It may be only April, but who isn’t already counting down the weeks to Fiesta–that time each year when the city comes together to celebrate our heritage, throw confetti eggs, look for celebrity guest bartenders, and take over the streets? Lest we forget why we are celebrating in the first place, all one has to do is watch the dancers. Fiesta would be nothing without the dancers. During that week everywhere you turn you see the vibrant costumes swaying back and forth, embodying the essence of Fiesta with their powerful energy and grace. Steeped in the tradition of Spain and Old California, the flamenco dancers serve as a reminder of what Fiesta is truly about. And as if we needed another reason to celebrate, this 88th Fiesta will also mark the 35th year that two renowned dancers have been teaching, performing, and keeping the spirit of Fiesta alive in Santa Barbara.
Rosemarie Cruz has danced and taught all over the world, and this month her students will honor Mama Cruz, as they affectionately call her, with a banquet that will help benefit her studio’s teaching trip to Spain this August (after Fiesta of course). Cruz teaches 16 classes a week, attends all the classes of the eight teachers that work under her, designs the costumes for all the performances, and judges competitions all over the country each weekend. Simply put, she completes more before breakfast than most of us do in a day. As her student Brittany Moran, who at 12 has already been dancing with Cruz for 8 years, says, “She has taught me to always keep going and never give up.”
Growing up with a love for performing, Cruz did not begin dancing seriously until after high school. During a chance encounter with Jose Manero, a Santa Barbara dance legend in his own right, her life would change. Jose asked her to try a few classes at his studio. The flamenco bug bit her hard, and for the next 35 years she let the dance lead her all over the world, from Spain where she studied, to Las Vegas where she choreographed, and finally home to Santa Barbara, where she has taught generations.
Antoinette Lopez, like Rosemarie Cruz, studied under Jose Manero and grew up loving to dance. As a child, her parents would later tell her, she would move with the radio and would cry when it went off. She became fascinated by flamenco. Eager to learn more, she would check out records from the library and try to imitate the steps she heard. At age 14, fate stepped in. As Lopez practiced on a make-shift stage in her house; word spread around the neighborhood. Neighborhood children wanted to dance too, and wanted Lopez to teach them. So began a career. Lopez taught out of the front room of her house until her classes outgrew the space and she was forced to find better accommodations.
Lopez has also studied in Spain and has choreographed and taught all over the country. Today she still teaches, and still performs regularly with her own dance group. She now makes her own flamenco recordings, providing the footwork and hand claps for other artists. She has also founded the non-profit FlamencOle Dance Theatre, whose goal is to get support from the community so children can learn to dance. Lopez will mark this Fiesta with a special performance and plans to launch a new flamenco company this fall.
Three and a half decades after they set out, the dedication and passion of these two flamenco artists continues to keep the spirit of Fiesta alive in Santa Barbara.
On Saturday, April 19 at 8pm, Rosemarie Cruz will be honored in an event at Sierra Hall, 2210 Garden St. For more information, call 708-9311. On Sunday, July 13 at 6pm, Antoinette Lopez will hold a fundraiser for FlamencOle Dance Theatre at the El Paseo Restaurant. For more information, call 453-6264.