Postfest V, Part II: Northern Sword Dancing
Date: Tue, August 09, 2005
Topic: Peoples & Culture
Bodies and blades, moving to the beat of the drum or the piping of a flute, fly through the snowy air like steel snowflakes. Each pass of the dancers, each pass of the blades courts disaster but accidents are rare. Sword dancing is a tradition in the northlands of Aerdi and once each year a great competition is held. You are invited to attend.
Northern Sword Dancing
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Date: 8th Fireseek (Varies)
Location: Roland, Aerdi
Throughout the northern extents of the Great Kingdom of Aerdi, from the northern Grandwood to the Rakers, the custom of sword dancing may be found. Sword dances are not held on regular occasions, with one exception, but are performed when a heavy snow or blizzard arises. In such weather, they are held out of doors. When held, the dance is generally performed in a market square, city center or the bailey of a keep. A clapping, cheering audience quickly surrounds the dancers and warmed wine, sweetened with cherry juice, cinnamon and nutmeg is the usual drink, staving off the chill. It is a regional specialty rather than anything intimately associated with the dance itself.
Sword dancing is a generic term that can apply to more than a dozen specific dances. Each, of course, involves dancing with a drawn blade. Dancers number between half a dozen and sixteen, with the lower number being the more common, eight being average. Sword dances are typically either wheel dances, where the participants form a circle, or line dances that see the dancers paired off and facing each other. Wheel dances are the most common and exciting. The dances all involve intricate passes of the dancers in complex patterns. The dancers not only must execute the dance steps to the rhythm, which is usually provided by a flautist or drummer, but must execute complex sword movements at the same time. The result is a pattern of steel and bodies just barely avoiding contact. Most sword dances build to a frenetic climax, with much jumping, leaping and lunging.
The only sword dance held on a definite date is the Roland Sword Dance, held on the 8th of Fireseek. While snow is not guaranteed, it usually occurs, given the time of year and the close presence of the Solnor Ocean. Held in the bailey of Castle Roland, the Roland Sword Dance differs from most by being a competition. Sword dancing teams from throughout the northlands compete for the Baronís favor, a purse and ceremonial long sword with silvered blade that goes to each competitor of the winning group of dancers. Competition is by dance type, which determines the number of participants. The Baron of Rolandís role as host to the competition is historic and believed to be a tradition acquired by marriage in the distant past. Sword dancing competitions were once much more common, held in Rinloru, Attir, Eastfair and Spinecastle, but these competitions are now things of the past.
The custom of sword dancing is of indeterminate origin. Perhaps, it began as a syncopated martial drill. There is some suggestion that it is a stylized representation of a druidic sacrifice. The association with inclement winter weather suggests it might be connected to the solstice. It is known that sword dancing is practiced among the highland Flan of the Rakers, as well as the northern Aerdi. It is not known which is the older tradition, although the Aerdi tradition is assumed to be the more ancient. Ratikans and the northern barbarians have been known to take up the practice but such is clearly a later adoption, much as the Flan practice is believed to be.