On July 18, Zermeño Dance Academy held its annual Fiesta in the Grove event to raise funds for the musicians who accompany the dancers in the multitude of performances during Fiesta.
At the event in scenic Godric Grove, Elings Park, Zermeño Dance Academy founder and owner Daniela Zermeño welcomed the 200 guests and exclaimed that “there is something in the air tonight.” This drew abundant smiles and laughter, as the crowd knew they were in for a splendid performance, which they indeed experienced.
The evening began with a reception and buffet dinner on the spacious hilltop. Many attendees were family and friends of the dancers, but there was also strong support from Old Spanish Days folks and other community members who have discovered this magical night of flamenco performed in the natural beauty of Elings Park.
In the amphitheater, there was dazzling flamenco dancing by Zermeño Dance Academy students, including this year’s Junior Spirit of Fiesta, 9-year-old Savannah Hoover. Renowned artists Yiyi Orozco, Jose Tanaka, and Diego Alvarez Muñoz provided the music.
From Monday through Saturday, all 75 of Zermeño’s students will be dancing before audiences across town, with the older students doing as many as five performances per day as the week goes on. The dancers perform at retirement homes, schools, and camps. They dance at Paseo Nuevo, La Cumbre Plaza, and at restaurants, including Loquita, La Paloma, and The Lark. They also perform at Old Spanish Days events, including La Fiesta Pequeña at the Old Mission Santa Barbara and Noches de Ronda at the S.B. Courthouse Sunken Gardens.
According to Zermeño, having professional musicians is really important for the performances. She hired the same musicians who performed for Fiesta in the Grove — two from L.A., one from Washington, D.C. The $15,000 expense is huge for a company that generously performs for free. The cost is shared by the 30 families whose kids perform with the musicians — families who incur significant other costs for Fiesta too, including a few hundred dollars for each of the elaborate dresses the dancers wear. The academy holds other fundraisers to further defray costs.
Zermeño began dancing at the age of 4 in Santa Barbara, and in her youth, she studied under numerous professional dancers and performed in a wide variety of venues. She related that she always has been passionate about teaching, and when she was only 12, she began teaching other kids in a studio her parents created in their garage. She later formed the dance school Fuego Gitano, which then became Zermeño Dance Academy, which she owns and runs with her husband, Danny Sanchez.
Zermeño herself was the Spirit of Fiesta in 2009. With the exception of one year between 2014 and 2021, the Spirit and/or Junior Spirit has been a Zermeño Dance Academy student every year. Sadly, a knee injury prevents Zermeño from participating this year. In her 32 years, she has missed participating in only one other Fiesta — when she was pregnant. Even as an infant, she was in the Children’s Parade. Her 2-year-old daughter, Soleí Lucia Sanchez, a student in Baby Flamenco class, will be dancing this year.
During the lockdown, Zermeño was determined to keep the academy running while ensuring the safety of its dancers and compliance with government mandates. Continuation was important, according to Zermeño, both for the physical benefit and social benefit dancing provides. The academy had only a two-week closure, followed by Zoom instruction through June 2020, then instruction at their newly constructed outdoor studio, and then back to the studio with masking.
For the dancers, according to Zermeño, it’s all about Fiesta. About half the students begin in September, and most of the rest in January. The academy has five other instructors, all trained by Zermeño. This year’s class of 75 is about half the normal size, which resulted from the uncertainty brought on by COVID at sign-up time.
When talking about Fiesta, Zermeño lights up. Fiesta has an incredibly special place in her heart, she relates, because of the celebratory gatherings with friends and the community, along with all the tradition embodied in Fiesta. With her passion for dancing, of course she also loves being on stage and seeing people’s reactions to the performances. The same goes for the kids, she shared, for them “getting onstage in front of people is everything.”
For more info about Zermeño Dance Academy, including its mailing address for donations for the musicians, go to zermenodance.com.
For info about Old Spanish Days events, go to sbfiesta.org.
For coverage of other events, go to independent.com/society.