Choreographer

The Job and What's Involved

Choreographers create dance or movement routines for performance, which might include ballet, musical theatre, television, film, music videos, ice dance and fashion shows or corporate events. They may have complete creative control or work closely with a director, interpreting their instructions and contributing ideas.

Choreographers use a wide knowledge and experience of different dance techniques, including both historical and contemporary styles. They usually specialise in a particular form, such as classical ballet, contemporary dance, ballroom dancing and folk dancing, jazz or non-western (such as Indian or African).

Choreographers:

  • Discuss the brief and come up with ideas.
  • Work with the director to audition and cast the dance roles.
  • Choose music and sound or work with a composer to create a score.
  • Design routines to fit the music.
  • Carry out research and experiment with new ideas.
  • Teach steps and routines to dancers and other performers.
  • Rehearse with the performers.
  • Help to set up shots and check for continuity when working in recorded media such as film, tv, and music videos.

Choreographers may also work as movement directors, demonstrating correct period (historical) etiquette, robotic movements or movements for fight sequences, or helping male actors to play female characters and vice versa.

They might use a form of dance notation to record the movements, such as Benesh movement notation or Labanotation. Steps can also be recorded on video.

Choreography is a collaborative job. In addition to directors, dancers and other performers, choreographers may work with producers, composers, artistic directors, costume designers and other production staff.

Choreographers who work freelance or run their own companies may have to spend a great deal of time applying for funding and writing proposals for projects. They also have to do administration and market themselves or their businesses.

Working hours can be long and unpredictable. Choreographers usually work out routines and rehearse dancers or actors during the day and attend evening performances. They may be working on more than one production at a time. They may also continue to perform or teach dance.

Part-time work is possible, usually for freelance choreographers.

Choreographers work mainly in dance studios and rehearsal rooms, but they also work in film and tv studios, theatres, nightclubs, hotels, cruise liners and holiday resorts. There may be a lot of travel involved, possibly overseas.

Minimum theatre rates are around £130 a day. The fee for a tour is at least £1,074 a week.

Well-known choreographers, or those working for national companies, can earn £40,000 or more per year.

Some choreographers are employed by dance companies, but many choreographers work on fixed-term contracts and negotiate a fee, which may depend on their track record and experience, the location and the production budget available. Equity, the performing arts union, can give advice on rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 200 dance companies in the UK and some choreographers are employed full time, but many work freelance. There are also opportunities in theatre, musicals, opera, film, television, live music and video, corporate events, variety shows and clubs. Freelance choreographers often have to work on several projects at the same time.

Although many jobs are based in London, regional and touring opportunities are also available.

Choreographers usually start as dancers and may progress to dance captain (who leads other dancers but doesn't create steps) on theatrical productions or work as an assistant choreographer. They often begin by choreographing small pieces, gradually building up to bigger projects. There is a lot of competition for jobs and choreographers must be dedicated and prepared to work hard. They may have to continue to perform, teach or do other work to earn a living.

Jobs may be advertised in publications such as The Stage and on dance-related websites, such as www.londondance.com and www.theplace.org.uk, which also produces a monthly magazine, Juice. Choreographers must also network and promote themselves. Dance UK has a Choreographers Directory and national forum.

Education and Training

Choreographers are almost always trained dancers. Most dancers start training at a very early age and often take graded examinations before going on to vocational training or higher education. There is a wide range of dance qualifications available, from GCSE and A level dance, to BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas and degrees. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Information about professional dance training is available from the Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET). Dance and Drama Awards are available to fund certain approved dance courses. The Money to Learn website has details.

Choreography is an option on several full-time dance-related courses. Some colleges and universities offer degrees specialising in choreography, such as:

- University College Falmouth, incorporating Dartington College of Arts
- University of Winchester
- Northumbria University

As a guide, minimum requirements for entry onto a degree course are normally two A levels, one of which should be in dance or a performing arts-related subject, and five GCSE's (A*-C), usually to include English and maths, or equivalent.

Postgraduate choreography courses are available at a number of institutions, including:

- The Laban Centre in London
- London Contemporary Dance School
- Middlesex University
- The Northern School of Dance
- Roehampton University
- University of Leeds
- University College Falmouth
- University of Hull

Applicants should check with individual institutions for entry requirements and to ensure that course content and outcomes meet their own needs. An audition is usually required.

Choreographers have to practice movements and demonstrate them, so fitness and stamina are important.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many new choreographers work as an assistant or find work experience with an experienced choreographer, sometimes in a voluntary capacity, while they develop their skills.

Choreography is physically demanding and most choreographers maintain their stamina and fitness levels by attending regular dance or fitness classes throughout their careers. They also continually research and learn new dance styles to expand their repertoires.

Professional dance courses and workshops are available throughout the UK at a variety of establishments. Funding for training and professional development may be available from the Arts Council.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Choreographers need:

  • A thorough knowledge of dance.
  • Dance experience and ability.
  • Teaching and communication skills.
  • The ability to visualise new work and translate ideas into movement.
  • Creative and problem-solving abilities.
  • Stamina and concentration.
  • The ability to work well in a team.
  • A knowledge of health and safety requirements.
  • Business and organisational skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Competition for jobs can be fierce and the most successful choreographers usually demonstrate extraordinary flair and talent. However, there are also opportunities for choreographers in other areas such as corporate events, community dance and education. Choreographers often supplement their work by continuing to dance or teach.

Some choreographers establish their own dance companies. Experienced choreographers may work internationally.

Get Further Information

Arts Council,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200
Website: www.artscouncil.org.uk

The Benesh Institute,
36 Battersea Square, London SW11 3RA
Tel: 020 7326 8031
Website: www.benesh.org

Council for Dance Education and Training,
Old Brewer's Yard, 17-19 Neal Street,
Covent Garden, London WC2H 9UY
Tel: 020 7240 5703
Website: www.cdet.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.ccskills.org.uk and www.creative-choices.co.uk

Equity, Guild House,
Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Website: www.equity.org.uk

London Contemporary Dance School,
The Place, 17 Duke's Road, London WC1H 9PY
Tel: 020 7121 1000
Website: www.theplace.org.uk

Royal Academy of Dance (RAD),
36 Battersea Square, London SW11 3RA
Tel: 020 7326 8000
Website: www.rad.org.uk

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 0808 0300 900
Website: www.skillset.org

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