If you’re not a U.S. citizen and want to work in the USA, you’ll need a work visa. It’s not easy to get one and only the most determined dancers can navigate the twists and turns.
“I knew in high school I wanted a dance career in Los Angeles, and that meant getting an O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in their field of work. It took me a few years to gather everything for my application. Since I was just starting out, I needed the experience that comes with time plus training, creating work relationships, working in the industry in Canada, and saving money.
The first lawyer I visited didn’t think I had a strong enough case and would not accept me as a client. I spent a few months strengthening the weak areas and then I interviewed with a different lawyer. He saw what I prepared and said I’d have no problem. About 3 months and $5,000 later, my visa was approved. At age 21, I moved to Los Angeles.
My first 3 years in L.A. were a bit underwhelming ... not what I had envisioned. I have always been hard on myself and even though I was experiencing so many new exciting things, it wasn’t at the caliber I wanted. With big dreams and so much growing to do, I knew I wasn’t done.
When it was time, I applied for a second working visa which meant another $5,000 and the same application process. It was easier this time around. I gained confidence and during those next 3 years, I continued to learn. Dealing with rejection was disheartening but I had many amazing mentors, friends, and family that helped me continue to strive for excellence.
It wasn’t until my 5th year when I decided to change my hair color that things started to pick up! I booked the VMAs in New York with Ariana Grande. This was my first time in NYC and my first awards show. Shortly after, I booked a music video with Jennifer Lopez and French Montana in the same week. A few months later I directed booked my first World Tour with Latin artist Maluma.
I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out those first few years and being resilient. I kept reminding myself that I got my visa for a reason and worked too hard to go home. I also had many mentors remind me it takes time to create a career of longevity.
I’m so grateful that I had Answers4Dancers as a resource when I was a teenager just starting out. I learned so many things about the industry in a safe, positive environment. There’s such a wonderful community of dancers and educators on the website … It made it easy to make friends and find answers to all the questions I had!”
JESSA’S CHECKLIST TO GET YOUR O-1 VISA
If you’re from out of Country and looking to pursue a career in the United States as a dancer, I highly recommend these steps.
1. Visit the place you want to live first for at least a month. I suggest this because it’ll give you a glimpse of the life you would be living and gives you an opportunity to meet people.
2. Save, Save, Save! You won’t be able to work in the USA until you have a visa so trust me when I say, save. You don’t want to be eating noodles everyday and sleeping on an air mattress for years like me + the visa application and moving in general is expensive.
3. Make the move only when you feel confident and know yourself. Everyone has days of not feeling confident but if you try to enter into this hard industry only being half whole, you’re going to have a tough time.
4. Apply to agencies. You definitely want to be set up with an agent before making the move to the States. Especially on an O-1 visa- you are only able to accept work in your field (dancing) which means no barista, retail, or serving jobs, etc.. You want to maximize your chance of working. With an agent, you are set up to receive castings, auditions, and direct bookings that you wouldn’t be able to get without one.
5. Have fun in the process but make smart decisions!
I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out those first few years and being resilient. I kept reminding myself that I got my visa for a reason and worked too hard to go home. I also had many mentors remind me, it takes time to create a career of longevity.
Finally, I’m so grateful that I had Answers4Dancers as a resource when I was a teenager when I was just starting out. I learned so many things about the industry in a safe, positive environment. There’s such a wonderful community of dancers and educators on the website … It made it easy to make friends and find answers to all the questions I had!”