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Circle left: Contra dancers make the best of it at an abridged Dance Flurry.

photo:Shannon DeCelle

Dancing in the Dark

In the women’s bathroom of Saratoga Springs’ City Center, there’s a rustle of skirts as women change out of their street shoes into well-worn dancing shoes. This is an expected scene for the Dance Flurry, an annual participatory dance festival that attracts thousands from all over the country, many who put the Hotel Saratoga’s number on speed dial the morning the rooms become available.

But on Saturday (Feb. 18), the bustle was lit only by a spotlight balanced by the handicapped-accessible sink and punctuated by exclamations of how cold the water was.

With all of Saratoga out of power all weekend as a result of the high-wind storm on Friday, it hadn’t been clear that any dancing would go on at all.

Doug Haller, administrative director of the festival, says they were concerned about people traveling around town without traffic lights, but even more about them being in unheated buildings. After looking at weather reports (it was supposed to get down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday night) and talking with National Grid, city officials, and engineers at the City Center and the Hotel Saratoga, decided that those two venues would probably retain enough heat to be safe as long as daylight lasted on Saturday, but no longer. (It turned out they were right. Even the sprinkler systems had to be drained for fear of bursting over Saturday night.)

And so, the Flurry, usually a Friday-Sunday affair with hundreds of lessons, dances, and performances at seven different venues, was shrunk to a 10 AM to 4 PM window on Saturday at just the City Center and the Hotel Saratoga’s ballroom, operating on the hotel’s emergency generator and two rented ones. Attendance, which last year was about 5,500 including staff, volunteers and performers, was down to an estimated 2,000 to 2,500.

“OK, so I need to deal with my disappointment and not let it get in the way of my dancing,” said one woman to another as she walked down the chilly hall from the sign-in table toward the dancing. Overall, the swarm of people were cheerfully making the best of it.

In three smaller City Center rooms, some of the most popular workshops—tango, English country dance—were going forward, dimly lit with spotlights around the sides of the walls. In the under-construction hotel lobby, the foyers and some improbably small spaces between stairways and outer doors, groups of musicians gathered to jam. Some hardy Morris dancers tried a few dances outside before their musicians’ fingers got too numb to play. The City Center Main Hall was packed to the gills with nearly 1,000 contra dancers, playfully swinging their way up and down the hall.

On the columns and window panes of the City Center, hastily scribbled notes announced Scottish balls, swing dances and contra dances that were being cobbled together for that night in locations with electricity, all proceeds going to the Flurry. Haller says the Flurry is down about $75,000 in expected sales, and holds $35,000 in unredeemed tickets. Many performers and sound people have waived their fees, but the Flurry’s sponsor, Hudson- Mohawk Traditional Dances, is still going to have to do a lot of fund-raising to be able to bring back the nearly 20-year-old festival next year. (Information on making “Flurry Fund” donations can be found at www.danceflurry.org.)

But in the main hall, for a few hours, people were not worrying about the future. They had come here to dance, and for now that’s what they were doing. “They seemed to be pretty glad that we pulled off what we had,” said Haller.

Out in the lines, one man asked a friend about her chronic health problems. “When I dance, I don’t feel any pain,” she said.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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