Teesdale Longsword Dance Team Impress at National Sword-Dancing Tournament

Press Release, 20 October 2015

On a bright October Saturday morning recently, eight excited youngsters from Barnard Castle, all students at Teesdale School, set off for Goathland, a small village in the middle of the North York Moors. Many people will know it better as the fictional Aidenfield, the setting where the television series “Heartbeat” was filmed. It has another claim to fame as the home of the Goathland “Plough Stots”, a team of traditional longsword dancers. The “Plough Stots” were host to the national Sword Dance Union’s annual tournament of sword dancing over that weekend.

Teesdale Longsword dance team members display their swords and “tatters” at Goathland, Saturday 3 October 2015.

Teesdale Longsword dance team members display their swords and “tatters” at Goathland, Saturday 3 October 2015.

The team of dancers and musicians from Teesdale joined fifteen other teams to dance in the village and showcase their dancing to the other teams. The Teesdale Longsword Dance team was one of only two youth teams that participated in the tournament and performed two dances, a traditional dance for six dancers and a dance for four dancers. They have developed a more modern take on the dancing for their “four hand” dance.

The Teesdale Longsword Dance team perform their own four-hand routine in front of the judges at the SDU Sword Dance tournament, Goathland, Saturday 3 October 2015.

The Teesdale Longsword Dance team perform their own four-hand routine in front of the judges at the SDU Sword Dance tournament, Goathland, Saturday 3 October 2015.

John Atkinson, secretary of the Goathland Plough Stots who organised the weekend tournament was most impressed. He told us, “Your team was full of vigour and enthusiasm. If you can channel that into precision that team will go far with their modern twist in longsword dancing. In fact I will go as far to say they will give the American teams a run for their money! It was a delight to see.”

Although many people will not have heard of it, longsword dancing was once common in our area. Mike Bettison, treasurer, researcher and musician with the Music at the Heart of Teesdale (M@HoT) project has found several references to longsword dancing in Teesdale. He said, “We now know that there was certainly a team of sword dancers in Gainford, Startforth and probably many other local villages in the mid nineteenth century. And teams of men and boys in ‘tatters’ performing longsword dancing would have been fairly common in many local villages in those days, probably right up to the First World War.”

Teesdale Longsword musicians, right to left, Holly Hughes, Teddy Hart-Davis, Neil Diment, and Mike Bettison.

Teesdale Longsword musicians, right to left, Holly Hughes, Teddy Hart-Davis, Neil Diment, and Mike Bettison.

The M@HoT project is working to revive the Longsword tradition in Teesdale, with Gainford-based tutor Patrick Langdon and Mike Bettison’s fellow M@HoT musician Helen Bishop along with project co-ordinator Neil Diment. Together they hold regular workshops for the team in Teesdale School and at the Hub in Barnard Castle and, over the past three years, the M@HoT project has given every student in the school the opportunity to try out the dance.

For more information about the work of the M@HoT project and its work to revive the music, song and dance traditions of Teesdale, please get in touch with Neil Diment, M@HoT project co-ordinator on 01833 638263.