The Beti Alai dancers perform in 2019's annual Ontario Basque Charity Dinner and Dance. (Submitted photo)

ONTARIO – The Ontario Basque Charity Dinner and Dance had humble beginnings in the homes of Basque ladies who wanted to preserve their culture. Now organizers are gearing up for the 73rd annual celebration, set for Saturday, Feb. 29, at Four Rivers Cultural Center.

The event is an opportunity to support the community and get a glimpse of Basque culture, said Ontario Basque Club member Lisa Corcostegui.

“Basques have been in Malheur County for a long time,” said Corcostegui.

Her grandmother moved to the area in 1910.

“And she came following her uncle who’d been there for even longer than that,” she said.

The event opens at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will be served from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for the dinner and dance are $25. Children ages 3 to 12 can get in for $7.50. Those who only want to come for the dance, which runs from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. can get in for $10.

This year’s band, the Boise-based Kalimotxo Cowboys, will play some Basque tunes sure to please all the “oldies” who, like Corcostegui, grew up learning traditional folk dances, she said.

The event will also include a performance by the Beti Alai dancers, an Ontario group of Basque dancers that Corcostegui helps coach.

“They’re all at an age and experience level where we can do something fun and interesting,” she said of Beti Alai – Basque for “always happy.”

The star of the show is the lamb auction, which kicks off at 8 p.m. The auction is a nod to the Basque community’s history as sheepherders.

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“We do a live lamb auction that brings in quite a lot of money that we donate back to the community,” Corcostegui said.

It’s a symbolic auction, she added. The lamb is sold over and over and the last bidder gets to take it home. Corcostegui said people like to bid on the lamb and get their picture taken with it before it’s auctioned off again.

“You win, you bid, you get your picture taken and then give it back,” she explained with a laugh.

Last year’s lamb had more than 39 bidders and raised over $10,000.

Donations go to multiple local causes and organizations. Past recipients include the Boys and Girls Club, Project DOVE and the Malheur and Payette County fairgrounds.

Funds also go toward a scholarship for someone of Basque descent at Treasure Valley Community College.

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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