California historian Charles Lummis said in 1923, “I feel that we cannot decently dodge a certain trusteeship to save the Old Missions from ruin and the Old Songs from oblivion.” With this sentiment very much in mind, Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days celebration was established to perpetuate the Californio culture of the previous century, before the state became Americanized. The founders of Old Spanish Days in 1924 intended the celebration to be a vehicle to showcase the songs and dances that were unique to California.
However, as older local performers passed on in the last few decades, there has not been a regular system in place to teach the dances and songs to new performers. Recent efforts have been made to bring back the songs and dances and to highlight them in an appropriate venue.
Flor y Canto was created in 2004 to provide a singular opportunity to see these numbers in performance. Beloved songs “El Capotin,” “Las Blancas Flores,” and “Adiós, Adiós, Amores” will be sung by chorus, and soloists, including Luis Moreno and Miranda Poett (a direct descendant of José de la Guerra).
Traditional dances La Jota, La Contradanza, and La Varsouvianna will be performed. For decades, the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Reina del Mar Parlor, performed many of these dances at Fiesta with their Las Fiesteras dance troupe. Three years ago, this troupe was reconstituted, and a new generation has been taught the dances of the Californios.
Dancers will also include a number of youngsters who have been trained in early California dances by Thea Vandervoort. Her students, from Peabody Charter School, and other schools are participating in the new Californio Canto-Baile History-Arts Education Program.
Offered as an outreach by Old Spanish Days, Californio Canto-Baile explores the unusual “rancho period” of early California in greater detail than the cursory coverage found in textbooks, which limits the focus to the hide-and-tallow industry. A key component is the incorporation of the unique songs and dances of the era that also serve to reinforce an understanding of many elements of the era. Through a standards-based learning approach, the California Canto-Baile curriculum focuses on an interdisciplinary learning process powered by arts integration.
Californio Canto-Baile was launched last spring at several local elementary schools and made possible through grants from the Santa Barbara County Bowl Education Outreach, Target Foundation, and Ralph’s Fund.
Flor y Canto takes place Friday, August 5, 7 p.m., at the S.B. County Courthouse Sunken Gardens, 1100 Anapamu Street. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on the school program, call 687-6733.