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Old Spanish Days Fiesta’s Californio Canto-Baile Bringing History Lesson to Local Schools

Program to teach fourth-graders songs and dances unique to Santa Barbara County

Old Spanish Days Fiesta has a new tradition! Californio Canto-Baile is a program that is slowly being rolled out in Santa Barbara elementary schools.

Fourth-grade classes in California all have a California history unit. Until recently, the curriculum did not cover the songs and dances unique to Santa Barbara County. Fiesta historian Erin Graffy de Garcia created a history and culture curriculum for this special subject.

Thea Vandervoort, a descendent of the Ortega family, whose grandparents were instrumental in founding the Noches de Ronda event, created the song and dance materials and is teaching this piece of Santa Barbara’s heritage in the several schools.

From 9:30 a.m. to about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, several groups of fourth-grade children will participate in a special Californio Canto-Baile performance at the Carriage and Western Art Museum, 129 Castillo St. in Santa Barbara.

This event will feature Peabody Charter School, Notre Dame Academy and Harding University Partnership School, which are the three inaugural-program schools.

More than 150 children will be performing La Jota Vieja, a dance unique to California that was first done in Santa Barbara 180 years ago. In addition, there will be student cattle brand art projects on display and children will present Rancho Research reports. This is an opportunity not only to showcase the talents of the dancers, but to gain an understanding of this part of Santa Barbara’s heritage.

Other activities will include a tour of the Carriage and Western Art Museum, an ice cream party and audience participation in a traditional early California song. The Old Spanish Days special guest musician will be Luis Moreno, an instructor of music at SBCC.

Old Spanish Days serves the Santa Barbara community through the Californio Canto-Baile History-Arts Education Program as a unique history-arts education outreach project to further the mission of the organization. The program entails teaching the history, songs, dances and culture of Santa Barbara’s pastoral era, during California’s Rancho period circa 1840, to fourth-graders during school time, at no cost to each school. Through a standards-based learning approach, the program aims to preserve local cultural identity as well as provide much-needed curriculum-integrated arts and related social studies/history education in the community.

The Canto-Baile program specifically seeks to preserve and perpetuate the music, dance and history of Spanish California 1828-64. These songs and dances are unique to California and some to the Santa Barbara area.

Old Spanish Days has created Flor y Canto, a showcase of early California history and culture during the annual Fiesta celebration. Students will be performing in this special show at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 to highlight these songs and dances.

Canto-Baile is funded by grants from the Santa Barbara Education Outreach Program, the Target Foundation and the Ralphs Fund.

— Kathryn McKee is the volunteer public information officer for Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

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