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The World's largest celebration of Basque culture—in Boise.

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The block boasts a museum that’s chockfull of mementos and pictures relating to the Basque boarding houses and sheepherders that were once fairly prevalent in southern Idaho and southeast Oregon. It also houses the scuff-marked pelota court in the basement of the 1912 Anduiza Hotel.

But the music and the dancing are always the main attraction. That is evident among the delighted crowd at the festival, as members of the Oinkari Basque Dancers step up, snapping their fingers in the air, to perform the fandango, or the jota—a fast-stepping folk dance.

Each of the dances tells a story . . . enhanced with sticks and swords, baskets and wreaths.

Oinkari means “one who dances with quick feet”—and it’s clear that the group has earned its name as the men twirl around, their fancy footwork jingling the bells strapped to their legs. It was from the Oinkari dance troupe in San Sebastian, Spain, that some of the original members learned the old dances, 45 years ago.

Each of the dances—enhanced with sticks and swords, baskets and wreaths—tells a story. One, for instance, tells of how the Basques invented salted cod, or bacalao. Another symbolizes the bringing in of the harvest, and is performed by young women dressed in white headscarves, lacy leggings, red skirts embroidered in black, and black vests and aprons. The dancers bear baskets as they weave in and out among one another. In still another dance, the great mystery called life is depicted by dancers weaving red, white, and green streamers around a pole representing the umbilical cord.

The Basques take great pride in their dancing, which, like their language, was outlawed for dozens of years under the repressive Franco regime for fear that it would incite nationalistic or separatist feelings. The Oinkaris typically end their set with a dance memorializing their long-suffering struggle for freedom.

The crowd erupts in a raucous roar when an irrintzi—a war whoop emanating deep from the throat—punctuates the air. Young dancers wearing red berets over dark, curly hair crouch down on the ground. A solitary figure swings the red, green, and white Basque flag just above their heads.>>>


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