Start the dance: Thursday night’s Fiesta ends with Noches de Ronda

Grupo Quetzalcoatl performs "El Son de La Negra" at Noches de Ronda on Thursday at the Courthouse Sunken Garden.  NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS
Grupo Quetzalcoatl performs “El Son de La Negra” at Noches de Ronda on Thursday at the Courthouse Sunken Garden.
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

Noches de Ronda, one of Old Spanish Day’s oldest traditions, opened for a three-night run at the Courthouse Sunken Garden on Thursday.

A two-hour program of flamenco and folklorico dance and music is a treat for both the ear and eye and represents the differing Latin influences on Santa Barbara history, from the Spanish explorers to the Mexican and Californio residents.

No matter the origin, the evening is filled with stunning outfits and poetic dancing. The Sunken Garden fills with families and friends, sitting in beach chairs and covered in blankets against the damp night air.

The original Noches de Ronda started in 1931, seven years after the beginning of Old Spanish Days, but the tradition goes back to the 1830s, when traveling groups of musicians and dancers entertained at many of the ranchos in the area.

Now the event is a photogenic, highly produced night of colorful dance, one of the most iconic nights of the five-day festival.

Nearly 30 companies are represented at Noches de Ronda, including some of Santa Barbara’s most notable dance schools: Linda Vega Dance Studio, Zermeño Dance, Cruz Dance, Just Dance of Lompoc, Sahagun Dance Studio, the Cota Family Dancers, Lompoc’s Boscutti Ballet Theatre, and more.

The number of dance schools in Santa Barbara is more than most cities of a comparable size and one of the reasons is a night like this, where hard work pays off in front of thousands of people, more than any recital can offer. Successful dancers often stay in town and form their own studios, like Zermeño Dance.

Hosted by Kelly Hoover, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department public information officer, and 2010 Spirit of Fiesta Erika Martin Del Campo, the event started just after a beautiful fiery sunset.

“We love the audience at Noches,” said Ms. Hoover. “Everyone is so much fun and we know tonight we’re going to have a great night.”

She added that not only did her family fly in for Fiesta, but her daughter is having her first time dancing on the steps of the Courthouse as part of the show.

Traditionally, Noches de Ronda begins with a dance by the Spirit of Fiesta. This year that’s Alexandra Freres, who entered in her white bota de cola (gown with a tail) to dance flamenco to the live guitar of Jesús Montoya with José Tanaka on vocals. It was a stirring performance of passion, and set the tone for the rest of the evening.

The Linda Vega Dance studio performed “Zorongo” and “Cuando Amanece” while Quetzalcoatl came dressed in traditional folk garb to dance “El Huateque,” filling the stage with colorfully costumed men and women, the men in sombreros and the women in multicolored skirts.

A familiar face at most Fiesta events, the Rev. Larry Gosselin of the Santa Barbara Mission spoke briefly to the crowd, and this year’s Saint Barbara, Erika Ronchietto, also appeared.

Before the night was over, Alexandra returned for one final dance, “Entré Volantes y Perfume.”

For those who missed Noches de Ronda, don’t worry, tonight and Saturday night promise similar programs of passionate and colorful dance, both starting at 8 p.m.

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