Hanging up the Abarkak: Marie Monasterio Luper

390 Sunday practices, 2 trips to Euskal Herria, 9 Trailing of the Sheep Festivals, 2 group camping trips (which was plenty), 1 trip to Washington DC, 2 Winnemucca festivals, 2 Elko festivals, 1 Seattle Folklife festival, too many Gooding festivals, 10 Homedale winter and summer festivals, 2 Jaialdis, 3 NABO meetings, 100+ Chorizo booth shifts, 14,269 jotas... My retirement from Basque dance is this weekend. Where did the last 10 years go?


September 2008: My older brother, Ben had finally convinced me to join the Oinkari Basque Dancers. I had a background in ballet as a young girl but I never considered the world of dance at the age of 14… Joining a cultural dance group with modest costumes? That would be like ‘social suicide’ (quote from Mean Girls). At age 14, the only things on my mind were dreams of being a college soccer player, trying to get a boyfriend, not getting food stuck in my braces and getting from point A to point B without tripping and falling on my face.

I remember when I walked into the Basque Center for my first day of practice. Every single person stared. I knew what they were thinking.  “What is that blonde girl doing here?” As I look back, I have decided that they were just staring at Patxi Kerns walking in the dance hall doors behind me. We started off practice with a stretching session. I could tell you some entertaining stories about this particular warm up session but I am choosing instead to not embarrass myself too much on the internet in case I decide to run for Mayor some day. (Hint: a quiet room, beans and chorizos the night before….. I was in my awkward stage, okay?) This is when I learned how to do 1-2-3’s; the most valuable thing I have learned to date. I remember being thrown into dances and quickly learned Jota Barri with the help of the dance group yelling simultaneously “IN ONE LINE”! Though I don’t remember much about practice, I will tell you that I couldn’t walk for 3 days; and this was when I was in my prime! I was an athlete and could run 2 miles in 14 minutes, but this was a different type of sore.


April 2009: The lowest part of my time in the group came when the group lost one of our dancers in a car accident, Connor Landa. The last time I saw him at practice,  was during a cold day in the fronton. We were practicing Borobilla, a social dance where we rotate through partners very quickly. I think of this dance as a type of speed date dancing. I will always remember the last 25 seconds that I spent with him. Though I knew him for a short 8 months, he impacted my life greatly. He helped me realize that this group was more than a way to celebrate our culture.  Connor showed me that this group was also a way to make friendships and bonds that will last your entire life. This year we participated in a memorial softball tournament to commemorate Connor. I hope this becomes a new tradition for the Oinkaris, although, some practice beforehand would not hurt.


Hailey 2009: Reflecting back on my time in the group I decided this was my turning point. I was feeling really sick before we went to dinner on Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Pizza. Turns out, cheese and me do not always get along... Nekane, a fellow dancer, was taking care of me. At dinner I mingled with some of the guys in the group and we decided to text CHACHA random questions. We were inquiring specifically about what to do in the event of a bear attack. Though CHACHA advised differently, to this day I stand by that you should run downhill. Ben Whitehead yelling “picture this CHACHA” into his flip phone will forever be burned into my memory. This was like Siri before Siri was a thing. I quickly started feeling better from all the laughter and for the first time that night I laughed so hard that I ‘txiza-ed’ my pants. You heard it here first, folks. This weekend for me solidified quite a few lifelong friendships and I was able to fully see and grasp the uniqueness of our group, our heritage, and each other.

The next few years in the dance group were a blur. I remember struggling to balance my friendships from soccer, school and the Oinkaris and would find myself trying to talk about jotas to the wrong group of people. Prom and Homecoming were extra awkward when I was 15 because my friends were ‘pop, lock and droppin’ while I was trying to waltz.

There is only one bad memory I have of the group….

Spring 2011: 24-hour dance-a-thon: What was I thinking? I helped plan this event? A FUN-draiser? The only thing that was raised was my blood pressure and my cankles after being on my feet for so long. We put a ton of work into the event and the highlights of the night were: singing karaoke, learning Salsa dancing, and parading through the Saturday market. The video that Alaina and Tyler created discussing our dance lessons was humorous. I remember my dad driving us home and I seriously questioned my own motives. I recall a member saying, “Next time I’m just going to write a check for $300 to the group”… And I was sooooo with them on that! If you take anything from this post: don’t do the dance-a-thon ever again.


Euskadi 2011: This was an eye-opening trip for me. We were able to perform in Galdakao, Mungia, Iruña, Gernika, Gazteiz, Hendaia, and Añorga. It was really exciting to see the roots of where I came from and to see the streets where my ancestors walked. We learn the dances in Boise, but sometimes forget that Basque dancing is SOOO much bigger than our small little town in Idaho. It's bigger than us. During this trip I was able to see dances performed in the towns where they originated from. People told me about Lesaka, but I didn’t fully understand what they meant until the minute the band started up and the town came to life. We describe the dance to people when we perform it but our words do not compare to actually seeing it. To watch the dancers on the wall, hear the band, and see the city flag waved over the river is simply amazing. Meeting the other dance groups and watching them perform was incredible. I learned on this trip that going to a Sagardotegi the night before we do a 15-mile hike is a bad idea. There was a fad in 2011, “planking” and we “planked” everything we could. We also learned a game that centered around a tree which we attempted tried to bring back to Boise. We worked toward fundraising for this trip for 6 months and I even sold my car so that I was able to go... but it was worth it.

The older members put together a BBQ for the seniors that year. After many tearful goodbyes I left for college. While in Walla Walla I was constantly reminded of who my real friends were. Two of my friends in the group drove 2 hours from the University of Idaho to watch me warm the bench at a soccer game in Spokane, Washington. My heart was as warm as the bench I was sitting on. In Walla Walla, I thought often about how I couldn’t wait to return to Boise just so i could keep dancing. I moved back to Boise and came back to the group in 2012. The next few years were filled with learning new dances and making new friends. I met Elise during this time.  We had both broken up with our boyfriends on the same day. We consoled each other over some tacos and beverages and have been friends ever since. I also participated in Jaialdi and loved every minute of it. Well, the minutes that I remember.

October 2014: Leire, Madalen, Jaclyn, Mikaela and I traveled to Hailey, Idaho for Trailing of the Sheep. My brother, Tony had re-introduced to me the magic of Toto on a trip to the Oregon Coast the weekend prior. Jaclyn played DJ initially, with Rap- Including, but not limited to, 2-pac, Snoop, Ice Cube and Lil Jon- We then switched it up and played John Denver and seriously bonded over ‘House at Pooh Corner’ by Kenny Loggins. Suddenly, Jaclyn's phone died only an hour into the trip. Due to my phones music selection being limited, we listened to ‘Africa’ by Toto and ‘All I Want is You’ by Barry Louis Polisar on replay for the rest of the trip. At the rest stop near the Junction for Hwy 93, we had a mini dance party with the rest of our caravan… Andrew Miller knew every word to the song. I will always remember this weekend as the start of my love for Toto.


Euskadi 2016: We were lucky enough to attend workshops directed by Bizkaian and Gipuzkoan Dance Masters such as Gari, Julen and Patxi. We learned new dances and new steps. I was absolutely fascinated with the beautiful hydrangeas and scenery. We toured around the Basque Country, met up with groups that we hadn’t seen in some time, and rekindled relationships. We were able to tour Onati, meet some of their dancers, and tour the church that they perform Corpus Christi in. We visited our friends Maitane and Edu from Ortzadar who were more than welcoming, and now our children have an arranged marriage (just kidding- sort of). One of my favorite memories from this trip was eating lunch near the town of Mundaka. After lunch, we were talking with some of my sister-in-laws family. They asked where my family was from, in which I replied “Kanala”. They took a moment to look at each other and then pointed across the water and told me that Kanala was just right there. I was overcome by a surreal feeling. I was there, across the river, and didn’t even know it.  My ancestors walked those streets, lived in those homes, and made decisions that resulted in my being able to continue our proud and unique culture.

Soon after our Basque Country trip I married my wonderful and supportive husband, Cody. Fittingly, on the Basque Block. Our families also share in the fun and have been a great reason as to why I’ve stayed in the group for so long. If I can give any marriage advice to another dancer it’s this: marry someone who will iron your costume. He has truly 1-2-3’d onto the Oinkari ‘sheep wagon’ and is always so helpful in everything that we do. Late nights, board meetings, and fair shifts he is forgiving of it all and will finally be inducted into the Basque Mafia. He has always encouraged me to stay in the group and attend every event no matter how hungover I am.


1 year ago, we had RaeLynn and in 14 short years she will (hopefully) be joining the dance group. I hope that she will get to experience everything that I did. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn so much about my culture or where my family came from if it wasn’t  for this dance group.


During my time in Oinkaris, I was fortunate enough to be instructed by some wonderful people in the dance group. Annie, Patxi, Nick, Izar, John, Teresa, Olaia and Jill and many more showed me the basics. I learned you can’t ever win an argument with Xanti. Lael and Alaina made practice enjoyable with all their puns. Jill wore camo pants in the Basque Country, which we will never let her forget. We went on coffee dates with the older girls and I got jitters when Maite , Delfina or Yasone would talk to me. I remember the day that Anna Bender came to practice after she got engaged and her ring was AMAZING. He came to the February monthly dinner and instead of sitting in the bar he helped us move chairs and clean up the center. I thought to myself “I need to find myself a husband like him” which I did, beard and all. Nick Bicandi dressed as me for Halloween and nailed it. PJ decided to fly up to Trailing of the Sheep for a quick performance. Alaina invented the ‘two-fer’. I called Miren one late night in college to let her know that I can circular breathe. Madalen and I accidentally shared the same boyfriend... Bryan Berggren sang “turn around” to me across the Boise River. Sarah Smith, Argia and I dressed in onesies and went to practice. 4 of my bridesmaids were products of Oinkari friendships. Caitlyn Meligan (Johnson) and I have too many memories to document and I am lucky to be lifelong friends and raise our children together. Alex Wray and I can yell at eachother but still be friends the next day; because we grew up through Oinkaris- together- going to Homecoming and later becoming President/ VP.  I received help with homework, guidance on where to go to college, support through breakups, and counselling for my random life drama. The group brought me two of my favorite things in a package; Leire and Ziortza from Gernika who I now call my sisters. The group has its own way of making relationships, it introduced (with my assistance…) my brother and his amazing wife Amaya. She has now become one of my greatest friends. Most importantly, when I was an awkward loser at age 15, the group brought me closer to my brother, Ben for which I am forever grateful.


At 15, I didn’t know that this would actually be my life; that the lifelong friendships and people that I crossed would have such a huge impact on my life forever. My advice to those in the group? Try to kick the top of every door frame, and dance every Jota. Don't skip out on the Halloween, Christmas party or nursing home tour. Point your toes in Sagar. Listen to the Oinkari President when they are talking, you may be in their shoes one day. Take the passion that Gerri has for the Chorizo booth and apply it to your everyday life. You’re never too busy to be in the Oinkaris, make it work, it's worth it. Stay until the bands last song, and be the first to work the next morning. Hop up and try every dance- this is the fastest way to learn. Never feel guilty about your ‘Hey Laudies”. You get out what you put into the group. Do whatever you can to go on every bus ride and make friends in other dance groups. Lastly, cook the crap out of every Chorizo, and do it with a smile on your face.

Though I am hanging up my abarkak, I know that I will break them out for endless street dances, social outings and spontaneous dance-a-thons that I entirely plan to join in on.

1,069 Chorizos eaten, hundreds of words in Euskara learned, countless friends made, 100 unforgettable bus rides, 4 layers of my wool costume, 14 life changing hangovers, 415 Rains Blessed in Africa, 1 gallon of sweat lost, 76 Gin-Kas(es?), 1 iron put to use, 7 epic ‘Hey Laudies’, 1 Basque-American life that was forever changed by this amazing dance group.

Eskerrik Asko Oinkariak!


Marie Monasterio Luper

Oinkari Basque Dancer