In any performance or production that features stylized movement or dance, it's likely that a choreographer is involved. Choreographers work in many different settings: with professional dancers in companies; with directors, actors, or singers in theater, film, and opera; and with producers of live events. On some projects, a choreographer may work mostly alone, creating a sequence of movement based on their own vision. On others, the choreographer must help realize the vision of a director or production team, a process that that is highly collaborative and sometimes challenging. Either way, the primary job of a choreographer is to create powerful, evocative, and communicative movement sequences. The secondary job, no less important, is to communicate these movements to the movers (dancers, actors, etc.), and, in some cases, work directly with them as a movement coach, shaping the performance.
Because this is a highly interdisciplinary role, choreographers have to be fluent in a number of artistic disciplines. In the process of their work, they will likely collaborate with dance, theater, and film designers in the costume, set, and lighting departments. They may also need to choreograph movement to match the work of a specific composer or artist, a skill that requires a nuanced understanding of and strong relationship with music.
At a Glance
Many choreographers have a bachelor's degree in dance, although a master's degree is often necessary to teach at a university level. Choreographers often begin their careers as professional dancers, working as an assistant choreographer or in similar position whenever possible. After they've gained some experience teaching movements to dancers, aspiring choreographers may begin working as associate choreographers, contributing their own movements to collaborative pieces or creating entire movement pieces independently. They may also be credited as dance directors on pieces without original movements (i.e., pre-existing dance pieces). Some choreographers go on to become creative directors of dance companies or similar institutions. A number also become dance professors or movement coaches.
Anywhere there's an artistic production that needs dance or movement, there's work for a freelance choreographer. Finding that work is often a matter of building strong relationships with local performing groups and developing a reputation as an effective choreographer. There are also often in-house positions for choreographers at dance companies and teaching positions at dance schools.
- Designing movement sequences
- Physical fitness
- Verbal communication
- Creativity and inventiveness
Being a choreographer isn't just about being a trained dancer. Choreographers must have excellent teaching, communication, collaboration, and leadership skills. They must also be musical, inventive, patient, and willing to work on new movements for long hours alone. A certain level of artistic vision is essential, as high-level choreographers may not have the opportunity to see their movement performed by dancers until it's too late to change it.
As a freelance choreographer, flexibility and adaptability are crucial. Projects rarely come when it's convenient, often arriving in bursts, so freelance choreographers may need to pace themselves financially and artistically through slimmer seasons and be ready to throw themselves into the work when it arrives. They may have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet, especially at the beginning of their careers. In-house choreographers, on the other hand, generally have regular schedules and a more stable financial situation.