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Hemen zaude: Hasiera Hemeroteka Basque Youth Spotlight: Ben Monasterio and Teresa Franzoia

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Basque Youth Spotlight: Ben Monasterio and Teresa Franzoia

Every month Hella Basque features interviews with remarkable young Basque Americans as part of its Basque Youth Spotlight series. If you would like to nominate an inspiring young person in your community, please email me at
Anne Marie
Hella Basque
Hella Basque

Ben Monasterio and Teresa Franzoia are the directors of the Oinkari Basque Dancers in Boise, Idaho. The largest Basque American dance group with 56 dancers, ranging in age from 14 to 46, the Oinkaris are quite the force to be reckoned with.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

Ben Monasterio

Twenty-four year old Ben is from Boise, born and raised, and has been a dance director for three years with no intention of quitting any time soon. He taught me how to swing dance at a San Inazio after party many years ago, and it’s weirdly one of my fondest memories of all my trips to Boise.

(Calm down, Aita, he’s engaged to a super adorable young woman who also dances with the Oinkaris.)

In his non-Oinkari life, Ben is a certified technician at an automotive and light duty diesel shop.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

Teresa Franzoia

 Although newer to the Boise area, twenty-nine year old Teresa is well known in Basque circles in her hometown of Elko, Nevada. And basically everywhere else in Basque America. Teresa is everywhere.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

I’ll let you read for yourself in the interview to follow how prolific Teresa is in communities in the Basque Country and the United States.

When she’s not sharing her love of Basque dance, Teresa works as a bookkeeper.

How long have you been Basque dancing?

Ben: I have been Basque dancing for 9 years.

Teresa: I started dancing when I was 3 or 4, so a good 25 years now. Wow that sounds strange!

Who taught you to dance?

Ben: I joined the Oinkari’s in 2006 and learned how to dance from the directors of the group throughout the years.

Teresa: I’ve had a lot of different instructors over the years, but I owe Ana Alberdi, Sanka Izoco, and Malaina Fesenmaier for drilling the basics into me. As ‘mean’ as we may have thought they were at the time, they are the reason I am the dancer I am today.

I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to teach us how to dance and care enough to make sure we were doing the steps correctly. To this day I always do my 1, 2, 3’s and haven’t forgotten “Hands on hips, smiles on lips.” You can ask my dancers just how much I care about smiling and 1, 2, 3’s!

How did you make the transition from dancer to dance teacher?

Ben: In 2012, I was elected as dance director at our annual meeting. I took over for Nick Bicandi.

Teresa: The transition sort of just happened. When I moved back to Elko after college, I was asked if I would be able to help instruct the senior group of Elko Ariñak. I was happy to say yes. I wanted to help get people more involved and be excited to be a part of the group. After that I realized that I had a knack for teaching dances and wanted to continue sharing what I knew however and whenever I could. I was the dance director for the Elko Ariñak dancers for 3 years.

This is my first official year as director in Oinkari, but I have taught new dances to the group since I’ve joined. I’ve been helping teach the Nagusiak group of Boiseko Gazteak for the past three years.

Oinkari elects a Girls’ Director and Boys’ Director every year. I happened to be the only one who ran. Last year’s Girls’ Director was Olaia Urquidi.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

Why did you want to be a dance instructor?

Ben: I wanted to become dance director because I wanted to help preserve our dances/teach new ones and I enjoy teaching. I like to see the progress our dancers make from when they join to when they have mastered dances.

Teresa: I really enjoy passing on what I’ve learned over the years. I’ve learned too much not to pass it on. I also feel like each generation we get further away from why we still dance and have noticed that the kids coming up know less and less about the Basque Country in general.

It’s important to me that the dancers feel more of a connection to the dancing, than just doing it because their family wants them to or for the social aspect of it. When I teach a dance, new or old, I also try to teach where the dances come from and the meanings behind the dance.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

What kind of training have you had as a dance instructor?

Ben: The training I have had as dance director has come from workshops with dance instructors from the Basque Country. I have also learned from previous dance directors and Oinkari alumni.

Teresa: A lot! Most recently I was selected to attend Gaztemundu, with 25 other dancer instructors from outside the Basque Country, for a two-week dance workshop in Donostia (San Sebastian). Over those 2 weeks we worked with instructors from all seven provinces. It was an exhausting, but amazing experience!

Aside from what I learned as an Elko Ariñak dancer and Oinkari, I attended NABO’s Udaleku almost every year from ages ten to eighteen. We were able to learn a surprising amount in just two weeks. NABO is great about trying to bring instructors here to help improve or teach us new dances. I make it a point to go to these workshops whenever they are available.

While at the University of Nevada in Reno, I took a class from Lisa Corcostegui that taught me a lot about the history and meanings of dances. I’ve also danced with two different groups in the Basque Country, Markina’s (Bizkaia) Zerutxu Dantza Taldea while I was in the 8th grade and Ereintza in Orereta (Gipuzkoa) while I spent a year abroad in college.

Oinkari girls love a man who dances and plays triki

Oinkari girls love a man who dances and plays triki

What instructional techniques do you use with your dance group during practice?

Ben and Teresa: The instructional techniques we use with our dance group during practice is positive reinforcement, repetition, drilling steps and more repetition. We break down steps and dances using visual demonstrations.

Looks like they take fun breaks too

What are the challenges of being a Basque dance teacher in the United States? What are the benefits?

Ben and Teresa: The biggest challenge of being a Basque instructor in the States is being far away from the originals of the dances. It makes it more difficult to coordinate with leaders in the Basque Country to learn dances, get steps, and figure out costuming.

The benefits are that since we are outside the Basque Country, we get more recognition for what we do. People appreciate us more because there are not many groups in our area so many people have never seen, or don’t regularly see, Basque dancing.

Another benefit is the opportunities we are given to perform all over the world.

Oinkari and Andra Mari from Galadakao enjoying San Fermin in Lesaka

Oinkari and Andra Mari from Galadakao enjoying San Fermin in Lesaka

How do you come up with which dances your group will learn and perform?

Ben and Teresa: The way we decide which dances our group learns and performs is we sit down with each other and decide what to do for the upcoming year. We decide on what new dances to incorporate, if any, while also maintaining our core dances.

We cycle dances from different provinces and each year we decide which ones we want to coordinate into our repertoire. We try to cycle through dances that are from all Euskal Herria provinces.

If we go participate in dance workshops throughout the year, we use those new moves and dances as well.  When the dance directors are elected each year, they sit down and go over their repertoire for the year.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

How does your group choose costumes?

Ben and Teresa: Dance directors choose the costumes based on their selection of dances for the year. Whether it be fixing up what we already have or making new costumes, we try to stay as authentic as possible.

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

What are your thoughts on dance groups traveling and connecting with other groups?

Ben and Teresa: Our thoughts on dance groups traveling and connecting with other dance groups is positive. We don’t think it is an easy task, but it is great when we are able to have those opportunities.

We have made great connections and friendships in the Basque Country, which has worked out for us. They are great resources for learning new dances and improving on the ones we already know.

We are trying to forge new friendships with other groups in the US as well, especially local groups. We see these groups more often, and we think it’s beneficial for the youth to have relationships with other dances groups to form those bonds.  

Performing at Trailing of the Sheep in Hailey, Idaho

Performing at Trailing of the Sheep in Hailey, Idaho

How important is it to you that your group is visible in the community? How do you make your group visible and accessible to the general public?

Ben and Teresa: It is very important to us that our group is visible to both Basque Americans and the community as a whole. To make our group visible, we put on performances throughout the year that are open to the public (San Inazio, Sheepherders, etc.). We also put on performances for visiting groups who come to Boise for various reasons (conventions, work meetings, etc.).

Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers

How important is it to you that your group have connections with the Basque Country?

Ben and Teresa: It is extremely important for our group to be connected with the Basque Country. Like we said earlier, they are a great resource for us when we want to learn something new or improve on what we have.

We do not have programs in place to keep out dancers in constant contact with the Basque Country. Many of our dancers maintain the friendships they have made on their own. We do try to make the best of our relationships though. Whether it be bringing them to the States to put on workshops or us organizing a trip to the Basque Country to learn more.

Oinkari with Arkaitz Dantza taldea after a joint performance in Añorga in 2011

Oinkari with Arkaitz Dantza taldea after a joint performance in Añorga in 2011

What is your big picture goal for your dance group?

Ben and Teresa: Our big picture goal for the dance group is to put on as good as a performance as we can, especially this Jaialdi year. We have really focused on trying to bring new knowledge to the group, whether it be through dance or costumes. We do this while also maintaining the original integrity of the group.

If you want to catch the Oinkaris perform and you’re in the Boise area, they’re kind of everywhere. The group performs on average three to five times a month with a wide variety of shows. You can definitely see them at Boise’s San Inazio Festival and Jaialdi. For more detailed information, check out the events calendar on their website.

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