With an excellent knowledge of multiple dance disciplines, choreographers compile many dance steps to create a dance routine that expresses an artistic vision. Choreographers must be both artists and translators. They have to study a piece of music and find a way to translate the meaning of the piece through their movements. Choreographers must communicate these movements to a group of dancers in a clear way, helping the dancers portray these stories onstage. Beyond teaching steps, choreographers must consider multiple moving parts while creating a dance piece. Choreographers need to create a piece that supports the size of a cast, costume changes, set design, and lighting of the performance. They must know the track for each dancer involved in the piece and how each dancer helps to bring the entire artistic vision to life.
Daily tasks for a choreographer can vary depending on the type of project a choreographer is working on. If a choreographer is working on a dance piece for a dance troupe, studio, or special event, they must first choose a piece of music to accompany a routine. Sometimes, a client will provide the choreographer with a piece of music they’d like to have choreographed. The choreographer must then study that piece of music and any accompanying materials to understand the story or message they want to communicate to the audience. Once they have found the story, a choreographer will begin to develop ideas for the dance, usually keeping track of movements through notes, sketches, or recordings.
While developing the dance, choreographers must keep in mind what the skill level is of the dancers they are working with. This could range from beginner to professional levels of difficulty, depending on the clients they are choreographing for. Once the dance has been choreographed, the choreographer will direct rehearsals where they will instruct dancers on how to perform steps and on technique that will help the dancers achieve the desired look. Each choreographer will find their signature style and learn how they can best communicate these stylistic movements to their dancers.
If a choreographer is working on a show for stage, film, or TV, they may have additional duties. This could include
There are many ways a choreographer continues to work outside of rehearsal. To keep up their skills and continue to learn, choreographers must study new and emerging dance styles and techniques to add to their repertoire of movement. By taking classes with other top choreographers, you are constantly learning and growing as a dancer and choreographer, gaining new creative ideas and perspectives.
Athleticism: As a choreographer, you must be able to have the physical strength and stamina to run long rehearsals and be constantly in motion. Keeping up your dance training is a large part of working as a choreographer and an excellent way to keep your body in the peak physical condition it needs for long days of rehearsal.
Creativity: Choreographers must have the artistic ability to create new and innovative dance routines. They must draw from the dance training they have received and come up with original choreography to match the style of show or piece of music they have been given to work with.
Musicianship: In addition to having a thorough knowledge of dance styles and movement, choreographers must have a good sense of musicianship. Knowing how to work with complex rhythms, syncopation, suspension, and dynamics of a piece of music is integral for creating choreography.
Leadership skills: Choreographers must be able to direct a room full of dancers confidently and be able to take control of a room quickly. Being able to command the attention of many people and help everyone reach a common goal is crucial to successfully teaching choreography. In addition to leading a room full of dancers, the choreographer works closely with assistant choreographers and dance captains throughout the rehearsal process. A dance captain is a member of the cast who is responsible for overseeing and maintaining the artistic standards of the choreographer. Once the show is on its feet, the choreographer’s job is done and the daily maintenance of the show is the responsibility of the dance captain. As the choreographer, it is your job to make sure the dance captain is seen as second in command and has the respect of their fellow castmates.
Communication skills: Choreographers must possess excellent verbal and physical communication skills to effectively demonstrate choreographer to dancers. Being able to clearly and efficiently communicate artist ideas is the sign of an excellent choreographer. Knowing how to explain movements through physical demonstration as well as verbal communication will determine how well dancers are able to absorb and reproduce choreography.
Persistence: It can take years of dedicated practice to hone your craft and to find opportunities to showcase your work. Being dedicated to studying, creating, and finding performance opportunities is a large part of being a choreographer. Persistence will help any choreographer continue to grow and push themselves creatively while finding work.
Most choreographers begin their education as dancers at an early age to gain the dance experience and vocabulary necessary to become a choreographer. Dance training can begin as young as five years old and grows in intensity as students become older. Ballet is the foundation of all Western dance styles and is an excellent discipline to learn foundational dance steps. Many dancers will branch out into jazz, modern, tap, and hip-hop as they progress through their training. Being exposed to as many styles and choreographers as you possibly can is the best way to build your repertoire of movement, allowing you to have a wider range of dance steps and styles at your disposal while creating choreography.
Most choreographers are skilled dancers and most professional dancers will have received some training in choreography during their studies. Some choreographers will choose to pursue postsecondary education. Although it is not necessary to have a degree to become a choreographer, taking a college or university program that focuses on dance allows you to dedicate significant time to your craft and developing your skills as a choreographer. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in dance. These degrees are usually offered through the theatre or fine arts departments. Some schools that are considered to be the top dance schools are Pace University, New York University, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Another great program is Fordham University who has combined with The Ailey School to bring a dance program that allows students to take on an independent study in choreography while working with renowned choreographers from the Alvin Ailey School. If you are wondering about the quality of a school’s dance program, check to see if they are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance. This is a great way to confirm that a dance program meets this national standard and program guidelines.
In addition to school, choreographers can gain experience through working at a dance studio. Teaching a wide range of ages and disciplines is a great way to become more comfortable with teaching dancers and quickly coming up with new choreography. Whether you work with recreational or competitive dancers, each class will bring new challenges and learning opportunities that will help you grow as a choreographer. Another way to gain valuable training and experience is through artists in residency programs or dance intensives. Programs such as the National Choreography Intensive and Steps on Broadway provide choreographers the opportunity to learn from highly sought after choreographers and further hone their skills.
To gain further experience, many choreographers may work as a dance captain in a show. The dance captain is responsible for overseeing and maintaining the artistic standards of the choreographer. It is a great position to work closely with a choreographer and work on your leadership skills by guiding a cast through the run of a show.
Training is a very important aspect of becoming a choreographer, but nothing can substitute first-hand experience. Try finding local choreographers who work you admire and ask to shadow them in rehearsal! Observing how they communicate movement to dancers with a wide range of experience can be very eye opening. In addition, you can seek out opportunities to be an assistant choreographer on a show. This is a great way to network with other choreographers and directors while developing your career.
Like any career in the arts, salaries can be unpredictable and vary from year to year depending on the amount of gigs you land. Depending on your skills, reputation, and the scale of the production, the amount of pay a choreographer receives can vary as well. A median hourly wage for a choreographer as of 2019 was $22.27, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of 2019, the average pay for a choreographer can range from $10.48 per hour to $48.90 per hour. For larger contracts, salaries can be negotiated or may be set at a standard union rate.
As a choreographer, some unions to look into would be The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) which serves dancers in opera, ballet, and modern dance troupes, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), and The Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Depending on the mediums you work in as a choreographer, you may need to become a member of multiple unions to work in the various fields of TV, film, and stage.
The best aspect of working as a choreographer is that you don’t need to wait around to be hired to create work! Creating your own work can be an amazing way to showcase your artistic talents and create a job opportunity for yourself. This can also be a great way to develop a demo reel of your work to submit to future job opportunities. Find a piece of music that speaks to you, grab some dancers, and make some art!