BOISE, Idaho — After two years of coronavirus cancellations, the Basque Block will be buzzing this weekend for the San Inazio Basque Festival.
The annual summer staple in downtown Boise features authentic food, music, and dancing to celebrate Boise's Basque population — one of the highest concentrations in the world outside of the European Basque Country.
"It’s actually the oldest ethnicity in Europe!" Oinkari Basque Dancers President Alex Wray said. "Our language pre-dates Latin."
Wray has been an Oinkari Basque Dancer for about 15 years, proudly leading the way for younger members looking for ways to connect with their ancestors.
"100% of our group are of Basque descent and it’s a way to really connect with your cultural heritage," Wray said.
Many Oinkari dancers, like Jaclyn Lasuen, started dancing before the age of 5 with the local Boiseko Gazteak youth dance group. The young dancers also perform at the festival each year on the Basque Block.
“I have been dancing for longer than I haven’t!" Lasuen said. "I think this is my 15th year of dancing."
The group has 40 active members, but at times has had as many as 70. Wray says, like many other organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on them. Still, the group meets every Sunday year-round to practice and perfect their authentic routines.
“It is not our mission to create new dances by any means," Wray said. "We stick to tradition. We try to stay as close as possible to that historical record and we actually have a lot of connections with dance masters and dance groups in the Basque country to make sure we’re doing things accurately."
This year, two dance groups from the Basque country — Udaberri Dantza Taldea and Korrontzi — will be performing alongside the Oinkaris.
The groups were originally scheduled to perform for Boise's Jaialdi in 2020, the mega-festival celebrating Basque culture every five years. The event had to be canceled due to the pandemic, but the groups were determined to make it to the City of Trees. They're now set to perform at this year's San Inazio and a bonus performance Monday night at the Gene Harris Bandshell for "Dantza in the Park".
The Oinkaris perform at cultural festivals and corporate events around southern Idaho year-round but their biggest celebration always comes at the end of July for San Inazio. That means practices twice a week through the summer.
"So we are dancing, dancing, dancing!" Lasuen said. "We’re lucky if we get to eat or sleep, but those needs are secondary to us in the summer."
"It’s our biggest (performance) of the year! It’s our home festival, it’s the biggest crowd we perform for every year," Wray said. "People who have been in Oinkaris before, it’s people who are going to be Oinkaris in the future, so we take a lot of pride in it."
The group also travels often to perform at festivals across the west in Wyoming, Nevada, and California.
"We’ve been to D.C. a couple of times, to New York City, and to the Basque Country itself! We’ve gone back about four times in our history," Wray said.
Lasuen, a Spanish teacher by day, just returned from a trip to Europe with students studying the language in parts of Spain.
"I always say we’re the luckiest people in the world because people treat us so well and they take us in and we get to learn from them, and then we take all that back here to teach other people," Lasuen said.
The weekend performances at the San Inazio Basque Festival are free and open to the public along the Basque Block. You can see a full list of events here.
Monday's free Dantza in the Park performance will start at 6 p.m. at the Gene Harris Bandshell at Julia Davis Park.