Sword dances are recorded from throughout world history. There are various traditions of solo and mock battle (Pyrrhic) sword dances from Greece, the Middle East, India, China, Korea, and Japan, while all known linked ("hilt-and-point") sword dances are from Europe.
General sword dance forms include:
- solo dancers around swords – such as the traditional Scottish sword dances. This general form also encompasses non-sword dances such as the bacca pipes jig in Cotswold morris dance,
- mock battle dances, including many stick dances from non-sword traditions, and such common continental dances as Buffins or Matachin
- hilt-and-point sword dances – where the dancers are linked together by their swords in a chain. These form the basis for rapper sword and long sword forms,
Mock battle sword dances are found worldwide, varying from the Greek Xiphism
, the Saltatio Armatum
of the ancient Romans, through Turkish, Persian and Middle Eastern traditions to Japanese mock battle dances. Some European sword dances, such as Moreshka from the island of Korcula
in Croatia, include both hilt-and-point and mock battle sequences.
Hilt-and-point sword dances are, or were, performed all over Europe
. These are particularly concentrated in an area corresponding to the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire
at around 1400-1500, and many of these traditional dances are still performed in Germany
, North Italy and the Flanders
. Linked sword dances were also found all over the Iberian Peninsula
, and are still widely performed in the Basque Country
Sword dances performed by the guilds of Smiths and Cutlers in Nuremberg are recorded from 1350. 16th century records of sword dances survive from all over Germany. Depictions of dances survive from Zürich (1578) and Nuremberg (1600)
An important concentration of traditional sword dances can be found in the Italian side of western Alps. Main sites are Giaglione, Venaus and S. Giorio in the Susa valley, where the so called "Spadonari" (sword -holders) dance is still now performed between the end of January and the beginning of February. This dance is also connected with the rebirth of nature and vegetation.
In Romania, in a dance called Calusari a sword dance similar to Morris Dance is part of a more complex ritualistic dance involving elements of fertility ritual and horse worship.
Hilt-and-point sword dances traditional to England include rapper sword and long sword, although both of these are now also performed by revival teams outside their traditional areas, including teams in most of the English-speaking world. English sword dancing has also been brought to the New World, initially as part of the "morris revival" of the 1970s and 1980s. Teams are now extant in most major metropolitan areas in North America. The New York Sword Ale is an annual gathering over Presidents' Day weekend that brings together over a dozen sword teams form the east coast and around the world.
- Stephen D Corrsin, Sword Dancing in Europe: A History, London: Hisarlik Press (1997).