4713-A Route 50, Gansevoort NY 12831
It is never good news to find out that 70 to 80 mile an hour winds are coming your way, but it is even worse news if you are organizing one of the largest dance events in the Northeast. That is just what happened on Friday, February 17th 2006 to the staff, crew, and volunteers who were putting together the 19th annual Saratoga Springs Dance Flurry. This event features music, and dance styles that are part of our American heritage. Each year thousands of people come from all over the country to attend at venues throughout town. This includes the notorious men who dance in skirts, and make the event even more interesting. However with the bad weather a certainty, it seemed that all could be lost for this year.
When the high winds hit at about noon on Friday, trees were uprooted, power lines went down, and the temperature dipped into the frigid single digits. This threw the entire Capital Region of New York into a bone chilling blackness that lasted all weekend. Well over 100,000 people were without power, and that included all of the venues in Saratoga Springs that house the Dance Flurry each year.
“My first reaction was a numbness that turned to anger,” stated program organizer Peter Davis. “It was a disaster that exceeded our expectations.”
By 8 PM on Friday night it was apparent that the full impact of the weather was at hand. There were no lights – no heat – and no hot water in the Saratoga Hotel and Convention Center that serves as the headquarters for the event. Even so the hotel bent over backwards to accommodate the guests, dancers, and musicians who had rented rooms. They even allowed some to leave on Friday, and then return on Saturday for no charge so that they could tend to issues that had arisen in their homes. Many of the attendees told me that the Saratoga Hotel was fantastic in their response, and they will forever be grateful.
Saratoga Hotel manager Chris Shaffer said, “Not only our staff, but all of the people of Saratoga Springs were amazed, and delighted at the spirit of the Flurry Folk. They had the mindset to make most of it instead of complaining, and falling apart. They had the best possible time under the conditions, and there were very few complaints. We look forward to be part of the Dance Flurry for a long time. It is a unique event, and they are a great group of people. The Dance Flurry is the highlight of the winter season in Saratoga, and it is a joy to be a part of it.”
The Dance Flurry is a huge financial boon to the Saratoga Springs area. Restaurants, and shops count on the thousands of attendees to spend freely, and light up the town. When the rooms at the Prime Hotel are made available one year ahead of time they are rented out in minutes. There is no doubt that the Dance Flurry benefits many in the Saratoga area so when it is hit hard by a weather event such as this, it causes a ripple effect that slashes through the entire local economy. One restaurant owner said that he lost over $10,000 from this year’s storm, and many local shop owners had similar tales.
However the real story here is that Dance Flurry went on in spite of it all. The dancers, and musicians simply would not be denied. The fact that they would not be paid, and others would return home without performing did not stop many from staying on through Saturday. Those who did stick around had a great time.
“Men bring extra socks, and underwear for a three day event. Women bring food’ said fundraiser Sharon Alley. This meant that even in the unheated, and darkened rooms of the hotel, the revelers were able to have a picnic in the halls of the hotel.
“It was like a mini Woodstock at the hotel” stated Janet Haseley who was attending her second flurry. “Some people had flashlights, so the musicians started playing, the dancers started dancing, it was like a beggars banquet and we had fun late into Friday night.”
Yet on Saturday morning the whole thing looked pretty bleak. There was no generator to power the event even if it was possible to continue with the performers at hand. That is when soundman Ian Hamelin discovered a large generator that was available, and informed administrative director Doug Haller that he could have it delivered that morning.
Miraculously some lights were hooked up, and installed in the convention rooms, the sound systems were put in place, and musicians started to play. Since the hotel was the only venue remaining of the many planned, the event became highly condensed. Not only were the dance floors in the four convention rooms packed, so was every nook, and cranny of the hotel lobby which suddenly held some sort of jam session, or dance event. The Woodstock comparison was fulfilled. From 9am to about 4pm on Saturday the hotel was alive with the spirit that has made the event such a huge draw. The difference is that in the face of this disaster, it meant even more.
“There were a lot of disappointed performers,” said Annie Haller who had the unfortunate chore of being in charge of informing them that payment, and stage space was non-existent for many. “However quite a few decided to stay, donate their time, and jam anyway. For instance the Hamilton Hill Steel Drum Band had traveled a long distance, and were heartbroken that they would not be paid, and would not be able to play. Yet after a few minutes of thought we found a space in the lobby for them to set-up. They turned up the heat with their performance, and that really turned the crowd on. It was amazing”
Ms. Haller also recalled “When I got overwhelmed dealing with the disappointment factor, I would get relieved from my table, and go inside the hall. The energy in there picked me right back up again, and I think that is just what happened to most people.”
Renowned piano man Bob McQuillen who has played at 5 previous Flurry events said he was saddened by the financial loss the flurry suffered, but felt that the energy at this festival was the highest he had ever seen. “In it’s own way this was a great Flurry. The people were very cohesive, supportive, and upbeat. That it is rare thing in this day and age. I was amazed the entire time. The hotel people, right down to the Flurry volunteers were terrific, and everyone showed a lot of heart. I can’t wait for next year.”
Bill Matthiesen, president of DanceFlurry Organization (dba for Hudson Mohawk Traditional Dances Inc.) said, “The dancers, and musicians are part of an art form that they support themselves. There is no major corporation behind them with millions of dollars of backing so it was just natural for them to respond as they did. After all they don’t just come to this festival to sit and watch. They participate. In a very real sense they own the Flurry so when the big winds hit us, they did the best they could to keep it going. In a way they are used to it. Still, it will be difficult to recoup our losses. It won’t be impossible, but our work is cut out for us”
“We lost between 70% & 80% of the usual attendance so we took an enormous financial hit.” groaned an exhausted Doug Haller at the Flurry staff, and volunteer potluck lunch on the Monday after the event. “We have a lot of up front expenses like paying for the venues, advertising, and programs etc. Our savings for the past several years were totally wiped out in one night. However the good news is that many who attended gave large, and small donations, and there are several benefits planned for the future. There is also a chance that state disaster funds may be available as well. We are looking into that right now. The dancers, and musicians, many of whom donated their time, will not let us down, because we have never let them down. The Flurry will live on, and it will continue to grow. There is no doubt about that.”
This is exactly the kind of emotion that all who attended the 06’ Dance Flurry walked away with. It is the sort of feeling that stayed with them for the whole year as they anxiously looked forward, and planed for Dance Flurry 07’. With the kind of spirit the Flurry Folk manifest you can be certain that it will be a big success – no matter what happens.
To find out more about the Dance Flurry Festival go to www.danceflurry.org.
The Dance Flurry community's overwhelming response to the DanceFlurry Angel Appeal fundraising campaign saved the festival from financial disaster. This enabled the organization to sponsor the 20th annual Dance Flurry Festival and achieve the same scale and level of quality that attendees and participants have come to expect over the years.