Basque Sheepherder's Ball to be held Feb. 26

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
A typical sheepherder's wagon is on display at Basque Park in Mountain Home.

Basques from Mountain Home and surrounding communities will gather later this month to celebrate their culture and share it with others during the 51st Annual Basque Sheepherders' Ball.

Held Feb. 26 at the Elk's Lodge just a block from the city's historic Basque district, the evening features food, music and dancing unique to this ethnic European culture.

Open to the general public, especially those curious about learning more about the Basque lifestyle, doors to the annual ball open at 7 p.m. with events scheduled to continue until midnight.

"It's an annual tradition very rich in culture and history for Basques young and old across southern Idaho," said Mike Arrillaga, a spokesman with the local Basque association. "We take a lot of pride in continuing this tradition and carry it on year to year."

The Oinkari Dancers from Boise showcase traditional Basque dances starting at 8 p.m. in the lodge's main banquet hall.

This year's performances is expected to culminate with the Ikurriņa, or flag dance, which pays respect to their native homeland and remains an importance symbol of the Basque people.

Music by local band Third Take rounds out the evening's entertainment with people invited to dance from 9 p.m. to midnight.

A no-host bar is also planned.

Tickets for this year's ball cost $5 per person and available at the door.

Funds raised during the event go to the local Basque association to fund scholarships and community projects.

Home to one of the world's oldest democracies, the Basques include approximately 3 million people living in a region about the size of Rhode Island nestled between France and Spain. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Basques began to immigrate to the United States seeking a better life. Those that settled in southern Idaho found work in the sheep industry with many owning their own herds and related businesses.

At the end of each winter lambing season, many Basques would gather for a festival of song and dance. The event eventually grew into the more formal Sheepherders' Ball that carries on traditions and heritage brought from the Basque homeland.

Today, the ethnic group remains a fixture in the local community with roughly 800 Basques living in Mountain Home, making it the second largest community of its kind in southern Idaho. In fact, more Basques live in the Treasure Valley area than anywhere else in the world outside of the Basque homeland.

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