Taken from "Folklore and Traditions", one of the series of "The Basque Country, Come and then pass the word" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Angel Murua, Published by: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo.

Traditional Dances

Traditional Basque dances are an extremely important part of folk material, which brings us closer to the most ancient ways of life and values. In spite of the fact that a great deal of dances were lost as a result of rapid industrialisation - as, out of context, a great deal of the usefulness and value was lost - a whole catalogue of traditional Basque dances have been conserved and revitalised. These are brought to life by the hundreds of dance groups which exist in all parts of the country, at every festive occasion.

Several types of dance can be distinguished according to their functions and character. Those related to social and playful celebrations are romerias (religious processions and festivals), are open circle dances, danced by a wide circle of men and women holding hands, or joined by handkerchiefs, who allow the specialist dancers, dantzari, to perform some often spectacular and difficult steps. At such moments those participating, as well as the spectators, take a secondary role in the proceedings as the admire the skill of the dantzaris. Such dances are for example the aurresku, the gizon dantza or the soka dantza among many others.

The combat dances have two rival parties dancing, bearing swords, sticks or arches, which make up a series of eight or nine different choreographies. In Gipuzkoa some of these series have been preserved, such as the Brokel Dantza and its variations which go from the Troquel Dantza of Antzuola, the San Juan Dantzak of Berastegi, the dances of Lizartza and, somewhat different, the Corpus Christi dances in Oñati. In Bizkaia the series of the Dantzari Dantza is still performed all across the Duranguesado area, and in Alava the vestiges of these dances can be seen in the "paloteados" - dances in which the participants clash poles in time with the music - of the Rioja Alavesa, in communities such as Villabuena and outside this area, as in Pipaon.

A third group is made up of canopy dances, usually performed with swords, which receive the generic name of ezpatadantzak. These can be danced by large groups of ten or more people carrying long swords, or groups of between two and four dancers, with short swords. The ezpatadantzak of Legazpi, of the Antigua de Zumarraga, in Gipuzkoa, and of Markina-Xemein, Arretxinaga, in Bizkaia are good examples of dances which in other places are preformed with staffs, for example in Tolosa, or with coloured poles, in Deba, both in Gipuzkoa.

The carnival has its own types of dances. Nowadays some of these are interpreted outside the carnival period, such as the Azeri Dantza of Aduna which at present is danced on St John's day, or the Jorrai Dantza which no longer has a specific day for its performance. This is not the case of the Sorgin Dantza, dance of the witches, though, which is interpreted in Lasarte-Oria on Carnival Sunday, or of the Txino Dantza of Aretxabaleta.

Traditional Types of Dancing

Basauri: Festival of Dances of the Basque Country. Dates variable: May/June.

Garay: Ezpatadantza/Dantzari Dantza and Women's Soka Dantza, 26th July, in the morning, Church of St. John the Baptist.

Markina-Xemein: Xemein Ezpatadantza/Aurresku/Mahaiganeko Dantza, 29th September. Ezpatadantza and Aurresku in the morning, Mahaiganeko at night.

Abaltzisketa: Txantxok. Carnival Sunday. During the morning they make their way round the houses of the village.

Berastegi: Dances of Berastegi. San Juan Dantzak, 10th August, procession in the morning and Ezpatadantza at noon at the hermitage of Aldatz Goi.

Donostia-San Sebastian: Aurresku or Gizon Dantza of St John and blessing of the tree. 24th June, 7pm, Plaza de la Constitucion. Folk festivals of the Basque Country: August, "Great Week", at 8pm, Plaza de la Constitucion.

Legazpi: Ezpatadantza and Gizon Dantza, 3rd May at 12 noon, Town Council Square.

Previous Chapter

Next Chapter