Teaching Morris, Late-night Singing, and Raising a Giant Tree. Plus Two More Sword Dances!

I managed to navigate talking on the phone in Spanish sufficiently to call a taxi to take me to the bus station and after some small confusion over where the bus was leaving from (at 5 in the morning nothing was open) I was on my way “homewards” to Eibar. Thirteen and a half hours later I arrived at the city center. I stopped by the office, which was closed, but I did bump into one of the people who I knew, and got a little welcome back to Basque country. I gathered my stuff for one more trek on this section of my journey and trudged up to the top of the hill, with the familiar smells of tapas and car oil reassuring me that I was back. Unfortunately, the university didn’t seem to think that I actually was back, and had forgotten to prepare a room for me. I was totally wiped out and sick to boot, so I curled up on the front porch of the office for half an hour until they got things sorted. I brought my stuff upstairs (to the 4th floor this time!) and set about the first order of business: Sleep!

This lasted pretty much to the next day, so when I finally made it down to the office the next morning I got my real welcome back. I showed Oier and the others the photos and videos of the dancing, as they hadn’t seen many of the traditions. I quickly had to head out, as I had a appointment to talk about sword dancing and teach some sort of dance in Beasain. The team I had gone to watch a few weeks ago had asked me back to share my trip so far, and so I hoped on the train. Unfortunately that was the train in the wrong direction. I soon figured this out, and turned it about, going first to San Sebastian where I walked to a different station and took a different train to Beasain. The leader of the group, who I had met during the dancing last time picked me up and we drove to their dance school where to look at swords. She wanted me to teach Morris or sword dancing and as my rapper swords hadn’t arrived yet (keep this in mind, I had them sent several weeks before…it will come up again) my options were morris or longsword. As the swords that they showed me were Huge, I decided it was morris. We grabbed a few set of sticks, threw them in the back of her car and went to go meet the others at the bar.

The bar that we had designated as the meeting point turned out to be closed, but we headed on over to the athletic center where the practice would take place and went to the bar there. (Question: do US gyms have bars?) There were four dancers who came to watch videos, so we sat next to a play pen and basically just went through my trip explaining as much information on each dance as I could. The Basque dancers asked great questions and proved to be wonderful at pointing out nuances of the dances that I wouldn”t have thought of coming from my background of looking at dance. Things that are culturally important to them I could have easily missed.

It was time for practice, so we went downstairs, got changed in the locker rooms and went to the dance studio. After some stretching, I ended up teaching them two morris dances which they hope to put in a performance later in the year. They learned quite fast, and we ended up with two whole sets! 

We had practice the next day in Eibar and afterwards the guys took me out to a dinner society of sorts. Basically people pay a membership to have access to a kitchen and bar where they can make their food and not have to clean up! We made a small feast and afterwards got to do a whole bunch of great singing!

The next day I got to go and see the preparations for dancing in Iurreta, a town a few train stops away from Eibar. I sort of wandered around trying to figure out who was in change and eventually met one of the older members of the society that runs the festival who had been a dancer in his youth. The main event of today was putting up a giant “tree” in the center of the town square, where a large hole had been in place for decades. The tree was made up of a huge log that was stored in one of the nearby buildings. Teams of villagers were busy on the ropes lowering it when I arrived and soon had it down to be taken to the center of town with 25 or so people carrying it.  After strapping lots of greenery (including vegetables?) to the top of the pole, the process of raising it began.

While people lifted from one end, there was a team of men with poles keeping the other end going down into the hole. Meanwhile there were two teams of people with ropes pulling from either side of the nearby church.

The loose end of the tree soon went out of reach and so ladders and poles were used to hoist it even higher. Once it was straight, men drove shims into the hole to keep it steady and it was tied off in four directions. By this time it stood higher than the church!

I got to hang out a bit with the dancers and watch the men do a run through of the dance. They invited me back for some food and cider and made me promise to come back the next day for the real thing.

The next day was quite the whirlwind of activity! It started bright and early in Markina-Xemein, two towns that had merged into one. They can lay claim to one of the oldest dances in Basque country that takes place outside one of the most unusual churches I have ever seen. From the outside it looks fairly ordinary, but inside…

There’s a giant rock!! The alter is in the arch and when we arrived it was packed full of the congregation. We instead went out for a walk to an old fortified house on a nearby hill to pass the time. The landscape was amazing, and by the time we got bored it was time to head on back. The mass had just ended so there was finally room to enter the church, where I found (again) a statue of St. Miguel. All of these celebrations were for his feast day, as I mentioned in the last post. After a while the dancers came out and did a dance in the courtyard.

It was mostly similar to other basque dances I had seen, with similar arches, elaborate solos and standing on a star of swords.

We got to go talk to the dancers up in the hall before dashing back to Iurreta to see the performance. The crowd this time was huge and encircled the square. There were kids dressed up like the dancers, lots of cider and pinchos and even a statue of a sword dancer! Everyone was excited for the dancing and several of the dancers came to say hi. Strangely enough, one of the men I had met yesterday was rather interested in how my camera worked. We spent a good five minutes going over buttons and functions before the dancers started coming out and we went to watch.  The dancers did mock combat style dances with sticks, swords and without tools.

While much of it looked like morris again (note the bell pads!) there were some pretty amazing deviations! Next up was a line dance done by the girls.

They went around a few time before the man who had been asking about my camara came up, took it away from me and I was hauled into the line to join them. The boys had joined at that point and then everyone did a fandango, which I had luckily learned enough of not to look a total fool!

The day finished with more snacks and Oier and I headed back to Eibar. Sorry for the abrupt end, but I’m off to rapper practice and wanted to post something, it has been a while!


About Jeremy Carter-Gordon

My blog of a year studying point-and-hilt sword dancing on a Watson Fellowship. Enjoy reading, tell me your thoughts and leave me a comment, or visit my website at JeremyCarterGordon.com
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4 Responses to Teaching Morris, Late-night Singing, and Raising a Giant Tree. Plus Two More Sword Dances!

  1. Great pics, Jeremy! And quite a “Maypole” they hoisted… Zoe

  2. Pingback: International Sword Spectacular In Germany | Chasing the Star of Swords: Sword Dancing on a Watson Fellowship

  3. Pingback: International Sword Spectacular In Germany

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