Even at 80 years old, Lia Parker, Santa Barbara’s first Spirit of Fiesta dancer, in 1946, proved she still had some “olé!” in her step Thursday night as she danced in front of hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the upcoming Fiesta.
As the mariachi band played behind her, Parker jumped right in to dance with this year’s Spirit of Fiesta, Corrie Jimenez, and the women delighted the crowd.
Each year, a dancer is chosen to represent the essence and spirit of the citywide Old Spanish Days festivities.
On Thursday, the festival’s history and future met as the women danced together in the courtyard at Garden Court, packed for the pre-Fiesta kickoff party.
Tacos, margaritas and paper flowers made the courtyard a festive place for residents and the public who came to enjoy the show.
Parker also has been chosen to be the Queen of Fiesta 2013 and will be appearing in the Fiesta parade.
When asked beforehand about her dance Thursday night, Parker confidently said that she planned to “improvise.”
She recalled what it was like being the very first Spirit of Fiesta back in 1946, when she was just 13 years old.
“It was magical,” she said. “It just seemed like the whole town was one.”
When asked what’s changed since then, Parker acknowledges that much has, but that “there’s still that spirit of joy.”
What about those residents worried about the crowds? The chaos of the street festival?
“Embrace it,” she said. “A lot of people leave town, and that’s a mistake. Open the doors and expand your horizons.”
Jimenez spoke before the pair danced, saying that it’s been fun to get to know Parker and share stories about the experience.
“We’re just trying to represent the community well and share our love of dance with the rest of you,” she said.