Dancing tournament which takes influence from sword dancing is coming to Rochdale

Date published: 03 March 2023

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A dancing tournament which takes influence from sword dancing and sees people spin, twirl and somersault around strips of metal is coming to Rochdale.

The Dancing England Rapper Tournament is being held in Rochdale this year: where the best of the best gather to see who is the best at rapper sword dancing, a fast and furious dance from the coal mines of Country Durham and Northumberland.

Dating back over 150 years, it takes influence from sword dances which are prevalent across Europe, as well as Irish step dancing. Five people spin, somersault and interweave strips of flexible steel, all designed to be performed inside pubs to raucous audiences.


DERT 2016


Sides often have a 'character' called a 'Tommy' or 'Betty' who announce the dancers, engage with the audience and keep the crowds cheering. The music is from accordions, fiddles, whistles and more with some of the country's best folk musicians playing lightning-fast jigs for the dancers.

Veteran rapper sword dancers Tom Besford and Steph West, who are bringing the exciting competition to their hometown, estimate that there are around 50 rapper teams in existence in the country.


DERT 2016


A few years ago, Littleborough's Oakenhoof Folk Arts had a rapper side comprising their younger dancers – Oakenyouth. They won the DERTy youth competition and myriad other prizes over the years that they competed.

The nearest active groups are Medlock Rapper based in Manchester, and a new team is trying to begin based at the Flying Horse called Blackstone Edge Rapper. Both are looking for new members.


Kingsmen, one of the DERT teams
Kingsmen, one of the DERT teams


DERT is the main competition, with a full action-packed Saturday. The tournament moves around from place to place each year. Tom was previously part of the team who organised DERT in Manchester in 2016 which saw 450 competitors from 30 teams including international sides gather in some of the city's best pubs before piling into the O2 Ritz for the evening showcase and results.

“Steph and I have been involved in the scene for a long time,” Tom explained. “Following the pandemic, a lot of England's traditional dance communities have been struggling to get back on its feet, so we offered to host a DERT in our hometown of Rochdale.

“We knew it might be a bit of a smaller event than in previous years, but it will still be a brilliant gathering of sword dancers from across the UK, and I know they will all love Rochdale and its brilliant pubs and venues.”


DERT 2016


Teams will perform at The Flying Horse, The Baum, The Medicine Tap, Hoochi Koochi and D'Ale House.

Touchstones is also being used all day (10am-5pm) for the competition.

Dancers are judged by experienced dancers and scored on their sword handling, stepping, presentation, dance technique and buzz factor.

The winners will then be crowned after a final performance by all at Champness Hall.


Mons Meg, one of the DERT teams
Mons Meg, one of the DERT teams


Tom said: “This is a great fun day out in some lovely pubs and venues across Rochdale. It's fast and furious, a fair bit silly and hopefully a great day out. Just turn up to one of the venues and enjoy the dancing!

“If you want to come in the evening to see all the teams perform and hear the results, then you'll need a ticket for this which are available at www.dert2023.com; all the daytime events are free.

“There will be a free app available to download from our website which will give all the details of the competing teams, the judges and the timings for the day.

“And if you're interested in joining a rapper team yourself, you can email rochdaledert@gmail.com.”

DERT takes place from 10-12 March.


DERT 2016


Medlock Rapper @ DERT 2019
©Medlock Rapper

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