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Sword team's debut on 100th anniversary

A new team of rapper sword dancers in Oxfordshire could not have picked a more notable date for its public debut.

It'll be a hundred years to the day since the chance meeting that led to the revival of Britain's ceremonial dances.

"We didn't even register the significance of the date when we chose it," says Steve Wass, who'll play the role of Tommy for Mr Leslie's Rapper Sword Dancers of Banbury.

At 10 o'clock on 26 December, 1999, Headington Quarry Morris Dancers will begin a day's celebrations to recall their side's meeting with the folk music collector Cecil Sharp in 1899 (see main story).

An hour later, Mr Leslie's Rapper will dance out for the first time at Banbury Cross, just 25 miles up the road.

They'll then make the four-mile trip to picturesque Adderbury - another traditional morris village - where they're aiming to dance at The Bell at 12.30.

Four members of the team will also be blocking the lunchtime traffic outside the pub, by joining in a mummers' play.

"We chose the date because we knew the mumming was going on in Adderbury," says Steve Wass, "so we knew there'd be a crowd to dance for.

"It was only some time after we'd chosen the date that we realised it was the centenary day."

The side is quicker on the uptake, though, when it comes to funding.

Members persuaded the trustees of The Banbury Charities to buy them a set of six rapper "swords", after finding out about the trust through a chance conversation with the town mayor.

"On the Monday morning I posted the letter," says Steve, "and on the Tuesday I had a phone call from the clerk.

"She thought we were asking for a sword for every person likely to dance - so how many people were going to be in this team?

"When I said we wanted just six swords, she breathed a sigh of relief and said, 'You can have the money.' We were amazed."

The team was started by John Leslie, who's also one of three founder members of Adderbury Morris Men still active in the side, 25 years after it revived the village's centuries-old tradition.

Early in 1999, John met up with Pete Bareham, with whom he'd learned some rapper about 20 years previously. The encounter encouraged him to start up his own team with fellow Adderbury dancers.



1999 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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