Basque culture


A people who dance at the foot of the Pyrenees

Voltaire is said to have described the Basques as “a people who dance at the foot of the Pyrenees”, expressing the deep popular roots Basque traditional dance has always had.

Euskal dantzak, or Basque dances, have traditionally been linked to religious and popular events, playing an important part in rituals, protocols, special celebrations and the festivities for local saints’ days.

Their cultural value and interest have led many dance groups to revive and perform them, and today you can find dance performances at nearly all the festivities and celebrations in the Basque CountryHere you can look up a calendar of the top events in Navarra and the Spanish and French Basque regions:

Some of the most typical “Euskal Dantzak” are:


This comes from the soka-dantza or rope dance, where it takes its name from the first dancer (literally, “Aurresku” means first hand). In recent decades the Aurresku has been danced separately to show respect and welcome, both at public occasions and at important private events such as weddings or homages.


This is danced in the costal locality of Lekeitio on Saint Peter’s Day, this being the patron saint of the brotherhood of fishermen. It is danced on a box held on the shoulders of eight arrantzales (fishermen) and recalls the election of the head of the brotherhood, who was chosen on that day.

Dantzari Dantza

This is a set of nine dances, all requiring plenty of rhythm and strength, with their origins in the Duranguesado area. It is danced to the sound of the txistu and the atabal, two traditional instruments. Being a member of the group of dantzaris (dancers) was an honour for which there was intense competition among all the municipalities in the area.

Ezpata Dantza

Also originating in the Durango area, this consists of three dances with swords and sticks: Ezpata joko txikia (with small swords), Ezpata joko nagusia (with big swords) and Makil jokoa (with sticks). In Gipuzkoa a different version of the Ezpata dantza is danced, with distinct features and steps.

Xemeingo Dantza

This is danced on St. Michael’s Day in the Arretxinaga neighbourhood of Markina-Xemein. The dantzaris wear scapulars representing the Archangel Michael and portray the battle between good and evil. The dance ends when the head of the group is lifted on a lattice made of the swords.

Arku Dantza y Zinta Dantza

Formerly danced by men, today they are performed by women dressed as spinners (sandals, skirt, black bodice, white blouse and headscarf).

Inseparable from Basque dances are the musical instruments specific to the local culture (txistu, dultzaina, alboka, txanbela, txirula, trikitixa and txalaparta) which, always traditional in country areas for festivities, have also been revived and included in today’s music.

Like dance, music is one of highest-profile, most widespread facets of Basque culture. The popularity of choral music gave rise to the expression “one Basque, a beret; two, a game of pelota; three, a choir”. In fact the Basque Country has a large number of choirs, among which the best-known internationally is the Orfeón Donostiarra.