The Ariñak Project, co-founded by Mercedes Mendive and Janet Iribarne in Elko, Nevada, is an ambitious attempt to learn about the multiple dimensions of Basque culture, centered on music and dance but also encompassing, for example, the Basque language and traditional Basque sports. According to Mercedes:

This endeavor was developed to teach important elements of music, including pandero (tambourine), accordion, txistu, alboka, txalaparta, singing as well as introducing our kids/members to the Basque language and Basque sports. It’s our goal to incrementally start our participants on a cultural journey that will stay with them for a lifetime.

As part of the project camp days are held on which participants learn the fundamentals of both music and dance from experienced instructors. The ultimate goal is to extend this learning to a more comprehensive understanding of how the instruments, the music, and the dance all form part of a greater whole that is Basque culture in general. For example, the project seeks to teach people the meanings behind popular Basque songs and dances, how and why they may be important in Basque culture more generally.

Check out Mercedes Mendive’s webpage (with contact information) here.


And Euskal Kultura report on the project here.

This ambitious project mirrors similar efforts in the Basque Country itself that seek to interpret Basque dance as part of a wider cultural framework: first and foremost, and perhaps most obviously, as a cultural form intimately connected to music. As he notes, while doing research for his marvelous book, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music, Sabin Bikandi was himself an accomplished musician who (p.31),

suddenly realized that I had no idea of how to play for the dance, no idea of the repertoire, the repetitions, or the meaning of “following the dancers.” If I was going to write about Aldekoa, a pipe and tabor player and a dance master, I felt I had to learn the job, and the only way was to do just that—to learn to perform.

However (p.33),

the learning process was slow and complicated, and my knowledge is still a long way behind that of the great master, Aldekoa. However, the little that I learned helped me to reinterpret and understand the relationship between choreography and music, and in the end, how music and dance form a single entity. As I have observed, at present, dance and music are taught as separate subjects. Musicians do not learn anything but music, and dancers do basically the same as regards dance. Many dancers are not able to sing what they dance or the rhythm they mark while dancing. This has been a problem during my own learning process, for my musical-analytical approach found no response from the dance teachers. On the other hand, I found that many dancers are afraid of musicians’ knowledge about rhythm analysis and their knowledge of the science of music.

In short, as Bikandi observes in his work, stepping up to the next level, at least attempting to comprehend a true master like Aldekoa, required that kind of commitment to a greater understanding of how music and dance are one and the same thing, and how in this particular case, they are are also central to Basque cultural norms as a whole.