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Dancers and Choreographers

Significant Points

* Many dancers stop performing by their late thirties, but some remain in the field as choreographers, dance teachers, or artistic directors.
* Most dancers begin formal training at an early age—between 5 and 15—and many have their first professional audition by age 17 or 18; becoming a choreographer usually requires years of experience.
* Dancers and choreographers face intense competition; only the most talented find regular work.
* Earnings from dancing are usually low because employment is irregular; dancers often supplement their income.

Nature of the Work

Complex movements and dances on stage and screen do not happen without a lot of hard work. Dancers spend years learning dances and honing skills, as do most choreographers. Together, they then translate those skills into movement that expresses ideas and stories. Dancers perform in a variety of settings, including opera, musical theater, and other musical productions, and may present folk, ethnic, tap, jazz, or other popular kinds of dance. They also perform in television, movies, music videos, and commercials, in which they may sing and act. Dancers most often perform as part of a group, although a few top artists perform solo.

Choreographers create original dances and develop new interpretations of existing dances. They work in theaters, dance schools, dance and movie studios, and at fashion shows, and are involved in auditioning performers for dance parts. Because few dance routines are written down, choreographers instruct performers at rehearsals to achieve the desired effect, often by demonstrating the exact technique. Choreographers also work with performers other than dancers. For example, the complex martial arts scenes in movies are arranged by choreographers who specialize in the martial arts. Choreographers also may help coordinate costume design and lighting, as well as choose the music and sound effects that convey the intended message.

Work environment

Dance is strenuous. In fact, dancers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injury. Many dancers, as a result, stop performing by their late thirties because of the physical demands on the body. Nonetheless, some continue to work in the field as choreographers, artistic directors, and dance teachers and coaches, while a small number may move into administrative positions, such as company managers. A few celebrated dancers, however, continue performing most of their lives.

Many dance companies tour for part of the year to supplement a limited performance schedule at home. Dancers who perform in musical productions and other family entertainment spend much of their time on the road; others work in nightclubs or on cruise ships. Most dance performances are in the evening, whereas rehearsals and practice usually take place during the day. As a result, dancers often work very long and late hours. Generally, dancers and choreographers work in modern and temperature-controlled facilities; however, some studios may be older and less comfortable.

Source: bls.gov, friendsofbrockportdance.org, menindance.org, thornwillow.com, artknowledgenews.com, sfballet.org