The White Boys dance
from the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man has one recorded linked sword dance – the White Boys. A notation of the dance is included in Ivor Allsop's book Longsword dances. It was preceded by a play similar to a Mummers play. The play was performed by characters called St George, St Denis, and St Patrick (representing England, France and Ireland respectively) as well as the Doctor, Big Head and Little Devil Doubt. An alternative version of the play has also been notated with St George, Sambo, Prince Valentine, the King of Egypt and the Doctor as characters.

The participants in the play wore rag coats, which were mainly white (hence the name), except for the Doctor, who wore black. It is not clear whether the dancers were similarly dressed. A photograph of the the white boys costume is available on the Manx National Heritage website.

The dance itself was performed by six dancers, with the Doctor from the play moving in and out of the set rather like a rapper character. The dance starts with pairs of dancers moving under arches formed by the swords of other pairs, then hilt-and-point chains passing under a sword (as in longsword dances), after which a lock is formed by a sequence of movements of swords under and over other swords (as opposed to the simultaneous tying movement used in rapper and longsword).

The lock formed by the swords was used to seat one of the characters, the Doctor, who was then elevated to shoulder-level in a similar way to the elevation of characters on locks in continental European linked sword dances.

The tradition had died out locally during the 1890s, but efforts to revive it have been made since. A film of a revival group was made by John Kaneen in 1930. As far as I am aware, the White Boys dance is not currently being performed.


Ivor Allsop, Longsword Dances, Brattleboro: Northern Harmony Publishing Company, 1996

Mona Douglas, Manx Folk Dances: Their Notation and Revival Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 1937; III(2):110-16.

William Harrison (ed), The White Boys Manx Society 1869; 16:166-71.