MARCH 2002

Cyber Dantza




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Dancing Across the Atlantic: dance groups and performances in the U.S. and in the Basque Country 
by Lisa Corcostegui

Although we do many of the same Basque folk dances in the United States that are performed in the Basque Country, there are some differences in the organization of dance groups and performances.  This article will explore some of these.

Basque Dance in the U.S.
In the United States almost all Basque dance groups are sponsored by or affiliated with a Basque club that belongs to North American Basque Organizations, Inc. (NABO).  Proportionally, more Basque-Americans participate in dance than their European counterparts.  Most Basque-Americans who live in locations with Basque clubs have danced at some point in their lives and dancing serves as a kind of rite of passage into Basque identity for children; apart  from family or group identity dancing gives a child a personal feeling of being Basque.  Children's dance groups lend a sense of vitality to a club and are the first step in transmitting cultural heritage.  

Dance groups usually have a mixed repertoire of dances from several parts of the Basque Country, although some groups with a majority of members from some single location in the homeland focus more on dances from their area. In addition to dance practices held by each local club, NABO hosts a summer culture camp called Udaleku where dancers from different clubs come together to learn dance, music, culture, and form friendships with children from other places.

Basque-American dance groups perform at events organized by their clubs such as picnics, festivals and potlucks.  These events provide a venue for the dancers to show family members what they have learned at dance practices much like a recital.  

Most dance groups also perform locally for outside organizations such as service clubs and conventions.  In this type of performance the dancers represent Basque heritage to a wide variety of spectators who may or not be familiar with the Basques.  This type of performance requires more verbal interaction with the audience in terms of providing a broad description of who the  Basques are, where they come from, and the context of the dances offered.

Many Basque clubs host the performance of groups from other clubs at their festivals. Many dancers say this is their favorite kind of performance. Of course, this kind of performance requires travel to the location of the hosting club. Since Basque clubs are located all across the west, the distances can be quite long.  The travel time, however, is usually fun and a lot of group bonding happens this way.  The actual performance is usually limited to around 20 minutes.  A significant difference in this kind of performance is that the audience often includes dancers from other groups.  There is usually little or no coordination of programs between groups and each one presents whatever it wants to.  This results in a lot of repetition of the same dances throughout the day.  This repetition has had an unfortunate effect on dance in the U.S. in that traditional dances have been altered to make them look different than the way the next group does them.  This is unfortunate because with each change (even though we may consider it small) we risk destroying part of the original metaphor that underlies the dance.  This topic of authenticity versus originality can be controversial, of course.  I don't intend to enter into that kind of argument here.  However, it is something I think Basque-American dancers should be keenly aware of - after all, don't most of us say that we dance to "preserve" our Basque heritage?

The last type of performance I will mention in the context  of Basque-American dance is the most rare here.  This is ritual dance performed on a specific occasion.  A well-established example of this type of dance can be seen in Boise, Idaho during the celebration of the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The dances are borrowed from the celebration of Corpus Christi in Oņati, Gipuzkoa.  In their original context they celebrate the Blessed Sacrament; in the American version they are performed in honor of San Inazio, the patron saint of the Basques.  Despite this change, this cycle of dances closely follows the pattern of ritual dance present throughout the Basque Country for a wide variety of feast days.  The Boise San Inazio celebration includes a procession with the image of the saint and dances outside and inside the cathedral including a dance on the altar.

Dance in the Basque Country
In contrast to the types of dance performance we typically see in the States, the real richness of Basque dance is found in unique local traditions.  Many towns and villages in the Basque Country celebrate the festival of their patron saint or other occasions such as carnival with completely unique dances.  The celebration of Corpus Christi in Oņati was just mentioned above.  Other examples include the dances of Lesaka celebrated in honor of San Fermin, Azeri Dantza performed on San Juan in Andoain, the Kaxarranka and Eguzki Dantza on San Pedro y San Pablo in Lekeitio, Sagar Dantza in Arizkun for Carnival, Bolant Eguna in Luzaide on Easter, and the Maskarada of Zuberoa for Carnival. The participants in the ritual dances are usually adults although there is sometimes a group of children who perform the dances at other events.  These traditions involve the entire population in celebration and provide a sense of identity and pride to a town's citizens.

Another type of dance group found in the Basque Country is that which originally arose from local church parishes as a youth activity.  Similar kinds of groups are associated with clubs that foment the use of Basque language and other activities such as mountain climbing.  In addition dance groups are sometimes sponsored by the municipality. These types of groups are sometimes referred to as "urban" groups. Although these groups may be found in locations that we may not necessarily think of as being urban, the designation contrasts with the village groups described above that have their own unique traditions.  These urban groups perform a variety of dances from all over the Basque Country, often in sets of dances from a specific location with costumes from there as well.  These groups encompass a greater age range than the ritual groups and are more like their American counterparts.   Besides performing at local celebrations dance groups sometimes perform outside of the Basque Country and have other responsibilities in their respective towns such as dancing Agurra at events such as weddings or civic ceremonies or organizing other aspects of festivities such as parading giants through town.  

The organization that offers resources to dance groups in the Basque Country is called Euskal Dantzarien Biltzarra (EDB).  This federation of dance groups organizes workshops, contests, and performances for its member groups.  Towns take turn hosting events called Dantzari Eguna (Dancers' day) or Haurren Eguna (children's day) which are organized regionally.  

This is how an Haurren Eguna I attended unfolded: Early in the day groups from the region arrive and congregate in a central location where they are offered a snack and get organized for their performance.  They are accompanied by dancers from the older dance group who help supervise them and manage their equipment.  All groups then parade through the streets stopping at intervals to perform one or two dances.  All groups end up in the plaza where they perform a series of dances.  Each group is assigned a certain zone of the plaza and all groups perform the same dances simultaneously.  Each group at some point also performs a dance by itself.  If the group is from a town that has its own unique tradition this dance may be presented at this time.  At lunch each guest dancer is hosted by a local family and eats at their home.  These are usually the families of local dancers.  At the Haurren Eguna I attended in Azkoitia the instructors and chaperones were treated to lunch at a local gastronomical society.  After lunch the groups reconvene in the plaza for more dancing.  

Popular Dance Movements in the Basque Country
In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Basque dance by people who do not belong to dance groups.  The Kafe Antzokia in Bilbo hosts a monthly dance called Dantza Ganbara led by Juan Antonio Urbeltz.  The event is very well attended by people of different age groups.  Urbeltz explains the dances, gives instructions and guides dancers as his wife Marian Arregi and son Mikel play beautiful renditions of traditional dance pieces. A couple of dancers from Argia dance in the center and assist participants.  Other dance groups offer opportunities for the general public to learn traditional dances as well.  Elgoibarko Haritz, Debako Gure Kai eta Eibarko Kezka started a series of dance events called Plazara Dantzara and Patxi eta Batbiru puts on public dance sessions and has produced a terrific music CD complete with video instruction.

Bridging the Gap
Over the last decade there has been increasing contact between dance groups in the U.S. and the Basque Country.  Basque Americans now have more opportunities than ever to learn more about their heritage and introduce more authenticity into their dance programs.  For many years NABO has offered a series of dance videos filmed in the Basque Country by John and Jenny Ysursa.  For more information contact John.

Finally, some exciting news about a program offered to dancers and instructors. This year the Basque Government's Gaztemundu Program will focus on dance.  For this year only there will be no age restrictions.  Participants will visit dance events in the Basque Country and learn more about dance.  

More information about Gaztemundu 2002

Click images to view larger version


Utahko Triskalariak
Utahko Triskalariak in Mountain Home, Idaho




Beti Alai of Ontario Oregon
Beti Alai of Ontario, Oregon at  Malheur County Fair




Oinkari in Winnemucca
Boise's Oinkari Dancers in Winnemucca, Nevada




Boise Oņati Dancers
Oņati Dancers of Boise Idaho on Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola






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Korpus Eguna in Oņati, Gipuzkoa







Bolantak in Luzaide, Nafarroa
Bolantak in Luzaide, Nafarroa







zamalzain_gotaine.jpg (10310 bytes)
Maskaradak in Gotaine, Zuberoa






kaxaranka.jpg (7623 bytes)
Kaxarranka in Lekeitio, Bizkaia






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Eguzki Dantza in Lekeitio, Bizkaia






Haurren Eguna in Azpeitia
Haurren Eguna in Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa






Haurren Eguna in Mutriku
Haurren Eguna in Mutriku, Gipuzkoa






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Dantza Ganbara at Kafe Antzokia in Bilbo


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copyright Š L. Corcostegui 2001