SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 32nd annual Flurry Festival drew thousands of dance enthusiasts to downtown Saratoga Springs Saturday.
The three-day festival, which started on Friday and concludes Sunday, features a wide variety of dance styles, including ballroom dancing, square dancing, swing dancing, Latin Salsa dancing, Irish step dancing, improvisational dancing and contra dancing.
Tavi Merrill, a resident of Bangor Maine, said his day job is as a grocery cashier. But at night and on the weekends he is a contra dance caller. Contra dance is a form of folk dancing that features long lines of couples, and is derived from English, French and Scottish origins, all of which blended together into a form popular in the New England colonies before the Revolutionary War.
Merrill said the annual Flurry gives him a chance to meet other members of contra-verse, a nickname for that dance community.
“It’s offers an opportunity to both re-ground myself in the dance traditions I’m an active participant and curator of, and to engage with some traditions that I don’t get to do as often and sample new ones,” Merrill said.
Annie Haller, a Saratoga Springs resident and member of the Flurry Festival planning committee, said she’s been associated with the event for 20 years. She said this year’s event attracted approximately 5,000 participants.
“This year I did ‘performer housing.’ We had about 36 donated hotel rooms and about 25 to 30 rooms from maybe 20 families that host performers,” Haller said. “We figure out who’s coming from a distance and who needs lodging.”
The Flurry, which has been held inside the Saratoga Springs City Center for 25 years, has become a family tradition for some.
Emily Baecher, from Belchertown, Mass., said she’s been coming to the Flurry since she was six years old. This year she came with her two-year-old son Eamonn.
“I don’t come every year. But I came as a kid, and then when I was in college I didn’t really go,” Baecher said. “But my family is into contra dancing since I was little. (And) I’ve had Eamonn do some family dances where we live.”
Brie Cheyenne, a Wilton resident, said she’s been coming to the Flurry for the last 19 years.
“I like salsa; I like hip hop; I like swing — I like everything,” Cheyenne said.
Cheyenne said on Saturday she tried out a form of dancing called “Zydeco”, which she also enjoyed.
“It’s like a quick, quick, slow; it’s like waltzing, only really fast. It’s Louisiana music,” Cheyenne said.
Freestyle improvisational dance was being taught at the Flurry by teenage instructors from the New Paltz-based dance company “The Vanaver Caravan.”
Sevilla Kent, 16, said she’s being dancing with the company since she was 10. She explained the basics of improvisational dancing.
“It’s all about learning how to trust their bodies, learning how to trust their weight and how to trust their instincts, especially people who are more used to more structured style of dance,” Kent said. “You’re teaching people how to trust themselves, in a sense.”
Outside of the city center, several downtown restaurants said business from Flurry participants was strong, but not as strong as recent past years.
Courtney Smisloff, a manager at Max London’s on Broadway, said she’s worked at the restaurant for four years, so she knows what to expect during the Flurry.
“It’s hard to find a parking spot,” Smisloff said. “I actually thought it would be a little busier. It was busier last year. But it’s still a good crowd.”
Nina Manera, an assistant manager at Uncommon Grounds, said her coffee shop had a strategy in place with enough employees on each shift to handle the Flurry influx.
“We were prepared,” Manera said. “It’s been similar to past years, a little slower. We’ve also learned a lot. The first few times we weren’t ready for it. So, we got slammed. Now it’s more enjoyable.”