My 2014 Highlights - Best in a Year of a Gypsy Dancer

This year FLEW by!!!
This year has been a very fascinating year for me. I have had some really high high's and some really low low's. From experimenting with what it would feel like beyond my performing years to living like a gypsy in, sometimes, frightening situations, it has been a wild year that has shaped and formed me into the person that I am today. As 2014 comes to an end, I surely have grown by leaps and bounds and am very different than I was when it started. Instead of looking back at the times that challenged me, I'd like to remember the moments of greatest growth, change, and achievement. I hope you enjoy and that you are looking forward to another year in the Life of a Freelance Dancer in 2015.

In costume for Company C's gala performance
1. My year in dance began quickly and abruptly. After spending the first few weeks of 2014 worrying that I wasn't going to find any freelancing work, I got an emergency phone call from Company C Contemporary Ballet. They needed a principal caliber dancer to replace a company member that was injured earlier that day. If they couldn't find a replacement, they were considering cancelling their shows. After four different connections had suggested they reach out to me, I received the call to fly out almost immediately, learn two ballets in 4 days, and have my San Francisco debut at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It was quick, exciting, and quite rewarding.

2. After spending a week with Company C in Walnut Creek and another week in San Francisco, I found myself traveling quite a bit. Between January and December, I spent at least 24 hours (and up to 3 1/2 months) in San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, Los Angeles, Irvine, New York City, Anchorage, and am now flying as I write on my way to Seattle to close out the year. It has been a crazy year to say the least. When I look through my Instagram page, I'm still amazed at the multitude of places I visited this year.

3.  One of the most rewarding performances I had this year was dancing the role of Romeo with Fort Wayne Ballet. I only had a week to learn the entire three act ballet, which at times felt like an impossibility. Luckily, I had a great partner that I instantly connected with and we turned out a miracle of a performance in an extremely short period of time. I also found a new level of emotion in my dancing, as I was able to tap into places that I didn't even know I had. I never thought I would have the ability to genuinely cry onstage.

Fort Wayne Ballet's Romeo and Juliet w/ Lucia Rogers (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
4. While I don't always end up living in the most ideal of conditions while traveling for work, every year I have the pleasure of meeting some really fantastic people that open their doors for me to live with them. Another reason that Fort Wayne was also so rewarding was because I got to spend two weeks with my hosts, the Possemato family. Not only did they provide a beautiful home. They treated me like family and made sure that I was more comfortable there than I would be even in my own home. Also, right prior to that, I got to spend a few days in San Francisco with my host mother from my time in Los Angeles with Barak Ballet.
Swamp tour w/friend and former colleague William Lin-Yee

5. One of my favorite gigs this year was dancing with Lafayette Ballet Theatre in Louisiana. While I have reconnected with a great many past friends since I began freelancing, I haven't had the opportunity to dance with any of my former colleagues from Pacific Northwest Ballet. Through the kindness of my friend Lindsi Dec, PNB Principal, I was connected and given the opportunity to dance besides three friends that I haven't seen since leaving Seattle.

Touring a New Orleans cemetery
6. To sweeten the deal in Lafayette, I was able to extend my trip and fly out of New Orleans. I had never been to this gem of a city before and, let me tell you, did it catch me off guard. I lived on the edge a lot last year and visiting New Orleans was probably one of the most daring trips I took. I jumped on a Greyhound bus for 2 1/2 hours and booked my hotel while wheeling my bag through the downtown area as I walked towards the French Quarter. Before I was in my hotel room (which was right in the heart of Bourbon Street), I already had a hand-grenade in hand. I had been traveling and working so much, that I didn't plan one part of the trip or do any research. I just showed up and let the magic of this musical city haunt me and take my breath away. I can't wait to go back and experience the magic that this city has to offer!

At Company C gala w/former SAB peer, Chantelle Pianetta
 7. One very special part of this past year was the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues supported me in my efforts to obtain work this year. As I stated above, four people suggested me as a replacement to dance with Company C in San Francisco. I also obtained work through the kindness and trust of friends in Louisiana, Oakland, and Anchorage. As I've stated in past posts, it is your connections and your network of friends that carry you through this unique career. I am so grateful to those friends!

8. While I didn't get to perform in the final performances with Oakland Ballet (I did get to dance in the Bay Area Dance Week and Oakland Art Murmur), I did have the wonderful opportunity to work with Robert Moses. Robert really threw me out of my comfort zone during the 5 weeks I got to work with him. He taught choreography in a style that was very challenging for me and at a lightning fast pace (I tend to start learning slow and catch up halfway through). The first few days, I felt very let down, as I was left out of much of the creative process. Then, all of a sudden, Robert had me perform my own interpretation (with improv) of a solo he had taught me. From there, I had a duet that opened the ballet, a few solos, and closed the ballet. Throughout the nearly 20 minutes of his new work, I only left the stage for about 2 minutes and was featured throughout. This was an amazing accomplishment for me, as I felt that I was struggling so greatly that he wouldn't end up using me at all. This was my greatest disappointment in suffering my injury.

One of the houses I stayed in (on left) while couch surfing in San Francisco
9. While my time trying to find a place to lay my head during the challenging period where my housing fell through with Oakland Ballet was the absolute lowlight of 2014 (and perhaps my entire career), the sense of humanity and kindness that I received from pure strangers that let me stay in their homes for periods of time was definitely an important lesson. I would probably be one of the last people to welcome a stranger, let alone letting them sleep in my home. But it was the kindness of the many people that took me in that really restored my faith in people and showed me that there really is so much good in this world.

10. Sometimes, I feel like California is beckoning me to move to the state. I spent a total of three months in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, and Walnut Creek) and Los Angeles this year. I love these cities so much and am so happy that my career brought me to these communities for such extended periods of time this year.

I missed him, especially.
11. After my injury in California, I got to come home to Philly to recover. While it definitely wasn't a highlight to be injured, getting to spend 7 weeks at home was extremely valuable for me and my partner. Not only did I spend this time healing my body, but I used it to heal my mind and reconnect with a more normal lifestyle. This was the longest I had been home since the summer of 2012.

12. Perhaps, the biggest highlight of my year was being selected as one of the four choreographers for the National Choreographers Initiative. I had applied to NCI two times prior to being accepted into this prestigious workshop experience. It was a very humbling honor to be selected besides three amazing choreographers; Philip Neal - former New York City Ballet Principal dancer, Gabrielle Lamb - 2014 Princess Grace Award winner for choreography, and Garrett Smith - a young, prodigious choreographer currently dancing with Norwegian National Ballet. After three weeks of work with some amazing dancers that were hired from ballet companies across the country, I got to present my first nearly full work (I'm waiting for a commission to create the final movement) since I left Seattle in 2011.

Dylan Keane, Jackie McConnell, & Evan Swenson rehearsing my ballet @ NCI
13. While I was at NCI, I got the phone call from Alaska Dance Theatre asking if I was willing to move to Anchorage to be their next Artistic Director. I never applied for the job and I wasn't sure if I wanted to transition out of performing full-time. So, I was lucky that I needed some more time to heal my body and that they were willing to let me take the job on an interim trial. While, in the end, I chose not to stay on full-time as Artistic Director, getting the experience of running the artistic operations of an organization, influencing the community to feel inspired about dance, and training the young, talent of the Last Frontier was truly an invaluable experience that will only push me further on my hopeful path to becoming an international representative of ballet and dance.

14. This year, I achieved a handful of goals that I have been working towards for many years. All the way at the beginning of the year I was featured in an article for Dance Magazine. Twice after that, I was featured in Dance Informa Magazine. I also found myself featured on a major blog with over 60,000 subscribers as one of 49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art. It was an honor to be listed besides names like Daymond John (Shark Tank) and Will Wheaton, among others. I also scored an agent to represent me for choreography after showing at the National Choreographers Initiative.

Sunset along the Seward Highway outside Anchorage
15. One thing that I haven't really shared on this blog is that while I love the work that I do, there is an insane amount of pressure and stress involved in being a traveling dancer. The lack of familiarity, having to prove myself immediately upon arrival, not having the comfort of home to return to, the instability of regular income, the hustle of finding work, constantly learning choreography at breakneck speed, and much more can be wildly stressful. Over the last year, I developed severe anxiety and stress symptoms, to the point where I had a lump in my throat (for nearly 6 months), stress palpitations, and severe insomnia. Having the stability of nearly four months of work in Alaska gave me the break that I needed to relax a bit and relieve my stress. Getting to return to the same home every day and not wondering where the next paycheck would come from really helped me find my way back to a healthier place. Also having a roommate that I really bonded with and easy access to breathtaking, healing natural beauty helped. Three years of non-stop travel definitely requires extended breaks in one place here and there (even if it isn't home).

16. Lastly, I feel like this is a highlight of every year for me. I got to reconnect with so many friends that I haven't seen since my training days. As a national freelancer, moving from company to company, it is amazing to see so many friends that I trained beside who have become incredible, talented artists. This dance world is so small and it is so rewarding to revisit past memories and create new ones through art. Beyond this, getting to meet and dance with so many new artists is equally gratifying. Now, I can add them to my tight knit network and continue this cyclical ballet pattern.

Going away party at Alaska Dance Theatre
I can have a tendency to focus on the negative or on items that I feel need to be fixed. I feel it is only natural for most dancers to think this way, as it is how many of us were trained to achieve the feats that we have accomplished. Looking back on this list of my 2014 highlights, even with the challenges that I faced,  I really must say that this was a pretty damn successful year. Cheers to even greater successes in 2015! Happy New Year!


  1. Barry, I really enjoyed reading all about your great year, and how positive you are about everything that happened to you! Everything must really happen for a reason, and for the best! Cheers to a new year!! -Sonia

  2. Thanks for your comment, Sonia! My year definitely had it's challenges. But after reading through all that I succeeded at, it was hard to think about any of the challenges that I experienced. Cheers and Happy New Year to you!