I'm a Modern Day Gypsy

Typical moment in the life of a Modern Day Gypsy
Nearly two weeks ago, about an hour after midnight, I laid my head to rest at my Washington Heights sublet. It was snowing again, which wasn’t shocking considering the timing of my past four Bolt Bus trips back home to Philadelphia and how they each coincided with some type of snow event. When I left the apartment scurrying amongst flurries the next morning, I knew that had been my last night in this ultra-Spanish neighborhood that was the inspiration for the Broadway musical, “In The Heights.” When I returned from Philly a week later, I’d be laying to rest on my friend’s couch in the refined gayborhood of Chelsea. After my fourth night there, I left this afternoon to embark on a weekend trip to Los Angeles to celebrate the life of my great friend and benefactor, Mimi Chiang. It may end, though, with me sleeping at the airport. My first flight was cancelled and my re-booked flight officially has me listed on standby. When I lay down to rest (hopefully tonight) in the Pacific Palisades, my mind may drift in and out of strategic problem solving to determine where I’ll stay when I return. Trying to find a short-term sublet in New York City is a difficult task. It’s been a stressful search, but I’ll just deal with it when I have a free moment. I know your first thought, “Gosh…I’d be utterly panicked right now!” Oh, I’m getting there. But a modern day gypsy must live for adventure.

Back when I first moved to Philadelphia in June of 2011, I met a peer and colleague whom I had known of since competing against him in the first two years of the international youth ballet competition, Youth America Grand Prix (circa 2000). Robert Colby Damon, or Colby, had been working as a freelance artist for a few years by that point. I knew, with my 22-week contract, that I’d have to endure a small amount of freelancing work. But I had no idea what I was truly in for. Colby and I used to talk about his couch-surfing habits and his fly by the seat of his pants housing situations. I probably sat talking to him, mouth agape, trying to comprehend how he lived like this. Little did I know, that I was about to fly through my own crash course in modern day gypsy-ism.

My First Gypsy Bed in NYC
I didn’t start off living this crazy, nationally-touring freelance lifestyle at such a fast clip. My first stay in somebody else’s home was in New York City for 3 weeks when I performed at the Guggenheim. It was nearly 3 months that I slept in my own bed after that. Then, I spent 5 weeks residing with a host family in Anchorage. Once I lost my contract with Ballet X, things picked up at an almost frenzied pace. 1 week on Long Island, 3 weeks in Providence, 1 week in New Hampshire. Dancing a summer gig in Philadelphia was a nice respite from what was about to come. Within 2 years, I would see Rochester twice, Myrtle Beach, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, San Francisco (twice), Walnut Creek, Los Angeles (too many times to count), Anchorage (again and again), Indiana, and more and more and more. Aside from 5 months at home at the beginning of 2015, I haven’t stayed put for more than a few weeks for over 4 years.

My Washington Heights Sublet & My Weekly Packing Ritual
What does it feel like to travel as much as I do? It requires a certain sense of adventure and freedom from expectation. It necessitates one to go with the flow. Oddly enough, I find myself micromanaging my life when I return home to my apartment in Philadelphia. Likely because I finally feel like I can control my environment. When people meet me in gypsy-mode, they often comment that I am so laid back. Instead of plastering on this facade, I learned that it is just easier to submit to the uncertainty and confusion that can come from changing things up on the regular.

One thing that a lot of people wonder is how I cope with the irregularity of this lifestyle. Honestly, sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes, I ignore my own needs and keep pressing forth to create my art and pay my bills. This is a bad way to deal with things. And as I learned back in 2014, it can lead to severe, nearly-crippling burn out. What I have found that helps is to acclimate fast, find what comforts you absolutely require, and to stay connected with people in your life in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

Seen on my acclimation walk in Richmond, VA
To acclimate myself to a new situation, If time allows, I will always go for an extremely long walk (or drive if that is available) around the neighborhood that I am living in. Knowing where food, drink, and toiletry options are helps a lot. Do keep in mind that you will likely spend more money the first few days, as you won’t know what stores in neighborhoods provide the best deals. When I first began subletting in the Heights, I paid nearly $5 for one of my favorite snacks when the grocery store a block away sold it for $2 less. It’s essentially the equivalent to moving your entire apartment and adjusting to that new neighborhood, only every couple of days or weeks.

As for comforts, I know I’m a fully-grown man, but I travel and sleep with a little stuffed animal that my partner gave me as a gift the first year that I started traveling for work. I haven’t slept with a stuffed animal since I was a little kid. But the discomfort of sleeping somewhere foreign and having an empty bed makes this more comforting than you could imagine. Or in another case, if your morning routine requires coffee (like mine, and lots of it), if coffee isn’t readily available, buy some instant coffee. No matter how poor the quality of the brew, it will be comforting to know it is still somewhat within your control.

Lastly, be sure to keep communication lines open with friends and family. One of my biggest challenges, as my workload involves a great deal of in-studio and out of studio effort, is to make contact with those that I love and who love me back. Text messages don't always feel extremely personal. I like to use chat apps (like Facebook messenger), phone calls, or Facetime/Skype calls to have a full conversation versus broken apart text chats that may span days. I feel it is important for any gypsy to be surrounded by people they know beyond acquaintances on a regular basis, even if not in person. At times, I have felt like I was losing sense of who I was before I started freelancing. I used to have a group of friends and co-workers that would joke, tease, and laugh with (and sometimes at) me. Whether they were lovingly pointing out my flaws or supporting me in an unnecessary moment of distress, I always knew who I was as I saw my reflection in their attention. I lost this for some time as I became too focused on my work. So, be sure to note the factors that bring normalcy into your life and try to keep them with you on the fly.

Sometimes, I wish that I never knew what it felt like to be a gypsy. And part of the reason that I am residentially floating around New York City is to find a place to call my career-home. It’s both emotionally and physically exhausting. But at the same time, I find myself constantly peering back into history at my 15 year old self and imagining what he would think if somebody told him this would be his life one day. It’s fascinating and horrifying. Exciting and nerve-wracking. I don’t have long flowing garb or dangly earrings. I’m not quick-witted or sassy. I’m a 5’ 10’’ Jewish gay white boy who wears the same clothes that everybody else does. Yet, it wouldn’t be odd for you to see me pass you by with a carry-on sized piece of luggage dragging behind me. My name is Barry Kerollis and I am a modern day gypsy.

Living that Gypsy Life

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