Living with a Host Family

I hear a low rumble and there are trees flying by my sides. I hear kids screaming and I'm feeling pretty tired. Yet another engagement as a freelance dancer has come to an end. I can't help but feel nostalgic about the past 4 weeks as I glide on my way home on what is becoming a regular experience with Amtrak. The performances of Swan Lake with Festival Ballet of Providence went well. I had some memorable experiences, including about 3 minutes notice that I was dancing a featured role on opening night due to another dancer's injury. I got to see yet another dancer put an exclamation mark on a beautiful career. But the memories that I will hold dearest to me in this experience will be the ones that I shared with my host family.

Often, when I am dancing as a guest artist somewhere that isn't close to home, housing will be provided for me. There is an array of options that an employer can provide. From a hotel, to an apartment, to housing you themselves. If you will be staying for an extended period of rehearsal and performance, the most common thing to do is to place a dancer with a host family. Living with a host family requires one to be very open to new experiences and willing to adjust one's habits.

I am always a bit nervous about spending more than a couple of days with people that I have never met before. What if we don't get along? What if they have expectations of me that I can't meet? What if I need more personal space? I have found that the best thing to do before arriving for your stay is to be open about your biggest concerns with whomever is setting up your housing accommodations. For instance, I need to be positive that my host family is going to be comfortable with who I am as a person. I always request a gay-friendly household and ask that I am placed with more open-minded people. The last thing I want is to show up and find that my temporary home is not comfortable with my lifestyle. It is always slightly uncomfortable to bring up this personal information, but it is better to address it prior to arriving than to live in a bad situation for a month. I also try to make sure that my host family has wifi, as having internet access is very important to me. If you are open about what will make you most comfortable, you are more likely to have a good experience. I also try to have some direct interaction with my host family before I arrive. Before I traveled to Alaska, I skyped with my host "mother." We got to see each other and feel out our personalities. I was able to ask questions and get a quick, direct answer. If Skype isn't an option, phone, Facebook, and email are valuable tools.

So, the day has arrived and you have been traveling all day. You may be exhausted from travel and you probably want to get situated. No matter how tired I am, I always try to sit down and have an extended conversation with my hosts. They have been gracious enough to allow me to stay with them and it is good to break the ice from the start. Remember that you probably already have something in common, a passion for the arts. Ask about their relation to the organization you are dancing for, but be sure to focus on getting to know them as people, too. After we spend some time together, I try to get a acquainted with my surroundings.  If it isn't too late, I always go for a short walk around the neighborhood. I find that I can settle down faster if I have a clearer perspective of where things are. Just make sure you know how to get back home (and if it is -15 degrees outside, don't keep the code to the garage door in your phone…because it will shut down in the cold and you will have to be creative in getting back inside the house). Now that you've settled in, how do you function in your new environment?

Every person has different habits and different comforts. Try to make yourself as comfortable as possible, but be respectful that you are not in your own house. Don't walk around in your underwear. Don't go out for drinks with friends and exceed your limit. Be cautious the first couple of days and really feel out each situation. Make sure that it is clear whether you are buying your own food or if it is alright for you to scavenge the refrigerator. Also be clear if there are certain rooms that you can't enter. Try not to assume that things are a certain way. If you are unsure, it is always best to ask. Although, these things make living with a host family sound uncomfortable, in all reality, most situations turn out to be very enjoyable and you can still keep most of your habits. For instance, I am not a morning person. I don't like to talk when I have just woken up. I will have a short conversation in the morning, but not much more. As a small hint to this, if I don't have my own space to eat breakfast, drink my coffee, and go online, I will wear a hoodie with the hood up until I have sufficiently woken up. It is a gentle barrier that gives me space to be quiet and wake up. Obviously, you don't want to be rude and do this all day long, but you can find ways to feel that you have your own space.

Some host families are just providing a place for you to stay and do not require or want much interaction, while others want to accept you as one of the family. I have experienced both situations and have been comfortable with both. My most recent experience was with a wonderful and generous family in Providence, Rhode Island. They not only provided a beautiful home, but they are great 
My host family's home in Providence
people that made me feel welcome, comfortable, and like I was a part of the family. This family went above and beyond the norm to make sure that I was comfortable. Delicious home-made dinners, a ride anywhere I needed or wanted to go, support, and friendship were only a few of the luxuries that I experienced during my stay with this family. During my time in their home, they were gracious enough to share what it is like to host a dancer.

April, Lily, Jesse, Jeff, & Jacob (Lily & Jacob are Jesse's siblings)
Who are these host families that so generously open up their home and privacy to complete and total strangers? Sometimes, they are donors for the company. Sometimes their kid dances in the school. There are many reasons why a host family may take an artist in to reside with them. April and Jeff, my host "mother and father," have had a relationship with Festival Ballet of Providence (Festival) for quite a while. Their daughter, Jesse, started training in the school nearly 10 years ago. She is finishing her final year in Festival's school and will be attending the Joffrey Ballet trainee program in Chicago beginning this fall. As Jesse grew up in the organization, April became more involved with the ballet. First, volunteering to assist with shows and eventually joining the board of the company. Although, she is no longer on the board, she continues to be a great advocate for Festival. When I asked The Fam, as I call them, why they chose to host a dancer, April mentioned that one of the ballet's admins called her up to see if she knew somebody who would be willing to host a dancer. April thought "We could do that. We have an extra bedroom and are close to the studios." Jeff loves having guests at the house and wanted to be supportive of the ballet since it has been so instrumental in Jesse's development. They wanted to do what they could to help out.

The Fam had never hosted an artist before. They didn't have any major concerns about having a dancer in the house. The only minor worry was having an adult male around that they didn't know, given that Jesse is only 17 years old. After speaking with the director of Festival about me and doing some research on Facebook, they felt more than comfortable having me stay with them. Through their research, they were happy to find that we had more in common than just ballet. April also mentioned that, "All of the dancers I have met have been really great people. There is a sense of dedication and passion for something that keeps them very focused and real. I have an enormous respect for a group of people that are doing something just because they love it and have been able to ward off all other conflicting messages that this is a hard profession and just did it anyway. The dancers that I have met at Festival, I find to be very honest and very real." For these reasons, April felt very comfortable letting not a stranger, but a dancer stay in her home for a month.

April, Jeff, Jesse, and I spent a lot of time together. The meeting place of their home is a huge, self-designed kitchen. The layout makes it the perfect meeting place for the family and is a great venue for easy discussion. We enjoyed many laughs as we got to know each other and shared different experiences with one another. The time we spent together was very real and I feel that we gained a lot from each other. Jesse told me, "One thing we got from Barry staying with us is that there are many other companies outside of Festival. We have been offered a greater peak at the ballet world. I feel more educated." April also mentioned that she really enjoyed that "the common thread was the knowledge and excitement around ballet. I loved to hear about and watch performance footage that you had done.  I liked hearing about your creative process in choreography. I also appreciated hearing how you figured out how to deal with the harsh aspects of dance, like dancing in pain, expectations of companies, expectations of fellow dancers, and how you processed that and have been able to figure out how to be good with that and still be true to yourself." I gained a broader view on many things. Aside from our many passionate discussions about ballet, I gained a greater respect for family. Each family functions differently and I really respected April and Jeff's approach when it came to running their family. It was special to form a big brother bond with Jesse. I also learned that, although I am not a dog person, puppy's can be cute and I can live with one (The Fam brought a new puppy into their home two weeks into my stay).

Rosie - The Fam's new puppy
I feel we all gained a lot from this experience. Not every host family situation is as smooth as the one I just experienced. But you can drive your experience by being clear about your needs prior to arriving and being malleable to other people's ways of living once you have arrived. In the end, you can grow so much by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and you can make lifelong friends in the process. I will close this entry with a gem of a quote that my dear Jesse left me with at the end of one of our conversations. I feel it is very inspiring for anybody that is thinking about freelancing.

"It is really nice to see dancers outside of Festival, especially because I'm going away to the Joffrey trainee program. I respect freelance dancers now and feel more comfortable and secure to leave home now that I have a bigger view of the dance world. Freelancers are brave, they could potentially be unhappy and homesick. It is nice to get to know somebody who is real and has been in the dance world outside of Festival. When I'm nervous about something, I think of my brother. Now, I feel comfortable that I can think about you when I'm nervous about going somewhere else."

Jesse & me backstage on opening night with FBP


  1. Many families host for the educational value and enrichment the experience brings to their own families. American customs and culture gain deeper meaning as host families introduce homestay participants to their own cultures.

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  2. Thanks for the comment! When I interviewed my host family for this blog, we talked a lot about what a value it was for Jesse to learn about the ins and outs of the dance world from someone (me) that has been directly involved in it beyond the company in Providence. Im very proud of Jesse, as she just started at the Joffrey Trainee program in Chicago. We still keep in touch and I am more than happy to help out when I can. Whether it be a new culture, a career field that you are interested in, or you just want an outsiders perspective, hosting can be eye opening and rewarding!