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Latin dance instructor ready to take her classes outside to Buffalo parks

Sarah Haykel, owner of Salsa for the Soul, will teach Latin dance at Canalside, Delaware Park and Larkinville in the coming weeks. (Photo by Cheryl Gorski)

Sarah Haykel, owner of Salsa for the Soul, will teach Latin dance at Canalside, Delaware Park and Larkinville in the coming weeks. (Photo by Cheryl Gorski)

Sarah Haykel is about to have one very busy summer. The Latin dance teacher, certified yoga instructor and professional life coach will teach Salsa in the Park from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays (except July 4) near the Delaware Park Rose Garden, and Live at Larkin at 5 p.m. July 6, as well as juggle two weekly gigs at Canalside: De-Stress Through Dance at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Mindful Meditation at 6 p.m. Wednesdays.

Her Canalside and Larkin Square events are free; the Salsa class costs $8 and includes snacks and refreshments from Ashker’s Juice Bar. All are weather dependent. She also will lead “Healthy Boundaries” talks July 21 and Aug. 18 at Inspiration Point bookstore on Elmwood Avenue. Those cost $20. Learn more at

“Dance has been a theme and a support system,” said Haykel, 39, a Williamsville native with a Fine Arts degree from SUNY Fredonia State who fell for Latin dance after college. “The healing aspect of it, for me, is the underlying mission of Salsa for the Soul.”

Haykel founded Salsa for the Soul about seven years ago, after living the previous decade in Denver, San Francisco and Maui.

This weekend in WNY Refresh: Outdoor fitness options in the region more plentiful than ever.

As part of her resettlement in Western New York, she chose to look inward for happiness – and to dance, dance, dance. She has taught through Young Audiences of Western New York, in Buffalo schools, and year round in group class settings.

Q. Describe Salsa for the Soul in a nutshell.

It’s a business specifically designed to support couples in healthy relationships through the language of Latin partner dancing.

Q. Talk about its benefits.

Partner dancing is one of the most fun, most intimate, beautiful ways to connect with yourself, someone else, music from all over the world that’s so inspiring. It can improve your relationship with others. It’s a lot of work and at the same time I have a great passion for supporting people to live healthier lives by connecting with their bodies consciously – I call that “body centered awareness” – through the art of Latin partner dancing.

It’s an art form and physical activity that you can do. You don’t even know it’s meditative. You don’t know it’s personal growth and health, but the tools you’ll learn through Latin partner dancing, if you really take it heart and learn how to connect with your breath consciously, be present in the moment, listen to music, follow the rhythm, it’s such a great metaphor for life.

Q. How difficult is Salsa to learn?

Salsa can be challenging to learn but what I have learned myself is to work with people on some of the easier Latin dances like Merengue and Bachata from the Dominican Republic. In my Latin dance classes, and summer events too, we’ll usually teach some of the easier dances first, or we’ll have specific events where we’ll just teach Merengue and Bachata  to introduce people to the art of partner dancing and in particular Latin dancing. That gives them the foundation to jump into a class like Salsa, which is more complex and a bit more technically advanced. We do teach basic beginner Salsa dance classes. We take it very slow so people can get a feel for the footwork. I also really focus on technique: connecting with the music, dancing in time with the music, in time with your partner, and learning the foundations really well before you spring off in to learning the latest, greatest Dancing with the Stars craziest moves.

Q. How did you get into Latin dance?

I got into dance in Buffalo through electronic music as a teen. I learned West African dance and improvisational dance while at college, and breakdancing. In Denver, I was really into that until I pulled some muscles in my neck. I felt I was so old at the age of 23 that I needed a more adult scene, so I got into Latin dance. I learned different styles of Salsa (Cuban), Cha Cha Cha. I just took to that and really dove in for about six months and started teaching at it. They called me a natural stylist because I had such a strong background in freestyle dance.

Q. How did the outdoor classes start?

I drove by Delaware Park one day in 2010, on a Saturday morning. I heard Latin music and I saw a group of people doing Zumba. I thought, “This would be such a great place to do Latin partner dancing.” The first Salsa in the Park was 2013. It’s grown ever since. I love throwing events and I particularly love throwing events in beautiful locations that have a romantic feel.

Q. What are those dances like?

It’s really for anybody. It’s $8 and includes food and drink sponsored by Ashker’s Juice Bar. We have a DJ who plays great Latin and Kizomba, a sensual dance from West Africa. We like to be able to introduce people to the hottest Latin an Kizomba classes we can. This year, we may even try some Zouk Lambata, which comes from Brazil.

Q. Where else do you teach?

I do not have my own studio but I work out of Yoga Parkside in North Buffalo and the Parkside Lutheran Church, and I host group classes during the school year. The classes are geared towards beginners. What I’m so thrilled about is I’m getting so many couples. There are men who are willing to learn how to dance … and they are coming to learn something they can take with them for the rest of their lives. I work with a lot of soon-to-be-wedded couples. With couples who need support in their relationship and who want to do something a little more fun or traditional than couple’s therapy, or maybe in addition to couple’s therapy they can come and learn some other healthy skills to relate to each other through private lessons or sessions.

I kind of do unique bachelorette parties, where we do dance and focus on women’s health and sensuality. I do a lot of work with universities throughout Western and Upstate New York related to multicultural awareness, international student weeks. We do free form, we demonstrate, we teach. I taught social dance as an adjunct at Buffalo State this past semester.

I also do a lot of work with elder care facilities, going in and talking about the history of Latin dance and leading exercise and wellness classes, chair yoga as well.

Q. What was your personal journey like?

I was a rebel when I was a young teen. I was searching for a new way of doing things and I wasn’t finding it. I’m a twin and I talked to my twin sister (Laura Haykel)recently and I asked her, “What the heck happened midway through our seventh grade year that made us start to shift?” She said, “I have no idea. I don’t remember anything particular.” We just started to become different. We both worked in leadership and empowerment skills and tools for youth and adults. We’re just finishing up a yearlong program at St. Monica’s Nativity Miguel with a group of seventh-grade girls. They’ve been enthusiastic. I said to my sister, “How awesome is it we get to work with these girls at such a crucial turning point?”

We started at this age going down a particularly slippery slope and got into some pretty interesting experiences. From my experience, things could have turned out differently. I’m grateful to be happy, healthy, alive and able to work with and support other people who might also need that mentor, that coach, that guide to ask them empowering questions, to invite them into connecting in a loving, respectful way with their bodies, to listening to their intuition. These are things I wasn’t taught as a youth. I had very low self-esteem. I was very angry as a youth. I happened from about 12 or 13 till I was 16 and I found dance.

So now it sounds like now you can stay in one place and still do a lot of exploring.

Yes. Being in Buffalo now for eight years, I’ve been on the inner journey. I’ve been most physically stable here and I’ve been exploring a lot in my business and my own mind and heart as a human being. There’s been a lot of journeying going on but not your typical journey.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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