Choreographers create compelling dance routines in a way that translates emotions through movements. They then direct rehearsals during which they instruct Dancers, Singers, and sometimes Actors on how to perform the routines they thoughtfully crafted.
Choreographers may teach at dance academies and dance schools, in which case they are most likely to give dancing lessons to beginners, helping them master moves and techniques and teaching them more complex movements as they advance in their training. However, the Choreographers described below are the ones who work on artistic productions, such as musicals. Not only do these Choreographers are the ones auditioning and directing the performers, but they also have their word on all scenic elements that may affect the choreography, from costumes to set design and lighting.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Choreographers are required to complete.
- Instructing Dancers on how to perform movements and helping them perfect their timing and dancing techniques:
- Providing the Dancers with some contextual information about the dance they’re performing in order for them to better embody the cultural or historical aspects of a particular choreography;
- listing or drawing movements for Dancers to learn and to help them memorize the routine more easily; and
- helping their students secure an audition and leading them throughout the auditioning process.
- Auditioning and casting Dancers or Actors for musicals, performances, ballets, or any kind of musical spectacle.
- Choreographing and staging musicals, working under the director’s supervision and supporting his vision:
- Participating in all pre-show production meetings held by the Director and Producer, including brainstorming sessions, to get a better grasp of their artistic vision and to share their opinion on soundtracks and costumes;
- teaching the Dancers how to use their bodies and expert movements to tell stories and convey emotions; creating and practicing dance routines, writing down all the steps and adapting moves where necessary;
- selecting the music that best serves the choreography and the story they are trying to convey, whenever it isn’t already preestablished; and
- ensuring the choreography is aligned with the artistic vision and that it serves to complement the plot and illustrate the main concepts.
- Taking into account the different scenic elements that may have an impact on the choreography, such as set design and lighting and liaising with the corresponding professionals to ensure everything runs smoothly.
- Working closely with costume designers and overseeing dress rehearsals in order to determine the practicality of costumes/clothes.
- Scheduling and supervising rehearsals.
- Giving feedback to the Director and the cast following rehearsals and continuing to do so during the run of the show.
- Keeping up-to-date with the industry’s latest trends so as to implement them into their routines.
- Training and exercising to maintain the required levels of ability and fitness, as well as understanding the limitations of the body.
- Creating dance routines.
- Translating emotions into movements, making sure the steps follow the rhythm.
- Rehearsing Dancers.
- Working hand-in-hand with the Director.
- Evaluating all choreography-related elements (e.g. body shapes, gestures, costumes and set design).
- Training and exercising.
The average Choreographer salary in USA is $54,040 per year or $28 per hour. This is around 1.9 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $38,000 while most experienced workers make up to $76,000. These results are based on 3 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Outstanding creativity and a strong artistic sense:
- Having a vast knowledge of different dance styles and techniques; and
- being able to create new, original dance routines.
- Interpersonal, leadership, and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly, especially verbally, in order to convey clear instructions to the performers;
- displaying strong leadership skills;
- being able to work cohesively with the director and an assistant; and
- having the patience to teach the appropriate steps to both amateurs and professional Dancers.
- Organizational and time management skills:
- Having strong multitasking skills; being able to work under pressure in a dynamic, fast-paced environment;
- being highly responsible, reliable, and organized; and
- being greatly detail-oriented and structured.
- Self-motivated, resilient, and willing to teach and work as a team:
- Being capable of adapting the dance routines to the director’s opinion.
- Motor coordination and physical strength:
- Training and exercising every day in order to maintain the required levels of ability and fitness; and
- being able to rehearse 8 to 12 hours a day.
Most Choreographers start out as professional Dancers and then move into the role of Assistant Choreographer. This allows them to slowly take part into the creative process behind any dance routine. At the beginning of their careers, they normally give suggestions on how to improve the choreography, adding a few steps here and there, until they end up creating their own.
In order to become a successful Choreographer, one needs to have a good balance between creativity, artistic sense, leadership skills, and dancing experience. Choreographers are required to have a minimum of 5 years of experience dancing and at least 2 teaching and/or choreographing. However, many Choreographers start dancing and training at a very young age; therefore, required years of experience can vary from company to company.
A Dance or Musical Theater diploma from a recognized university, performing arts college or conservatoire, as well as a being part of a training program or being certified by any dancing or theater institution will give aspiring Choreographers a definite edge over other candidates. It will also grant them the practical and theoretical knowledge required to truly succeed in this field. Nevertheless, a diploma or a related degree is not always required as dancing experience and training are Choreographers’ most outstanding and defining characteristics. It is worth mentioning, however, that when teaching at a university or high school level, having a bachelor’s degree is a requirement.
Choreographers often run their own dance schools, which also involves balancing their own accounts, doing taxes, and managing costs. Marketing themselves or their school will also be a necessary task while being self-employed.
Choreographers may join any artistic organization, as they will offer them working and academic benefits that, on their own, could be difficult to obtain. Some options include The National Dance Association, Dance USA, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, National Endowment for the Arts, and The National Association of Schools of Dance.
A Choreographer is used to having long working shifts because they usually teach classes during the day and supervise performances at night. It’s also very common for them to work extra hours, especially when the opening nights are approaching.