The day the Flurry ends, organizers of the three-day dance festival round up all the left-behind shoes and put them in a big box. The sight gives Tamara Flanders an itch.
“I have this urge to get chicken wire and rig some sculpture of all the leftover Flurry shoes,” she said, laughing.
She would have a lot to choose from. They may have needed boots to get to the Flurry, but once they were inside the Saratoga Springs Hilton and City Center, dancers slipped on footwear that was nearly as varied as the dances themselves. They wore slip-on sneakers, ballet shoes, kitty heels, flats, Converse high-tops, cowboy boots, Toms and Oxfords. For some, stockings were enough. For others, duct tape would do.
“There are always some who go barefoot, too” said Flanders, administrative director of the festival.
The overall vibe at the Flurry Festival is one of fun. The first dance flurry was held in 1988 as a one-day festival in Guilderland with 300 dancers and 38 regional performers. moving north to Saratoga Springs in 1994. Today, the festival attracts about 5,000 people to the city over three days. More than 300 volunteers and 400 performers pack the City Center to partake in a celebration of culture, music and dance.
There’s swing, contra, square, tango, waltz, ballroom, African, Celtic, Scandinavian and salsa, to name a few. Even those who don’t dance still show up for other workshops, like storytelling or yoga, or to soak in the music and people-watch. On Saturday, the crowds were as colorful as ever, with men and women twirling paisley, floral and tie-dye skirts and even one man rocking long, rainbow-colored hair.
Flanders said people will come from as far away as California and Europe for the winter event.
“This is a pretty unique festival, to be three days long in the middle of winter,” she said. “You can find things like this in the summer here and there, folk festivals and stuff, but there aren’t many festivals that embrace the international diversity and the combination of singing, dancing and music lessons we have.
“One of the great things is, as you work your way down the hallways, you can go into one room and find Israeli folk dance and go into the next room and there’s African drumming, and then another room and there’s waltzing and then singing and then storytelling and then salsa dancing.”
One of the newer offerings at the festival this year is techno contra, said Flanders.
“We did our first one last year from midnight to 3 a.m., and within five minutes the room was filled to capacity,” she said. “Everybody loves contra, but when you add black lights and laser lights and electronic music and the pace is up really, really fast, it becomes this merger of old and new that’s really exciting. We get 15- to 80-year-olds mixed together in this hot, steaming room.”
Vickie North didn’t let this week’s nor’easter prevent her from escaping Washington, D.C., for the dance festival. About 50 dancers from D.C. were at the weekend event, she estimated — admitting that, yes, they kind of all know each other because they all go to the same circuit of dance festivals, including the Lake Eden Arts Festivals in North Carolina each spring and fall.
“I’ve probably been here six or seven times,” she said. “I do a lot of contradancing and waltz, but yesterday I took a West Coast swing class. We joke about it, but we all get our schedules and our multiple color highlighters out and highlight all the things we want to do when we get here, but we can’t possibly get to them all. We start in one class and then walk by a room and get pulled into a swing jam session. You just go with it.”
The variety of cultures is what Saul Rigberg likes about the Flurry. The Delmar man has been coming to the festival with his wife since its start in Guilderland.
“I like the various folk dances you can find from around the world, like Bulgarian folk,” he said. “The African dancing I like a lot, too. There is just so much variety.”
Rigberg is big on community participation and social activism and thinks the Flurry is a shining example of the two combined.
“I look at it as a celebration of diversity of expression,” he said. “It’s a very participatory event, you know, much different than going to a concert and sitting in an audience. And the people are very interesting, guys with beards and skirts, and everyone is very good-natured. You don’t see litter anywhere or people pushing each other or grumpy with each other. These people enjoy being here with each other.”
The Flurry continues today at the City Center, Hilton Melita Ballroom and Saratoga Music Hall from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A schedule of events and ticket prices is available online at www.flurryfestival.org.