Most of the sword dancing in Revels comes from two English traditions - hilt and point longsword dancing and rapper sword dance. The longsword dances are associated with specific villages and towns in England and feature weaving figures and patterns in which each of the six or eight dancers holds the hilt of his own sword and the (blunted) point of his neighbor's. At the end of the dance the swords are woven into a "lock" or "nut" shaped like a star or triangle.
In some traditions (including Revels) the lock is placed over the head of a "victim" and with a quick withdrawal of their swords, the dancers cause him to fall down "dead." This act cues the essential business of resurrection.
The folk play (or mummers play, of which fragments remain in some of the sword dance traditions) is about the abiding mystery of life and death, in particular the death of the old year (the end of warmth and plentiful food) and the birth of the new, performed around the shortest day of the year to bring good luck at this crucial turning point of the calendar.
Rapper sword dance is a more recent tradition from the mining villages and towns of the North East of England. The swords are short and flexible with handles at both ends rather like the scrapers used to groom horses (or perhaps in this case pit ponies.) The dance is fast and tight featuring rhythmic "stepping" and an accompanying tune from a concertina, fiddle or pipe.