BRATTLEBORO -- Dozens of people were dancing downtown on Saturday and Sunday as part of the first ever "Take a Chance and Dance" event.
But shuffling their feet, moving their hips and extending their arms wasn't the only thing visitors from the tri-state area were doing, they also brought out their wallets and took advantage of the numerous sales throughout the town, even hula hooping for gift cards at Sam's Outdoor Outfitters.
The idea was to give people yet another reason to visit Brattleboro in the summertime and offer a boost to the business community. Across town, dance exhibits and classes were offered to encourage people to get out and move as well as drum up some summertime business for local merchants who were offering various discounts over the course of the weekend.
At Pliny Park on Saturday, musicians and dance instructors were literally drumming up businesses as Namory Keita, of Guinea, played for the crowd gathered to learn how to "Lamba," a traditional African dance, from instructor Pape Ba, of Senegal.
Kathy Heim of Newfane and her granddaughter, 6-year-old Sienna Heim of Carmel, N.Y., joined her cousin Dayna Gorbutt, 10, of Somers, N.Y., Jan Gorbutt, of White Plains, N.Y., and Denise Cassidy of Williamsville, along the stony floor of Pliny Park to dance the circle "Lamba."
"I saw the event on the Reformer website and wanted to bring the kids and our friends to see all the dancing," Kathy Heim
Cultural aerobics wasn't the only thing they had in store for Saturday however.
"I've got my credit card and I plan on going shopping," Jan Gorbutt said. "This is a great event because it showcases lots of different types of dance and if you're not into one particular type you can go get stuff for cheap at the local stores here."
Co-organizer and Building a Better Brattleboro board member Donna Simons said she's always wanted to figure out a way to display how many different types of dance are available in Brattleboro and the next thing she knew, the event was off and promenading.
Simons, proprietor of A Candle in the Night, got together with other business owners and pitched the idea of a dance festival. It took less than a month for people fill downtown, shopping and swinging.
"I've always had this idea to have dancing in Brattleboro at the parks and street-side venues," she said. "I mentioned the idea at a meeting once and between Jerry (Goldberg) and Andrea (Livermore) and others, here we are."
Livermore, executive director of BaBB, said she thought the combination of culture and commerce was fairly successful, even though the 80 degree weather might have offered other activities for people to do.
"Sometimes the weather can be too nice for something like this," she said. "If it were raining or 95 and humid I think we'd have even more people here dancing and shopping."
Edward Cage drove his family up to Brattleboro on Saturday from Amherst, Mass., after learning about the event from the Reformer, and didn't know quite what to expect.
He said he wanted to show his wife, Viera, and their two children, 8-year-old Monica and 6-year-old Darius, something different, and that's exactly what they got.
"It turned out to be quite a surprise," Cage said after he and his family learned to contra dance at the Robert H. Gibson River
Led by caller Mary Wesley of Farrisburg, the family learned how to allemande left and right, dosey do and swing their partner.
Many of the business owners said the event, and the raffle, which offered a $1,000 local shopping spree, brought in a lot of people that might not have visited their stores otherwise.
"Judging from the number of raffle tickets we collected, there was a lot of people in town," Goldberg said. "For a pilot project I think it was very successful. It seemed to capture the merchants imagination and I think they'd support us doing this again next year."
On Sunday, Michelle Gould, of Springfield, was awarded a $1,000 shopping spree to any of the downtown businesses.
"This will be the first of many such drawings," Simons said. "We're hoping to increase the shopping spree limit to $5,000 next year."
Josh Stilts can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.