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The 17th annual New York Sword Dance Festival kicks off Feb. 16 at locations around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Brooklyn’s own Half Moon Sword is sponsoring the annual two-day event, which draws 13 sword dance teams from across the United States.

Ellen Conroy, spokeswoman for the all-woman Half Moon Sword team, explained that the group performs two different kinds of dances performed to live music: the stately, graceful longsword, using long, rigid swords, puts the emphasis on weaving patterns while the rapper sword dance, using flexible swords while dancing to an Irish jig, is much quicker, emphasizing agility and athleticism.

At left, Conroy, Sarah Henry, Margaret Bary, Jan Burdick and Yonina Gordon perform the rapper sword dance, whose origins can be found in the northern coal mining regions of England.

"In both types of sword dance, the dancers are linked in a ring by the swords they hold in their hands while they work as a team to weave intricate figures and patterns without breaking the circle," explained Conroy. "The dances are thought to have roots in ancient rituals, traces of which can still be seen in these present day displays of skill."

Brooklyn sword dance performances will be held on Feb. 16 at 3 pm at the Brooklyn Heights Public Library (280 Cadman Plaza West) and at 4:30 pm at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (200 Eastern Parkway). Additional performances will continue on Feb. 17 at 12:30 pm at both the First Unitarian Church (Pierrepont and Monroe Streets) and the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture (53 Prospect Park West), at 1 pm at the Park Slope Methodist Church (Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street) and at 2:30 pm at the Picnic House (Park Drive at Third Street, Prospect Park). Both the Picnic House and Brooklyn Museum of Art performances will feature all of the participating troupes.

All performances of this unique dance form are free, though there may be an admission fee at some venues. For more information, call (718) 284-1529.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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