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How to Become a Choreographer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a choreographer. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career as a choreographer.

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Do I Want to Be a Choreographer?

Choreographers assemble individual dance steps into artistic performances. Most study several forms of dance to provide the best expression of their creative vision. Depending on the size of the production, a choreographer will likely audition the dancers for a piece, have input to the set, lighting, and costumes, and choose the music for the show. Some dance companies' choreographers complete administrative duties as well.

Some choreographers are self-employed, while others work exclusively with one dance company. As a result, the job of a choreographer may come with some instability as job opportunities fluctuate. Dance companies often travel for a portion of the year and choreographers must go with the company as they move around. Work days can be very long, as rehearsals take place during the day and performances are held at night. Some positions may be physically demanding, as well.

Job Requirements

Almost all choreographers are trained as dancers before tackling choreographic direction. Though no formal education is required, some employers may prefer applicants with degrees in dance. The following table summarizes the core requirements for choreographers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level A high school diploma is considered sufficient for this field*; however, many choreographers earn bachelor's degrees**
Degree Field Performing arts/Dance*
Experience A significant amount of dance experience is required for this profession; exact requirements vary**
Key Skills Creativity is essential for choreographers; they should also have strong leadership and teamwork skills*
Additional Requirements Physical stamina and balance are very important for choreographers; dance companies may require choreographers to travel for several months at a time for dance productions*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Receive Dance Training

Choreographers employ creative and original styles for dance moves and performances. They require a strong dance background that allows them to demonstrate steps for dancers to imitate. Through dance training, choreographers are able to create and teach these sequences of movement to dancers. Dancers in general begin training early, often in childhood. Through years of dance training, aspiring choreographers learn a variety of techniques and dance styles to incorporate into a future career.

The type of dance training choreographers need depends on the interpretation of dance they wish to produce. For example, a ballet choreographer studies classical ballet, while a musical theater choreographer may study jazz, modern and dramatic dance. Choreographers often study as many forms of dance as possible in order to command a wider movement repertoire.

Step 2: Consider Formal Education

Earning a degree is not a necessary step toward becoming a choreographer; however, a degree program prepares choreographers for the practical business of the dance industry and expands artistic skills. Additionally, some employers may seek choreographers with bachelor's degrees in dance. These degrees include education in dance history, movement analysis, dance composition, performance and movement practice in a variety of dance forms. Some programs may also require students to write theses or participate in dance showcases. The National Association of Schools of Dance accredits dance programs of every level to ensure the quality of dance education.

Success Tip:

  • Pursue coursework outside of the dance major. Choreographers may choose an additional major in a subject outside of dance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that choreographers face strong competition. Education or professional training in a separate field of study offers another supportive avenue for choreographers between jobs. Additionally, many choreographers have administrative duties; business or accounting courses may help with tasks like budgeting.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Each job may lead to more recognition and bigger opportunities for choreographers. Showcasing work whenever possible is important, and choreographers at any stage of their careers may find community productions, dance recitals and festivals offer opportunities to demonstrate their artistic skills. Jobs may also be available through cruise ships and leisure activities or in teaching positions.

Success Tips:

  • Join a professional organization. Organizations, such as the National Dance Association and Dance/USA, offer employment listings, networking events and educational opportunities to members. Dancers and choreographers may participate in conferences and update skills and dance styles through developmental workshops and training sessions.
  • Keep learning. Choreographers with expertise in ballet, jazz and modern dance techniques have a solid foundation in essential dance characteristics, including grace, style and poise. Those successful in the field remain current with new dance forms and styles, introducing or incorporating contemporary trends into their work. Maintaining a diverse knowledge and practice of dance styles may enhance a choreographer's appeal to employers and audiences.
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