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Sword Dancers to Fill Central Park, Libraries and Museums This Weekend

By Shaye Weaver | February 10, 2016 3:24pm
 For 31 years, the Half Moon Sword group has hosted the sword dancing festival, which happens across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
For 31 years, the Half Moon Sword group has hosted the sword dancing festival, which happens across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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Jeffrey Bary

NEW YORK CITY  — Arm yourself for this English jig.

Dancers with swords will occupy Central Park, and several city libraries and museums this weekend as part of the 31st annual Sword Dance Festival.

Women, and some men, from around the country will lock swords and weave intricate figures and patterns as they dance in a ring to live music — usually a violin, accordion or flute.

"There is something about the movement and music that is very joyous to me and other people as well," said Inwood resident Yonina Gordon.

Since 1988, Gordon has been dancing with the New York City-based group Half Moon Sword, which hosts the festival.

The traditional English dance, with roots in ancient rituals, uses swords made out of steel or wood and started as part of a winter celebration in the farming and coal-mining regions of northern England, according to Gordon.

The sword dance was thought to guarantee good luck for the year, Gordon said.

"We push the swords together to form a star-like shape to symbolize the sun and display it to the audience," she said. "The tradition is that the dance was done at the time of winter solstice and implored the sun to return to us."

There are different types of dances, including the rapper sword dance, which are "flashier," faster-paced and uses flexible swords. Then there's the long sword dance that uses more rigid swords for slower, militaristic movement, Gordon said.

The Half Moon Sword group has anywhere from 12 to 14 dancers, who live in Inwood, Chelsea, Park Slope, and others who live nearby in New Jersey and Cold Spring, according to Gordon.

The women come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are teachers, while others are professionals in the legal, literary and educational worlds.

On Saturday and Sunday, as is tradition, 12 dance groups from New York City, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Maryland, Minnesota and Kentucky are going to split up across the city and perform at the following venues for free.

On Saturday:

► Brooklyn Heights Library, 280 Cadman Plaza West, Brooklyn, at 1 p.m.

► Seward Park Library, 192 E. Broadway, Manhattan, at 1 p.m.

► Dana Discovery Center in Central Park, at 110th Street, at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

► Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave., at 1:30 p.m. (Suggested donation.)

► 115th Street Library, 203 W. 115th St. at Seventh Avenue, Manhattan at 3 p.m.

► Jefferson Market Library, 425 Sixth Ave., Manhattan, at 3 p.m.

► Park Slope Library, 431 Sixth Ave. at 9th Street, Brooklyn, at 3 p.m.

On Sunday:

► Spoke the Hub Dancing, 295 Douglass St., Brooklyn, at 12:30 p.m.

► Bluebird, 504 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, at 1 p.m.

► Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, 53 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, 1 p.m.

► Old First Reformed Church, 126 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, at 1 p.m.

► The Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, at 2:30 p.m.