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The Spirits of Fiesta


asadena has the Rose Queen.

Santa Barbara has its Spirit of Fiesta.

Today, the talented young woman dancer chosen to portray the Spirit of Fiesta, leading the annual parade in a traditional white dress, embodies the gaiety and vitality of Santa Barbara's annual summer festival. She has come to be the visual representation of Fiesta, a goodwill ambassador to local residents and visitors alike.

But spirits didn't come about until 1949, a quarter-century after Fiesta began. The Spirit of Fiesta began in recognition of Santa Barbara's several dance studios, said George Kallusky, 1983 El Presidente. Young girls of Santa Barbara could display and showcase their talents in Fiesta, encouraging and perpetuating the influence of Spanish/flamenco dance.

The first Spirit, Lia Parker, portrayed the role in three Fiestas -- 1949, 1950 and 1951. Judy Ritchey also was spirit three years -- 1952-54. After Sally Ridge served two years in 1955-56, the Spirit became an annual honor.

Early spirits did not wear traditional white, said Lee Alfano, mother of 1981 Spirit Victoria Alfano, who has compiled a photo album with pictures of each spirit. The white dress began with 1958 Spirit Sharon Liddell Dorsey.

There was no great symbolism in the white dress, said Dorsey, who still lives in Santa Barbara and is now a grandmother. If she became spirit, she recalled with a laugh, "My mother promised me a white lace dress. She had to go through with it."

Junior spirits, girls of elementary and early junior high age who lead the children's parade, were added later, Kallusky said.

Today, dozens of girls and young women vie each year for the honor of becoming a Spirit or Junior Spirit. Many of them have been studying dance for most of their lives, and spend hundreds of dollars on dresses and made-to-order shoes.

The competition is stiff, as is the judging: They are graded on the strengths of their dance routine, speeches, costumes and overall performances.

The reward is a host of showcase performances at Fiesta Pequeña, Las Noches de Ronda, the Dignatarios party, El Desfile Histörico, and other events.

Meet the 1997 Spirits, Senior Spirit Ivett Cuevas, and Jessica Haro, Junior Spirit.

Ivett Cuevas

1997 Spirit of Fiesta Ivett Cuevas
Photo credit: Steve Malone

For Cuevas, persistence paid off.

A Santa Barbara native, she was Junior Spirit in 1987. It was such a fun experience, she said, she dreamed of one day becoming Spirit of Fiesta.

"That inspired me," she said. "I started trying out."

Named the winner after this year's auditions for which she performed a flamenco dance and gave a short speech, she said, "I'm very excited. I've been wanting to be spirit so long. I didn't give up. I couldn't believe it."

Cuevas, 21, the daughter of Mario and Lucy Cuevas, is a graduate of Bishop Diego High School and currently attends Santa Barbara City College. She has been dancing for 12 years and represents the Linda Vega Dance Studio. Now taking psychology and Spanish at City College as well as working at El Paseo Restaurant, she hopes to go to Spain and study dance and remain in the dancing field.

Jessica Haro

1997 Junior Spirit of Fiesta Jessica Haro
Photo credit: Steve Malone

Jessica Haro, 12, the Junior Spirit, has been dancing "since I was around 3. My mother thought the movement would be good for me," she said.

The daughter of Pat and John Haro, she recently graduated from Foothill Elementary School and will start 7th grade at La Colina Junior High School. She takes lessons at Linda Vega Dance Studio.

A Santa Barbara native, she was "really surprised and really happy and excited" to be named Junior Spirit after a short interview and a flamenco dance.

"Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a dance teacher," she said. If not that, said Haro, who enjoys reading, writing, inline skating and crafts, she'd like to be a newspaper writer or an author.

Her goal as Junior Spirit: "to share my dance with the city of Santa Barbara and my love of Fiesta in Santa Barbara."

Fiesta History

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Fiesta Fun

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