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If you are interested in a career in dance and dance instruction, then you might be asking the question, “what does a choreographer do?” To fully understand “the choreographer job description, it becomes necessary to explore the job title, duties, and skills one requires to fill the position.  An exploration of the salary and education requirements is also necessary. Such exploration allows a candidate to map out a plan to gain necessary experience and qualifications one needs for the choreographer career path.

What Does A Choreographer Do?

What Does A Choreographer Do?

So, what is a Choreographer? A choreographer might have a different job title depending upon the position the person fills.  Some common titles for choreographer positions include Dance Director, Artistic Director, or simply Choreographer.  A dancer is a person who uses their body in performances to entertain others. The dancer will express thoughts, concepts, ideas, or storylines with precise movements and timing.  The kinds of dance vary.  Dance types include things like jazz, tap, modern dance, tango, and ballet. A choreographer is a person who helps direct and guide dancers in this performance.

Dancers will often have to audition for a part in a play, movie, commercial or whatever form of entertainment is offering the position. Choreographers, as dance instructors, might be responsible for choosing dancers to fill open positions.  Since dancers must master a variety of moves quickly, the choreographer not only plans dance moves, but might also help the dancers in mastering the complex set of moves they must master. Dancers also practice for a set number of hours daily.  The choreographer might oversee this practice to ensure the moves the dancers perform are done correctly.

Choreographers will also be responsible for teaching dancers any new kinds of dance necessary to fill the position for which the dancers have been chosen. Choreographers might work alongside other dance instructors, so good communication skills are a necessity.  They might help in dance routine modifications as well as choosing moves to interpret how a story is told through dance.

Choreographers are responsible for putting together a series of dance moves or interpreting existing styles of dance in a new and novel way.  They are also responsible for making the appropriate music selections that will go along with the moves they put together.  The choreographer might work for a dance company or some live shows.  They might also design dance interpretations for movies, television, commercials, and music videos.

The choreographer job description goes beyond just putting dance moves together for interpretation.  The professional choreographer is often responsible for choosing costumes for the dance performance.  They might be called upon for some insight into the appropriate lighting they want.  A choreographer might also have some artistic input in other aspects of a show.

At a minimum, the choreographer will need good teaching skills.  They must be able to work well with others and know the realm of dance well enough to teach others the various moves necessary for an excellent performance.  The choreographer requires a background in dance and knowledge of the newest styles of dance are a must to be successful in the position.  Knowledge of all kinds of dance are key to the diversity of moves a choreographer can put together into a series of entertaining and challenging moves.

Sometimes the choreographer will have administrative duties as well.  The individual might be called on to deal with a budget for a dance company. They might also track dancer attendance at rehearsals, hours, and costume budgets.

Choreographer Job Description

Choreographer Job Description

The choreographer career centers around dance, dance training, and teaching others dance moves. The candidate is someone responsible for interpreting a story through dance and teaching others the story one envisions.  The atmosphere where a choreographer might work differs. They might work for a movie studio, a dance company, or for a theatre.  They might be responsible for demonstrating how a dance move is done correctly and the individual takes an active part in dance rehearsal with the dancers they instruct. It is not unusual for the individual to perform what it is they choreograph.

Choreographers do not always work with people who have a background in dance. For instance, when working for a movie production where there’s a fighting or martial arts scene, the individual choreographs the moves for the actors.  Thus, specializing in other practices, such as different types of exercise and martial arts diversifies the choreographer’s skills and hire-ability.

A choreographer might work fulltime as a professional dance instructor. Others might have second jobs as they work part time in the dance field. Whatever the case may be, a background in dance is a necessity.  The longer one has trained in dancing, the better. Usually, the dancer has been in training since they were quite young. There are no set educational requirements for the position, but the more the person knows about dance, the more successful they will be as a choreographer.  There are programs offering degrees in dance that prove beneficial for the professional dancer looking to become teacher.  The degree programs will educate the dancer about dance teaching methods, dance theory, and styles of dance.

The position of choreographer has myriad responsibilities. Existing dance styles are something the candidate learns to perform. Once the dancer becomes proficient in various dance moves, they learn teaching methods that help them share the techniques with other dancers. The setting where a dancer works varies as well. Excellent communication and a good work ethic lend to ease in any work environment.

Dance experience is crucial for any choreographer.  As they learn dance moves they hone the body and learn about physical reactions to different body movements. Choreographers will develop the ability to identify dancers who are skilled enough to fill the appropriate position. The style of dance is important when making choices about dancers who will perform.  The choreographer needs to know how to motivate the dancers and to direct them in a performance.

The candidate will have a creative edge.  They will be called upon for music selection, costume design, lighting instructions, and set design. A choreographer might focus on one type of performance such as ballet, plays, or videos. They might even decide to start up their own dance company. Some candidates have a background in acting and theatrical directing.  This field has freelance options or artist in residence opportunities. Work sites include universities, colleges, and private dance schools along with television and movie studios.

There is a serious degree of competition in the field of choreography. The job may require working nights and on the weekends. Travel is often involved in the position. Travel is particularly necessary as you take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.  The need for travel requires time away from home, family, and friends. But, the job allows you to be creative, express your ideas, and to see them come to life on stage or film.

Choreographer Duties and Tasks

Choreographer Duties and Tasks

The professional choreographer must take on many duties and tasks.  The preparation for the job begins in one’s youth with dance experience.  Some college and performance experience are much to the advantage of the candidate in question. Additional tasks and responsibilities of the choreographer include:

  • The instruction of dancers
  • The creation of dance performances
  • Translating ideas into reality
  • Educating dancers on moves, exercises, techniques, and dance steps
  • The study of stories, scores of music, and learning to translate the mood of each into dance
  • Create dance moves for beginners to professional dancers
  • Create and choreograph dance for special events, televisions and film productions, fashion show runway events, music theatres, dance companies and solo dancers.
  • Make creative choices in relation to lighting, sound effects, music, and vocal narratives that accompany dance performances.
  • Instruct dancers on the proper and safe movement of the body so that injuries are prevented.
  • Work alongside music directors during music productions.
  • Audition and choose dance performances for different parts in a production.
  • Stage and direct a performance for any form of entertainment.
  • Note taking, sketching, and record keeping of dance creations.
  • Attending ongoing physical training, classes, and learning new styles of dance as they emerge.
  • Teaching physical training, dance classes, and new styles of emergent dance.
  • Maintenance of one’s own techniques and proficiency.
  • Educate students, performers, dancers, and others about movement as the one interprets it.
  • Educating about rhythm and the movement of the body.
  • Assess and evaluate dancers so necessary dance improvement can be recommended.
  • Experimentation with different types of dance, placements, testing out dance designs, and working with dancer feedback.
  • Looking to learn from influential sources and drawing from various art forms including architecture, the visual arts, and theatre.
  • Set design, lighting selection, costume design, and artistic collaboration for the betterment of the production and the best outcome for the performance.
  • Developing brand new or novel interpretations of traditional dance performances and works.
  • Some candidates may be called on to manage a dance school or to assist in the management of an institution.
  • The ongoing monitoring of dance trends.
  • The development of decorative concepts, or artistic input for exhibitions and for commercial projects.
  • The management of entertainment departments.

Skills Required

The dancer looking to become a choreographer can benefit from having a variety of skills. In addition to a heavy background in dance, a background in yoga, exercise, physical fitness, and the martial arts is ideal.  Additional skills the future choreographer can benefit from includes:

  • Music database interface and software knowledge
  • Email software
  • Credo Interactive Dance Forms
  • Chorel Technology Dance Designer
  • Graphic software
  • Photo imaging software
  • Web Browser Software
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • PowerPoint Hot Technology – Presentation software
  • Microsoft Excel Hot Technology – Excel Spreadsheets
  • Social Media Site Use for Advertisement and Dancer Connections
  • Web Page Creation
  • Editing Software
  • Word Processing Software

Working Conditions

Choreographer Working Conditions

The work setting for the choreographer varies.  The choreographer might work on set while staging music videos or working with actors in a movie or television production.  The might work at a location where musicals are performed, or they can also work with ballet dancers or at the opera house.  Choreographers even work along with advertisers to create commercials. The choreographer might work full time, but often the position is part time. They might also have a second job to remain employed during downtimes with dance-related job pursuits.

In 2014, there were just over 20,000 working choreographers and dancers. Many of these individuals were working in performing arts company positions and schools.  One out of every seven dancers and choreographers are self-employed.  The person pursuing a career in dance needs to know there is the potential of injuries when working.  The dance career might last into one’s mid-thirties because the rigorous demands of the job wear down the body over the course of time.  This is when many dancers transition into the less rigorous positions of dance teacher, director, or choreographer.

The work schedule for choreographers and dancers will vary depending on the position and where one is working. If doing a tour, there are days that have long hours involving rehearsal.  Most of the day might be practice until one is ready for an evening performance. Dancers might work at theme parks, on cruise ships, and there is often part-time work at casinos.  If working in a dance school setting as a teacher, the workweek might be fulltime while instructing dance students. The choreographer might also work as an independent dancer creating dance routines or dancing in various performances.

Choreographer Salary

The choreographer salary varies depending upon the person’s experience and place of employment.  If we view the salary on an hourly basis, the average pay is about $19.57 per hour, but it can go so high as $63.83 an hour.  Experience in the field, the production size, the production budget, and the skills of the choreographer play a huge role in the amount one makes. Sometimes tips are involved and range around $1.67 an hour.  The average overtime rate is about $36.00 per hour.  The total pay the starting choreographer can expect is right around $20,555, but the higher end of the spectrum goes as high as $132,767.  Right now, the national average pay for choreographers is about $60,000 annually.

How Much do Choreographer Make?

Those who are entry level choreographers make about 17% below the national average. That works out to be an annual salary of about $50,000.00.  The amount for mid-career declines dramatically, and this can be due to several factors.  The dancer might be approaching their thirties where the choreographer career is just getting off the ground. It might also mean the person makes less because they are doing less dancing and more choreographing. Those who continue in the field when reaching ten to 20 years in the field see an increase in salary.  During mid-career salary is about $32,000.00.  Later, this goes as high as $46,000.00.  Even after being in the field more than 20 years, there is often a negative trend that exists regarding salary. The after 20 years annual wage is about $45,000.00.

It is important to remember that to know how much do Choreographer make, there is much going into determining their success.  The competition in this field is fierce. There is a shortage on positions because many people want to enter the field of dance and choreography.  The dancer who gains the upper edge in terms of competition and salary increases has a background in dance, dance theory, and experience in teaching others dance movements.

Entry-LevelMid-CareerExperienced
$32,000$46,000$50,000

Choreographer Employment

The number of active choreographers currently employed who have one to four years of experience on the job are about 19 percent.  Another 31 percent of choreographers have five to nine years of work related experience.  Those who have ten to 19 years of on the job experience is about 31 percent.  Then there remaining 19 percent have 20 years or more of on the job experience in the dance field.

Of those who are employed, about 25 percent of them have medical benefits.  Roughly 13% of all choreographers with medical coverage also have dental coverage. Another six percent of all people in the position of choreographer have vision insurance in addition to medical and dental coverage. Then there is about 75% of those that have no insurance at all.

Year20102011201220132014
Jobs12,39010,8707,4006,3006,030

In viewing the job availability between 2010 and 2014 a notable decline appears.  In 2010, there were 12,390 jobs.  By 2011, that number declines by 1,520 positions to 10,870 jobs.  In 2012, numbers decline again revealing a drop in the positions available of an additional 3,470 jobs leaving a total of 7,4000 positions filled. By 2013, another decline drops the numbers by just over 1,000 positions to 6,300 jobs.  In 2014, the decline is still present but less dramatic as there is a loss of just under 300 jobs with 6030 positions filled.

Gender Distribution

There are clearly more females in the position of choreographer than there are males. This could have something to do with the fact that males begin their training at a later age than many females. It also might be because men pursue other areas of athleticism while using a background in dance for physical fitness and body honing. Since the yearly salary of the choreographer is superseded by other professions, higher paying positions might prove appealing to the males.  There may be positions in ballet, but due to stereotyping, some males may be reluctant to pursue certain areas of dance that might otherwise open them to choreographer opportunities later in life.

 

MaleFemale
38%62%

How to Become Choreographer?

Many dancers who want to become professional instructors ask the question of how to become a choreographer. There are myriad methods of entering the world of dance and dance instruction.  One thing is certain though, experience in dance and teaching are vital in this highly competitive field.  Once ability to be creative and to visuals what is in the mind’s eye so it can manifest on a stage is another skill one must have a good hold of as well.  The person who aspires at being a choreographer will need to be able to communicate ideas, work well with others, and have a motivational attitude. Work as an assistant choreographer provides the candidate with great experience and an extra edge above the competition.

Communication skills are imperative. Clear teaching instructions, understanding of techniques and being able to convey how things should be done are all skills a candidate must possess.  Being the best of all dancers is not a prerequisite for the job, but it does help to have excellent dancing skills or, at minimum, the knowledge of dance theory and teaching techniques.

The choreographer job is one that will appeal to someone who is creative and who feels they can conquer obstacles with ease. This is not a field where defeatism will ever lead to success. The proper candidate will be flexible as a far as willingness to travel and the willingness to work odd or even long hours.  Short days are possible but so are 14-hour days in this business when the choreographer is in high demand or in charge of a performance.

Choreographer Education Requirements

Dance training begins at an early age for most choreographers. The person fitting this role has a passion for the business because the pay is not necessarily a driving factor.  Many years of formalized training are a must.  Dancing one learns is best if diverse and in a range of different styles. Almost all choreographers start out as dancers. They use this experience as a choreographer because it gives them physical knowledge of acceptable, safe moments while preparing the body for dance maneuvers.

If one wants to choreograph ballet, then ballet lessons begin in early life. Most dancers of this style undertake studies at the age of five to eight.  Boys entering ballet might start a bit later in life.  When entering teen years, the training intensifies. By the age of 18, the individual begins a professional career in ballet. If participating in dance companies, there are training sessions made available during the summer months as well.  Some candidates are selected for these special programs on a full-time basis.

If interested in modern dance then training begins in the high school years. There are dance programs students can engage in following regular schooling.  Summer training is also available to those pursuing a career and for those who enter a program in pursuit of a college degree.

The candidate wanting to be a choreographer can gain an advantage by pursuing a post-secondary education in dance. There are universities and colleges offering bachelor’s and master’s programs with a focus on dance. These degrees often focus on the fine arts or theater performances. The National Association of Dance (NAD) accredits programs and as of 2015 there were about 85 accredited programs available. These programs include education in hip-hop, ballet, jazz, and modern dance among other styles. Previous formal training is ideal before entering such programs.

If the choreographer wants to seek work in the teaching arena, then a post-secondary education is beneficial. It is possible to teach in this field without a degree, but there are some schools that prefer an educational background.  If you are going to teach in an elementary, high school, or college setting, then you will have to earn a degree to do so.

As a dancer, there are opportunities to gain on the job experience. For example, a ballet mistress, ballet master, or dance captain in a music theatre gets to head up rehearsals in the event the choreographer is not present. In such a case, the person gains experience in working with others and dance instruction.

Whatever method of education one pursues, there are certain qualities one will need for success. Athleticism, creativity, and excellent interpersonal skills go a long way in gaining entrance in the field. Leadership skills are a must. Persistence, a strong fortitude, the ability to handle rejection, and excellence in physical stamina are also requirements. The ability to work with a team is also crucial for choreography work to provide a successful, creative and entertaining outcome.

Choreographer education requirements are a mix of work-related experience and dance education. The student is encouraged to make the most of high school years. Dance instruction, drama class, theatre class, and instruction at private studios is highly recommended. It’s a good idea to be versed in as many dance styles as possible, but to excel in at least two forms of dance including ballet and modern dance. If given the opportunity to choreograph in high school, then the candidate should take advantage of the opportunity. Joining community dance groups is recommended.  Summer camp participation, workshops, and professional dance performance attendance to see other dancers perform is imperative.  Music theory and music classes can also prove beneficial.

There are dance majors in universities and colleges. Still, much of dance is mastered in studios across the nation.  There are colleges also offering studies in choreography.  The path to the career of choreographer is not written in stone, but an educational background can give the student an edge against the very steep competition in this industry.

Choreographer Colleges

Choreographer colleges are locations where a candidate can learn how to translate ideas into dance. The artform is something the person masters over the course of time. It takes understanding musical composition, understanding and translating what it means, and sharing that interpretation through a visual presentation.  The leading schools have a degree specific to choreography or dance. It is best to attend a school that the National Association of Schools of Dance accredits. Below is a list of the top ten choreographer colleges one can attend to earn a degree.

  • Temple University, Pennsylvania
  • California State University
  • University of North Carolina
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • The University of Arizona
  • California Institute of The Arts and The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance
  • The University of Southern Mississippi
  • The College at Brockport, New York
  • Belhaven University, Mississippi
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Major Subjects

When looking to become a professional dance instructor, the education begins in elementary school and beyond. By the time one is in high school, the student should be taking a variety of dance classes, workshops, and participating in summer programs. Participation in high school drama, music, and theatre are also recommended. As one pursues a dance career, studies in the fine arts, drama, sculpture, and the visual arts is recommended. Training in teaching and education are vital for those who want to be part-time or fulltime instructors. An education in psychology can prove beneficial when it comes to performance and human behaviour.

A background in management and administration is beneficial to those who want to be a professional choreographer.  It helps in developing leadership skills and in management of a dance team. A background in archaeology, history, anthropology, and sociology give insights into human behaviours, and the historical and cultural connections in dance and performance. Knowledge of media and superior communication skills are also a must. English, writing, reading, and public speaking coursework are beneficial.

Choreographer Specializations

There are many diverse types of dance, all of which a choreographer can pursue during their dance career or even when working in the field of choreography.  In addition to ballet, modern dance, and other classical types of dance, one can specialize in African and African drum choreography. Some professional specialize in creative movement, dancing to spoken word, and somatic. Choreographers might focus on theatrical movement if they plan on working theater houses. Specializations in modern dance, jazz, dance composition, and repertory ensemble are also possible.  Modern dance and improvisation dance are also something the choreographer can become versed in as well. Such dance techniques include break dancing, belly dancing, the Argentine tango, and the Lindy Hop, among others. It is possible to specialize in just about any dance style including Swing, Ballroom, Classical Indian or Azerbaijani dance. There’s also Traditional Iranian, street dancing, freestyle dance, disco and historical dance specializations.

Professional Associations of Choreographer

The National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD) are among the many professional association of chorographers. The organization got its beginning in the early 1980s. To date, there are about 82 schools that are accredited by NASD. This organization establishes all the regulations and standards for dance degrees and related disciplines. It assists various institutions as well as individuals in educations, academic, and artistic endeavors. The NASD features a search directory making it simple for dancers and future choreographers to find school the organization has accredited. The offer a complete handbook explaining the accreditation process and the standards by which schools can receive accreditation.

Famous Choreographers

There are several famous Choreographers who have made a big name for themselves in the industry. Paula Julie Abdul is a famous American-Canadian choreographer with a background in dance, song-writing, singing, television, and acting.  She is a citizen of the United States but also a citizen of Canada. She started her career in cheerleading for the Los Angeles Lakers when she was 18. She became famous for dance during the 1980s.  She received her education at the California State University, in Northridge. She has danced in her own music videos, and appeared on shows like The X Factor and American Idol. She has done choreography for several films and TV shows as well, including The Tracey Ullman show which earned her an Emmy Award. She is considered one of the best reality show judges, one of the greatest singers and dancers, and she is on the list of the top 100 greatest women in music.

Desi Jevon is also among the famous choreographers today. He is also an actor and dancer from Los Angeles. He is responsible for training people for the shows So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. He has been in commercials and print media. He has toured with a variety of famous performers as well, including Brian Setzer Orchestra, Selena Gomez, Alicia Keys, Toni Braxton, and Gloria Estefan. He was also the Assist Choreographer for the films Dance, and Step It Up.

 

Choreographers FAQ

 What is the outlook for choreographers?

The present outlook for choreographers shows an anticipated growth in the sector of about six percent from 2014 until 2024. This path of growth is right in line with most other forms of occupation as it demonstrates an average rate of growth. In the coming decade, the bigger dance companies are not expecting a lot of job positions to open. Thus, dancers and choreographers will find the field extremely competitive. Smaller companies might be looking for dancers though as they will likely need professionals for instruction.

 Where can a choreographer get the most opportunities in the business?

Seeking work in the bigger cities like Chicago and New York are where dancers and choreographers can find the most work availability.  Working for a dance company that travels is also a means of diversifying employment options. The choreographer might have to think outside the box to find work. When not teaching or instructing dancers, there is television, video, and theater work available.  Attending conservatories or dance schools can open opportunities to individuals seeking employment.

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