Wednesday, August 11, 2004


My story on the Kiwanis Club vote last night to allow Katy Lilienthal to assume the role of Fire Dancer at the burning of Zozobra this year -- contrary to the announcement by the club last week -- somehow didn't make it onto The New Mexican's new improved web site this morning.

(NOTE: Since posting this earlier this morning, the New Mexican web site guru has told me that the story will be posted on the site. But I'll keep this here anyway.)

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 11, 2004

Despite an announcement last week to the contrary, a divided Santa Fe Kiwanis Club voted Tuesday to allow Katy Lilienthal -- daughter of longtime Fire Dancer James “Chip” Lilienthal -- to put the torch to Zozobra this year.

At the end of a sometimes heated, sometimes emotional three-hour meeting, the organization voted to keep the Fire Dancer in the Lilienthal family this year, although next year Kiwanis could choose another dancer.

“I’m overwhelmed, overjoyed,” Katy Lilienthal told a reporter after the organization’s 16-11 vote to accept her as her father’s successor. “I just want to put my best foot forward and be positive.”

Last week the club -- which has the rights to the annual pre-Fiesta event, which attracts tens of thousands of revelers to Fort Marcy Ballpark -- announced that Helene Luna would be Fire Dancer.

Luna for the past eight years has performed the role of “Gloom Queen,” who dances before the Fire Dancer appears in the pageant.

However, Downtown Santa Fe Kiwanis Foundation board members said Tuesday that the board never actually voted to give the position to Luna. A press release sent to local papers last week was wrong, several board members said.

The announcement that Luna had gotten the job angered Chip Lilienthal, who told the crowd at last year’s burning that he was passing the torch -- literally -- to his daughter.

But in last week’s press release, Kiwanis lawyer Ray Sandoval said, “"We know that Chip Lilienthal made the announcement to the crowd last year that his daughter would be performing the dance this year but that wasn't something that was his to give away.”

Both Luna and Katy Lilienthal live in Denver.

An emotional Luna thanked club members who wanted her to be the Fire Dancer. “All I can say is that when I was called last week I was so honored. … I would love to be the Fire Dancer. I just want to be part of the show. This is teamwork.”

Ray Valdez, who has produced and directed Zozobra for 10 years, told the club that Luna deserved to be chosen for the Fire Dancer role.

“She’s been the understudy for eight years,” he said.

As a condition of her approval, Kiwanis required the Lilienthal family to give up any claim it might have on intellectual rights to the Fire Dancer.

At the outset of the meeting Bryan Biedscheid, an attorney for the Lilienthals, said there was a question whether Chip Lilienthal had some sort of intellectual rights to the Fire Dancer character, which was passed on to him in 1970 by dancer Jacques Cartier, who performed the dance for 30 years before.

Valdez told Lilienthal, “I’ve done this for 10 years and I never felt I owned anything about Zozobra. I do it for the good of the community and for the kids. But I always felt that you, Chip, feel you own this Fire Dance.”

Chip Lilienthal said he has never considered using the Fire Dancer role to benefit himself or his family, and never considered marketing Fire Dancer posters or merchandise. One member had raised that possibility.

Biedscheid also said that suing the Kiwanis Club was a possible option if Katy Lilienthal wasn’t allowed to dance.

This angered some organization members.

One man said “Chip’s holding the Kiwanis Club hostage,” while a woman accused Lilienthal of “blackmailing” the organization.

“A lawsuit would create more gloom than could be burned with Zozobra,” one member said.

Chip Lilienthal said he hadn’t considered suing Kiwanis. Katy Lilienthal also said there had been no discussion.

Both Chip Lilienthal and Kiwanis Foundation president John High told reporter they wanted to apologize to the community for “airing dirty laundry” in public in the Fire Dancer fight.

Some members said they didn’t see why the Fire Dancer role was so important because most people go see the event just to watch Zozobra, a 40-foot monstrous puppet, go up in flames.

“People have made a cult out of Zozobra,” one woman said. “I believe Will Shuster would be horrified. It was supposed to be just fun.”

The artist Shuster, who died in 1969, created Zozobra in 1924. He gave Kiwanis Club the rights to Kiwanis in the 1960s.

The Kiwanis Foundation Board will be responsible to come up with a set way to select -- and to fire -- the Fire Dancer. Some members suggested auditions for the role.

( Here's links to my previous stories on the recent Zozobra controversy:

August 5 2004

August 4, 2004 )

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