Dancing flamenco and giving back to others have been part of Sonya [Sonny] Burton’s life since she was a child. These two passions will come together for one evening at The Abbey restaurant in Hillcrest. Sonny’s school, Flamenco with Roots Performing Arts, with the help of Hornblower Cruises and Events, will host a fundraiser for Doctors without Borders on Friday, July 31st at 6:00 pm.
Sonny was born in Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. Her Jewish grandparents arrived in Spain as immigrants from Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria. At home, they spoke Ladino, an ancient Spanish. However, outside of the home, being Jewish was kept quiet.
Sonny’s mother was a single mom in a very conservative society, so feeling like she didn’t belong has been a big part of Sonny’s life. As Jews, they were viewed as outsiders in this southern Spanish town, and thus, dancing flamenco was a way to integrate into the society.
Sonny’s beloved late mother passed her love of dancing on to her child. She also instilled in her the importance of helping others, knowing alienation herself.
Sonny’s mother married an American Military man, and when Sonny was ten years old, they moved first to Rhode Island and later to San Diego. Feeling lonely, dancing brought her solace in this new land where she learned to speak perfect English while maintaining her thick Castilian accent in Spanish.
While still in high school, her mother converted her garage to a dance studio and Sonny began to give classes. In 1983, Flamenco with Roots Performing Arts was born. She has been giving private classes, working with after school programs, and various boys and girls clubs ever since. She has worked at Otay Mesa and Montgomery Elementary schools. Currently, she is working with Roosevelt Middle and McKinley Elementary schools.
Sonny also followed in her mother’s footsteps becoming a single mom at the ages of 18 and 19. She has two children, Erik and Soraya. She and her partner of 23 years, Daniel Lichterman, later adopted Erik’s two children, and raised them. She is also a proud grandmother to Soraya’s five children.
Despite being a mother at an early age and working to take care of her children, Sonny continued to take dance classes at Southwestern College, and danced with several dance troupes, studying under Johanna Wiekel.
However, teaching classes became her path. She gives private classes at her home, and she is happiest when surrounded by students. These classes are free because as she says, “I don’t want anyone to miss out because they can’t pay, and I want all my students to feel equal. If I charged some students and not others, I’d have to give special attention to the paying students. This way, I can give special attention to them all.”
It is this same altruistic life view that led her to get involved with Doctors without Borders. At one of her schools, she had a student, Leticia, whose parents were deported. Worried about her fate, Sonny and her mother went to check on the girl who was living with her neighbors. Later on, that same girl returned to Mexico and became a doctor. Soon after, she got involved with Doctors without Borders. She never lost contact with Sonny or her mom and they decided to get involved, too, by hosting benefits in San Diego for the organization.
The first benefit was selling cookies in 2007. This evolved little by little into something bigger and the first fundraiser was given in 2010. Sonny does all the work herself, and it has been a daunting task. Some years they barely break even, but she is confident that this year, as the word gets out, more people will want to take part in contributing to this worthy cause.
Doctors without Borders is a worldwide organization that goes where the need is the greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care.
The fundraiser will be held at the Historical Abbey at 2825 5th Ave in Hillcrest. Tickets are $45. There will be a Mediterranean dinner, along with a flamenco show and a performance by renowned guitarist, David de Alva.
Sonny Burton will be in her element there, sharing her love of flamenco, displaying her students’ talents, and helping out doctors doing good work.