Though Old Spanish Days starts this week, it’s already been a long haul for the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta, the two young dancers who’ve worked much of their lives to reach this pinnacle of performance. Ysabella Yturralde, 10, and Alexandra Freres, 18, went through a rigorous audition process back in April to win these honored titles and have continued to practice the dance routines that they will premiere at Fiesta’s many stages. They’re responsible for embodying the spirit of the annual festivities and providing entertainment through the art of flamenco dancing.
Junior Spirit of Fiesta
Name: Ysabella Yturralde
Age: 10. She will be in 6th grade this fall.
Years dancing: 5½
Studio: Linda Vega Dance Studio in Santa Barbara
Style: Flamenco. “I just really love the passion of flamenco,” she said. “I did try ballet when I was like 2½, but flamenco, it had attitude and passion and was just made for me.”
Audition process: “I was really nervous when we were all onstage. They were going to announce the winners, and there were three Isabellas — and I’m an Ysabella! But it was me.”
What she’s excited about: “Definitely most excited for the Mission because it’s every girl’s dream to dance on the Mission [steps],” she said. “It’s nighttime, and all the lights are shining on you, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
What she’s nervous about: “As the Mission day comes closer and closer, I’ll probably get more nervous.”
How she became a Junior Spirit: “I was with my mom [at the 2014 Fiesta], and I saw one of the junior spirits in her white dress,” she recalled. “I looked up at my mom and said, “I want to do that! I want to be the girl in the white dress!” While taking flamenco lessons, Yturralde was encouraged by her teachers to audition for Junior Spirit.
The most challenging part of her experience: “It’s mostly practicing your dances and getting it down perfectly — that’s the most complicated part,” she said. “Also right after the audition, it was my first interview on TV. I was really nervous … I’d never done anything like that before.”
Role models: Her teacher Linda Vega. “She runs the studio and made my dreams come true, and I want to grow up and be just like her,” said Yturralde, who also looks up to the 2014 Spirit of Fiesta, Talia Ortega Vestal. “Someday I want to be the Spirit of Fiesta,” she said, “so I definitely look up to her.”
Spirit of Fiesta
Name: Alexandra Freres
Age: 18. She will be a freshman at Chapman University as a business administration major.
Years dancing: Since age 3, when she performed in her first Fiesta
Studio: Zermeño Dance Academy
Style: Jazz, ballet, hip-hop, tap, and flamenco. “I’ve done hip-hop and jazz the last four years,” said Freres, who competes nationally as captain of the Varsity Marquettes, a jazz and hip-hop dance team at San Marcos High School.
Audition process: “When I was maybe 9 through 11, I tried out for Junior Spirit,” she explained. “I went through the audition process and won runner-up in my last year … It didn’t really feel real, because I had wanted it for so long … I still don’t feel like I’m totally the Spirit, because it’s been such a dream of mine. When I found out, I was shocked. Right before I went on [to audition], I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up backstage. It’s been very surreal for me.”
What she’s excited about: “I’ve just been a part of it for so long that I’m so honored that I can represent the city this year,” she said. “I’m really excited for La Pequeña, which is the opening night of Fiesta. … I’ve watched many Spirits over the years, and now that I’m the Spirit, it feels like it’s come full circle for me. I’m just really honored to be in this position.”
What she’s nervous about: “I actually have learned seven dances including my group dances,” she said. “Performing dances that are so new to me … is a little scary. As a soloist, you just kind of go with the flow, and if you mess up, no one really notices because you’re the only one on the stage.”
The most challenging part of her experience: “You tend to forget what you’re doing at times because there’s so much on your mind,” she said. “I’m just trying to take it all in and relish every moment because it will be over before you know it.”
Role model: Dance teacher Daniela Zermeño. “She is a phenomenal dancer,” said Freres. “I’ve really watched her style and kind of became my own dancer by watching her be herself onstage.”