Press Release, 15 January 2015
On Wednesday 17th December students at Teesdale School in Barnard Castle put on a wonderful afternoon of entertainment, a Christmas Celebration of Teesdale Talent. The programme included music, song and dance from the school’s students together with nativity plays by children from local primary schools for an audience of residents from the town’s care homes. In the run-up to Christmas there is nothing particularly unusual in that, you may say. However, the afternoon of song and dance at Teesdale School was organised by the sixth-form students themselves; this was not the students doing what the teachers directed them to do. There was something unique in the afternoon’s events. There were three teams of longsword dancers.
Longsword dancing is a traditional ritual dance that was common in northern England over a century ago. Mike Bettison, researching on behalf of the Music at the Heart of Teesdale project (M@HoT for short), has found references to sword dance in and around Barnard Castle. Mike together with dance tutor, Patrick Langdon, and Neil Diment of M@HoT have taught a longsword dance to students from the school.
“We have been able to run a full day of dance workshops for year 7 students as part of their music and dance curriculum at the school for the past three years now,” said Neil.“There is now a group of youngsters who practise regularly, a sort of lunchtime longsword dance club, but this is the first time we have run an actual competition for them.”
Teesdale School has three houses, Faraday, Goodall and Newton, and each house put forward a team of students to dance in an inter-house competition, with the winning house getting to keep the John Browell Trophy. The trophy is named after a traditional folk musician and collector from Yorkshire, who has given the school a set of steel longswords on permanent loan.
The competition was judged by Clare Ellis, Co-principal at Teesdale School, Patrick, who has been dancing longsword for over thirty years, and Jeff Lawson. Jeff, who lives near Manchester, edits “Rattle Up My Boys”, a magazine for those with an interest in longsword and travelled over the Pennines especially to chair the judges” panel.
“There are about thirty or forty teams of dancers doing longsword in England,” said Jeff.“Youth teams are rare. To find a school with three teams is absolutely unique. The enthusiasm and commitment of the pupils was, for me, a joy to see.”
The packed school hall enjoyed a closely-fought, “Strictly”-style dance off between the three teams.“It was wonderful to see the students enthused by Longsword dancing and celebrating their cultural heritage in this way,” added Ms Ellis.
The winning team was Goodall who now get to keep the trophy for a year. Each dancer in the winning team also received a specially engraved medal. Assistant head of the victorious Goodall house, Tina Masterman, who had organised the competition in school, said,“This was a great opportunity for students in the school to learn a variety of new skills and it was obvious that they thoroughly enjoyed doing it. It was great to see each House competing with a full team and was a brilliant example of collaboration, a value deeply embedded in the school. I hope that this will become a regular feature in the Sixth Form talent event.”