Sword dancer Les keeps his edge over 50 years

Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers Les Seaman (Left)  Pat Malham @ Handsworth Church.
Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers Les Seaman (Left) Pat Malham @ Handsworth Church.

THE roots of Handsworth Sword Dancers can be traced back to the mining communities of the 1820s.

And when they lined up as usual on Boxing Day, at the market cross in Woodhouse and outside St Mary’s Church in Handsworth, one of their members was making his own piece of history.

For Les Seaman has danced with the group every Boxing Day for 50 years.

“We have had snow and rain, but we have danced every time,” said Les, aged 75. “One year we had to break the ice and we have had to put down salt once or twice to clear the area.”

Whatever the weather, Les has always been there, doing his bit to maintain Sheffield’s longsword tradition (the city’s other team is in Grenoside).

Folk song and dance collector Cecil Sharp came to Handsworth 100 years ago, which means that, remarkably, Les has danced half those number of years.

It started as a result of his parents and his late brother, Derek, being keen walkers and cyclists and members of the Youth Hostel Association.

“We used to go to Derbyshire every weekend. The YHA had a social network and once a week we used to go to the Park School, where the flats are now, and we took up folk dancing. The whole family used to go dancing in different places. One place was Whitby Road School in Darnall which was run by Harry and Norma Pitts, and Harry was part of the Handsworth Sword Dance team.”

The enduring appeal is the comradeship, sad Les, who lives with his wife, Margaret, in Watt Lane, Crosspool.

“We go to different places and meet different people. We dance locally in South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire, and we get invites to days and weekends of dance and to festivals. We go to the Whitby and Sidmouth Folk Festivals and we have been to Belgium, France, Denmark and Iraq.”

Les is renowned for being fitter than a lot of people half his age. He is a member of the Ramblers’ Association and the Labour Party walking group, Left Foot Forward, and he is a runner.

Originating among colliers in the Woodhouse area, Handsworth Sword Dancers are the most southern team of their kind in the UK.

“We just do the one dance. We are getting old, but it keeps me active!” said Les, who retired as an engineer with an oil company.

There are about 15 active members. “Most of us are elderly, and we need to recruit some young ones. We are thinking of getting together a group of people of a similar age and teach them separately so they can keep the tradition going.”

In the team on Boxing Day, for example, was another veteran, Pat Malham, of Lodge Moor, who used to dance and now plays concertina. He joined in 1963.

Les has been a member since 1957, and has every intention of maintaining his Boxing Day tradition.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It was only last year I stopped doing the half marathon. Now I’m down to 10ks.”