On July 18, the Zermeño Dance Academy held its annual Fiesta in the Grove event to raise funds for the musicians who accompany the dancers in the multitude of performances during the Fiesta.
At the event in scenic Godric Grove, Elings Park, Zermeño Dance Academy founder and owner Daniela Zermeño greeted the 200 guests and exclaimed that “there’s something in the air this evening”. This drew profuse smiles and laughter as the crowd knew they were in for a splendid performance, which they indeed experienced.
The evening began with a reception and buffet dinner on the spacious hill. Many of the attendees were family members and friends of the dancers, but there was also strong support from Spanish-era folks and other members of the community who discovered this magical night of flamenco in the natural beauty of Elings Park.
In the amphitheater there were dazzling flamenco dances by students from the Zermeño Dance Academy, including this year’s Junior Spirit of Fiesta, 9-year-old Savannah Hoover. Renowned artists Yiyi Orozco, Jose Tanaka and Diego Alvarez Muñoz provided the music.
From Monday to Saturday, Zermeño’s 75 students will dance to audiences across the city, with older students performing up to five performances a day during the week. The dancers perform in retirement homes, schools and camps. They dance at Paseo Nuevo, La Cumbre Plaza and in restaurants including Loquita, La Paloma and The Lark. They also perform at Old Spanish Days events including La Fiesta Pequeña at the Old Mission Santa Barbara and Noches de Ronda at SB Courthouse Sunken Gardens.
According to Zermeño, having professional musicians is really important for performances. She hired the same musicians who performed for Fiesta in the Grove – two from LA, one from Washington, DC The $15,000 outlay is huge for a company that generously performs for free. The cost is shared by the 30 families whose children perform with the musicians — families who also incur other significant costs for Fiesta, including a few hundred dollars for each of the elaborate dresses the dancers wear. The academy is holding other fundraisers to further cover the costs.
Zermeño started dancing at the age of 4 in Santa Barbara, and in her youth she studied with many professional dancers and performed in a wide variety of venues. She says she has always had a passion for teaching, and when she was just 12 she started teaching other children in a studio her parents had set up in their garage. She then formed the Fuego Gitano dance school, which later became Zermeño Dance Academy, which she owns and runs with her husband, Danny Sanchez.
Zermeño herself was the Spirit of Fiesta in 2009. With the exception of one year between 2014 and 2021, the Spirit and/or Junior Spirit has been a student of Zermeño Dance Academy each year. Unfortunately, a knee injury prevents Zermeño from participating this year. In her 32 years, she’s only missed one other Fiesta – when she was pregnant. Even as a baby, she was in the children’s parade. Her 2-year-old daughter, Soleí Lucia Sanchez, a student in the Baby Flamenco class, will be dancing this year.
During the lockdown, Zermeño was determined to keep the academy running while ensuring the safety of his dancers and compliance with government mandates. The lawsuit was important, according to Zermeño, both for the physical and social benefits that dancing provides. The academy only had a two-week closure, followed by Zoom instruction until June 2020, then instruction in their newly built outdoor studio, then back to the studio with masking.
For the dancers, according to Zermeño, everything revolves around the Fiesta. About half of the students start in September and most of the rest in January. The academy has five other instructors, all trained by Zermeño. This year’s class of 75 is about half the normal size, which is a result of the uncertainty caused by COVID at the time of registration.
When we talk about Fiesta, Zermeño lights up. Fiesta has an incredibly special place in her heart, she says, because of the festive gatherings with friends and community, as well as all the tradition embodied in Fiesta. With her passion for dance, she of course also enjoys being on stage and seeing people’s reactions to performances. The same goes for kids, she shared, for them “going on stage in front of people, that’s all.”
For more information about Zermeño Dance Academy, including its mailing address for donations to musicians, go to www.zermenodance.com.
For more information on Old Spanish Days events, go to sbfiesta.org.
For coverage of other events, go to independent.com/company.