Along with music, Basque dance is the chief export to the greater Boise community. Basque dances reflect the ancient Basque stories and traditions with twirling skirts, bright red sashes, athletic leaps, snapping fingers, lively whoops and hollers, and intricate footwork.
Dance is often the entry point for Boise’s Basques to connect with their heritage. Kids as young as 4 can start dancing with the Boiseko Gazteak, which means young people of Boise. By age 15, if they continue in dance, they join Oinkari Basque Dancers. They can dance with Oinkari as long as they want, and some dancers continue to perform into their 30s.
When Oinkari started formally in 1960, it was one of the only dance companies in town.
Al Erquiaga danced in the 1949 Music Week show. He learned the dances from his father, who would clap out the rhythms and demonstrate the steps in the kitchen of the family’s farmhouse in Meridian.
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“My dad was a great dancer,” Erquiaga says.
Ten years later, Erquiaga, along with Delphina and Diana Urresti, Toni Murelaga, Simon Achabal, Clarine Anchustegui and Bea Solosabal, traveled to the Basque Country to learn the traditional dances straight from the source. There they met a group called Oinkari, which translates to “dancing feet.” They taught them the steps and songs, and in return, the Boise Basques, at their suggestion, named their group after them in tribute, Erquiaga says.
They brought the music back in their heads and hummed tunes to musician Jim Jausoro, who wrote the songs down. Jausoro was a Boise Basque legend who played for the group for many years until he died in 2004.
Once Oinkari started performing, it became the most visible part of the Basque culture and gathered support from the greater Boise community. In 1962 and 1964, Oinkari represented Idaho in the World’s Fairs in Seattle and New York. They raised funds for their travel with broad support from Boise and were a hit wherever they performed, Erquiaga says.
In 1964, the group took a side trip to Washington, D.C., for a chance to dance inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
“It was so exciting,” Erquiaga says. “We got there and the Idaho contingent met us, but there was no one else there to watch. I had Anne Boyd there and she could do the best irrintzi (the high-pitched Basque cry of celebration). I told her to do it and she did, and people came out of their offices to watch us. You should have seen how fast they came.”
Today, most people in Boise — Basque and non-Basque alike — have seen them perform, and maybe even joined in on a jota (Basque dance).
At Jaialdi, you’ll see dancers from across the West and from the Basque Country.