Ysabella Yturralde realizes her lifelong dream
Ysabella Yturralde was 4 when she felt inspired to dance.
But not just any dance step. The young girl was interested in a challenging but beautiful style: flamenco.
“I was with my mom at a performance at La Cumbre Plaza,” Ysabella, 16, told the News-Press this week as her family listened outside the Santa Barbara Mission. “I saw the Junior Spirit of Fiesta dancing in white. I was absolutely mesmerized by her.
“I told my mom, ‘I want to be the girl in white! I want to dance!” she said.“The next day she signed me up with Linda Vega Dance Studio, now Maria Bermudez Flamenco Performing Arts Studio.”
Ysabella studied with Ms. Vega for 11 years before the teacher retired and was succeeded by Ms. Bermudez, and Ysabella continued her lessons with her. Ysabella continues to practice several hours a day.
Just ask her 13-year-old brother, Antonio.
“Even when I’m chilling in my house, I hear her stomping and practicing,” Antonio told the News-Press as Ysabella listened. “I think it’s all paid off. I think she’s a very good dancer. I think she’s earned her Spirit.”
No doubt about that. Ysabella is this year’s Spirit of Fiesta.
Before that, back in 2015, she became the Junior Spirit, which was the realization of her lifelong dream.
“It was really an amazing experience,” Ysabella, a Santa Barbara resident who will be a San Marcos High School senior this fall, told the News-Press about being the Junior Spirit. “I learned so much. I was able to meet so many people and perform at so many places and bring so much joy. I had a wonderful time.”
She’s the Spirit for a Fiesta that will feel more like a traditional one after last year’s modified version during the pandemic. It’s set for Aug. 4-8 in Santa Barbara.
Although there’s no parade, the Fiesta will feature the return of the mercados and shows — Fiesta Pequeña at the Santa Barbara Mission and Noches de Ronda and Tardes de Ronda at the Santa Barbara County Sunken Gardens.
Audiences will see Ysabella and Junior Spirit Savannah Hoover dancing at the Fiesta locations such as the Santa Barbara Mission, where Ysabella was talking to the News-Press.
“I’m really excited. It’s been one of my biggest dreams since I was a little girl (to perform at the mission),” Ysabella said. “To be able to have that second opportunity as Spirit is really a dream come true.”
Recently Ysabella and Savannah danced at Fiesta Ranchera in Goleta, and they’ve appeared as well at Fiesta press conferences.
“I like to arrive everywhere with a big smile and a positive attitude,” Ysabella said. “I really think it’s important to bring optimism and spirit. I think my job is to embody what the Fiesta is about and bring people together.
“I love performing. I love having these opportunities to have a voice and get that voice out to the public,” Ysabella said. “I love sharing what I love with the community.”
She said she enjoys putting smiles on people’s faces, especially the children. “A lot of them tell me they want to dance. I tell them, ‘You should sign up. It’s so much fun, and you would be so good at it!’ They start smiling.
“I love being able to encourage people and be that role model,” she said.
Ysabella said many people have told her the Fiesta — and the sense of normalcy it represents after the state’s reopening — means a lot. “I think people are beyond excited to have what we would usually have every year: to be able to be together and celebrate.
“Everybody is having fun; everybody is celebrating Spanish culture,” said Ysabella, who has Spanish heritage in her family. Her mother Yolanda Yturralde’s family emigrated from Spain to Puerto Rico, and her father Kelly Yturralde’s family went from Spain to Mexico, then the U.S.
“That goes hand in hand with this year’s theme of ‘Honoring Our Generations,” which was La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow’s choice for a theme,” Ysabella said.
Mrs. Yturralde told the News-Press that Fiesta is a magical celebration that passes on knowledge of Spanish traditions from one generation to the next.
And she smiled about her daughter’s involvement in that celebration as the Spirit of Fiesta.
“I’m so proud of her,” said Mrs. Yturralde, a marriage and family therapist who also owns a skin care business. “She worked so hard to achieve that title. She was in the studio for hours every day for 11 or 12 years.”
She called Ysabella her “rare flower.”
The Spirit’s father also expressed pride.
“She has spent her life doing this. It really embodies her passion,” Mr. Yturralde, a systems administrator with QAD in Summerland, said. “Every day, she gets up with a smile on her face, and she does it all again (dancing). For me, that type of love and determination makes me proud ….
“Every day, I’m very thankful and happy she’s able to do what she does,” he said.
Alexander (“Xander”), who’s Antonio’s twin brother, said he’s also proud of their sister. “I’m so grateful she gets to have all these experiences when she’s dancing.”
Ysabella described flamenco dancing as “a very intense sport.
“I would say it’s definitely a lot of work. I go to dance practice almost every single day,” she said. “We (she and her fellow dance students) practice our footwork, our technique. We learn choreography. We practice, practice, practice.
“The dresses are incredible when they’re finished, and we put them on,” she said. “It’s kind of a group-bonding experience when we put on our dresses for the first time.”
Flamenco dancing involves the twirling of the colorful dresses, but Ysabella said they’re not heavy. “They just take a couple of dances to get used to.”
She said she loves the variety of styles of flamenco and the fact that the music ranges from beautiful and graceful to intense and passionate. She added she found she preferred the dynamics of flamenco over the slower movements of ballet.
When Ysabella isn’t performing her duties as Spirit, she’s a counselor at Orca Camp in Carpinteria, where kids are taught everything from surfing to making friendship bracelets. They learn marine biology as well..
After high school, Ysabella plans to go to college. “I’m thinking about some of the UCs, especially UCSB Berkeley or UCLA,” she said. “I’m interested in nursing and the business aspect of fashion.”
Whatever career she ultimately chooses, there’s no doubt she’ll go into it with spirit.