Change in immigration rules jeopardizes American dream for Glastonbury dancer

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GLASTONBURY - Alex Konovalov, who migrated from Moscow to Glastonbury to teach ballroom dancing, is in danger of being deported back to Russia. Konovalov has been an instructor at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Glastonbury since 2012, in the United States on a visa as an artist.

His visa renewal, however, was denied for the second time on January 15 because ballroom dancers are now seen more as athletes than artists in the eyes of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

"This is my life," said Konovalov. "I don't want to leave it. It was tough when I got the news."

Konovalov said he wants to stay permanently in the United States, and has dreams of eventually opening his own studio. "This is my home," said Konovalov. "This is my family here now. I want to stay, I want to teach. It's very hard. I don't know how I would just stop and leave everybody here. It's very hard."

Konovalov maintains that dancing is much more of a performing art than a sport, and studio owner Evan Wellemeyer wholeheartedly agrees. Wellemeyer said the change in classification is potentially creating a huge problem for the entire industry because most dancers do not fit the visa qualifications for elite athletes.

"If this persists and dancers are only allowed to come into America as O1A athletes, literally we won't have dance instructors in 5 or 10 years," explained Wellemeyer.

Since moving from Moscow, Konovalov has been in several competitions and taught hundreds of students, which is still not enough to classify him for a renewal visa as an athlete. The problem has prompted Sen. Richard Blumenthal to speak up.

"They changed the rules of the game in the middle," said Senator Blumenthal. "And when he reapplied, reclassified the activity he was doing here from artistic to athletic, which is unfair."

If the senator's efforts are not enough, Konovalov could be sent back to Russia within six months, leaving behind the American dream he has worked so hard to build.

"I want to keep doing this," said Konovalov. "I love it. It's my life."

Since Konovalov's visa denial is in appeal, he is not allowed to teach and has no source of income. A GoFundMe page and petition have both been established to help Konovalov stay in the United States.