Whether you’re a dancing fiend, have no interest in dancing or just don’t know what to do with the kids this weekend, the annual Dance Flurry in Saratoga Springs has something for you. It officially begins Friday evening and runs through Sunday.
“We’ll have called dances in square, contra, family dances as well as traditional Irish, Israeli, English country, Balkan; instrument lessons and big bands and tons of storytelling especially for kids,” said Tamara Flanders, administrative director of the event, now in its 33rd year. “We have a unique international focus with a spectrum of offerings. We cast our net pretty far.”
Flanders isn’t kidding.
There are also sessions in Scottish fiddling; drumming techniques from Ghana; yoga instruction; funk and disco; tai-chi; waltz; yodeling; gospel; Arab music; and a special techno-contra late at night in a dimly lit room, at which people “get all jazzed up in light-up sneakers or glow sticks” and dance to an electric live band playing at fast tempos, Flanders said with a laugh.
This year, the Flurry is also offering for the first time a “Swing Intensive” from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday that has “amazing troupes to teach,” she said.
Making all this happen requires an army of volunteers who do everything from installing a rented dance floor over the City Center’s concrete floor to placing sound technicians in every room to providing security. Then there are the up to 300 callers and performers who come from as far as California, although Flanders said the festival tries to use local talent. About 5,000 people attend the three-day festival, with about 25 percent coming from within 100 miles and 75 percent coming from roughly 200 miles away or more.
Since the festival began as a one-day event in 1987, it has established itself as a family-friendly event primarily because there are so many kids’ activities, Flanders said. This keeps people coming back, including her own daughter, who has been coming since she was 3 and is now 20 years old.
With contra sessions being one of the most popular of all the dances, callers need experience and the ability to assess the group’s skill level.
“Contra has become a constant movement workout,” said Paul Rosenberg, the festival’s founder and caller. “It’s easier than ballroom, but the dancers need to be fit for its fast moves. A good caller must see his audience and how many kids are present. They must also have teaching skills and understand rhythm. I learned how to play recorder and that helped me to know what’s happening with the musicians.”
Getting along with the band also helps so that they can plan an evening of varied dances, from an exciting reel to a less driven jig. Rosenberg also likes to stay current with the latest tunes and be familiar with the band’s repertoire.
Tickets for the festival have a wide range of options, from full price to time of day to full day at levels from child to teen to adult and student, senior, military and Flurry member. The Swing Intensive has its own prices.
For Spa City family, Flurry still ‘very cool’
Generations of families have been enjoying the Flurry Festival for years, including the Banner family of Saratoga Springs.
“We’ve been coming to the Flurry for the last 20-odd years because it is such an amazing experience and such an amazing community,” said Shawn Banner.
In the late 1980s, Shawn’s mother, Mae, an arts advocate and arts reviewer for The Saratogian, introduced him and his young children, Rosalie, then 3, and Isaac, who was 5, to the festival.
“We spent much of our time in the children’s room hearing storytelling and songs,” Banner said. “But we tasted other things: fiddling, African drumming, Native American song and dance. New things every year.”
As the children grew older, Banner trusted them to explore because the festival felt “safe and familiar — like a big, very big family.” Over the years, Rosalie came to love contra and had her first dances with a “nice young gent.” Isaac discovered beatbox and began singing with a glee club and choruses.
These days, Rosalie and her dad have become swing dancers, and will attend the “Swing Intensive” this year. Isaac, now a caller in Seattle where he works, returns to call for the first time at the Flurry in contra, barbershop and a science ceilidh (kay-lee) — a kind of Scottish dance.
“If my mom were still with us,” Banner said, “she would be beside herself to know that this amazing event that she lured us into when the kids were barely out of diapers has stuck with us all these years. … Very, very cool.”
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
WHERE: City Center/Hilton Hotel: 522 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
MORE INFO: www.flurryfestival.org; 518 384-3275