Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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In Fairview, 'Dancing Guy' hangs up his iPod

In 2008 Andrew Kerosky talks about what brought him to the corner to dance. (Video by Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)

- See more video of Kerosky dance (YouTube)

It's a good Friday if I get out of work in time to catch Andrew Kerosky standing near the corner of Ingra and 15th Avenue doing robotic dance moves to whatever is playing on his iPod.

If you drive home on 15th, you know exactly what I mean. Kerosky has been rocking out on that corner every Friday during rush hour for almost five years. In the rain, in the snow, in the numbing, sub-zero wind, there he is, mouthing words, bouncing his shoulders, chopping his arms, spinning.

But, I'm sorry to say, today is Kerosky's last Friday performance. He is 24 years old now, he explained when I talked with him recently. He's headed with his girlfriend to India, where he plans to take Internet courses and teach dance.

I get that, but I'll miss him. Kerosky has been a persistent bright spot, dancing there in the glow of the Shell station on a particularly gritty stretch of 15th. It's all asphalt parking lots and cheap-rent apartments near his post, just down from the Black Angus Inn and the pawn shop with its giant, lit-up dollar sign. The bus stops nearby and the working people trudge out. The commuters roar by in their end-of-day haze. For a while, a panhandler with a windburned face and crutches took up residence on the median across from him.

Kerosky isn't high, drunk or crazy. He just likes to dance. From his spot at the intersection of the bike path and an alley, Kerosky has observed plenty. Motorists honk at him. They try to give him money (he doesn't take tips, as a rule). A few yell obscenities. They shoot photos with their phones. Once a passing bicyclist slapped him in the head. He's been pelted with shoes and hubcaps. Kerosky just keeps dancing.

He's only missed four Fridays since he started. Twice because he had mono (he sat in a chair in his usual spot instead because he was told too much movement would harm his organs). Once because he had the swine flu (he posted a sign at the corner). And once because he went on vacation and couldn't find a sub.

It all started five years ago February, when his old Subaru broke down right on that corner. Kerosky was in a dark period. He'd decided not to return to the University of Southern California, where he had been studying film, because he didn't have a way to pay for it. His friends from Steller Secondary were moving on with their educations. He was caught in one of life's eddies, back in his home town, anonymous, unexceptional, frustrated. As he stood in the cold waiting for a tow truck, it occurred to him that maybe he should start moving to keep warm.

So he slipped on his iPod and let the rhythm do the rest. It felt good. Really good. It lifted him out of his funk. He didn't mind getting weird looks from passing motorists. In fact, he kind of liked the idea of interrupting their predictable drive with something out of the ordinary. He decided to go back the next week. And then it became a thing. I asked him if he thought of his dancing as performance art.

"This is a hard thing to describe," he told me. "It's actually sort of a protest against reality."

By reality, he means a lot of things. He means the threadbare reality of the characters he sees shuffling down the block. And the realities of the people in their cars, distracted by their own preoccupations. And his own reality that February almost five years ago, when his life didn't really match the expectations he had for himself.

"I got to step out of that realistic, cynical world and go back to the idealistic world," he said.

When he finishes dancing he always feels cleansed, he said. It makes him want to dance some more.

Becoming "the dancing guy" took Kerosky's life in a new direction. People began to recognize him on the street. He took a job as a "waver" for Liberty Tax Service, which meant dressing up in a patriotic costume and dancing on the roadside to bring customers during income tax season. After a while he was promoted to manage all the other wavers. The Anchorage School District asked him to speak to children about "being yourself." The Fairview Community Council gave him an award over the summer for "neighborhood improvement." Currently he works as a cashier at Costco and at Classic Toys. He's taking classes at UAA but hasn't settled on a major.

Kerosky has always loved to dance but he was teased about it at school so he didn't do much of it in public while growing up, he said. As an adult, he's kind of a reserved person when he's not dancing. His Friday performances filled a need he didn't know he had, he said.

"Everybody has something they need to express," he said. "People forget how easy self-expression is."

Over the years, Kerosky honed his dancing from a kind of Average Joe side-to-side to his own version of an urban dance style form he learned from studying YouTube videos called "Liquid Popping." It's kind of like if you took the '80s robot style and gave it an infusion of Michael Jackson's moon walk.

Most of the neighbors I called didn't know about Kerosky's retirement. All of them were sad.

"It's a loss," said Fairview Community Council President Sharon Chamard.

"We always dreamed we were going to get him on Ellen DeGeneres," said Christopher Constant, who sits on the council.

"What? No!" said Michael Howard, who lives nearby and helped organize Kerosky's award.

"He's sort of a local neighborhood hero. An icon."

Sometimes people give Kerosky gifts. Handmade cards. Bottled water. Gift cards for iTunes. When he left out his sign that he had swine flu, people signed it, wishing him well.

"It's really powerful to me, stuff like that," he said. "Spontaneous generosity."

When he had the opportunity to go to India, he almost said no. The main reason: He didn't want to quit dancing. It still upsets him to talk about giving it up. He feels like he's abandoning the neighborhood. "I feel like I let a buddy down," he said.

So tonight, one last time, Kerosky will put on a roadside dance performance and we're all invited. There's talk of bringing a boom box to the corner so everyone can hear the playlist that he has been listening to. And maybe some of the people who have been watching him all these years will show up. Maybe once they hear the music, they'll want to dance too.


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