The Sword Dance has been a staple part of Highland Dancing competitions for many decades. Although these days it's more likely to be performed by young girls, the origins of this dance are as a martial exercise - to show off the fitness, strength and dexterity of a warrior.
So why am I telling you this? The audience for this blog are (I imagine) primarily wargamers and model makers. Well, I had a hankering to include some character figure models in my Dark Age Scots warband; a sword dancer seemed appropriate. Also, it's a way of showing an interest in my daughter's hobby 🙂.
Actually, there are a number of issues with my idea. It is quite possibly anachronistic and out of place. Here are some of the things that I have considered:
- Issue: the Highland sword dance is only recorded from the early Renaissance onwards; the earliest mention is in a 15th century document.
Rebuttal: it seems likely that some form of "showing off" to enemies did exist in 800AD (the time period for my Scots warband). Such a display could have been a complex dance, couldn't it - just because it isn't recorded doesn't mean that it didn't happen?
- Issue: in historical records, the sword dance seems to have been performed before the king and court to show the readiness and power of his army - something like a military parade today.
Rebuttal: my dancer model could be part of a camp scene, or maybe is just practicing his art before any hostilities have begun. I don't imagine that he's performing in the middle of a shieldwall during a battle!
- Issue: it's unlikely that the modern steps are anything like a dance from the early medieval period.
Rebuttal: I don't care! No-one will know the difference. It's not as if I was portraying a Napoleonic redcoat breakdancing, or a knight in full armour doing the Lindy Hop...
- Issue: no-one makes a 28mm model of a Dark Age sword dancer.
Rebuttal: well, I'll have to convert one then. No big deal...
Ideally, I needed to start with a figure that had only one foot on the ground - preferably on tiptoes. Fortunately, one of Crusader Miniatures "Scots skirmishers" had exactly this posture. So, a fairly straightforward conversion:
- I bent the head around (gently!) so that the model was looking straight ahead instead of to one side.
- The raised right leg was bent inwards somewhat and the foot repositioned to touch the calf of the left leg. Actually, refixing the cut-off foot was very fiddly and caused me a lot of frustration. Ideally (at least, if I was matching the modern steps), his right foot should be behind the left calf, but I just couldn't manage that. I guess that this guy's technique isn't going to win him any prizes!
- Both arms were cut off and replaced. The new plastic arms came from a Gripping Beast set; I believe they were both intended for an archer.
- The right hand is tucked in to the waist; that was reasonably straightforward.
- The left hand is the difficult one; it should ideally show the iconic position where the middle finger touches the thumb and the other fingers are outstretched.
I achieved this with a "grasping" hand from a plastic zombie set; this had very clearly-defined fingers. The middle finger of the donor hand was cut off and replaced with a (tiny!) piece of green stuff, curled in just the right manner to meet the thumb.
Firstly, I glued the model to a suitable base, though somewhat off centre. The base was levelled up with brown wood filler.
The next step was to texture the base by adding some sand to it. I added a few small rocks to break up the monotony, though these are around the edges rather than in the middle. After all, I imagine that my dancer has selected a reasonably flat, open area for his dance so as not to trip over any obstacles.
Two plastic swords were then stuck to the base, in the classic "X" shape. I didn't have any bare swords in my bits box; so these swords had to be constructed by taking the blade from a "hand-with-sword" piece and marrying it to a hilt from a "sword-in-scabbard" part.
Painting this model was easy; he doesn't have much in the way of detail. So: undercoat, flesh, hair, tunic. The tunic is easily the most complex bit of painting; my dancer wears a "pseudo tartan" tunic. I've described my technique for these before, so I won't repeat it again.
By custom, figures in my SAGA warbands have names. I called the dancer "Muiredach".
I had the idea for this model a very long time ago, but it took a long time to get around to making it. When I finally began, it was a reasonably easy conversion that was built and painted quickly; I'm pleased with the result. Of course, now I really need a piper or other musician to accompany him...
History is full of examples of warriors trying to intimidate or insult their enemies just before a fight begins. Or maybe they are just trying to bolster their own courage? Either way, there aren't as many models of these as I would like - but they're often not hard to convert. Pretty much any army from any time period could have such figures. As well as the sword dance or other weapons display, here are some more ideas:
- Shaking a fist. Optionally with one (or two) fingers raised.
- Baring buttocks/"mooning". This one might be a bit harder to find a suitable donor model to convert...
- Facial expressions. Could be anything from sticking out a tongue to the exaggerated eye rolling and grimaces of the Maoris.
So, let's see your insulting or showing-off figures!