Dancer and Choreographer

Overview:

Dancers and choreographers use movements to express ideas and stories in performance. There are many types of dance, such as ballet, modern dance, tap, and jazz.

Dancers typically do the following:

  • Audition for a part in a show or for a job with a dance company
  • Learn complex dance movements that entertain an audience
  • Spend several hours each day in rehearsals to prepare for their performance
  • Study new and emerging types of dance
  • Work closely with instructors or other dancers to interpret or modify choreography
  • Attend promotional events, such as photography sessions, for the production in which they are appearing

Dancers spend years learning dances and perfecting their skills. They normally perform as part of a group in a variety of settings, including ballet, musical theater, and modern dance companies. Many perform on TV or in music videos, where they also may sing or act. Many dancers perform in shows at casinos, theme parks, or on cruise ships.

Choreographers typically do the following:

  • Audition dancers for a role in a show or with a dance company
  • Choose the music that will accompany their dance routine
  • Assist with costume design, lighting, and other artistic aspects of a show
  • Teach complex dance movements that entertain an audience
  • Study new and emerging types of dance to design more creative dance routines
  • Help with the administrative duties of a dance company, such as budgeting

Choreographers create original dances and develop new interpretations of existing dances. They work in theaters, dance companies, or movie studios. During rehearsals, they typically demonstrate dance moves to instruct dancers in the proper technique. Some choreographers work with performers other than dancers. For example, the complex martial arts scenes in movies are arranged by choreographers who specialize in martial arts.

Some people with dance backgrounds become dance teachers.

Work Environment:

Dancers and choreographers held about 25,600 jobs in 2010. About 10 percent were self-employed.

About 40 percent of dancers work in performing arts companies, and about 78 percent of choreographers work in other schools and instruction, which include dance and fine arts schools.

Many dance companies tour for part of the year, and dancers and choreographers in those companies travel for months at a time.

Dance takes a toll on a person’s body, giving dancers one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries. Many dancers stop performing by their late thirties because of the physical demands dancing makes on the body. Nonperforming dancers may continue to work as a choreographer, director, or dance teacher.

Dancers’ schedules vary, depending on where they work. Some spend most of the day in rehearsals and have performances at night, giving them long workdays. Some work part time at casinos, on cruise ships, or at theme parks. Although choreographers who work in dance schools may have a standard workweek when they are instructing students, they spend many hours on their own coming up with new dance routines.

Education and Training:

Education and training requirements vary with the type of dancer; however, all dancers need many years of formal training. Nearly all choreographers began their careers as dancers.

Many dancers begin training when they are very young and continue to learn throughout their careers. Ballet dancers begin training the earliest, usually between the ages of 5 and 8 for girls and a few years later for boys. Their training becomes more serious as they enter their teens, and most ballet dancers begin their professional careers by the time they are 18.

Leading dance companies sometimes have summer training programs from which they select candidates for admission to their regular full-time training programs.
Modern dancers normally begin formal training while they are in high school. They attend after-school dance programs and summer training programs to prepare for their career or for a college dance program.

Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dance, typically through departments of theater or fine arts. The National Association of Schools of Dance accredits more than 70 dance programs. Most focus on modern dance but also include courses in jazz, ballet, hip hop, and other forms. Most entrants into college dance programs have previous formal training.

Even though it is not required, many dancers choose to earn a degree in an unrelated field to prepare for a career after dance, because dance careers are usually brief. Teaching dance in college, high school, or elementary school requires a college degree. Some dance studios or conservatories prefer instructors who have a degree, but may accept performance experience instead.

Nearly all choreographers began their careers as dancers. While working as a dancer, they study different types of dance and learn how to choreograph routines.

Some dancers take on more responsibility by becoming a dance captain in musical theater or a ballet master/ballet mistress in concert dance companies, by leading rehearsals, or by working with less-experienced dancers when the choreographer is not at practice. Eventually, some dancers become choreographers.

Dancers and choreographers also may advance to become producers or directors.
 

Skills to Develop:

Balance: Successful dancers must have excellent balance so they can move their bodies without falling or losing their sense of rhythm.

Creativity: Dancers need artistic ability and creativity to express ideas through movement. Choreographers also must have artistic ability and innovative ideas to create new and interesting dance routines.

Leadership skills: Choreographers must be able to direct a group of dancers to perform the routines that they have created.

Persistence: Dancers must commit to years of intense practice. They need to be able to accept rejection after an audition and continue to practice for a future role. Choreographers must keep studying and creating new works even if some of their routines are not successful.

Physical stamina: Dancers are often physically active for long periods, so they must be able to work for many hours without getting tired.

Teamwork: Most dance routines involve a group, so dancers must be able to work together to be successful.

In addition, dancers must be agile, flexible, coordinated, and musical.

Job Outlook:

Employment of dancers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Dance companies are not expected to add many jobs over the decade. Generally, when one company disappears, a new one replaces it without any growth in the total number of companies.

On the one hand, a long-term trend in which the public appears to be losing interest in traditional dance also is slowing down the growth of dance companies. On the other hand, a growing interest in dance in pop culture may provide opportunities in fields outside of dance companies, such as on TV or in movies, casinos, or theme parks.

Employment of choreographers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. The growing interest in dance in pop culture is expected to lead more people to enroll in dance schools, and growing enrollment should create more jobs for choreographers. In addition, the number of dance schools is growing faster than the number of employees of dance schools. Because they are needed at all schools, choreographers may experience faster employment growth than other employees at dance schools.

Dancers and choreographers face intense competition and the number of applicants is expected to vastly exceed the number of job openings.

Dancers who attend schools or conservatories associated with a dance company may have a better chance of finding work at that company. In addition, many choreographers recruit dancers from nationally accredited college programs.

Earnings:

The median hourly wage of dancers was $13.16 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.79, and the top 10 percent earned more than $30.43.

The median hourly wage of choreographers was $18.11 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.93, and the top 10 percent earned more than $34.22.

Dancers’ schedules vary, depending on where they work. Some spend most of the day in rehearsals and have performances at night, giving them long workdays. Some work part time at casinos, on cruise ships, or at theme parks. Although choreographers who work in dance schools may have a standard workweek when they are instructing students, they spend many hours on their own coming up with new dance routines.

What is this job like?

Dancers express ideas, stories, rhythm, and sound with their bodies. Some dance in ballet; others perform modern dance. Dancers work in musical shows, in folk, ethnic, tap, and jazz dances. Opera, musical comedy, television, movies, music videos, and commercials often include dancing as well. Many dancers sing and act, as well as dance. Dancers often work as a group, but a few stars dance solo. Many dancers also teach or choreograph dances.

Choreographers create new dances. They may also add changes to older dances. Some teach dancers to get the results they want. They may also audition dancers for a particular production.

Dancing is hard work. Rehearsals can be long and usually take place daily, even on weekends and holidays. Weekend travel is common when a show is on the road. Dancers must also work late hours and practice during the day.

Because dancing is hard work, most dancers stop working by their late thirties. Sometimes they become dance teachers and coaches.

How do you get ready?

To become a dancer, one must be agile, flexible, have good body tone, and a supple body. Training begins at age 5 to 8 in ballet, usually by private teachers and in ballet schools. Boys often start training later than girls. Students who are good by their early teens get more advanced training. Training by leading dance schools, for those who are serious about dancing, also takes place in the summer. Most dancers have their professional auditions by age 17 or 18. By then dancers usually focus on a specific style of dance. Dancers normally spend 8 hours a day in class and rehearsal, keeping their bodies in shape and preparing for performances.

Education in music, literature, history, and the arts can help you understand the mood and ideas of a dance.

A college degree can help a dancer who retires early get another kind of job. It's also very important if the dancer wants to teach in elementary or high school. Dance studios usually want teachers to have been performers. Choreographers are usually experienced dancers as well.

As dancers get better, they often get more jobs, bigger and better roles, and higher pay. Dancers must constantly be motivated and prepared to go on many auditions.

How much does this job pay?

The median hourly wage of dancers was $13.16 in May 2010 and the median hourly wage of choreographers was $18.11. When on tour, dancers receive an allowance for room and board and extra money for overtime.

Dancers and choreographers work on specific jobs. When the job is over, they have to look for another one. Earnings from dancing are often low because dancers don't work all year. There may be a lot of time between each job. They often take another kind of job when they are not dancing.

How many jobs are there?

About 25,600 dancers and choreographers had a job in 2010. Many other dancers didn't work during the year and earned a living doing something else. Dancers work in many kinds of places. Some work in restaurants, theaters, dance studios, theme parks, and with bands. In addition, many dance teachers work in all kinds of schools. Others were self-employed.

Almost all the major cities in the United States have full-time dance companies.

What about the future?

There are a lot of people who want to be professional dancers and choreographers, but not so many jobs. Only the most talented will find regular work.

Employment of dancers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of choreographers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations.

The best chance of getting a job will be with a big dance company. Opera companies will also have some new jobs. Dance groups in colleges and universities and television and motion pictures will also have some jobs. There will be increased opportunities for dance teachers, as dance is growing in popularity for recreation and fitness purposes.

Useful Links:

NASD - National Association of Schools of Dance
Dance USA - National service organization for professional dance
NDEO - National Dance Education Organization student programs
Dancers and Choreographers - Bureau of Labor Statistics
Jacob’s Pillow - Prestigious dance festival and school

Some information on this page has been provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.