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What Dancers and Choreographers Do About this section

Dancers and choreographers
Some dancers perform in theater productions.

Dancers and choreographers use dance performances to express ideas and stories. 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, choreographers, or other dancers to interpret or modify their routines
  • 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 know a variety of dance styles, including ballet, tap, and modern dance. In addition to traditional performances in front of a live audience, many perform on TV, in videos on the Internet, and in music videos, in which they also may sing or act. Many dancers perform in shows at casinos, in theme parks, and on cruise ships.

Choreographers typically do the following:

  • Put together moves in a sequence to create new 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 dance schools, theaters, dance companies, and movie studios. During rehearsals, they typically demonstrate dance moves, to instruct dancers in the proper technique. Many choreographers also perform the dance routines they create. Some choreographers work with performers who are not trained dancers. For example, the complex martial arts scenes performed by actors in movies are arranged by choreographers who specialize in martial arts.

Some dancers and choreographers hold other jobs between roles to make a living.

Work Environment About this section

Dancers and choreographers
Dancers may rehearse several hours each day to prepare for their performance.

Choreographers held about 5,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of choreographers were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private 54%
Performing arts companies 22
Self-employed workers 15

Dancers held about 11,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of dancers were as follows:

Performing arts companies 30%
Self-employed workers 15
Educational services; state, local, and private 10
Spectator sports 7

Injuries and Illnesses

Dance takes a toll on a person’s body, so on-the-job injuries are common in dancers. In fact, dancers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

Many dancers stop performing by the time they reach 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 with where they work. During tours, dancers and choreographers have long workdays, rehearsing most of the day and performing at night.

Choreographers who work in dance schools may have a standard workweek when they are instructing students. They also spend hours working independently to create new dance routines.

How to Become a Dancer or Choreographer About this section

Dancers and choreographers
Most dancers begin training at a young age.

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 professional dance companies sometimes have intensive summer training programs from which they might 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 afterschool 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. As of March 2016, there were about 75 dance programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance. Most programs include coursework in a variety of dance styles, including modern dance, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. Most entrants into college dance programs have previous formal training.

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

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

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

Advancement

Some dancers take on more responsibility if they are promoted to dance captain in musical theater companies. They lead rehearsals or work with less experienced dancers when the choreographer is not present.

Some dancers become choreographers. Dancers and choreographers also may become theater, film, or television producers and directors.

Important Qualities

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

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 auditions and to continue to practice for future performances. 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 or pairs, so dancers must be able to work together to be successful.

Pay About this section

Dancers and Choreographers

Median hourly wages, May 2020

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$22.63

Choreographers

$21.00

Total, all occupations

$20.17

Dancers and choreographers

$19.11

Dancers

$18.58

 

The median hourly wage for choreographers was $21.00 in May 2020. 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 $10.18, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48.68.

The median hourly wage for dancers was $18.58 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.68, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48.76.

In May 2020, the median hourly wages for choreographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Performing arts companies $22.43
Educational services; state, local, and private 20.19

In May 2020, the median hourly wages for dancers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private $25.37
Performing arts companies 19.24
Spectator sports 15.32

Schedules for dancers and choreographers vary with where they work. During tours, dancers and choreographers have long workdays, rehearsing most of the day and performing at night.

Choreographers who work in dance schools may have a standard workweek when they are instructing students. They also spend hours working independently to create new dance routines.

Job Outlook About this section

Dancers and Choreographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Choreographers

14%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

7%

Dancers and choreographers

6%

Total, all occupations

4%

Dancers

2%

 

Overall employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. However, projected employment growth varies by occupation.

Employment of dancers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. Many of the new jobs for these workers are expected to be in private dance schools. Employment in performing arts companies, the largest industry employer of dancers, is projected to go down.

Employment of choreographers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 800 new jobs over the decade. Most of these new jobs are expected to be in private dance schools, the largest industry employer of choreographers.

A continued interest in dance and in pop culture also should provide new opportunities in venues outside of dance companies, such as TV or movies, casinos, and theme parks. Demand for dancers and choreographers is expected to be greatest in large cities, such as New York and Las Vegas.

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 other dancers have.

Employment projections data for dancers and choreographers, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Dancers and choreographers

27-2030 16,900 18,000 6 1,000 Get data

Dancers

27-2031 11,400 11,700 2 300 Get data

Choreographers

27-2032 5,500 6,300 14 800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about dancers and choreographers, visit

Dance/USA

National Endowment for the Arts

National Association of Schools of Dance

USA Dance

CareerOneStop

For a career video on choreographers, visit

Choreographers

O*NET

Choreographers

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