left: Contra dancers make the best of it at an abridged
in the Dark
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.
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.
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