On Saturday, April 15, about 750 enthusiastic community members packed La Cumbre Junior High School’s auditorium for the Spirits of Fiesta Auditions. After dazzling dance performances by 11 Spirit of Fiesta contestants and 13 Junior Spirit contestants, Norma Escárcega was named the 2017 Spirit of Fiesta and Eve Flores was named the 2017 Junior Spirit of Fiesta. Sofia Chicote and Natalia Trevino were named runners-up for Spirit and Junior Spirit, respectively.
The Spirits embody the gaiety and beauty of Old Spanish Days Fiesta, one of the country’s largest regional festivals, which celebrates the Rancho Period of Santa Barbara’s history, roughly 1820 -1869. The Spirit, dressed in white and flanked by her court, leads El Desfile Histórico while the Junior Spirit leads the Fiesta Children’s Parade in like fashion. The Spirits perform at other official Fiesta events, most of which take place July 30 - August 6, as well as at other public and private events throughout the year.
Escárcega, 17 years old and a Santa Barbara native, is a senior at San Marcos High School and studies dance at Linda Vega Dance Studio. She has been dancing since she was two years old and is passionate about flamenco dancing. Upon winning, Escárcega related that she felt exhilarated and is so grateful for everyone who helped her and so happy to represent the community. She shared how all of the other dancers inspired her and made her feel so welcome. Escáracega is enrolled in AP and honors classes and volunteers at Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center.
Flores, 10 years old and a Santa Barbara native, is in 5th grade at Hope School and has been studying flamenco dance at Linda Vega Dance Studio for three years. Before that, she studied other dance styles in Mexico for three years, where she was with a performing arts company and learning Spanish. Dancing is definitely her passion, but she also enjoys reading, writing and drawing and does environmental community service work. Upon winning, Flores said “I feel amazing, it’s like I’m in a dream.” She loves new experiences so is really looking forward to all her Fiesta dance performances.
Every contestant performed brilliantly, with many in the crowd lamenting they were glad they were not the judges. The auditions were fast-paced and full of excitement, with a lively promenade portion featuring all of the Junior Spirit contestants followed by individual dance performances. The Spirit competition followed the same format and the excitement built as the competition went on. Every contestant had a large, vocal contingent of fans cheering her on.
Three judges conduct the interview phase of the competition, which looks at the contestant’s poise, ease of public speaking, stage presence, sincerity, and spontaneity. A separate three-judge, anonymous panel evaluates the dance performances based on improvisation within the group promenade portion and on several criteria in the solo performance: rhythm and timing, technique, interpretation, and costuming. These judges receive no background information on the contestants.
While contestants may choose from several genres of dance, all but one chose a pure Flamenco dance (Sofia Chicote chose a Spanish Classical/Flamenco dance). Escárcega’s dance was in Tangos style set to the music, “Cantares.” Flores’ dance was in Colombiana style set to the music, “Como Retumba.” Spirit contestants must be between 16 and 20 at the time of Old Spanish Days and the Junior Spirit between 8 and 10 years old.
It was another big day for Linda Vega Dance Studio, with both winners hailing from its studio. Since 1988 when the studio was founded, the Spirit, Junior Spirit, or both have come from its studio every year except for two years (1996 and 2016).
The event also featured beautiful dance performances and straight-from-the-heart speeches from the 2016 Spirit of Fiesta Alexis Simentales and the 2016 Junior Spirit Sarah Naretto.
The auditions were followed by a lively party at El Paseo with a large buffet and music by a few different bands.
For a complete list of events and other information about Old Spanish Days, go to oldspanishdays-fiesta.org.
Send event invites to Gail at firstname.lastname@example.org.