Among the most emblematic of Basque dances, the jauziak (also known as mutxikoak or sauts basques) are circular dances in which the participants, without making physical contact with one another and keeping the center of the circle as a reference point, execute certain steps or dance moves at the prompting of a dance master or a particular dancer in the group. Some steps maintain the direction of the dance, while others change its direction, and often these steps involve small jumps in the air.

640px-Luzaideko_bolantak_2010_001

The jauziak being performed in Luzaide, Nafarroa. Photo by Kezka, via Wikimedia Commons

These dances are most typically associated with Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, but also parts of Nafarroa, specifically Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish) and the Baztan Valley. These differences of place, as well as the time or occasion on which they are performed, and the ability of the dancers involved, condition the jauziak and lead to subtle variations in how they are interpreted. But whatever the variation, these dances are always popular and participatory; they are intended to cement and reinforce a sense of belonging and community. For some video images of the dances being performed in this popular setting, see here, here, here, and here.

Urraska_clip_image2_1024x1024

In Urraska: A New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak Dances as Interpreted by Sagaseta, the group Aiko Taldea offer a guide to the jauziak that includes a book in Basque and English, 2 CDs, a DVD of dance performances, a guide to the dance steps for performing the jauziak as well as the scores of the accompanying music, and PDF copies of the text in Spanish and French. In short, this is a comprehensive guide to these famous Basque dances by renowned experts in the Basque Country that will appeal to anyone with an interest in not just Basque dance in particular but also traditional folk dance and music, more broadly speaking.

The Aiko group concludes its introduction to the guide with the following words, which serve to define its general outlook on how music should follow and be at one with dance:

It is worth remembering how important it is for the musician-interpreter to understand, experience, and internalize dance in order to be able to “hear” its rhythm and thus to follow the dancers, to feel the correct tempo for each dance, each step, and each dantzaria; to understand that rhythm is a musical and not a mathematical measurement, and that bar and beat vary in each dance and each step. For this reason, we only know one track: learn to dance, know “the score” of the dance, and make it part of the self. If one does not do so, for all the technical studying one does, all of our proposals will ultimately be ineffective and inadequate for practicing dance.

There is a possibility that the circular nature of the jauziak dances may be a reflection of the importance of circular or rotational movement as a key ordering principle in Basque culture. On the importance of circles, see the compelling ethnography The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community, by the Center’s own Sandra Ott, which emphasizes just how important such circular or rotational rituals are in a small rural community in Iparralde.

For an introduction to the the topic of traditional and contemporary Basque dance, check out Basque Dance by Oier Araolaza, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute available free to download here.