Notations of rapper dances
Notations for a number of traditional rapper sword dances have been published over the years. The first were published by Cecil Sharp from 1911 to 1913 in the three volumes of his book The Sword Dances of Northern England. Notations for a number of other dances have been published since then, including several by Bill Cassie, the founder of the Newcastle Kingsmen.
Some notations are available here, including all of Cecil Sharp's and Bill Cassie's. Some of the other published notations are still under copyright, and publication here will depend on permission being granted. References for other printed notations are provided here as well.
To facilitate printing, the notations below are in PDF format unless otherwise stated. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read PDF files. If you do not already have it installed, it can be downloaded free from Adobe.
Other online notations
All of the notations listed below can be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at EFDSS in London. Some may also be available in academic libraries or in central public libraries in the UK.
Bill Cassie, Rapper Knots from Amble and Bedlington Folk Music Journal, 1966;I:92-101
Bill Cassie, Rapper Knots from Amble and Bedlington Folk Music Journal, 1966;1:92-101
Brian Hayden, The Bedlington Sword Dance English Dance and Song, 1979;XLI(1):5-7
Bill Cassie, Rapper Knots from High Spen Folk Music Journal, 1965;I:6-24
E C Cawte and C J F Soper, The Rapper Dance as Taught by the Lowerson Family at Murton, Ibstock:Guizer, 1967
Les Williamson Westerhope Traditional Prize Sword Dancers Folk Music Journal 1973;II:297-304
Cecil Sharp's notations are all in The Sword Dances of Northern England, first published by Novello in London in 1911-1913. This was reprinted in 1951 and 1974, and has been out of print, but was re-printed in 2003 (parts I and II only) and is currently available via www.amazon.co.uk (UK) and www.amazon.com (USA). It can also be found in few libraries, including the Central Library in Newcastle upon Tyne, the Robinson Library at Newcastle University, and the British copyright libraries.
Limitations of notations
Some believe that the published notations prescribe the only right and proper way that a traditional rapper dance can be performed. This view is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is important to note that all notations are merely descriptions of the form of the dance at the time of the notation. They are mere snapshots of the dance at one stage in its evolution, not definitive statements of what is the only correct and true version of the dance. This is particularly true of the Cecil Sharp's notations of dances collected at around 1910, dances which evolved greatly over the following two decades, and especially true for the Winlaton tradition which continued to evolve slowly until the village team finally stopped performing in the 1970s.
An interesting illustration of this point is given by the differences between Sharp's 1913 notation of the North Walbottle dance and Williamson's 1973 notation of the Westerhope dance – which is essentially the same traditional dance at different points in time.
Secondly, the published notations may have contained errors. When Cecil Sharp first started recording rapper dances in 1910, he was unfamiliar with the dances, and did not have the assistance of modern aids such as video recorders; it would be surprising if his notations were completely free of errors. Bill Cassie and the King's College team, when researching the dances in the early 1950s, faced another problem, that many of the dances had not been performed for twenty years or more, and that they were relying on the distant memory of the surviving dancers; for this reason Cassie's notations are known to be incomplete, and probably have some errors.
Thirdly, regarding the notated dances as sacrosanct stifles development, or in the words of Bill Cassie: “The fixing of a tradition in what is considered the ‘correct’ mould is a sure means of ensuring its destruction.”