Meet This Year’s Fiesta Stars

Quick Conversations with La Presidenta, the Spirits, and Saint Barbara

Denise Sanford
Paul Wellman

Viva La Presidenta

Denise Sanford

As La Presidenta, how did you choose this year’s theme, ¡Celebra Nuestras Tradiciones! (Celebrate Traditions!)? What does it mean to you personally, and why is it significant to Fiesta? I put a lot of thought into it. I felt it had to be something meaningful to me so I could talk about it from the heart. Traditions have been a big part of my life and continue to be. I’ve raised my two sons celebrating traditions. It also needed to be something Santa Barbara could relate to. We’ve been celebrating Fiesta for 94 years now and will continue for decades to come.

What event do you look most forward to every year? If I had to pick one, it would be Fiesta Pequeña. This is the opening night of Fiesta week when our community comes out to the Mission and Rose Garden lawns. The Spirit and Junior Spirit make their debut in their white dresses, something they have dreamt about and worked tirelessly for, and many dancers grace the stage. Fiesta Pequeña reaches everyone of every age.

Given the tragedies that have befallen our community, how will this year’s Fiesta reflect our resilience? Fiesta this year will be a symbol of our community’s strength. We can and will continue to celebrate its heritage. We will bring people together, sharing what we have with each other and, for a short period of time, allowing ourselves to forget our tragedies. We want to show our visitors that we are still here; Santa Barbara is strong, thriving, and rebuilding.

Junior Spirit of Fiesta Georgey Taupin (left) and Spirit of Fiesta Jesalyn Contreras-McCollum
Paul Wellman

Let the Spirits Move You

Jesalyn Contreras-McCollum

What does it mean to you to be chosen the 2018 Spirit of Fiesta? Having the privilege to represent our city is something that has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and for it to be a reality today is astonishing and means the absolute world to me. Fiesta has been a part of my life since the day I was born, and I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if our community didn’t come together and celebrate it year after year.

How did you select the song “Sobre la arena” for your audition’s winning flamenco dance? Sobre la arena means “on the sand” in Spanish, which reminds me of growing up on the coast and spending time with my family at the beach. The first time I heard it, I was 11 years old and immediately fell in love. I always dreamed of dancing to it in a bata de cola, which is a long dress you kick around. This year for the Spirit tryouts, I wanted to do something that would be challenging but also expressed my feelings straight from my heart.

What advice do you have for younger dancers who may one day want to become a Spirit of Fiesta? Always be yourself, do what makes you happy, and don’t let what other people think keep you from doing that. Do everything with good intent. One day, all your hard work will be rewarded. Just never give up.

Georgey Taupin

How’d your friends and family react to you being selected this year’s Junior Spirit of Fiesta? They’re very excited and supportive of me. I don’t believe I would be here now without my mom signing me up for flamenco, and my family and friends encouraging me to audition for Junior Spirit again this year. I’m so thankful. It’s a dream come true.

You and Jesalyn make quite the team. I am so happy I get to participate in Fiesta with Jesalyn. She is such an amazing girl.

What do you think about onstage? When I’m onstage, I only think about the dance, the music, and the audience. I’m nervous at first, but then it turns out to be very fun and exciting for me as I perform.

Saints Through the Century

Anne Petersen

What did you do to prepare for your role as Saint Barbara? The most important preparation for me has been my many conversations with the members of Reina del Mar Parlor No. 126, Native Daughters of the Golden West, who have portrayed Saint Barbara before me. Their words of wisdom about the great responsibility and long tradition have motivated and inspired me to the best I can to represent our city’s patron saint. I’m proud to honor these women with my service this year.

As a historian, what have you learned about Saint Barbara that intrigued you? Delfina de la Guerra was the first woman to represent Saint Barbara, in the 1891 Flower Festival. She wore the ceremonial robe and crown, and rode a float in the parade. The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, where I serve as executive director, operates the De la Guerra family home, Casa de la Guerra, as a historic house museum. Delfina lived there until 1943, a few years before her death. In my curatorial work, she has intrigued me because of the amazing transformations in the city and in her own family that she witnessed during her long life. She was very active in Old Spanish Days from its inception in 1924, and Casa de la Guerra is still at the heart of Fiesta celebrations. The opportunity to represent Saint Barbara demonstrates the continuity of that connection between the special historic places in our downtown and this community tradition.

Anne Petersen
Paul Wellman


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