Dancers Abroad: Berango Edition

Kaixo!  My name is Jaclyn Lasuen, and I am the current women’s dance director for Oinkaris.  This is my eleventh year in the group.  In 2014, I spent a semester abroad in Bilbao studying Spanish.  During my time, I danced with the group in my cousins’ town, Berango.  I really valued my experience learning and dancing with my new friends in Bizkaia, so much so that I often wrote about them in my blog-of-the-time.  The following is a compilation of edited blog posts from my dancing days with Otxandategi Dantza Taldea:    

A word to the kids out there: when you find yourself in college and decide to study abroad, join a dance group here.  First of all, they are so happy to have you.  It is not awkward.  When you can't speak Spanish, they help you.  They don't think you're a tonto for not speaking their language, they think you're commendable for venturing into a foreign place and doing your best.  They may not be able to pronounce your name, but you probably aren’t going to remember all thirty of theirs.

I went to dance practice in Berango, the suburb in which I live with my cousins.  My "mom" is really good at catering to any liking that I have (honestly.  Once I mentioned that I like Kas Limón, and the next day there was a six pack in the fridge), and since she knows that I dance at home, she contacted her friends who contacted the dance group.  Of course, in true Basque manner, I was escorted to the practice (in the town hall, how dope is that?) and introduced to everyone as "Yacalín" la americana de Idaho.  And everyone was awesome.  They already have me lined up for a performance.  

If you're interested, I'll link their Facebook page, here.  I'm not saying you have to like it, but if you do, I bet they'd think it was cool.


Anyway, they just started me out putting me next to everyone and beginning.  They all kept trying to talk to me, and I don't know if you know this, but when you are not fluent in a language, and someone is trying to give you instruction when an average of 15 other people are talking and there is music in the background, you are not going to catch anything.  So, instead of talking, I started dancing.  Since Oinkaris do a wide array of dances, I was better prepared for what was coming at me.  I think they expected me to be really green, but I did alright.

I had a good time throughout practice, but my favorite part came when we were doing something along the lines of a festival dance, and a guy around my age was trying to verbally teach me how to do it.  Instead of causing my brain to explode by trying to process his words, I just started doing what I thought would be next, and it really worked out.  I completed a few paseos and expected a waltz, so I went in to be received, and guess what?  I was right.  He stopped talking after that except just to abashedly exclaim every once in awhile, so I took that to mean that we are friends.


After a few practices, I was thrown in for a performance at Inauteriak, what we would call Carnival, in English.  I knew that I was to dance in the koadrils, what I didn’t know was that everyone has a role to play in the Zuberoan maskarrada.  When they brought out the dress they wanted me to wear, it was a wedding dress; I was, to be sure, confused by this.  So, they explained to me that I was the mayor's wife.  Oh, of course.  So, I got to wear the fanciest dress and the whole point of it is that the mayor and his wife do a waltz with some peasants and we switch partners in the middle to signify equality.  It was really fun.  And moreover because there is a whole group of little kids that I didn't know existed.  They came out to dance at the same time that we did, and were quite enamored of the fact that I am an American dancing in the streets of Berango.  So, my "husband" told all the babies that I was a real American girl, and that if they worked hard enough, in twenty years they could be the mayor in the skit and dance with the novia.  And then he told them that he and I were really married, so now they believe that and think I’m going to live here forever.

Just when I was feeling like I was really a part of the town and, to some extent, the group, it’s time to go home.  Last week, I was walking down the street from the metro to our piso, and I got a full honk-and-hang-out-the-window, “Aupa, Yacalíiiiiiiiiiiiin!”  But it’s always the sweetest right before the end.


Jaclyn Lasuen

Oinkari Basque Dancer