Tommy and Betty

Last updated

Tommy and Betty are two roles in rapper sword dance that represent the father and mother of the dancers. The Tommy and Betty often introduce the dance to the audience and seek to engage the audience. As with so many traditional dances in England and Europe, these characters are integral to the tradition, and their role was documented in all of the earliest published descriptions of the Northumbrian dance descriptions which pre-date the introduction of the flexible rapper sword which so fundamentally changed the dance.

Rapper sword variation of sword dance from the pit villages of Tyneside in North East England

Rapper sword is a variation of sword dance that emerged from the pit villages of Tyneside in North East England, where miners first performed the tradition.

In early accounts of the sword dance in the Tyne Valley, the Tommy character was generally called "The Captain", and the Betty character called "Bessy". There were often additional characters, such as a doctor, who took part in a short play before the dance, similar to a Mummers play. The Tommy was either dressed up formally, with waistcoat, tailcoat and top hat, or in a grotesque garb of animal hides; occasionally, the Tommy was dressed in women's clothing, like the Betty. Much is made of their role and clothing in the context of pagan fertility rituals; it is certainly probable that the characters and play are older than the sword dance itself, which would appear to have been appended to the older play tradition found all over England.

Mummers play Seasonal folk play

Mummers' plays are folk plays performed by troupes of amateur actors, traditionally all male, known as mummers or guisers. It refers particularly to a play in which a number of characters are called on stage, two of whom engage in a combat, the loser being revived by a doctor character. This play is sometimes found associated with a sword dance though both also exist in Britain independently.

Tailcoat most formal version of evening wear

A tailcoat is a knee-length coat with the front of the skirt cut away, so as to leave only the rear section of the skirt, known as the tails.

In the modern dance, the Tommy introduces the dancers, usually with a traditional calling-on song, and then provides a running commentary and/or jokes to entertain the audience. The Tommy and Betty characters often join in with the rapper figures. [1]

The best known Tommy and Betty characters are probably the Newcastle Kingsmen's characters, who have won the prize for best characters at several of the annual DERT competitions, including the national DERT 2004 and 2005 competitions.

The Newcastle Kingsmen's dance begins with the Tommy character singing the "Calling On Song". The Betty character then joins in halfway through the dance - this delayed entrance (which is unusual in rapper sword teams) allows time for the Tommy to work through a repertoire of jokes, before the appearance of the Betty. The Betty seeks to have a high profile entrance such as appearing through a trap door, on a bicycle or carrying a vacuum cleaner. This entrance can help re-engage the audience; this is particularly valuable in large arenas or at foreign festivals.

Related Research Articles

Cross-dressing practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex for performance purposes

Cross-dressing is the act of wearing items of clothing and other accoutrements commonly associated with the opposite sex within a particular society. Cross-dressing has been used for purposes of disguise, comfort, and self-expression in modern times and throughout history.

Costume wardrobe and dress in general

Costume is the distinctive style of dress of an individual or group that reflects their class, gender, profession, ethnicity, nationality, activity or epoch.

<i>Kabuki</i> classical Japanese dance-drama

Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.

Morris dance A form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music

Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two people, steps are near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid one across the other on the floor. They clap their sticks, swords, or handkerchiefs together to match with the dance.

Kathakali form of classical Indian dances

Kathakali is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance. It is a "story play" genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and facemasks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. Kathakali primarily developed as a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of India (Kerala).

Sword dance

Sword dances are recorded throughout world history. There are various traditions of solo and mock-battle (Pyrrhic) sword dances from Africa, Asia and Europe.

Long Sword dance type of English folk dance

The Long Sword dance is a hilt-and-point sword dance recorded mainly in Yorkshire, England. The dances are usually performed around Christmas time and were believed to derive from a rite performed to enable a fruitful harvest.

Hip hop fashion

Hip hop fashion, also known as big fashion, is a distinctive style of dress originating from African American, Latin and other inner city youth on the scene of New York City, later followed by Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, Detroit, Memphis, Virginia, Atlanta, St. Louis and others. Each city has contributed various elements to the overall style seen worldwide today. Hip hop fashion complements the expressions and attitudes of hip hop culture in general. Hip hop fashion has changed significantly during its history, and today it is a prominent part of popular fashion across the whole world and for all ethnicities.

Drag (clothing) gender-defying clothing

The slang term "drag" refers to the wearing of clothing of the opposite sex (cross-dressing), and may be used as a noun as in the expression in drag, or as an adjective as in drag show.

<i>Quinceañera</i> Latin American culture celebration of a girls 15th birthday

The fiesta de quince años is a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday. It has its cultural roots in Mesoamerica and is widely celebrated today throughout the Americas. The girl celebrating her 15th birthday is a quinceañera. In Spanish, and in Latin countries, the term quinceañera is reserved solely for the honoree; in English, primarily in the United States, the term is used to refer to the celebrations and honors surrounding the occasion.

Pantomime form of musical comedy stage production, developed in the United Kingdom and mostly performed during Christmas and New Year season

Pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

The Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) is a continuation of the most significant rapper sword dance competitions that were held in Newcastle upon Tyne, the centre of the coalfields where the dance originated. The modern annual weekend event, held at different venues in the UK, brings together rapper teams and sword dancers from around the country and occasionally abroad.


Matachines are a society of North and South American-Indian dancers who perform ritual dances. They are found from Peru up to northern New Mexico, USA where the Spanish first influenced the New World and introduced Christianity to the native peoples. In Bernalillo New Mexico, the matachienes de San Lorenzo have been performing for more than 300 years.

Folk arts of Karnataka

Karnataka has a variety of traditional arts, including folk dance and puppetry.

Malanka Slavic folk Christianity

Malanka is a Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian folk holiday celebrated on 13 January, which is New Year's Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar.

<i>Big Bad Mouse</i> play written by Philip King

Big Bad Mouse is a British stage play and theatrical comedic farce by Phillip King and Falkland L. Carey. Although not specifically written for Jimmy Edwards and Eric Sykes, it became a vehicle for the British comedy actors and has been revived many times with other stars right up to 2008.

The Earsdon Sword Dance, is a traditional English Folk dance performed by the Royal Earsdon Sword Dancers.
As the name suggests, they are based in Earsdon, Northumberland, England, a village which is surrounded by other villages including East Holwell, West Holywell and Backworth, while the resort town of Whitley Bay itself is only 3 miles (2 km) away.

Dancing England was a series of showcase traditional dance concerts held at the Derby Assembly Rooms from 1979 to 1987. They were devised and curated by Phil Heaton and John Shaw, members of the Black Cap Sword Dancers, and two very notable characters on the Nottingham and Derby folk and dance scene of the 1970s. Dancing England was set up to showcase the best of traditional dance in the UK, along with unique and/or interesting folk customs to celebrate the UK's wide cultural heritage.


  1. "The Newcastle Kingsmen's Betty figure joining in the rapper dance". Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers Website. Retrieved 2008-07-24.