By J.R. Williams -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The parking garage will get a lot more personality this weekend.
The normally dull rooftop of Court Square Autopark in Winchester will be transformed Saturday night for Salsafest, a celebration of food, music and dance to benefit local nonprofits.
The event is sponsored by the Winchester Parks Foundation and the city's parks and recreation department, but community involvement runs deep.
Local restaurants and other foodies are entering sauces in a salsa food competition. Live music and a salsa dance lesson is planned, and local celebrities have been training with instructors for weeks for a "Dancing With the Stars"-style dance-off.
"There's been a huge buzz. People are really excited about it," said Leslie Bowery, special events manager for the city parks and recreation department.
The event is scheduled for 5-10 p.m. at the garage, at 2 N. Cameron St. Tickets are $7 at the gate.
Money from alcohol sales will benefit the Park Foundation Scholarship Fund, Bowery said. Nonalcoholic drinks will be served, and attendees under 21 will be admitted with a wristband.
The nonprofit parks foundation serves as a fundraising arm of the parks and recreation department, and has raised money for the Winchester Dog Park, the Green Circle Trail, International Children's Festival and other programs.
The salsa food competition, scheduled for 5-7 p.m., will be the first order of business for attendees. Tasters can cast votes for their favorite sauce with provided tickets for a "people's choice" award, and a panel of pros will award the "judge's choice."
Familiar names in local cuisine have signed up to bring a bowl, including the Piccadilly Public House, Perlitas and Mackintosh Fruit Farm.
Christi Dunlap, owner of The "Lil" Red Catering Co., said she quickly agreed to participate in the contest when asked.
She'll provide some of the event's more substantial food options, including burritos and nachos. But she's betting on her salsa recipe to please the palates of attendees, and said a little jalapeno, cumin, chili peppers, cilantro and red tomatoes will give her entry that all-important spice.
"You put all those elements together, you get a good kick," Dunlap said.
One that's edible, anyway. For the visible variety, professionals, amateurs and local celebrities alike will be working the dance floor to the sounds of a live band.
The main event will be local celebrities competing for charity. The "Dancing With the Stars"-style competition begins at 8 p.m., and the couple with the most money in their donation jar at the end of the night will be declared the winner. Proceeds will benefit the WINC-FM Chain of Checks campaign.
The local celebrities include Ann Burkholder, the city's revenue commissioner and president of the Winchester Parks Foundation; Shenandoah University baseball player Greg Van Sickler; Dallas Croft of ERA Oakcrest Realty; Stacey Iden of Our Health; James Tulley of TV3 Winchester; and Sheriff Lenny Millholland.
"They've been practicing and fussing with their outfits ... and seem to be having a fantastic time," Bowery said.
Jorge Figueroa is helping Iden get ready for the show. Although not a professional salsa instructor, the Puerto Rico native said he knows his way around the dancing style and offered to help.
"I found it a great opportunity for me to meet different people from this area," said Figueroa, who moved to Winchester from Maryland in January.
The beauty of salsa music and the excitement of this event, he said, is that anyone can learn by improvisation.
"Once you know the basics, you just let the music get into you and learn it that way," he said.
Figueroa said after a few practice sessions, he's confident that he and Iden will be a serious threat to the competition.
"Based on the way we dance, we are going to be up on top," he said. "No less than second. It's going to be close."
For more information, contact the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department at 662-4946 or visit winchesterva.gov/parks.