A cut above! Sword dancers to swashbuckle in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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It is the one time you might want to bring a dancer to a sword fight.

Teams of dancers from across the country — and the pond — will converge on Brooklyn on Feb. 14 and 15 to show off their mastery of traditional British rapper sword dancing. For those who have never seen a sword dance, you might have to see it to believe it, said one practitioner.

“I kind of hate to use this word, but it’s very spiritual, very mysterious,” said Yonina Gordon, of Brooklyn dance team Half Moon Sword.

The dance form involves five dancers, linked to each other by holding the handle of a flexible metal “sword” in both hands, who weave in and out in complex formations that are hard to follow with the inexperienced eye. Moving to a fast-paced jig, the dancers twirl, duck, and jump, with the conclusion generally involving pushing the swords into the formation of a six-pointed star.

So-called longsword dancing dates to pre-Shakespearean times, but rapper as it is usually performed today originated in the coal-mining region of England, coinciding with the industrial revolution and the ability to create the flexible steel bands at the center of the dance. The tradition jumped to the United States in the 1930s, and many of today’s teams can trace their lineage to the larger folk revival of the 1960s and 1970s, said one Half Moon Sword member.

“There was a big surge of interest in all things folk in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and it just hit a spark at the right time,” said team member Sarah Henry. “It’s been going strong ever since.”

Known as “ales,” rapper festivals often bring teams from far afield — occasionally even from the art’s homeland — and Half Moon’s ale is no exception. The 12-team lineup includes groups from Boston, England, and a college-aged team of kids who took the craft to Oberlin, Ohio when they went to college. The New York Sword Ale will see teams give free performances at venues across the city on both days, with Brooklyn venues including the Park Slope Library, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Saint John’s Episcopal Church.

The weekend will “rap” up with a showcase of the full dozen teams at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 15 at 2:30 pm.

New York Sword Ale at various venues around Brooklyn, Feb. 14 and 15 at various times. Free. See for schedule.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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