Looking back on it, Paul Rosenberg said he was caught in a weak moment.
“I was at all-night dance. I was tired and weak,” remembered the contra dancer. “And my friend said to me, ‘Paul why don’t you take it up?’ I agreed, but after I started reconsidering.”
His friend, Nancy Gretta, wanted him to devise a winter contra dance festival. She reasoned that, as the founder of the Mohawk-Hudson Country Dancers, he was a natural. Beside, all of their favorite winter dance fests, including the one planned by Old Songs, was folding.
Rosenberg thought: “OK, if it is only one day for a few locals.”
That was 1988. Today, his one-day party for 300 has transformed into a three-day traditional music and dance bonanza for 4,000. The Dance Flurry Festival, now in its 21st year, is one of the biggest winter jamborees in the nation, gathering traditional dancers and musicians of all genres. About 150 acts, performing everything from African to Zydeco, converge at the Flurry today to Sunday in a frothy mix of dances, concerts, workshops and jam sessions.
The expansion was a happy accident. In 1994, two weeks before the annual fest, the pipes burst at the Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland, headquarters for the event. With the floor ruined, Rosenberg scrambled to relocate the mass of dancers, callers and musicians. He found a few open floors in Saratoga Springs. So he divvied up the sessions and the entire fest moved north. It has remained there ever since.
“We went from being in a suburban school to downtown Saratoga Springs,” said Peter Davis, a traditional musician who has since taken over for Rosenberg as the festival’s programming director. “People love it. They love to come to Saratoga Springs.”
It hasn’t always been easy. The Flurry has ridden out blizzards and a bankrupting blackout. But the popularity of the winter fest endures, especially with diehard traditionalists who flock from out of town.
It’s now Rosenberg and Davis’ wish that locals will discover the Flurry, too.
One way they’re trying to attract more area folk is by showcasing groups of young dancers and musicians. In addition to the concerts for kids, Davis has booked concerts by kids, including the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers, the Bosnian Youth Dancers, the Nisky Fiddle Kids, the Hudson Valley Swing Kids and the Emma Willard Dance Company. The reasoning? Kids come with parents.
Once at the Flurry, Davis and Rosenberg are certain the parents will become converts.
The two are crusaders for tradition. When not working on the Flurry, which takes a year to coordinate, they visit area schools as Peter, Paul and George. (George is fiddler George Wilson.) On a recent afternoon in the gym at Caroline Street School, they were inspiring first-grade giggles.
With Wilson sawing his fiddle and Davis strumming his guitar, Rosenberg jumps, claps and spins around in unison with the children. When the music stops, some tumble gleefully on the floor. A girl exclaims, “That was fun.”
More than fun, the in-school program is designed to cultivate an early appreciation for collective heritage and cultural history.
“We want to keep these traditions alive,” said Davis who, in addition to guitar, plays banjo, clarinet, mandolin, saxophone and pennywhistle. “Popular culture comes from traditional culture. We also want to point out how wholesome traditional dance and music is. It’s a healthy way of life.”
Asked if any of those schoolchildren will show up at the Dance Flurry Festival, Rosenberg nods, saying “a few.”
More than dance
Creating a flurry of neophyte fans might be made easier if the festival changed its name. “It should be the Flurry Festival — drop dance,” said Rosenberg, who is also a caller. “I used to be dance phobic. So I understand. People think they have to come and dance. They don’t realize that there is a lot more going on than dance.”
Certainly, there are far too many workshops, concerts and dances to list. And the performers are too many to count, (about 600 or 700). All-in-all, there are enough artists to churn out round-the-clock activity.
In the end, said Rosenberg, “The Flurry is about connecting with people. Get off the computer and get into something with people. It’s immediate gratification.”
Dance Flurry Festival
WHERE: Saratoga Springs City Center and six other venues, including the Saratoga Hotel, the Parting Glass, the Canfield Casino and the National Museum of Dance. Free shuttles.
WHEN: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: Three-day pass $85, $75 for students and seniors and $10 for children. Friday only tickets $25, $20 and $3; Saturday day or Saturday night only $30, $25 and $3; Saturday all day $50, $45 and $5. Sunday only $30, $25 and $3.
MORE INFO: 384-3275 or www.danceflurry.org