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"Five, six, seven, eight . . . and one, two, three, four . . ." A dancer is used to hearing this kind of rhythmic counting from their teachers and choreographers. Choreographers study the musical beats in songs to help them coordinate dance routines. Choreographers express ideas through movement. They design dances, and create dance movement for professional dancers and dance companies, dance studios, amateur performing dance companies, musical theater, opera, fashion shows, film, television productions and special events. Famous choreographers like Bob Fosse and Debbie Allen have proved how creative and hard working these dance innovators really are.
Choreographers usually specialize in a particular area of dance such as ballet, ballroom, tap, jazz, hip-hop funk or modern. They translate stories, ideas and moods into various dance movements. Their goal is to creatively communicate through the dance medium while taking into consideration the limits to which dancers' bodies can be pushed. Choreographers often conduct rehearsals with performers to achieve desired interpretations of their work. These rehearsals sometimes go on for hours until the dancers can do the moves correctly, which can be both stressful and tiring.

All choreographers have their own methods of recording or writing dance movements, each of which requires a technical understanding of the patterns and formations of choreography. Some choreographers today, map out dances on computers to get a feel for how the dance will look. These high tech choreographers are generally younger, more computer-savvy technologists. Accordingly, once the number has been completed or taken serious form, the next step is teaching these moves, which can be a challenge in itself.

Choreographers must therefore have a system in which they can understand their own ideas and communicate these directions to dancers. Sometimes they work with huge dance troupes and must also be able to teach dance steps and moves to a large group. Other times, they work with a prima ballerina and her partner. Some choreographers also make new interpretations of classical dances, especially in ballet and modern dance.

Many choreographers are involved in auditioning performers. They usually have a certain type of dancer in mind when auditioning and since they will be teaching and directing the number, it is crucial that they help choose the dancers. In smaller dance companies, choreographers may also be responsible for designing the set lighting effects and costumes.

Due to the strenuous activity involved in dance, many dancers retire from performing in their thirties and at that time become full time choreographers and teachers. Choreographers typically are older dancers with years of experience in the theater. Through their performance as dancers, they develop reputations as skilled artists that often lead to opportunities to choreograph productions. It is important to note that most dance teachers could be called choreographers because they choreograph end of the year performances and other dance competitions run through dance schools.
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  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to become a choreographer these days? Choreographers should have an interest in different musical and dancing styles and the ability to teach others how to interpret movements and moods. They definitely enjoy creating dance numbers and routines and watching them come to life on stage. Successful choreographers enjoy taking charge and controlling situations and teaching others.

Choreographers need to have stamina, good posture, good coordination and reflexes and a flexible body. They also need to have strong ankles, legs, back and arms -- in other words, they must be in tip top physical shape.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan dance programs and create dances
  • Explain and demonstrate dance steps and techniques
  • Teach students about musical rhythm
  • Advise on how to stand and move well, including teaching correct dance techniques to prevent injury
  • Direct rehearsals for performances
  • Express ideas through physical movements, patterns and formations
  • Experiment with different dancers, dance steps and placements
  • Choose the music, sound effects or spoken narrative to accompany the dance steps
  • Restage existing works in a dance company's repertoire to give them a new interpretation
  • Choose suitable dancers to perform their works
  • Teach dancers or other performers to interpret their movements
  • Practice regularly to keep dancers' bodies toned and in shape
  • Understand and have some background in reading music
  • May manage their own dance school or take part in the running of one
  • Choreographing is a very time consuming process that requires working long hours, including weekends and holidays. Rehearsals usually take place during the day and performances are generally in the evening, meaning that choreographers work both night and day. There is nothing regular about the job when it comes to hours. Rehearsals are particularly busy times for choreographers because they must spend time with artistic directors, theater designers and the technical crew.
  • Choreographers may work in studios during practices and early rehearsals and then move to the sets where the performance will take place to do final rehearsing. Choreographers must be in excellent shape because they spend their days dancing and creating and teaching dances. There is often lots of traveling and "on the road" living for those working for dance companies.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Choreographers usually work on a freelance basis. They can be found anywhere from the smallest theater company, performing in community centers to the renowned Broadway. They may be hired by organizers of special events such as community festivals, fashion shows, half-time shows at sporting events, entertainment at large spectacles such as the Olympic games or world fairs, and television shows or music videos. Opera companies and musical theater productions may also hire choreographers to train their actors in dance movements or to design dance sequences.
  • Professional choreographers may also work part-time as choreographers and part-time as dancers, dance teachers or movement coaches. Some are the artistic directors of their own dance companies. Successful choreographers often work with a professional dance company. Resident positions for choreographers are rare. In fact, most dance companies will ask different members of their dance troupe to act as choreographers for new numbers, in order to keep their shows new and fresh.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Becoming a choreographer in itself is quite an amazing accomplishment. They usually start as dancers or dance teachers and with experience become full time choreographers. Also, some can become resident choreographers in dance troupes, which is also an honorable promotion. They may also become choreographers for fashion shows, music videos, festivals, during the half time of a sporting event, like at the Superbowl or the Olympics or in opera houses.

In order to succeed, choreographers must keep up to date on the latest dance trends and movements and continually practice, practice, practice.

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no required or specific educational path for becoming a choreographer, almost all come from a dance background. In fact, most begin dancing as young children. They are trained in the various styles of dance, from classical ballet to modern dance, and draw on all of these traditions in their interpretative creations. They should also be knowledgeable about historical costumes and human anatomy and have a background in production design.

Most dance companies provide opportunities for experienced dancers to learn by working under the direction of skilled choreographic designers. Classes in choreography are part of most dance programs. Many choreographers have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance or a college diploma and some even move on to master's degrees. However, choreographers with these degrees usually go into teaching at the postsecondary level.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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