The Spirit of Fiesta auditions mark the beginning of the Fiesta season. At 2 p.m. April 17, 22 young women will step onto the stage of La Cumbre Junior High School, 2255 Modoc Road, and dance their hearts out for the positions of Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta.

There are 10 candidates ages 9 to 11 for Junior Spirit, and 12 candidates ages 16 to 21 for Spirit.

For the first time, Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara Inc. held an open pre-audition after last year’s Fiesta.

“We wanted to offer the entire community of dancers the opportunity to compete,” said Marjorie Perez-Romero, 2010 chair of the Spirits Program. “The new approach put the decision to try out in the hands of the children and their parents. This way, all who were interested could participate.”

Previously, candidates were put forth by dance studios or were young women who entered on their own.

Fifty-eight young women and men came to La Cumbre Junior High School late last summer to present a two-minute dance that was videotaped. Dancing styles included Classical Spanish, Flamenco, Ballet and Mexican Folklórico. The tapes were sent to an anonymous panel of out-of-town dance judges, and the candidates who received the highest scores were accepted for the audition.

All of the judges have a background in dance and used a scoring system devised by Old Spanish Days, including showmanship, technical abilities and appearance.

This is also the first year the audition will be held in La Cumbre’s 1,200-seat auditorium. Also for the first time, the event will be a fundraiser for both Old Spanish Days and La Cumbre Junior High.

“We are planning to sell tortas, popcorn, drinks and sweets,” said Gary Smith, the school’s theater arts director. “Every penny earned will help us with our theater arts programs,” adding that the “students are quite excited about the audition being held on campus, as they know how important the Spirit is to Fiesta.”

“Our Spirits of Fiesta and Flower Girls Youth Programs along with our free to the public Fiesta Pequeña, Noches de Ronda and the Historical Parade are Old Spanish Days’ way of giving back to the community,” 2010 El Presidente Michael Dominguez said. “All give Santa Barbara residents pride in our community, our history, culture and traditions.”

Tickets are on sale at the OSD offices, 129 Castillo St., or at the door. There is no reserved seating. Call 805.962.8101 for ticket information.

Cox Communications will rebroadcast the audition during April; times and dates to be announced.

— Kathryn McKee is the media relations coordinator for Old Spanish Days Fiesta.