Alexis Simentales as 2017 Spirit of Fiesta (Old Spanish Days)

One of the most anticipated events of the Fiesta year takes place at noon Saturday, April 15, at La Cumbre Jr. High School as a total of 24 dancers, ages 8-20, audition for the coveted titles of Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta 2017.

The Spirit and Junior Spirit embody the gaiety and vitality of Santa Barbara’s annual summer festival. They serve as goodwill ambassadors to local residents and visitors alike, and they perform at multiple private and public Fiesta events throughout the year.

Traditionally, the Spirit, dressed in white and flanked by her court, leads El Desfile Histórico while the Junior Spirit leads the Fiesta Children’s Parade in like fashion.

Annually, the audition to chose that year’s Spirits is intense and exciting as the contestants perform before a packed audience of family and friends. This year, 11 dancers are vying for Spirit, with another 13 dancers are auditioning for Junior Spirit.

The OSD Spirit Committee works hard to ensure every entrant has an equal, fair and honest opportunity to be selected Spirit or Junior Spirit.

The dance judges are kept anonymous to assure impartiality. The interview judges are selected from the community. None of the judges are involved with Old Spanish Days as a board member.

“Except for the contestant’s name, upon introduction onto the stage, each contestant’s information, background, and dance school affiliation is kept anonymous,” said Diana Vandervoort, OSD division chief for dance and entertainment.

“In fact, other than name, all information about the contestant is withheld from the judges,” she said.

The Spirits audition is multi-faceted — an interview followed by a dance performance. Each entrant is first interviewed by a judging panel for her ability to present herself in a confident manner, including poise, ease of speaking in public, stage presence, sincerity and spontaneity.

In the dance portion of the contest, a separate panel of judges grades the contestants.

Each girl displays her ability to improvise within the promenade portion, then dances a solo in which she is judged for rhythm and timing, technique, interpretation, and appropriate or effective costuming for her selected genre of dance.

Several genres of dance may be represented, according to Vandervoort, including folklorico, Spanish classical and flamenco.

The Spirit of Fiesta tradition began in 1949. The Junior Spirit was first introduced in 1965.

Old Spanish Days Fiesta is one of the country’s largest regional festivals, and has been an important historic and economic element of the Santa Barbara community since 1924. For tickets, visit Night Out or contact the OSD office at 966-8101.

— David Bolton for Old Spanish Days.