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"AXURI BELTZA:" Eurtako Neska Dantza

Though many think it is much older, this dance was choreographed by Juan Antonio Urbeltz back in 1969, based on the research he conducted among women who dance when they were younger.

Related link:  www.dantzariak.net/dantzaldizkaria/feb02_article.htm

Axuri Beltza

Sheet music:


Intro music (mp3)
Axuri beltza (mp3)



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This article is reproduced here in case it is re/moved.  It was originally posted by N. Azurmendi in May 2009 at Diariovasco.com at axuri-beltza-cumple-anos-20090505.html  The translation is via googletranslate

No one must be a seasoned Basque folklorist to recognize from the first chords and lyrics of Beltza Axuri ("black sheep").  Often danced with more enthusiasm than skill, this is a dance that is in the repertoire of many Basque dance groups, which is danced in the streets and in its musical version, and again performed by a number of Basque choirs.  And Axuri Beltza is now part of what they call the cultural . . .
If the antiquity of Axuri Beltza became the subject of betting, the "smart money" would probably defend its ancestral, traditional origins.  "It is one of the few dance songs that are preserved" or "some see this dance as a dance of witches", say some of the descriptions for Axuri Beltza that can be found on the Internet, highlighting the links of the dance in question to the past, the more remote the better.  But if the winning bet of when this dance was created goes to the one who wagered when the Beatles were about to dissolve and humans were only a few months from setting foot on the moon.  Axuri Beltza has not come directly from the mists of time, but is due to the work of folklorist Juan Antonio Urbeltz.  It was he who recreated and combined elements from different sources, and with the dance group Argia debuted this dance on May 4, 1969 at the Teatro Victoria Eugenia de San Sebastian.

2009-12-04_Axuri-Beltza-IZ-1454 by kezka. On the 40th anniversary (1969-2009) of the creation of Axuri Beltza, a dance creation of Juan Antonio Urbeltz and his wife Marian Arregi.

Memory to the scene
Dance was no stranger to the resurgence of the various expressions of Basque culture.  But 1936 [the Spanish Civil War] and its aftermath impacted traditional Basque dance, disrupting the connection with the period of extraordinary vitality that had preceded the Second Republic.  This same logic [of expressing Basqueness through dance] re-emerged at the end of the 1950s and advanced in the 1960s.

In the middle of that decade came Argia Dantza Taldea ("Argia Basque Dance Group"), which since 1966 has been directed by the anthropologist and folklorist Juan Antonio Urbeltz.  In those early years there was much needed field work in order to "pick up dances that had been cut off from 1936 and only reminded people of a certain age."

Urbeltz's group's repertoire, had been focusing on "social dance, preferably Vizcaya and Soule, noted for its spectacular nature and degree of difficulty and in its implementation of excellence."  He was struck, however, by the lack of dances for women. Some were in groups and on stage, but their role is generally limited to appear dressed in poxpoliña [the red skirts with black stripes] and interpret a limited number of dances, sometimes nothing more than adaptations of male dancing.

'Axuri Beltza' cumple 40 años The Lyrics of Axuri Beltza:

Axuri beltza ona dun baina
xuria berriz hobea
dantzan ikasi nahi duen horrek
nere oinetara begira

Zertan ari haiz bakar dantzatzen
agertzen gorputz erdia
su ilun horrek argitzen badin
ageriko haiz guzia

In 1967, while researching and collecting the dances from Otxagabia [Nafarroa] Juan Antonio and his then girl-friend and soon to be wife and close collaborator, Marian Urbeltz Arregi, were intrigued by a reference they found on leaflets in the Narvarrese valleys of Roncal and Salazar published by the Editorial Auñamendi.  It was about a dance performed by the young girls of Jaurrieta [Nafarroa town].  The publishers, and Jose Bernardo Estornés Lasa, provided new clues indicating that the reference had been from Azkue's Basque songbook collection, which contained the title of Axuri beltza.

This provided the source of the melody and the lyrics, further they knew that both made a dance, but they did not know the steps.  They tried again and went to visit to an old woman from Jaurrieta.  She told them that she remembered dancing a dance accompanied by a harmonica.

And so, putting the pieces together based on his deep knowledge of traditional Basque dances, Urbeltz began to rebuild this Basque dance.  This recreation was based on information provided by Azkue and scraps of memory that he had managed to salvage, and the steps came from the mutil-dantzak of Baztán as hinted at in the second part of the chorus.

The dance was executed to the sound of the accordion played by Marian Arregi to reproduce the melody, and the xirula [Basque flute] which provided the original pastoral touch. "It was the first time for this combination," notes Urbeltz referring to the musical portion characterized by a high profile women's voices.

The simple and elegant black costumes paired with the entry melody of Lekarotz Zikiro Beltza made for a staging surprising on May 4, 1969, on the boards of the Victoria Eugenia when a classic was born.

Why did some conclude this was a widow's dance?
Excerpt from Dr. Lisa Corcostegui's explanation at

[How did a dance based on] young cow herders became widowed in America.  As I stated above, I believe there are two main causes.  One is the melancholy music of the entrance and exit of the dance.  It certainly is somber.  However, as soon as the actual dance begins the mood lightens and offers no hint of mourning.  The lyrics which compare a black lamb with a white one, and say that the one who wants to learn to dance must look at the dancer's feet, also indicate no trace of widowhood.  

The second factor that I believe influenced the American misinterpretation of the dance is the costume worn by the dancers.  While we are accustomed to wearing what we please and expressing our individuality through clothing, this was a foreign concept in many parts of the Basque Country a hundred years ago.  Dress was an identity marker for the residents of particular valleys or towns.  Everyone of the same age or marital status dressed the same way.  The colors of trim on a garment often indicated something specific about a person's origin or status.  Black was a dominant color for clothing in the Salazar Valley.  It did not inherently indicate mourning.  The adolescent girls wore the black skirt and black embellished jackets shown in the photos above for special occasions and the first Sunday their banns of marriage were announced at mass.   When this dance became popular among American dance groups,  most Basque-Americans were only familiar with the girl's costume consisting of the red skirt, black vest, etc.  The regional costume of Eaurta stood in stark contrast to the bright red of the traditional nationalist costume.  Lacking knowledge of the context in which the dance developed, and searching for a meaning, dancers here applied  our modern cultural vocabulary in which black equals mourning, and coupled with Urbeltz's solemn prelude, formulated an explanation that made sense to them.  

"By combining different elements to get a beautiful dance, among other things, gave more prominence to the girls and helped us achieve our goals: to bring simplicity to the scene," recalls Juan Antonio Urbeltz.  But the work-up which took nearly two years was not as easy as it sounds, because of "how complicated the recovery of a dance is.  The creation has to have its own pattern which, in turn, makes it fit into the popular pattern, which has its own codes."  So reconstructing a dance is not only a matter of imagination, but "all the pieces have to fit perfectly for a new dance based on credible historical elements."
The premiere of Axuri Beltza was a "gala" attended by some of the leading creators and promoters of the Basque cultural moment of the time, including Jorge Oteiza, Remigio Mendiburu, many members of the group Ez dok amairu.  It "was one of the first times that a traditional Basque dance show received more than just mere mention in a newspaper." 
Soon after they spent time teaching Beltza Axuri "to dozens of groups." So great was the impact of a dance "that hit almost immediately with a kind of collective memory" that in a few years, managed to become ancient.

2009-12-04_Axuri-Beltza-IZ-1447 by kezka.
The final bow after the 40th anniversary celebration performance of Axuri Beltza.