It wasn’t hard to make a friend at the Saratoga Springs City Center Saturday.
The City Center and connected Saratoga Hilton were taken over this weekend by the Flurry Festival, which featured variations of contra dances. These communal folk dances were performed to various styles of music, but the unifying theme was the willingness to dance with a stranger.
“You get to meet new people and the music is great,” said 19-year-old Anna Lind of Vermont, who was attending for the first time. She was impressed by how dancers were so inclined to welcome new people into their groups and the frequency with which strangers paired up on the dance floor.
Jake Chila, 20, of Vermont, resting on the floor of the Hilton with Lind, credited the relaxed atmosphere of the event.
It was this same attitude that encouraged people to leave their bags unattended in the hallways of the Hilton and City Center before rushing off to one of the dance workshops offered by the festival, including blues, swing, folk and disco. Some of the smaller rooms filled to capacity with about 100 dancers and a large ballroom in the Hilton got packed with at least 200 dancers, forcing onlookers to stay close to the wall.
Workshops were also held at Caffe Lena and the Parting Glass Pub.
“There’s so many different workshops … and all different levels,” said Chila, who was there for the first time. He began contra dancing, which usually puts dancers in lines or a square, a few months ago and was loving the total immersion of the experience.
While contra is traditionally a folk dance, it got a modern face lift from Kathryn Weddernburn and the Kat Jamb, who played rock ’n’ roll music. Hundreds filled the large ballroom to dance to a string of classic hits, including the Guess Who’s “No Time.”
Meri Louko, 20, of Boston, was the odd dancer out for this song, which she used as a breather. She has been dancing since she was 3, but this was her first experience with the Flurry Festival.
“I’m surprised by how large and diverse the crowd is,” she said. “People come from everywhere.”
Even though some of the dances were new to her, Louko said her experience in dancing made it easy for her to pick most of them up. Other dancers found some difficult, with the occasional wipeout on the dance floor, as participants took a workshop that might have been out of their skill level.
A popular session on Saturday afternoon was led by the Badjo School of African Dance & Drumming in Troy. Three drummers set the beat from a stage overlooking the narrow room and Felix Nelson stood in front of an excited crowd that mimicked his motions and tried to take directions he was offering through his microphone.
“This kind of dancing is meant to be exciting,” Nelson said. The dance looked like a rhythmic workout. He said the dance, which required a more limber body than most contra dancing and resembled a zumba class, was overtly intimate.
This was the third time Nelson attended the festival. “I love it,” he said. “This is what I want to do all my life.”
The Flurry Festival continues today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets for today’s workshops are $30 for an adult, $20 for a teen, $1 for a child and $25 for seniors, students and Dance Flurry Organization members. The event is sponsored by local businesses.