American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 4
December, 2005

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 AMN Article  

 The Chicago Sword Dance

Andrew Bullen

One night in 1983, while I attended Morris practice as part of the University of Chicago Morris Dancers, an elderly woman sat quietly in Ida Noyes Hall and watched us rehearse. After rehearsal, we sat talked to her for a while. She, it turns out, had a wonderful gift to share with us. As a young girl, she participated in several of the Revels performances at the University of Chicago. She remembered that during the 1930s and 40s, actors in the Revels would perform the following sword dance as part of the night's entertainment. She said that she thought the dance was originally Welsh, but I have since been unable to track down any other reference to the dance. I have christened it the Chicago Sword Dance in honor of its origins.

It is a simple dance, but, due to its lack of music, rhythmic stepping, and 12 beat structure, it is very effective.

The Music.

None. The dancers instead "step purposefully" (her words) for 12 beat figures. The dance is silent other than the rhythmic tromping of the dancers.

The Introduction.

1. Dancers stand in place, 6 in number. Clash swords in the middle of the set for 12 beats.

2. While still clashing, circle left for 12 beats.

3. While still clashing, circle right for 12 beats.

4. Grasp sword tips to expand the set out into a circle. Circle left for 12 beats.

5. Circle right for 12 beats.

The Figures.

6. DOUBLE UNDERS. Dancers 1 and 2 step into the circle of swords, grasping their shared sword flat against their chests. Dancers 4 and 5 raise the swords above their heads.  1 and 2 step under the arch their shared sword has made, turning out. Because everyone is in a linked circle, the rest of the set follows under the archway. The timing of this should be first couple through by beat 3, second by beat 6, and last (the arches) twist under their own swords by beat 9. Beats 10-12 are used to reform the circle. Done right, this figure has a contraction and expansion feel to it, contracting for the complex arrangements and then bursting back to reform the circle. 

Moving to number 1's right, the next couple (2 and 3) go under the next arch (5 and 6). The process above is repeated until finally dancers 6 and 1 are the last.

7. Circle left for 12 beats.

8. Circle right for 12 beats.

9. DOUBLE OVERS. Dancers 1 and 2 step into the circle of swords, grasping their shared sword flat against their chests. Dancers 4 and 5 kneel into the circle, placing their shared sword parallel to the ground, knuckles flat against the ground, heads bent.  1 and 2 step over their shared sword, turning out. Again, the timing of this figure is critical; the  first couple should be through by beat 3, second by beat 6, and last (the kneelers) step over their own swords by beat 9. Beats 10-12 are used to reform the circle. 

The Knot. 

10. Circle left for 12 beats.

11. Circle right for 12 beats.

12. All the dancers contract the circle, so that the tip of the adjacent sword in the left hand can be placed over the dancer's own hilt in the right hand. Change hands, so that the tip is in the right hand and the hilt is in the left. Separating the hands and stepping into the circle, the dancers can then weave the swords together to form a 6 pointed star. 

13. With number 1 holding the star aloft, circle left for 12 beats.

14. With number 1 holding the star aloft, circle right for 9 beats.

15. On the 10th beat, number 1 brings the star down. All of the other dancers grasp the hilt nearest them.

16. On the 11th beat, all dancers pull the swords down and out of the circle, bringing them up over their heads.

17. On beat 12, all dancers clash the swords in the middle of the set to end the dance.

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689