What is Hilt-and-Point Sword Dance?
Hilt-and-Point sword dance is a type of dance done in lines or circles of dancers who are connected by their swords. Also known as Connected, or Joined sword dance, each dancer will pass his or her sword to the person next to them, forming a circle or chain. This type of dancing is found in many countries all over Europe, but in very different forms. Most (but not all) dances were traditionally performed by men, but today certain groups include women as dancers.
While there are certain themes that are common to dances, such as tunnels, circles and stars, it is very hard to generalize about these dances. It seems likely that there were connections and contact between certain sword dance traditions, but this does not mean that they share a common root. Some historians have argued that these dances are vestiges from ancient Roman, Greek, or Germanic cultures, but there is no supporting evidence for these theories. The majority of sword dances in existence today seem to have developed between one hundred and four hundred years ago. During the second World War, many groups were discontinued, but there has since been a revival of teams in several countries.
Music for hilt-and-point sword dance ranges from a cappella singing to full brass bands, with the style of music and arrangement being as varied as the dances themselves. Some sword dances will have a specific tune associated with them, while others (particularly in the UK) use a variety of popular folk melodies. While most dances simply repeat a tune or a set of tunes until a dance is complete, or change tunes at the signal of a captain
Swords are generally made from wood or metal and range between about two to four feet in length. While some traditions use swords with a very military appearance, many groups use implements that have become more specialized for dancing. In some cases these were never properly swords, but were instead common implements from other trades.
Today most dances are performed on a specific day such as the feast day of a town’s patron saint, carnival, or other important day in the town. Many groups performed the dances on varying days throughout their history, often just for important events in the town or celebrations and have since settled on specific days. Other groups have changed the day of performance from its original context as the cultural values of the community have shifted. In a few groups, such as rapper dancing in England, sword dancing is done as a social activity, and thus is done throughout the year.
In the past fifty or so years, many new sword dance groups have started dancing both original and revived choreography. English Hilt-and-Point dance in particular has spread all over the world, with teams in over a dozen countries. The diaspora of European communities, particularly to the Americas has spread other sword dances, strengthening the traditions. At the same time, other sword dances are being threatened. In the past few years several traditional groups have stopped dancing, due to issues of lack of participation, lack of support, or threats the cultural landscape. It is important that we work to celebrate, preserve and protect hilt-and point dance as an invaluable part of our cultural heritage.