

I'm also on the committee for next year's Wimborne Minster Folk Festival, so getting seriously busy with that as well.
watervole: (Default)
 I believe in fast longsword, but this group take it to a new level (so fast that one of them actually trips over a sword at one point).

I've never heard applause for 'over your own' before.  Too many people do it like a slow, mechanical dirge.  (I had the chance once to teach the move to a group that normally did rapper, and after half a dozen tries they got it to a reasonable speed and flow - rapper is related to longsword and is typically done much faster)

It's really interesting to see longsword danced at rapper speed.


watervole: (Default)
 Got a lovely email today from a teacher at a school were I and a fellow dancer are teaching longsword dancing to the children.

" the children (without prompting from me) asked if they could take the long swords out at lunch time. So they spent the last 15 minutes of playtime rehearsing their moves. I stayed in the background so they could do it all independently."

Isn't that wonderful.
watervole: (Default)
 I've just had a longsword group add me to their circle on google+, which is rather nice.

I went to look at Ring of Cold Steel's dancing  and found them performing the Ampleforth sword dance (a traditional longsword dance).  I'm glad I did as this dance has a 'third man  under' figure which finally allowed me to know how the figure should be done.  Anonymous are learning the Helmsley II dance from Allsop's book and the notation for the 'third man under' figure in that dance simply does not work.  But his notation for the Ampleforth dance matches what Ring of Cold Steel were dancing, so I can use the Ampleforth notation for Helmsley.  (Seeing the move, I thought it looked like a likely candidate for a 'third man under' (the third dancer to go under the sword turns in a different direction to the others, so I went and checked the book)   See if you can spot which move  I was looking at...


However, they do share a problem that I've noticed with many longsword sides, especially in America.  They dance far too slowly.  You can see the audience aren't really engaged in what they're doing.

Compare with this dance by North British Sword.



Older dancers, but the dance has far more energy and although the square is fairly empty, you can see passers by stopping to watch.

The problem stems from the fact that the dances were originally recorded from old dancers. Sharp's notes often say 'at least as fast as', and that had often been taken as 'do at this speed' rather than 'this is the minimum speed.

I think there may be  a case for varying the tempo at time as some move show clearer at a slower tempo, but the dance overall is far more fun for both dancers and audience when done fast.

watervole: (Default)
 As my longsword workshop at Wimborne Minster folk Festival was a fairly small group, I decided to teach them by the instant immersion method. I had one small child, one medium child and three adults.
 
I lined them up behind me, told the musician to start playing, said "Follow me and do what I do." And started walking to lead them into a circle.
 
It worked really well. They moved into a circle, clashed together on time, put their swords on their shoulders, linked up in an over the shoulder ring, raised their swords together, put them down on the other shoulder, raised up to open out into a ring, and progressed as far as the single under before we hit any real problems. By the end of the session, they'd mastered both the single under and the lock, and a second group that had wandered in was also starting to learn the dance.
 
Instant immersion is fun, but you can only really do with a single set. There are some sword dance teams that use this method for quickly running new recruits through a dance. They threw them straight in at the deep end to give them an overall feel for the dance and then teach them the details and timing later.

Longsword

May. 17th, 2013 03:49 pm
watervole: (Default)
Had a great evening last night.

Anonymous Morris have a new band member, been with us for a few weeks now and fits in  very well. He's a gamer.  (there's a lot of geeks and gamers in Anonymous Morris)

We have a general policy of encouraging the band to learn a couple of dances - this allows me to get to dance, and the other musicians find it beneficial as it's easier to play for dancers when you have the sense of the timing that comes from actually having done it.  We also have several musicians who like longsword, so we've been working on a longsword dance mainly for the band (it only needs one person to play the music for longsword).

We're working on the Helmsby II dance which is mostly (though not entirely) traditional.  It's one of the most complicated dances out there - I figure that if it's worth doing longsword at all, then it's worth doing a showy one.

Asked Chris if he'd like to give it a shot, and he took to it like a duck to water, turning the correct way every time.  He says it comes of being both a musician and a mathematician and I agree.  Longsword is a bit of a mathematician's dance.  It's all topology and rotations and you do need to be able to visualise the patterns in your head.

In case you think it's an easy dance, I'm also working with a group of 8 year olds at a local school.  The last two weeks, we've been doing the 'double under'.  That's a single figure from the Helmsby dance (it comes up in a lot of longsword dances).  Most of the children have got it now, but a few are still struggling.  By next week, at least a third of them will have to relearn it.

a 'double under' is almost impossible to describe in words.  Here's an example from a web page I just found "1&2 make arch, 6 passes under turns under right arm, faces 1 stands close to and outside 2 making second arch with 1. 3 4&5 in turn pass under the double arch turn to left and return to places 3&4 passing under 5's sword get out as double over."  (you have to visualise dancers in a ring in numerical order from 1-6)

It's almost impossible to follow - even I'm finding it hard and I know what they're talking about.

If you look at this video of the North Skelton dance, you'll see a double under (repeated three times) at 1:45

North Skelton (named after the village where it was originally recorded) is the dance we are teaching the children (we're missing out the figure where everyone in turn goes over a sword, as we've only got 7 weeks in total).  My friend Paul is doing most of the teaching with the children - he's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword for many years - he's got a very accurate idea of how long it takes for them to learn the dance.

Chris got the double under right pretty much first try and every time after that.  And he had no problems with the pousette or the single over, etc. etc.

It is a lot easier when you are doing it with people who already know the dance, but even so, I was a very happy bunny.
This entry was originally posted on Dreamwidth where it has comment count unavailable comments.

Longsword

May. 17th, 2013 03:49 pm
watervole: (Default)
Had a great evening last night.

Anonymous Morris have a new band member, been with us for a few weeks now and fits in  very well. He's a gamer.  (there's a lot of geeks and gamers in Anonymous Morris)

We have a general policy of encouraging the band to learn a couple of dances - this allows me to get to dance, and the other musicians find it beneficial as it's easier to play for dancers when you have the sense of the timing that comes from actually having done it.  We also have several musicians who like longsword, so we've been working on a longsword dance mainly for the band (it only needs one person to play the music for longsword).

We're working on the Helmsby II dance which is mostly (though not entirely) traditional.  It's one of the most complicated dances out there - I figure that if it's worth doing longsword at all, then it's worth doing a showy one.

Asked Chris if he'd like to give it a shot, and he took to it like a duck to water, turning the correct way every time.  He says it comes of being both a musician and a mathematician and I agree.  Longsword is a bit of a mathematician's dance.  It's all topology and rotations and you do need to be able to visualise the patterns in your head.

In case you think it's an easy dance, I'm also working with a group of 8 year olds at a local school.  The last two weeks, we've been doing the 'double under'.  That's a single figure from the Helmsby dance (it comes up in a lot of longsword dances).  Most of the children have got it now, but a few are still struggling.  By next week, at least a third of them will have to relearn it.

a 'double under' is almost impossible to describe in words.  Here's an example from a web page I just found "1&2 make arch, 6 passes under turns under right arm, faces 1 stands close to and outside 2 making second arch with 1. 3 4&5 in turn pass under the double arch turn to left and return to places 3&4 passing under 5's sword get out as double over."  (you have to visualise dancers in a ring in numerical order from 1-6)

It's almost impossible to follow - even I'm finding it hard and I know what they're talking about.

If you look at this video of the North Skelton dance, you'll see a double under (repeated three times) at 1:45

North Skelton (named after the village where it was originally recorded) is the dance we are teaching the children (we're missing out the figure where everyone in turn goes over a sword, as we've only got 7 weeks in total).  My friend Paul is doing most of the teaching with the children - he's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword for many years - he's got a very accurate idea of how long it takes for them to learn the dance.

Chris got the double under right pretty much first try and every time after that.  And he had no problems with the pousette or the single over, etc. etc.

It is a lot easier when you are doing it with people who already know the dance, but even so, I was a very happy bunny.
watervole: (Maypole)
Went into Pamphill school to teach the first of a series of  longsword sessions to a class of year 4 children.

Very glad I took my friend Paul with me.  He's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword dancing for many years.

Watching him work with the kids is a real revelation as to what training and experience can do.

He controlled over 30 children without once raising his voice and had them doing exactly what he wanted without noise or fuss.  Simple things, like making it a game to move as quietly as possible when forming their groups, or telling them to sit on the floor cross-legged with their swords across their laps making  sure their swords didn't touch the floor and make a noise.

He spent the first ten minutes just getting them to listen to the music, clap along, count to eight with the music and just developing their sense of rhythm and the patterns of 8 and 16 that the dance requires.

Lots of positive feedback to all the children.

By the end of the lesson, every group had managed the first two figures of the dance and several of the children spontaneously came up afterwards and said 'thank you'.

We're all looking forward to next week.
watervole: (Maypole)
 I'm writing this here mainly so that I can find it again in years to come.

I did two longsword workshops at Purbeck Folk Festival and both went very well.  I taught the North Skelton dance on the first day and went for broke and did Helmsley on the second.  The second dance is not nearly as well known and includes a rare triangular lock.




I spent several hours with the aid of several kind volunteers on and off the campsite figuring how to make the figure from the very ambiguous instructions in my longsword book.  (To be fair, it's very difficult to describe longsword moves to someone who has never seen them.)  As you can see, the research paid off.  Here's the workshop group with their completed lock.

I've tried to write my own set of instructions (after spending most of this morning fiddling around with swords laid out on the floor), and I think mine may be easier to follow - but possibly only by me....
Here's how it's done )

watervole: (Default)
 Just back from Eastercon, probably a day later than most other folk.

Mine was a con of four parts.

1.  Morris

2.  LARP

3. Doc Weir

4.  Programme 

The morris, you probably anticipated:  I did the ceilidh workshop, two Border morris workshops and a longsword (which is nothing like the Scottish dance that half of you will now be visualising) workshop and all were well attended.  I was aided by an excellent group of musicians, which freed me to concentrate on teaching the dances without having to play at the same time.

People really got into the spirit of it and had a lot of fun.  It was great to see smiling faces - and the occasional laugh when the longsword groups got into a tangle.  Longsword is a bit like that - the dancers are in a linked ring and you go under and over various arches/swords without ever letting go your hands.  Turn the wrong way by mistake and you can get in a real tangle. 

Longsword is less physically demanding than morris, but a lot less  forgiving of mistakes as you can't just slip quickly back into place as you can after a mistake in morris.

I asked on Friday  if anyone would like to do a morris dance in the cabaret and got two volunteers.  Kethry and Sean (and a couple of the band) gave up a couple of hours of their time practising 'Cuckoo's Nest' with me on the fourth floor landing.  It's not the easiest of dances, as it has some tricky stepping on the chorus and a wide variety of stick moves, but they ended up giving an almost flawless performance in the cabaret and getting some enthusiastic applause from the audience.

I was absolutely delighted.  There's few so happy as a teacher whose pupils excel.

I'm looking forward to doing more dance workshops at Discworld.
watervole: (Morris dancing)
Here (thanks to Vera for giving me the correct Czech phrase to search with) is a Czech longsword dance.


Note the shape of the swords with the hole handle.  Also, can you see the rings attached to the swords.  This has a definite impact on the form of the dance. See how the dancers bounce the swords up and down on their shoulders to make the rings jangle.  I rather like this aspect. 

The stepping (on the evidence of this dance) is a more energetic single step than English longsword dancers use - it gives the dance an energy.

However, (and this is a sample of very few dances) I think the rings have another impact on the dance.  Looking at the swords, they appear thicker than the typical English longsword, hence less flexible.  But the key point about the rings is that, combined with the less flexible sword, they make it impossible to weave the swords together.  They can't form a nut.

What is a nut? (Or 'knot' if you prefer, or 'lock')

Watch this video below.  Right at the end, the men form a nut (the big star that they lift into the air).  Also, compare the style of stepping.  See the much smaller step of English Longsword, almost a slow running step - and the music reflects this.  English music for both longsword and rapper tends to be very even and monotonous (that's related to the nature of the figures which don't fall easily into multiples of four bars).

Then, look at the similarities.  Apart from stylistic differences in the way  the swords are moved through the figures, the first two figures are identical in the English and Czech dances.  Essentially, going under swords and going over swords, with each dancer repeating the move in turn.



Now, the other really fascinating comparison is the mock execution.  I suspect folklorists really have a field day with this one.  In the Czech version, the victim kneels down and is 'executed' with a headman's axe by each dancer in turn.  In the English version, the victim is placed in the centre of the nut and 'killed' as the swords are drawn out.

Is this some obscure pagan survival or simply the fact that a dance using swords logically leads the dancers to think that executing someone would be part of a good performance?

 I suspect the second is far more likely.  (There was a loose association historically between mumming plays and longsword dances with one of the characters in the play sometimes being 'killed' in this manner.)

The distribution of Longsword dances can be seen here - they're very much from the North East of England.

This last clip is Czech again.  It shows the rings on the swords in much better detail, but otherwise it's pretty much like the first clip.



The generic term for dances of this kind is 'linked sword dances'.

I may do a later post looking for examples in other European countries.

Longsword

Sep. 1st, 2010 02:38 pm
watervole: (Default)
I was just given a link by [personal profile] petra to a lovely longsword dance.

Longsword isn't everyone's cup of tea, it's slower and less showy than rapper, but when done really well, it has an elegance all of its own.  Look at the precision of the sword work here - all the dancers move in unison, swords at the same height, lines/circles properly formed.  There's also a life and an energy to the dance and a crispness to moves like stepping over the swords that can often look clumsy when done by poorer dancers.




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Judith Proctor

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