Adio, Euskadi! My Last Basque Sword Dance

There was one last sword dance in Basque Country that took place in the fall, and it felt like something of a homecoming for me. The dance was in Elgoibar, where I had taught Morris dancing early in my trip. I had met many of the dancers in practices or going to different festivals. This was also Eire’s home team, and it was fun to see them all dancing in performance finally. We took the bus to the town where we arrived just too late to see the first bit of dancing, darn! There was a pause in which we went and got some breakfast at a nearby bar and then it was time for the dancing to begin!

Don’t they look spiffy? You will notice that unlike in Arrate, the men and women are wearing different outfits. There was a feeling on the team that maybe that was too complicated, since now they need to try to balance the team to make it look orderly and not a random pile of people. The boots also look hard to dance in! They danced one

time in front of the church where mass had been held, and then moved off in formation down various streets. One of the new additions to the performance was four riflemen, who would fire off a salute in time with the drum at a moment in the beginning of the dance. I was also outgunned in another sense, as a man had been hired to film the dance with Steadicam, which made my video camera look awful small! I am rather glad however that I don’t have carry that around with me!

The dancers performed about four times in the alley-like streets around the town, each time arching back over themselves and letting the soloists emerge to the front. Then the soloists and the captain (in blue) do their part. Notice that they are the only ones with bellpads on their legs. The rest of the dancers mostly just walk throughout the procession, a change from Beasain and Arrate, where they have a few jumping movements throughout the walk. The solo dance ends in a different way as well, with the four soloists “beheading” the captain, who drops his swords and drops to his knees.

The procession finally made its way to a large open plaza near the town hall. Here the full dance took place, first with the solo bit, and then with the larger group. The four lines joined into one and ran around the yard to the music of the txistu band. They ended up forming the same tunnel we have seen in several places, through which passed the town dignitaries. They then unwound the tunnel and got back into formation and marched off into the hall.

Afterwards, there was deserts and drinks at the hall and we all went to a restaurant to have a feast as usual. There was food and drink and speechs and I got to learn several new dances, which was a blast. Like many other teams, they had a record book and the secretary read the day’s events to much cheering.

By this time Oier had left to take his children to the Kilometroak, a 10km rolling party with bands and food in different locations that was intended to raise money for Basque language schools. Apparently it had started many years ago when a Basque man came over to the US and saw fundraising walks. He brought the idea back for Basque schools, which were not getting funding by the Spanish government. This carried on for a while, but as time went by the Basques decided they wanted less walking and pledging and more dancing and drinking. Anyway, he had gone, so the rest of us went walking around the town and sampling the pinchos (a great way to spend time) Once it got dark and we were tired I took the bus home with another dancer had more pinchos and went back to the university one last time. Oh, and this happened:

The next day was my last, and I was sad to leave. First I had some business to attend to though. The loads of books, cds, and other stuff that people had given me had reached breaking point. I took it all down to the post office with Oier and managed to fit it into their largest box. When I shipped it back I found that it was just over 25 pounds of stuff! As a comparison, all of the stuff I am taking on this trip (including shoes and cloths I am wearing, tent, sleeping bag and pad, books, backpack and banjo) has a combined weight of just under 38 pounds. My goodness! The office crew took me out to lunch to say goodbye and gave me a few more things: t-shirts and a sweatshirt from the kezka and dantza.com. These served me well, particularly once I got to England! Thanks guys!

It’s half and hour until the bus comes and I am just putting my extended banjo strap over my backpack when the doorbell rings. Oier opens it and bursts out laughing. I come over and start laughing too. Arriving mere seconds before my departure: the rapper swords! Guess I have to send them back. I hope they get there!

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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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One Response to Adio, Euskadi! My Last Basque Sword Dance

  1. Jan says:

    Great photos. Especially the 4 dancers jumping. And great exposure for YDW t-shirt! Happy Thanksgiving, and say hey for me to … I dunno, Ivor Allsop, Phil Heaton, the Carlisle lads if they remember, Sallyport of course (who once toured on the Vineyard w/Swordfish) and Peter & Brian of Monkseaton, should you run across them. BTW, do you plan to see Lastovo (Feb.) or Korcula (April or beyond)?

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