Flamenco dancers with fans, castanets and ruffled skirts in vibrant colors graced the stage at Santa Barbara High School on Saturday to audition for the coveted role of Spirit of Fiesta at the 2014 Old Spanish Days Fiesta. The auditions mark the beginning of the Old Spanish Days season, which culminates with Fiesta’s 90th anniversary celebration, July 30 through Aug. 3.
The Spirit of Fiesta opens the annual festival by dancing on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission for La Fiesta Pequeña, a tradition that dates back 65 years. The Spirit, traditionally arrayed in a “dazzling white dance costume of Spanish style,” also leads El Desfile Histórico (the historical parade) and performs throughout the year, according to Erik Davis, public relations chairman of Old Spanish Days.
The Junior Spirit, a young dance student who will lead Desfile de los Niños, the Children’s Parade, joins the Spirit at the Mission as well as many other events.
“The entire community looks forward to the public announcement of the identities of the Spirit of Fiesta and the Junior Spirit of Fiesta 2014,” Davis said. “The dancers selected truly exemplify the ‘spirit’ of our celebration.”
In anticipation of this announcement, more than 600 locals crowded into the Santa Barbara High auditorium to watch 10 young dancers between the ages of 7 and 10 audition for Junior Spirit and 13 accomplished dancers audition for the Spirit of Fiesta.
This year’s competition featured two male dancers. Jack Harwood, 9, competed for the Junior Spirit role while Stephen J. Keeling, 18, auditioned for the Spirit of Fiesta.
Father Larry Gosselin, associate pastor of the Mission, emceed the event, repeatedly leading the energetic crowd in chants of “Viva la Fiesta!”
The Spirit and Junior Spirit of last year’s Fiesta, Corrie Jimenez and Kailani Cordero, respectively, were also in attendance. Each spoke about the highlights of their reigns and shared a dance.
Cordero said the experience was the best year of her life.
“All the dresses and costumes, and all the events we got to go to ... everything was so fun!” she exclaimed.
Dennis Rickard, El Presidente of this year’s Fiesta, announced the judges’ decision. Natalie Mowers, 10, a student at Hollister School, was selected as the 2014 Junior Spirit and Talia Ortega Vestal, 16, was chosen as Spirit of Fiesta.
“I’m just so happy this all paid off, because I put so much work into this,” said Vestal, a junior at Santa Barbara High. “It is a dream come true.
“I’ve always wanted to be the Spirit of Fiesta since I was little.”
Vestal served as the Junior Spirit in 2009, and after that experience gained a “taste of that responsibility” that comes with being Spirit.
“You know all eyes are on you, ... you know you’re representing Santa Barbara,” she said. “You’re a role model to all these little girls and boys.”