Departamento de Cultura y Política Lingüística

Dance: Tradicional Dance Classification

Diversity in traditional dance styles
Basic concepts



   Traditional dance is a special artistic and cultural activity involving one or more people who, dressed in special clothing, move their bodies in way other than they do when going about their normal daily activities. It has been observed that in the so-called traditional societies there is a strong inclination towards dance at moments considered fundamental in the course of peoples' social life, their economic activities and their spiritual and religious conventions. Hence, traditional dance is understood as an activity closely linked to the expression of extraordinary social and cultural sentiment. Not surprisingly, dances occur during situations in which people feel the need to celebrate a crucial event within the community, an event commemorating an economic, religious, historical, political, legendary or personal event. However, generally the event entails the celebration of a circumstance which combines a variety of the characteristics listed above. Therefore, traditional dance is a social event that is organised in order to observe and honour important situations in peoples' lives.

Clasification approach

    Researchers do not agree on what the most important criteria is when it comes to classifying Basque dances. For example, Juan Antonio Urbeltz followed morphological and choreographic criteria in drawing up a classification system for Basque dances (1). Basque folklorist José Antonio Quijera, on the other hand, based his system on formal choreographic criteria (2). The classification system proposed by Juan Antonio Urbeltz singles out seven categories: individual men's dances; individual women's dances; men only group dances; women only group dances; men's and women's group dances; Carnival and masquerade dances; dances based on trades; dance-games and games. Juan Antonio Urbeltz also points out the existence of other divisions within each of these categories and lists the dances falling into each of these subdivisions. José Antonio Quijera suggests a classification system based on dances using tools and dances without tools, each of which is further divided into more precise categories with their corresponding dances.

Julio Caro Baroja stands out among the researchers preferring a seasonal basis for festivities. This can be clearly seen in his books entitled El carnaval: análisis histórico-cultural (3) and El estío festivo: fiestas populares del verano (4). The official journal of the organisation Euskal Dantzarien Biltzarra, Dantzariak, published a calendar of festivals in Euskal Herria in its first issues. The calendar listed the festivals held in different towns, together with their corresponding dances and other peculiarities, beginning with the 1st of January and following the calendar day-by-day ending on the 31st of December. However, in her book Fiestas populares: España día a día (5), María Ángeles Sánchez maintains that festival cycles do not follow the calendar year, and therefore feels that her list, which begins on the 13th of December with the feast day of Santa Lucía, is more appropriate. María Ángeles Sánchez's reasoning is that the winter festival cycle gets underway with the Christmas festivities, which in her opinion begin with the festivities honouring Santa Lucía. Much the same as in María Ángeles Sánchez's calendar, the winter festival calendar drawn up in Navarra by historian José María Jimeno Jurio also reflects the conflict between the commencement of the popular festival season and the civilian calendar, although José María Jimeno Jurio establishes the 24th of December as the initiation of the festival season (6).

Choice of the chronological mode

    Basing traditional festivities and dances on chronological criteria brings up several questions. First of all, in a specific culture, which feast day determines the beginning of the festive cycle? Which festivity brings the cycle to a close? And what characteristics allow us to group several celebrations in the same cycle? The calendar of festivals provided here has two overlapping time-based criteria: the cycle revolving around local economies and the seasonal cycle of people's lives.

    In this respect we see that a good number of festivals and dances are celebrations that have to do with economic activities and which depend on natural biological cycles. We also see that dances and celebrations of this type appear to be associated with religious festivities, either Christian or pagan, or a combination of both. When it comes to cataloguing celebrations of this type, folklorists have set apart four major festive cycles: winter festivals, spring festivals, summer festivals and autumn festivals. Generally in winter festivals, the younger people of the town tend to play a more prominent role, as is the case with rural Basque Carnival events and other festivities on different dates. A number of them involve door-to-door carolling in exchange for some sort of gratuity, while some dramatise matters closely tied to the death and rebirth of humans, animals or plants. This is why these festivals have been interpreted as regeneration feast-days. Spring festivals, on the other hand, are seen as focusing on prevention, either of agricultural plagues, illnesses or family and individual misfortunes. Many Basque open-air dances are associated with festivals of this type. Summer feast-days are usually more lively and tend to celebrate consummation, or coming close to successfully carrying out some sort of economic activity which is vital to group survival. This can be seen in the patron saint feast days celebrated in quite a lot of Basque towns. Finally, the autumn festivals connect the world of the living to the world of the dead. These festivals are set aside for honouring the dead and praying for their souls. Much the same as the winter festivals, these celebrations are a reminder that the threshold between life and death is minute. However, the winter festivals place more emphasis on the regenerative aspect of matter than do the autumn festivals, where souls and the spirit world play a central role in the celebration.

(1) Juan Antonio Urbeltz, Reflexiones sobre el folclore coreográfico vasco, Cuaderno de Sección de Folclore nº1, Sociedad de Estudios Vascos, San Sebastián, 1983. También se puede consultar el nº10 de la revista Dantzariak, páginas 4-8, Euskal Dantzarien Biltzarra, Bilbao, 1979.
(2) José Antonio Quijera, Sistematika euskal folklore koreografikoan, Jentilbaratza nº7 Sociedad de Estudios Vascos, San Sebastián, 2000.
(3) Editorial Taurus, Madrid, 1965.
(4) Editorial Taurus, Madrid, 1984.
(5) María Ángeles Sánchez, Fiestas populares: España día a día, Maeva Ediciones, Madrid, 1998.
(6) José María Jimeno Jurio, Calendario festivo de invierno, Panorama nº 10, Gobierno de Navarra, Pamplona, 1988.

Emilio Javier Dueñas