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Hemen zaude: Hasiera Hemeroteka Basque Youth Spotlight: Cirbie Sangroniz

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Basque Youth Spotlight: Cirbie Sangroniz

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

Cirbie Sangroniz is the dance instructor for the Utah’ko Triskalariak Basque dance group based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. It is made up of 25 to 30 people, ranging in age from 9 to 50+ years old.

At 30 years old, Cirbie has been a dance instructor for nearly 15 years. That’s half her life, people!

That right there gives you an indication of the dedication she has to promoting Basque culture you will read in the interview to follow.

Cirbie is one of the most thoughtful and deliberate Basque American dance instructors I have ever met, in the sense that she is where she is because she wants to be. It’s no accident Cirbie is so involved in her Basque American community.

Cirbie is a dance instructor because she believes so strongly in a vision for Basque culture perpetuating in the United States for generations to come. Because she shoulders responsibility for her own role in how to create that vision of the future. Because she loves to dance.

I have to recognize and congratulate Cirbie for getting the Utah’ko Triskalariak dance group to the centennial celebration of the Euzko Etxea of New York in 2013. They were the ONLY Basque American dance group to represent us at the celebration, and it was Cirbie’s motivation and leadership that made such an accomplishment possible.

I can’t say enough good things about Cirbie, so I’ll just let you read for yourself how awesome she is.

Side note: When not dominating the Basque dance scene of Utah, Cirbie works in Parks and Recreation.

How long have you been Basque dancing?

I started dancing when I was two, started performing in the adult group when I was seven.

Who taught you to dance?

I have had a few different dance instructors growing up. Mainly in the adult group it has been Pilar Shortsleeve (my aunt). But as a kid I was taught by Cristina Sangroniz (my mom) and Jo Michele Cendagorta.

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

It was a slow process. It started with doing small tasks. I remember before texting I used to call all the dancers for my ama and Pilar, to remind them about practice times and location.

I then started teaching dances I learned at Udaleku camps. It then slowly folded into me planning performances, then to conducting practices.

Pilar Shortsleeve handed down the dance group to me nearly fifteen years ago. But she still has a huge part in the group. She is a txistu player for us and still helps out teaching dances at practice.

Utah Basque Dancers

Why did you want to be a dance instructor?

My iseko (aunt) is a huge influence in my life, and someone I have looked up to since I was a baby. She was the dance instructor for many many years before she handed the group down to me. I have seen her do so much with Basque dancing and the culture that it motivated me to be a better dancer. Watching her teach the dancers and keep the culture alive as I was growing up made me want to be just like that.

I love helping people and watching them become better dancers and people. Our culture is so unique to many and very small in some cities (like Salt Lake), and sometimes dance is the only way to keep it alive. To me keeping the culture alive and known in not only my life but other Basque people and non-Basque people is very important. It shows who we are and what we have come from. This is what motivated me to become the dance instructor.


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

i attended Udaleku camps from 1996-2003, both as student and teacher. I have also attended several dancers workshops in the states that NABO puts on. But, the biggest honor and learning experience I have been able to be part of was going to Gaztemundu in the summer of 2014.

[Editor’s Note: Gaztemundu is a two-week program put on by the Basque Government in Euskadi every summer to instruct youth from Basque clubs around the world in certain topics of interest.]

Being able to attend all of these programs and workshops has made me grow as a dancer and instructor.

Utah Basque Dancers

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

This changes between dances and dancers. Some dances are easier to learn if we count. Some dances we use sound effects. Which is how many of us were taught them. So it truly depends on what we are doing.

We break dances down to the simple side of them. We start out just walking though the steps. Then add in hops or skips, etc. We do this until they are done at full speed. The nice thing about having live music at practice is that Pilar can play it as different speeds as we learn the dances.

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

We really don’t have the resources that ballet companies or hip hop groups have. Our club does not have a Basque club house to practice at every week. We practice at a club member’s house in the driveway or garage. This makes it hard on us because of weather and events that family might be having.

What are the benefits?

We learn to work in any situation we are given. We learn to deal with limited space to dance in. We can dance on any size of stage because of how we practice week to week.

Utah Basque Dancers


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

YouTube. I will sit and watch videos for hours and write down steps and movements. I will watch the same video until I can do every position in the dance then go teach the group. I also use Pilar and other dancers who have retired from dancing to help teach old dances.

How does your group choose costumes?

It honestly is from pictures we see of groups over in Euskadi. Pilar Shortsleeve, Rhonda Spivey, and Jo Michele Cendagorta sit down and brainstorm the costumes. They see how they can alter ours to make them look better and save costs. But sometimes we get lucky and get new costumes.

Our group is very lucky on the fact we have multiple costumes we can wear through the year/festivals. We feel like this sets apart from many other groups. As of what costumes will we wear for performances, it just depends on who we are dancing for.

If it’s a local performance we tend to mix up the costumes. We will have half the group wear one style and other half wear the other style. This shows the people the different style of costume groups might be dancing in. But if we are doing specific dances like Xuberoa Maskarada, we wear traditional costumes for that dance.

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

I think as groups we should be traveling and doing things with other groups. Not only as dancer, but as friends. Joining groups together to keep the culture alive. I would like to see dance instructors traveling to other groups to learn their dances and teach them our dances. With the instructors, send four to five dancers to another dance group for a weekend, have them work on dances, and help teach dances.

For example I would love to send four dancers to the San Francisco group to learn Xuberoa dances and other French province dances. San Francisco’s group has been able to go over to Xuberoa to learn dances from the groups. A lot of other groups here haven’t been able to or might not be able to do.

So why not use these resources here in the States and help out our culture here in the USA? The California dance groups have more of a French side of Euskal Herria influence, where Utah and Idaho have more of a Bizkaia or Gipuzkoa influence. So why not add more dances to every group’s line up of dances?

We can start by learning other groups’ dances that they might be better at or know more about those dances. I won’t lie, I am not confident in teaching a lot of the dances from Xuberoa, Lapurdi, and Baxenabarre, so I would love to learn from the people in San Francisco, Chino, and other groups that know more.

I also feel that sometimes as dancers/groups, we get cliquey. We tend to only hangout with people from our group and not get to know others. I think doing exchanges and traveling outside of festivals will lower these cliques and get people to know others outside of their own group.

[Editor’s Note: Can I get an amen?]

Utah Basque Dancers

Utah’ko Triskalariak performing for the Euzko Etxea of New York’s centennial celebration



How important is it to you that your group is visible in the community?

This is something that helps us grow as group. This gives us reasons to keep doing what we love. When we dance for our community, Basque or not Basque, we do it with pride. We do so they will ask us to come back or other events might have us come perform.

Our Basque club and dance group have been a part of the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake for the past 30 years. This festival is a weekend-long festival that the Utah Art Council showcases all different culture groups. This year, the festival will be showcasing us as one of the groups that has been in all 30 years. This is a huge honor for us!

This festival has opened the doors for our group to perform at other events in Utah. They put us on their flyers and give us prime time for performances. With this it helps us become more noticeable to the public. Without this festival, our group would not have many local performances.

With our own Basque community, we are followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, our club website and news letters. People that are not active members of the club or dance group email or Facebook me saying thank you for posting like I do, so they can come watch us as well as follow us.

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

This is something that is very important for any group. This is how we can get sheet music, videos of dances, corrections on steps, or anything else we might need to grow.

We don’t have any programs in place to go over there, but Mikelue (instructor for the dance group Andre Mari) and Oier (organizer of Gaztemundu and Dantzan) are both huge supports and help for our club. I reach out to them often to ask about dances and steps. Eskerrik asko to them both!!!

Utah Basque Dancers

Cirbie waving the Ikurriña for the Euzko Etxea of New York’s centennial celebration


What is your big picture goal for your dance group?

To keep out culture alive and active in the Salt Lake Valley. To keep our kids and their kids motivated as our parents and grandparents did for us. To teach people our culture is not a dying one, and that even with limited resources, sometimes we still push through.

If you want to catch Utah’ko Triskalariak perform this summer, they will be dancing at their local picnics in the Salt Lake Valley. For details and dates, check Euskal Kazeta’s 2015 event calendar.

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