The dance floor in Meeting Room 1 of the Saratoga Springs City Center was filled from corner to corner with dancers, a couple hundred people facing the stage at the front.
“We’re going to start with our weight on our left,” said the instructor of the blues body movement class. “We’re going to point our booties at the window, we’re going to step . . .”
The entire crowd swayed right.
“. . . Rotate, step . . .”
The entire crowd swayed back left.
The room was so full, the attendant at the door was turning people away. That’s not uncommon at the Flurry, the annual three-day “smorgasbord of music, dancing, singing, jamming and storytelling” that regularly draws about 5,000 people to the city.
The people who couldn’t make into the blues body movement class had plenty of other options with well over 200 classes, workshops, performances and open sessions in various venues around the city throughout the weekend.
Doing ‘the Big apple’
In a nearby room, Samantha and Brian Lawton, of New York City, were beginning to lead a group of parents and kids in an introduction to “the Big Apple,” a vernacular jazz dance that comes from 1930s New York City.
It’s a call-and-response dance, with the families in a large circle around Samantha as she called out the different moves.
“If it were to happen now, it would be like ‘the sprinkler!’ and everyone does the sprinkler,” Samantha explained before getting started. “Or ‘the shopping cart!’ and everyone does the shopping cart. Except it was cool then, not awkward.”
And instead of the sprinkler and shopping cart, the moves had names like “the applejack,” “Shorty George” and “rock the baby.” Brian, in a sharp bow tie, demonstrated the moves as Samantha introduced them.
The pair had just returned two days ago from a two-week trip to India with the Vanaver Caravan Professional Dance and Music Company, where they taught dance to schoolkids.
Their Big Apple lesson at the Flurry followed lessons by other Vanaver Caravan instructors in dances from Nigeria, Israel and India in a World Dance for Kids workshop.
After all the moves had been demonstrated, Samantha called for the music; “In the Mood” by Glen Miller started up. “Louder!” she called, then again: “We need it louder!”
The music jumped up and the kids and parents in the circle started following Samantha and Brian through their applejacks and Susie Qs and rock-the-babies.
“Right, left, left,” Samantha called, “Kick, step, step. Where we goin’?”
“Flyin’ home!” the dancers responded, as they were taught to a minute earlier.
The Flurry, now in its 29th year, has become renowned for its diversity, according to administrative director Tamara Flanders. Contra, a call-and-response dance, has been a perennial favorite, but guests can experience and practice dozens of styles from English Country and Zydeco to tap dance, hip hop and waltz.
The festival has become an annual trip for many, with people traveling from all over the Northeast to meet up and practice their moves.
“We’ve built a little community here,” Flanders said.
The Lawtons first came two years ago, and were surprised by the number of people at the festival.
“I was not prepared for how popular it was,” Samantha Lawton said. “I was not prepared for the hallways being crowded with people playing music, singing songs, enjoying coffee and tea. I didn’t realize how much of a hub and community it would feel like.”
They didn’t make it last year, but returned for the full three days this year. Even with one year under their belts, Samantha said, she was struck again by the atmosphere when she arrived on Friday.
“I knew it, but coming back again, it was just overwhelming, the energy,” she said.
When not leading their own classes, the Lawtons were looking forward to taking some music lessons. Brian had brought his ukulele and was eager to hone his skills off the dance floor.
They were also preparing for a world dance performance at the Saratoga City Music Hall Saturday evening. They’d be doing a few world dances as well as a swing routine that they planned to improvise.
“We’ll see what happens on stage as it goes,” Samantha said.