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Thrales Rapper dancing at Whitby Folk Week 2022. (Credit: Ben Potton)

A DERT-y weekend in Whitby?

James Merryclough gets down and DERT-y with some of the nation's finest sword-wielding folk dancers, all heading to Whitby this weekend.

Whitby isn’t just fish and chips, vampires and Captain Cook. It’s also one of the spiritual homes of the folk community, thanks to the annual Folk Week which has been taking place in the town since 1965. Often seen as the North’s answer to Sidmouth, for a week in mid-August the town is filled with folk dance, music and song.

Captain Cook keeping a close eye on Windsor Morris, Whitby Folk Week 2022. Photo credit: Ben Potton

With this place in the hearts of many folkies, it’s somewhat understandable that there’s considerable excitement about another big event in the folk dance calendar hitting the North Yorkshire coast this weekend (13th April). Yes, DERT is back and it’s set to be bigger than ever.

We would guess that most people reading this will already know what DERT and rapper dancing is, but in case you’ve stumbled here from Google, here’s a quick overview…

Stop saying DERT

The Dancing England Rapper Tournament – more commonly known as DERT – has been going for about 30 years and has changed from a small competition where teams perform one dance and the winner takes it all, to the sprawling unwieldy and complex beast it is today. It was originally part of the bigger Dancing England showcases of English traditional dance held in Derby between 1979 and 1987. When these events ended, the rapper competition continued under the same name. 

It moves around the country, being hosted by different teams in different cities each year, although this year it’s more of a committee affair as Whitby doesn’t have a rapper team.

It’s been smaller for a few years since the pandemic, so 2024 looks to be the biggest in a while.

Northgate Rapper at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2023. Photo credit: Dorset Morr’iarty

OK, it’s a competition. So what’s rapper?

Rapper dancing is a type of hilt-and-point sword dance from the coal mines of County Durham and Northumberland. It involves five dancers performing a number of intricate figures using flexible, double-handled ‘rapper’ swords. Dancers wear hard-soled shoes to tap out percussive stepping, accompanied by traditional folk music. It has its origins in England’s other sword dance tradition, longsword dancing, which originates from Yorkshire.

You can expect to see lots of twisty figures, fast stepping and even backward somersaults during a performance. There are also characters known as the ‘Tommy’ and/or ‘Betty’ who explain what’s happening to the audience and make bad gags about losing limbs.

‘What is rapper dancing?’, courtesy of the Morris Federation’s Buzzing Britain project

Who’s performing at DERT 2024?

This year there will be 22 teams competing at DERT, an increase from 14 in 2023. You’ll be able to see: 

  • Birmingham Rapper
  • Blackstone Edge
  • Black Swan Rapper
  • Dancing Spires Rapper
  • Dapperapper
  • Gaorsach Rapper
  • Horizon Hellbillies
  • Mabel Gubbins
  • Medlock Rapper
  • Mons Meg
  • Newcastle Kingsmen
  • NYFTE (National Youth Folklore Troupe of England)
  • Northgate Rapper
  • Pocket Flyers
  • Sallyport Sword Dancers
  • Sheffield Steel
  • Silver Flame
  • Star and Shadow Rapper
  • SteelKingz
  • Thrales
  • Tower Ravens
  • Whip the Cat Rapper and Clog

How does the competition work?

The teams will be competing across five categories: Premier, Championship, Open, Traditional and DERTy (DERT Youth). There are a number of prizes on offer:

  • Division Winners – Competing teams will be arranged into three divisions (Premier, Championship and Open) with a trophy awarded to the highest-scoring team in each division, excluding character scores.
  • Steve Marris – Awarded to the team with the highest overall score, including character scores, from any category.
  • Tyzack Shield – Awarded to the team with the highest marks for buzz factor.
  • DERTy – Awarded to the highest-scoring team in the youth (17-13 years) and junior (12 years and under) competitions.
  • Traditional competition – Awarded to the highest-scoring team in the Traditional competition. A ‘traditional’ dance is defined as a dance that has been recorded in some way, from an identifiable geographical location in the North East of England, and has been danced prior to the 1949 rapper revival.
  • Spotlight – Awarded to the highest-scoring team for their dance in the Spotlight.
  • SDU DERT Award for reams with rapper as an alternative – Awarded to the highest scoring team in the main competition performing rapper as an alternative to their main dance forms.
  • Music (The Angela Lee Trophy) – Awarded to the team with the highest scores for music.
  • Characters – Awarded to the team with the highest scores for characters: Tommy, Betty, or both.
  • Janet Dowling Trophy for the best youth team in the main competition – Awarded to the best youth team competing in the Main Competition.
Rapper on Whitby Harbour from Sheffield Steel. (Note: this is not an official DERT venue)

Where will the dancing take place?

As is traditional for rapper dancing, the competition takes place in the various pubs and alehouses of Whitby. Each ‘spot’ has its own panel of judges who mark teams on a range of areas such as stepping, sword handling, music, audience interaction, etc.

  • The Arch & Abbey
  • The Waiting Room
  • Little Angel
  • The Station
  • The Endeavour
  • The Pier Inn

Get there early as they’re likely to get busy…

There’s also an end-of-day get-together and prize-giving at the Whitby Spa Pavilion, but unfortunately tickets for that are already long sold-out.

Who should we look out for?

Well, they will all likely be impressive, but keep an eye open for last year’s winners, Tower Ravens (who also won our Folk Dance Performance of the Year competition for 2023). Dapperapper will be coming all the way from Boston, Massachusetts, and Mons Meg, Scotland’s only rapper team, will be dancing in their distinctive tartan. 

Mons Meg from Edinburgh

There will also be teams from across the length and breadth of England, so plenty to cheer for no matter where you hail from.

So, ready for a DERT-y weekend in Whitby? Dancing starts at 11am in various locations. Head to the DERT 2024 website for more details about the teams, venues and competitions.

Keep an eye on our Instagram account for photos from the day. Tag us and we’ll reshare the best!