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

Duties

Dancers typically do the following:

  • Audition for a part in a show or for a job within a dance company
  • Learn complex dance movements that entertain an audience
  • Rehearse several hours each day 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 usually perform as part of a group and in a variety of styles, including ballet, musical theater, and modern dance. Many perform on TV, in videos on the Internet, and in music videos, where they also may sing or act. Many dancers perform in shows at casinos, theme parks, and on cruise ships.

Choreographers typically do the following:

  • Create dances or interpretations of existing dances
  • Choose the music that will accompany a dance routine
  • Audition dancers for a role in a show or within a dance company
  • Assist with costume design, lighting, and other artistic aspects of a show
  • Teach complex dance movements
  • 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, and 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 25,800 jobs in 2012. About 29 percent were self-employed.

About 30 percent of dancers work in performing arts companies, and about 57 work in private instruction.

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

Injuries and Illnesses

Dance takes a toll on a person’s body, so on-the-job injuries for dancers are common. Many dancers stop performing by their late thirties because of the physical demands of their work. Nonperforming dancers may continue to work as choreographers, directors, or dance teachers.

Work Schedules

Schedules for dancers and choreographers vary, depending on where they work. During tours, dancers and choreographers 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, and at theme parks. Although choreographers who work in dance schools may have a standard workweek when they are instructing students, they spend hours on their own creating 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.

Education and Training

Many dancers begin training when they are 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 sometimes 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.

Some dancers and choreographers pursue postsecondary education. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees in dance, typically through departments of theater or fine arts. The National Association of Schools of Dance accredits more than 70 dance programs. Most include coursework in a variety of dance styles, including modern, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. Most entrants into college dance programs have previous formal training.

Some choreographers work as dance teachers. Teaching dance in college, high school, or elementary school requires a college degree. Some dance studios and conservatories prefer instructors who have a degree but may accept previous work, in lieu of a degree.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

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

Important Qualities

Athleticism. Successful dancers must have excellent balance, physical strength, and physical dexterity, 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.

Interpersonal skills. Dancers and choreographers may find job opportunities by networking within their communities.

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 to continue to practice for future spots. Choreographers must keep studying and creating new routines.

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

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

Advancement

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 present. Eventually, some dancers become choreographers.

Dancers and choreographers may also become producers and directors.

Pay

The median hourly wage for dancers was $14.16 in May 2012. 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 $8.50, and the top 10 percent earned more than $33.34.

The median hourly wage for choreographers was $18.33 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.41, and the top 10 percent earned more than $39.28.

Schedules for dancers and choreographers vary, depending on where they work. During tours, dancers and choreographers 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 hours on their own coming up with new dance routines.

Job Outlook

Employment of dancers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment of choreographers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than 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 change in the total number of companies. There may be better opportunities for dancers and choreographers in large cities, such as New York and Chicago, with many dance companies and performances.

A growing interest in dance in pop culture may provide opportunities in fields outside of dance companies, such as TV or movies, casinos, or theme parks. Many dancers and choreographers, nonetheless, struggle to find opportunities to express themselves creatively; newer dance companies rely on word-of-mouth, grants, and public funding. However, public funding and grants for dance performances can be highly competitive.

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.

Job Prospects

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 than others.

For More Information
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.