On a warm August night 50 years ago, a new Fiesta tradition was born. Sharon Liddell, the 16-year-old Spirit of Fiesta, came through the front doors of the Mission in a beautiful white dress and began her classical Spanish dance.

When she decided to try out for the Spirit role, her mother told her, “Sharon, if you win, I’ll make you a beautiful white lace dress. When I came out of the audition, I said to my mother, you better get started on that white lace dress. That’s how the white dress got started, and then it became symbolic of the Spirit.”

Liddell grew up in Santa Barbara, having moved here when she was 4. She attended La Cumbre Junior High and Santa Barbara high School. When she was 5, she became a Fiesta flower girl, then got excited about learning to dance. She studied at the Gunsette Studio under Doris Smith, learning ballet, tap and Spanish dancing.

“There was not a lot of Flamenco then. It was not big at that time,” she said. “As I got older and more involved with Fiesta, I picked Spanish dance. There were more traditional Spanish and Mexican dances performed then.”

Article Image

Sharon Liddell, seen at age 16, started the long tradition of the Spirit of Fiesta’s white dress in 1958. (Old Spanish Days Fiesta photo)

Liddell became enthralled by the Historical Parade, and set a goal for herself to become the Spirit of Fiesta, which she achieved in 1958.

“I danced up the street from Cabrillo to Micheltorena, followed by a Court of Spanish dancers from her dance studio,” she said. “The studios traded the opportunity to have the Spirit each year, and the girls who wanted to try out did. The El Presidente that year was George Castagnola and The Old Spanish Days Committee actually picked the Spirit from the girls that tried out”.

Her favorite Fiesta memories included the pitch-black grand opening at the Mission with “just a spotlight on the double door as I entered the stage and danced an opening number; opening the Noches de Ronda show every night at the courthouse; and the many private parties where I danced,” Liddell says. “We had a small part, but it was not as big as it is today. It was important, and it was the goal of every girl involved in Spanish dancing. It was the icing on the cake. The study, hard work and practice paid off, and made you feel special.”

After high school, Liddell married Dave Dorsey, now a retired undersheriff, raised a family and said she has known El Presidente Tim Taylor and his family since he was born. Taylor appointed Sharon and Dave Dorsey as his Honorary El Presidentes this year.

Kathryn McKee is vice president of external relations for Old Spanish Days Fiesta.