Dancers and choreographers use the human body as art. The movements of dancers can tell a story, evoke emotion, or simply dazzle an audience with sheer virtuosity. Many of the routines performed by dance troupes are highly complex and must be developed and rehearsed ahead of time. This is the role of the choreographer. Dancers and choreographers often specialize in areas of dance, like ballet or folk dance. To make it as a dancer or choreographer requires years of practice and immersion in the art.
Indeed, the vast majority of a dancer or choreographer’s life is spent practicing. Dance is very hard on the body, and requires relentless practice in order to master. Dancers may perform solo or in a group, so their training may take place alone or in the company of peers. It can be grueling to train alone, but the competition in top dance companies can be draining as well. Many dancers work for traveling companies and spend much of the year traveling. Others work for local dance studios and are able to live at home.
Becoming a dancer is similar to becoming a professional athlete: it requires many years of intense specialized training. Most full-time dancers began their training at a very young age, and continued without interruption until entering the profession. Dancers usually begin their training by acquiring basic skills in classical dance. Later, they may begin to focus on a certain style. Many colleges and universities offer degrees in dance. These courses, which may terminate in a bachelor’s or master’s degree, focus on the techniques, composition, and history of dance. It is not necessary to earn an advanced degree to make it as a professional, though many aspiring dancers feel that having a degree gives them an advantage. At the very least, earning a degree provides some sort of insurance before entering this very precarious profession. Moreover, dancers who will want to teach in a public school will need to have a college degree, and will probably have to go back and earn a teaching certificate as well.
The path to becoming a choreographer is much the same as the path to becoming a dancer, in large part because most choreographers began their careers as dancers. In most cases, a person becomes a choreographer after decades of successful practice as a dancer. Choreographers will need to have special training in their particular area of practice. There are special courses for choreographers at many top dance conservatories.
It is difficult to calculate the income of most dancers, because much employment is either short term or part time. The average hourly wage for a dancer is about $12. However, those who are employed by performing arts companies make a bit more. Dancers who work for schools tend to make only about $10 an hour. Some qualifications should be offered here. When dancers go on tour, they usually receive extra money for overtime and living expenses. Nevertheless, many dancers must supplement their income with teaching or other jobs. Some dancers belong to unions, and therefore are entitled to a minimum wage and some basic benefits. Some of these professional unions cover choreographers as well.
Choreographers are more likely to have full-time employment with the same organization, making it possible to get an accurate picture of their annual income. The most recent figures suggest that salaried choreographers make an average of $38,500 a year. The top 10 percent of choreographers, however, earn more than $67,000 annually.
The demand for dancers and choreographers will continue to grow in the future, but at a slower pace than the rest of the economy. The best dance companies will continue to thrive, but there will be less development of new dance programs. As the population and the economy grow, there will not be an accompanying growth in the number of low-level dance performances. Naturally, then, the competition for the best jobs will only become more intense. The number of people who want to enter this field is significantly greater than the number of available positions, a trend that is expected to continue in the future. Perhaps the best area for aspiring dancers and choreographers is education. Professionals with adequate credentials and experience should be able to find work instructing specialized types of dance.