Flurry set to host festival ‘in the cloud’

Contra dance band Great Bear & Friends will be part of this year’s online Flurry Festival.
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Contra dance band Great Bear & Friends will be part of this year’s online Flurry Festival.

The Flurry Festival happened in the nick of time last year. 

“We got really lucky, where COVID was just coming on to the national spotlight during basically festival weekend,” said Ian Hamelin, one of the festival organizers. 

This year things will be different. The folk dance and music festival has moved online, with more than 150 workshops and dance sessions running throughout the weekend from Friday through Sunday. Fittingly, the event has been dubbed “Flurry 2021: Dancing in the Cloud.” 

Typically, thousands of people from around the greater Capital Region and beyond descend on downtown Saratoga Springs for a weekend of music workshops; contra, line and jazz dancing; and many more activities, put together by the DanceFlurry Organization. 

“The big attraction at the Flurry is Rosenberg Hall, where you’ve got 800 to 1,000 people contra dancing. Clearly, that’s not something we could do this year. So we are focusing on instruction and sessions that can be enjoyed by an individual or a pod from their living room. Basically, sessions where one or two people can participate in a meaningful way,” Hamelin said.

After months of researching and attending other online festivals, organizers decided to use a platform called Whova, allowing attendees to schedule their weekend sessions and also break into chats with other participants. The workshops and other scheduled events will take place over Zoom, but Whova provides attendees a platform to easily connect. 

“You can do your own video conferences with them on the side, all within the event platform. We really worked to try to find ways to keep that community and connected feeling,” said Blair Davenport, the event’s marketing manager. 

Typically, when attendees need to hang up their dancing shoes for an hour or two, they would gather with other people and play games. Organizers have built times for that into the schedule this year, though there will be plenty of opportunities to dance. 

Appalachian clogging sessions, a zydeco dance party, English country dancing for two, Norwegian Halling, waltz 101 and more pack the schedule. 

The band Great Bear & Friends, known for performing modern contra dance music, will return to the festival with a live show. Lisa Greenleaf, also a festival favorite, will lead another contra session.

“I think for contra folks that is something that’s really bringing them in,” Davenport said.

Another one that’s expected to be popular, especially for children and families, is Stuntology with Sam Bartlett, who will be demonstrating stunt tricks with everyday objects. 

Some sessions, especially performances, will be recorded from Caffe Lena’s stage and the Bronx Music Heritage Center.

Organizing the festival — centered around human contact and connection — has been no small feat.

“We have a pretty large volunteer planning committee that works with us. There’s anywhere between 30 and 35 people, and they’re all amazing individuals who devote an enormous amount of time toward putting the in-person festival on. One of the big challenges this year was people wanted to participate. They wanted to help out, but they were kinda lost because their traditional roles weren’t there anymore,” Hamelin said. 

They spent time creating new roles and getting people actively engaged in the festival. 

“I think another big challenge . . . is so many people have a hard time imagining what it would be like to dance virtually, so I think that for us also, not having done a virtual festival before when people are like, ‘What is it going to be like? What can I expect?’ We can give them the schedule, but to really explain it when we haven’t put it on before has also been challenging,” Davenport said. 

Some longtime Flurry-goers are sitting this one out, according to Hamelin, but the virtual platform and the lower ticket price have allowed others to join in. 

“In other cases, we’re getting people who ordinarily would not be able to afford to come to the festival for various reasons. So the online offering is something that they can attend at [a] very affordable cost. They can do it from their living room. We have our first attendee this year from Japan,” Hamelin said. “In terms of the outreach, national and globally, it gives us new opportunities.” 

Tickets start at $25 and run to $115. Attendees will need to establish an account on Whova. Throughout the weekend there will be representatives from the festival to help answer questions about the technology or the festival schedule.

For information visit flurryfestival.org

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