Dancing Abroad in the U.S.: What it Takes to Freelance as a Non-Resident
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
1. You'll need to show proof of an existing dance career.
To build a dance career in the U.S., non-resident dancers must already be working professionals with an impressive list of credits and opportunities for work awaiting them. Visa applications undergo a rigorous approval process that includes a microscopic look at your work.
Despite providing television footage, articles from the press and proof of income, professional dancer Charlotte Reardon still found it difficult to obtain a visa. She was repeatedly asked for more evidence to support her petition, and at one point, was forced to get a written letter from a journalist when the article mention without a photograph wasn't enough proof.
"Bottom line, it was a nightmare," she says. "They'll pick at anything they can until they can't pick any longer."
Even after receiving an approval, Dutta says that a visa can be revoked at the consulate level for not having enough high profile credits, insufficient evidence or any other reason. "We've definitely seen a rise in revocations," she says. "For whatever reason, sometimes rightly, most of the time wrongly, the consulate has the power to say, 'We don't think this person qualifies.' "
Elodie Giuge, Courtesy Reardon
2. Injuries could change your status.
Once you've been approved, you can only operate under the terms of that specific visa. If your circumstances happen to change, then your visa is no longer valid.
"People have to be extremely careful," Dutta says, mentioning that non-resident dancers don't have the luxury of picking up odd jobs like bartending. "Once you've violated the visa, it's very difficult to undo," she says.
Reardon, who's toured England, worked with Disney in Paris and with the Rockettes, had to start from scratch after a serious injury. "The moment I couldn't do my job is the moment my visa was no longer valid," she says. "Within a few months, I had to up and leave."
3. You'll need to hire legal support.
After losing her visa, Reardon took time to regroup in her home country of England. She was eventually able to rebuild her career and reapply for a new visa with the help of legal experts like Dutta.
"It's really rare for somebody to be able to file this by themselves," says Dutta. Legal expertise can also help you navigate issues like visa extensions, the impact of administration changes and green card processes.
Now working as a model, dance educator and posture consultant, Reardon was able to reposition from a performance visa to a consulting visa under Dutta's guidance.
4. Renewals will regularly cost thousands of dollars.
Visa filing fees alone are nearly $2000, and when legal fees are added, the cost becomes upwards of $7000.
"It does sort of skew towards the people whose family can afford it," Dutta says.
Reardon, who's had six visas over the span of her career, has spent over $35,000 total on visa-related expenses. She shares stories of friends who've given up their dance career in the U.S. because they've run out of steam and money. "The reason I've been able to stay in America is because I've made enough money to pay all the visa fees. And I have found it really worth my while to really hustle."
Reardon recommends a good dose of positivity and perseverance for this process. "Stay positive," she suggests. "Carry on. Don't stop."
For more information on U.S. visa requirements and costs, visit uscis.gov
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.