From traditional local dances to vanguard physical theatre, Basque dance offers a wide and varied spectrum reflecting a particular identity for anyone who enjoys dance.
Thanks to the attachment Basques like to show towards their culture, a rich and spectacular repertoire of traditonal dance has been preserved in the Basque Country. Moreover, it has also been able to modernise in the face of social change. An essential part of the traditional festival calendar, an integral part of performance programmes and responding to the necessary protocols of a media society,Basque dance is a key feature of daily cultural life.
Numerous repeated references to Basques’ proclivity for dance have made them a cliché. Strabo, in his description of the peoples inhabiting the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula in the second century BCE, imagined them dancing; and since then, dance has often appeared in travellers’ descriptions of Basques. Yet clichés, even when grounded in some truth, may clarify one area at the expense of confusing another. I will, therefore, explore what these clichés about the Basque penchant for dance both reveal and hide.
In the rich context of traditional European dance, Basque dance has both common and distinctive features. As regards the festival calendar, winter request circuits, archetypal masquerades, carnival celebratory programmes or choreographic genres, comparative folklore studies demonstrate over and over again that Basques are the cousins of a large family of dance, music, festivals and traditions throughout Western Europe. We share a broad and rich traditional culture, even though there are specific features as well. Some of these particularities acquired a growing importance in Basque dance during the twentieth century and, consequently, Basques began to believe that they were quite different.
In the last hundred years Romanticism and nationalism have used folklore and traditional dances as a tool to reinforce their ideals. Basque dances have been resurrected, buried, transformed, reconstructed, recovered and reconfigured time and time again. In a globalised media society levelling and homogenizing forces now dominate, and in the face of such forces, difference and distinctiveness have become pillars of defending identity. Traditional dances have taken on the function of representing peoples’ different identities. The shock of the new fascinates us, yet we return to our roots over and over again in search of features that will separate us from the sea of uniformity. Tempted by the appeal of the latest fashion, Basque dancers are now faced with a crisis over whether to continue expressing themselves through the old dances or boarding what they believe to be the train of innovation. Tradition is not fashionable, yet it continues to facilitate intergenerational communication in small communities. Those who have been driven mad by innovation often return to their roots because they are scared of losing this heritage.
This is the introduction to the “Basque Dance” book; you can find the complete book here: