CULTURE VULTURE: DANCE THIS MESS AROUND – 25th Annual Dance Flurry Festival @ Saratoga City Center (and other places), 2/19/12
Review and photographs by J Hunter
Here’s some truly sage advice: Never, ever let people you dislike talk to you at length about something THEY like – because if you’re a barely-guided missile like myself, you’ll probably let your feelings darken your already-uninformed opinion. That was the way it was for me and the Dance Flurry, the festival of the dance that’s become an annual bright spot in Saratoga Springs’ winter. So when it was suggested the three-day fete might work as a column (or, at least, motivation for a really good rant), I remembered the guy who spoke ad nauseum about how The Flurry was the greatest thing since sliced bread and internet porn, and how I wanted to club him senseless with a birch tree. And then I remembered some more sage advice, this time from the late great Hunter S. Thompson: “Even a blind pig finds an acorn if he roots around long enough.” So I put my animosity in a blind trust and headed up the Northway.
Sunday was the last day of the Flurry, but by the lack of parking around the Saratoga City Center, nobody was leaving early. After a brisk half-mile walk (and I mean that in the meteorological sense), I arrived just behind a relatively young father escorting his daughter up the steep stairs to the Center’s Maple Avenue entrance. The girl was no older than my niece (who just turned 3), and was almost as cute in her pink dress with matching snow boots. She was singing a little tune, obviously pumped. My guess was that her parents started bringing her to the Flurry when she was in the womb – which makes her a kindred spirit to Zack Marshall, whose quote in the program’s “Flurry Flashbacks” begins with the statement, “My first Flurry Dance was four months before I was born.” An unofficial survey of pregnant women amongst the teeming throngs showed that you could start a pretty decent “Pre-Born Flurry” club in a few years.
It wasn’t always like that, according to Flurry founder Paul Rosenberg, the festival’s “professor emeritus” and the namesake of the “Paul Rosenberg Dance Hall” (the biggest of the six ballrooms the Flurry was using). For the first 10 years, the demographic was pretty tight – dedicated, but tight. But then the kids of the festival’s base started coming around, and now I could easily see three or four generations walking past the volunteers at the Flurry’s information table. Glenn Crytzer’s Syncopators were playing swinging blues for a Lindy session in Meeting Room 1, and the sizable crowd’s ages ran from single digits to retirement-and-beyond; one college-age trans-gender couple danced near the entrance with another couple about their age, and – like many people on the temporary wood dance floor – all four of them wore smiles you could see from space.
That’s the spirit that hits you about 30 seconds after you walk through the door: This is just fun! It’s the spirit that’s built the Flurry from its first days in the Westmere Elementary School gym to a dozen rooms of varying sizes in the Center and the Hilton, with workshops and concerts held in Saratoga City Hall, Caffe Lena and the Parting Glass. I actually started my day at the Parting Glass, re-acquainting myself with their “Last Meal before The Rapture”-worthy menu while Burnt Turnip delighted festival-goers (and the usual brunch crowd) with a brilliant set of acoustic Appalachian folk music. When paired with the Irish reels that play over the Parting Glass’ sound system, the distance between Ireland and Appalachia got very small.
This was officially a “concert,” not a “dance session,” but the urge to dance was in the air. In fact, that urge took Ellen Cook, a Vermont neighbor of Burnt Turnip banjo player/frontman Lloyd Gaines. She got up onstage with Paula Bradley – the lead singer of the next band, Moonshine Holler – for a spirited, “clog-free” clog dance during Burnt Turnip’s closing instrumental. These were old friends meeting after a prolonged period, and that included the band, whose members are spread over three states. When someone in the audience asked Gaines how they practice, he shot back, “We use Skype!”
“It’s amazing how early noon is at the Flurry,” Gaines told the Parting Glass audience, chuckling wearily. “Seems like we were playing in the lobby at the Hilton just a few hours ago.” He needn’t have worried if the lobby was silent. Walking from the City Center entrance to Banda Rebelde’s Afro-Caribbean dance party in the Hilton Melita Ballroom, I passed no less than five groups playing everything from folk music to baroque classical; one of them featured a member of the Polkingbrook Morris Dancers, who’d been bemusing me only a few minutes before. All of them could have been performers at the festival, or maybe they’d just brought their axes along in case someone wanted to play. It reminded me of the Oxford Folk Festival, where the music in the parking lot was every bit as good as the music onstage. And between the musicians and the vendors were any number of people, talking, laughing and napping. You could tell the rookies from the veterans, who mostly wore slim-soled or no-soled shoes; one woman walked by me wearing ballet shoes held together with duct tape. You could tell who’d been there since Friday, and most of them were sprawled out on whatever space they could commandeer.
And why not? If you can’t find something to tire you out at the Flurry, you’re just not looking: Contra is the most prevalent dance form (most of it done in Rosenberg Hall, which is a sight to see when it’s filled), but you can waltz, square dance, step-dance, tango, clog or whatever, and there are innumerable workshops where you can learn these and other dances, or learn how to play music for the dances. Annie & the Hedonists piloted Sunday’s Morning Swing Dance in the Melita Ballroom; they’d played a concert at the Parting Glass the afternoon before. Of the sessions I attended, the most fun had to be “How to Dance at a Jewish Wedding”, which was led by Yiddishkeit Klezmer Ensemble’s dance instructor Joe Kurland. A truly glorious man, Kurland not only taught us the dances, but he imparted the flavor and traditions of a Jewish wedding, as well as some pretty sage advice of his own: When carrying the bride and groom around the room, “The important thing is… Never use a folding chair!”
You don’t have to dance at the Flurry to have fun. Just watching the scene is something else – though if you’re going to throw down $25 to $60 bucks for a one-day entrance wristband ($95 for the full festival), you may as well bring a partner, a good set of shoes, and a willingness to just have fun. And that’s advice to live by!
Michael P. Farrell’s video at The Times Union
Another video by Michael P. Farrell at The Times Union
Michael P. Farrell’s photographs at The Times Union
Patrick Dodson’s photographs at The Daily Gazette