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Choreographers instruct dancers and teach them the steps and movement in a dance routine. The best way to succeed in becoming a professional choreographer is to develop dancing skills and combine them with leadership, communication, artistic talents and creativity.
Gain Dance Experience
Most professional choreographers start dancing at an early age to gain dance experience and start developing the skills needed to be a choreographer. Choreographers need a broad knowledge of dance movements, language and artistic abilities as well as creative vision, total body awareness, physical stamina and athletic abilities. To train and coach other professional dancers, a choreographer also needs credibility that comes from experience and success in dance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that many professional choreographers, especially those in ballet, are dancing professionally by age 18.
Get a College Education
While you don't always need formal education to become a choreographer, separate yourself from competing choreographers with a strong postsecondary education. Many colleges offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in dance within their theater and fine arts departments. For someone intending to become a choreographer, college education offers insights on the process of coaching dancers. Another benefit of a college degree is exposure to all forms of dance, which helps in training a variety of dancers. If you want to teach dance at the university level, you would typically need a degree.
Become a Dance Teacher
The common gateway from being a dancer to becoming a professional choreographer is dance instruction. Dance studios and troupes typically want someone with significant experience in dance instruction, whether you have a college degree or not. While choreography is more about the development of creative routines, you need a basic ability to instruct dancers on accurate rhythm and movements to succeed. Basic dance instruction gives you the confidence and abilities to offer direction during routine training. Another way to gain instructional experience is through short-term, artist-in-residence opportunities offered by some university dance departments.
Work with Veterans and Hone Skills
At the top levels, dancers and choreographers are a tight-knit community. One of the best ways to get ahead in your pursuit of a choreography career is to prove yourself as a dancer and leader when working with excellent choreographers. As you prove yourself, look for opportunities to assist choreographers or to take on coaching roles with newer dancers. Developing the skills needed to be a choreographer by serving as an assistant or apprentice to a top choreographer allows you to learn the ropes of choreography and to hone your leadership, training, artistic and creative skills. Once a proven choreographer, you may get commissioned by dance companies to create new performance pieces. Choreographers also find employment in dance troupes, television and film production, theater and commercials. As they become more successful, some choreographers start their own dance companies.
Salary and Job Outlook
A choreographer salary varies depending on the individual and the employer. Getting work as a choreographer means you've got to succeed in a highly competitive field that doesn't always pay well. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which tracks data for all civilian occupations, reports the 2018 median pay for dancers and choreographers was $18.17 per hour. Median pay means that half in the profession earned more, while half earned less.
Job growth is expected to be just 4 percent through 2026, slower than average compared to all other jobs. Depending on their skills and reputation, some choreographers are highly sought after, while others may have to supplement their income with additional work, even in a field unrelated to the arts.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.