Find community, friends and fun with ‘Salsa in the Park’ | Entertainment


If you’re at Delaware Park in the summer, you might notice the blooming flowers in the rose garden or the crunch of footsteps walking down the gravel path.

And on some Monday evenings, you’ll hear the sounds of Latin music coming from behind the pavilion. There, you’ll see people transitioning to Latin music as new and trained dancers gather for “Salsa in the Park,” a beginner’s class and dance event where attendees can discover a new hobby, make friends and even a new outlook on life.

As the event continues into its ninth session, founder and co-host Sarah Haykel said she hopes to continue using her life coach certificate to create a safe and comfortable environment for attendees.

“Salsa in the Park” founder Sarah Haykel, left, dances with co-host Jerome Williams.

Minh Connors

Sometimes that safe environment just means telling people to breathe.

As the sun sets on the dancers, Haykel and his co-host, Jerome Williams, start the 30-minute class with a lecture, making sure people understand the basics, including history, culture and even how to listen to music properly.

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The course focuses on teaching the basics to engage beginners and ensure they don’t feel intimidated. Once people appreciate the simplicity of the basic steps and find their rhythm, they’re in good shape, Williams said.

When he first started learning salsa, Williams said he worried that he didn’t know enough moves. Soon he learned that as long as he knew the basics and danced smoothly, women would always be willing to dance with him.

Once people are familiar with the dance in that class, whether it’s salsa, merengue, bachata, or another style of Latin dancing, they start pairing up for two hours of dancing.

As the lodge fills up, couples can choose to stay together or rotate partners throughout the night, Haykel said.

Yumi Lichte, who attends classes alone, was initially nervous. But then Haykel paired her with someone else without a partner, and as the night wore on, Lichte said she realized how friendly her other participants were.

New and old friends

Shamah Yakubu, left, Yumi Lichte, Asumini Birungi and Shiffy Sauda dance during the ninth annual ‘Salsa in the Park’ season opener at the Delaware Park Rose Garden.

Minh Connors/Buffalo News

She said she would meet a person and think, “Okay, we can dance together.” And until the end of the event, she danced and laughed with people she met for the first time that evening.

John Georger’s first class was eight years ago. Now salsa plays an important role in his life. He takes classes with his wife, Julie Tunstall, and has found it a great way to socialize and make new friends.

“I was meeting people dancing salsa that I probably never would have met before, just from different walks of life, from different walks of life. It’s just very refreshing and really fascinating,” Georger said. “I was able to develop contacts and discovered that there was a very vibrant dance community.”

When Georger first meets a salsa dancer, he says he tries to keep it basic and nice, similar to the people he danced with when he was a beginner.

“The most important thing for your dance is that your partner is having a good time, having fun,” Georger said.

Along with the rotations and thud of the music, there is always another activity going on in the area that the dancers can observe, such as juggling, Georger said. Yet the highlight is always when the sun goes down, the temperature drops, and people keep dancing with pink and orange skies as a backdrop.

Ole! The sound of salsa filled the Delaware Park Rose Garden on Monday as expert ballerina and co-host Sarah Haykel worked with dancers during…

Although the social aspect is an integral part of the event, the class is also an opportunity for people to learn about the African influence in Latin dance, Williams said.

“I like explaining this all the time, just because it had such an influence on me and what made me gravitate towards it even more. I like to say that because I know it wasn’t taught in school and people need to know that,” he said.

The tango, for example, began as a way for enslaved Africans in Argentina to briefly sneak around and have fun. Over time, it evolved into an infusion of not only African styles, but also European and indigenous ones, Williams said.

“From the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade, something beautiful was created,” he added.

Creating beautiful and moving dance and music during such a dark time is a testament to the human spirit, Haykel said.

“Regardless of the circumstances, humans want to keep creating beautiful things, sharing and living together,” she added.

July 11, July 25, August 1 and August 8 at Delaware Park Rose Garden, 199 Lincoln Parkway. Class starts at 6:30 p.m. and lasts 30 minutes (one hour on July 11) with free dancing from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Registration is $10; the August 8 date includes live Latin music from Sol Y Sombra, as well as DJ sets and costs $12. Beginners and solo dancers are encouraged.

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