Caryl Cantrell is People’s Choice Winner in Oxnard Salsa Festival’s “Dancing With Our Community Stars Contest”

Oxnard, Calif. — Caryl Cantrell is the People’s Choice winner of the Oxnard Salsa Festival’s 2017 “Dancing With Our Community Stars Dance Contest and Charity Fundraiser.” Dancers practiced their salsa moves over several months and then competed on the festival’s main dance floor on July 30. The People’s Choice award is given to the dancer who raised the most money for his or her selected charity. Cantrell, one of six contestants, raised $41,649 for Project Understanding. In the 11 years of Dancing With Our Community Stars, the event has raised over $800,000 for local non-profit organizations. 

Project Understanding serves the underserved and at-risk in Ventura County. Staff members are on the streets working with other local agencies to help the homeless get housed. It runs a busy food pantry, distributing groceries to over 1,200 hungry people every month and its volunteers are in schools and churches helping tutor hundreds of kids to empower them to succeed and excel in school.

“Not being able to provide for your family or being homeless can happen to anyone,” says Cantrell. “That’s when Project Understanding can help. I typically run the half marathon fundraiser to support Project Understanding but I couldn’t resist this opportunity to salsa.” Cantrell’s dance partner and coach was Lovie Hernandez, owner of Lovie’s Latin Studio in Santa Paula.

The other dance contestants and instructors were:

–Alys Martinez, dancing for the Dream Foundation, Tino G., instructor

–Julien Martinez, dancing for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, Diana Porter, instructor.

–Marie Taylor-Briggs, dancing for Oxnard Police Activities League (PAL), Jesse “Chuy” Rodriguez, instructor

–Marisa Trujillo-Martinez, dancing for I’m a Kid Who Can, Ottis Gillespie, instructor.

–Suzie Azucena-Gomez, dancing for El Concilio Family Services. Conrad Diaz, instructor.

Suzie Azucena-Gomez and her dance instructor Conrad Diaz received the “Judge’s Choice Award” for best routine performed at the festival.

Also on July 30, food judges sampled over 30 amateur salsa recipes and selected their favorites. Here are the winners: Lorenzo Carrillo (best red and best medium), Veronica Garcia (best green), Gabriela Borquez (best specialty/fruit), Pamela Hyder (best mild) and Rose Ornelas (best hot). Ornelas’ salsa also received the Judge’s Choice award. An Oxnard great-grandmother, this was her first time entering the contest.

Caryl Cantrell


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