Dancers and Choreographers

Summary

dancers and choreographers image
There are many different types of dance, including tango (shown here), modern, tap, and jazz.
Quick Facts: Dancers and Choreographers
2012 Median Pay $15.87 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 25,800
Job Outlook, 2012-22 13% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 3,400

What Dancers and Choreographers Do

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

Work Environment

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

How to Become a Dancer or Choreographer

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.

Pay

The median hourly wage for dancers was $14.16 in May 2012. The median hourly wage for choreographers was $18.33 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. 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.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dancers and choreographers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about dancers and choreographers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Dancers and Choreographers Do About this section

Dancers and choreographers
Some dancers perform in theater productions.

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 About this section

Dancers and choreographers
Dancers practice in a designated studio.

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.

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 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 About this section

Dancers and Choreographers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Choreographers

$18.33

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Dancers and choreographers

$15.87

Dancers

$14.16

 

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 About this section

Dancers and Choreographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Choreographers

24%

Dancers and choreographers

13%

Total, all occupations

11%

Dancers

6%

 

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.

Employment projections data for dancers and choreographers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Dancers and choreographers

27-2030 25,800 29,200 13 3,400 [XLS]

Dancers

27-2031 15,600 16,500 6 900 [XLS]

Choreographers

27-2032 10,200 12,700 24 2,500 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dancers and choreographers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Actors

Actors

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They also work at theme parks or other live events. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Some college, no degree The annual wage is not available.
Art directors

Art Directors

Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. They create the overall design of a project and direct others who develop artwork and layouts.

Bachelor’s degree $80,880
Music directors and composers

Music Directors and Composers

Music directors (also called conductors) lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.

Bachelor’s degree $47,350
Musicians and singers

Musicians and Singers

Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios.

High school diploma or equivalent The annual wage is not available.
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $68,970
Producers and directors

Producers and Directors

Producers and directors create motion pictures, television shows, live theater, and other performing arts productions. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Bachelor’s degree $71,350
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Dancers and Choreographers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/dancers-and-choreographers.htm (visited August 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014