By Raiza Giorgi


This year’s celebration has ended, but Spirit of Fiesta Jesalyn McCollum says that for her this is just the beginning.

Her experience as the face of this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta has only fueled her passion for the art of flamenco dance, said the 17-year-old from Solvang.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much this past week has meant to me and how it has changed me as a person and a dancer,” Jesalyn at the end of Fiesta week.

For nearly 90 years, Old Spanish Days has fostered a unique spirit among local residents that encourages community cooperation, celebration, and growth, according to festival officials. The event also inspires visitors, they add, and Jesalyn agreed.

“I was dancing for a Fiesta event and a woman with her daughter came up to me and said they were from Texas and had no idea what Fiesta was about, but after seeing me dance they fell in love with the event and will be back,” she said.

Jesalyn started dancing flamenco at 3 years old with Garcia Dance Studio in Lompoc and then moved to the Linda Vega studio at 6 years old. She was the 2012 Junior Spirit of Fiesta and is now a professional dancer with Flamenco Santa Barbara.

She spends four to eight hours a day dancing and teaching flamenco. She has made five trips to Spain, and she just left for another trip for a month to train in flamenco. This fall she will be starting college at the University of New Mexico, where she plans to major in business and flamenco, hoping to come home and open her own studio.

“I couldn’t have done it without my Linda (Vega), who has taught me everything I know and for guiding me through this experience. To my amazing musicians who have been behind me this whole year and have brought up my confidence like no other, I love performing with you all,” Jesalyn added.

Adding to her experience was getting to share it with Georgey Taupin, also from the Santa Ynez Valley, who was this year’s Junior Spirit of Fiesta.

Junior Spirit of Fiesta Georgey Taupin led the annual children’s parade, El Desfile de los Niños.

“I will never forget this week. I will forever cherish all the memories we made. To my Spirit Jesalyn, you were there to cheer me on when I danced and always encouraged me to do my best,” Georgey, 10, wrote about her experience.

Georgey has been dancing for five years and trains at Zermeno Dance Academy in Santa Barbara. She started flamenco because of two friends and found that she has a great passion for the dance as well.

The Spirit of Fiesta tradition started in 1949, naming one dancer as the visual representation of Fiesta and a good will ambassador to residents and visitors. Both the Spirit and Junior Spirit perform in many performances and appearances in the weeks leading up to Fiesta, and during the celebration their schedules are packed with performances.

Making Fiesta even more “local” for the Santa Ynez Valley this year was the selection of Solvang residents Brooks and Kate Firestone as grand marshals of the celebration’s Historical Parade.

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