Flamenco dance instructor Paloma Rios and her 20 students have been banned from participating in all Tardes de Ronda and Noches de Ronda shows — scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — at this year’s Fiesta celebration. Last year at one of the Noches performances, a backstage confrontation between Rios and an instructor with Zermeno Dance Academy resulted in Rios’s suspension.
In a letter addressed to Rios, signed by El Presidente Josiah Jenkins and Chair of Noches de Ronda Diana Vandervoort, the Old Spanish Days (OSD) board informed Rios that due to “unprofessional behavior at the Courthouse in 2012,” she and her studio are forbidden from participating in performances at the courthouse this year. Rios runs the Paloma Rios School of Flamenco dance studio, and her students range in age from 4 to 20 years old.
According to witnesses, the “unprofessional behavior” refers to an exchange between Rios and Martín del Campo in a dressing room between performances. Martín del Campo became emotionally distraught when she saw her ex-husband, Walter Molina, whom Rios had hired to play guitar during her performance.
Tensions escalated after Martín del Campo aggressively told Rios she could not re-enter the dressing room after Rios briefly left to pay Molina for his services, said witness Gabriela Perez. After an angry verbal exchange between the two dance instructors that attracted the attention of others close by — including OSD committee members — Perez said Martín del Campo called the police, claiming that she felt threatened by the presence of her ex-husband.
“He was just working for me. They were blaming me because they said I knew there was a restraining order against him,” Rios said, as she recalled the incident. “But that’s a lie,” Rios added, asserting there was no such court order against Molina. Martín del Campo did not return calls or emails from The Santa Barbara Independent. Police spokesperson Sergeant Riley Harwood confirmed that officers assigned to work the Fiesta Foot Patrol beat responded to a domestic disturbance call at the courthouse on August 3, 2012, at around 10:30 p.m.
According to the OSD website, the Zermeno Dance Academy is scheduled to perform several shows at the courthouse on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Those with knowledge of the incident and its players say Martín del Campo has an especially close relationship with OSD organizers and that these ties helped her avoid a similar suspension.
“What are we supposed to tell our 6 year olds?” Gabriela Perez asked, noting her young niece will not be able to perform at the courthouse this year. “It’s an argument between two adults. I don’t see what a threat a bunch of 6 year olds can be to anybody.” In an email addressed to the OSD board and the Santa Barbara City Council, Perez said, “OSD’s decision seems to be favoring one party without taking both sides of the story with the appropriate witnesses.”
El Presidente Jenkins refused to comment specifically about the incident and the suspension, but said in a prepared statement: “We realize there may be disappointment regarding our decision concerning the courthouse dance venue, but we do stand by our decision and hope that it does not deter from the unique spirit of goodwill that Fiesta fosters and is known for.”
Rios and her students are allowed to perform at other events including Mercado del Norte at MacKenzie Park and Mercado de la Guerra at De la Guerra Plaza. If Rios and her studio adhere to the board’s Code of Conduct, the letter Rios received said, she may be invited to audition for next year’s dance events.