Dancers and Choreographers
- Many dancers stop performing by their late thirties, but some
remain in the field as choreographers, dance teachers, or artistic
- 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.
- Dancers and choreographers face intense competition; only
the most talented find regular work.
From ancient times to the present, dancers have expressed ideas,
stories, and rhythm with their bodies. They use a variety of dance
forms that allow free movement and self-expression, including
classical ballet, modern dance, and culturally specific dance
styles. Many dancers combine performance work with teaching or
Dancers perform in a variety of settings, such as musical productions,
and may present folk, ethnic, tap, jazz, and other popular kinds
of dance. They also perform in opera, musical theater, television,
movies, music videos, and commercials, in which they also may
sing and act. Dancers most often perform as part of a group, although
a few top artists perform solo.
Dancers work with choreographers, who create original dances
and develop new interpretations of existing dances. Because few
dance routines are written down, choreographers instruct performers
at rehearsals to achieve the desired effect. In addition, choreographers
usually are involved in auditioning performers.
Dance is strenuous. Many dancers stop performing by their late
thirties because of the physical demands on the body. However,
some continue to work in the field as choreographers, dance teachers
and coaches, or artistic directors. Others move into administrative
positions, such as company managers. A few celebrated dancers,
however, continue performing even beyond the age of 50.
Daily rehearsals require very long hours. 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 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.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Training varies with the type of dance and is a continuous part
of all dancers’ careers. Many dancers and dance instructors believe
that dancers should start with a good foundation in classical
dance before selecting a particular dance style. Ballet training
for women usually begins at 5 to 8 years of age with a private
teacher or through an independent ballet school. Serious training
traditionally begins between the ages of 10 and 12. Men often
begin their ballet training between the ages of 10 and 15. Students
who demonstrate potential in their early teens may seek out more
intensive and advanced professional training. At about this time,
students should begin to focus their training on a particular
style and decide whether to pursue additional training through
a dance company’s school or a college dance program. Leading dance
school companies often have summer training programs from which
they select candidates for admission to their regular full-time
training programs. Formal training for modern and culturally specific
dancers often begins later than training in ballet; however, many
folk dance forms are taught to very young children. Many dancers
have their first professional auditions by age 17 or 18.
Training is an important component of professional dancers’ careers.
Dancers normally spend 8 hours a day in class and rehearsal, keeping
their bodies in shape and preparing for performances. Their daily
training period includes time to warm up and cool down before
and after classes and rehearsals.
Because of the strenuous and time-consuming training required,
some dancers view formal education as secondary. However, a broad,
general education including music, literature, history, and the
visual arts is helpful in the interpretation of dramatic episodes,
ideas, and feelings. Dancers sometimes conduct research to learn
more about the part they are playing.
Many colleges and universities award bachelor’s or master’s degrees
in dance, typically through departments of dance, theater, or
fine arts. The National Association of Schools of Dance accredits
about 60 programs in dance. Many programs concentrate on modern
dance, but some also offer courses in jazz, culturally specific,
ballet, or classical techniques; dance composition, history, and
criticism; and movement analysis.
A college education is not essential to obtaining employment
as a professional dancer; however, many dancers obtain degrees
in unrelated fields to prepare themselves for careers after dance.
The completion of a college program in dance and education is
essential to qualify to teach dance in college, high school, or
elementary school. Colleges and conservatories sometimes require
graduate degrees but may accept performance experience. A college
background is not necessary, however, for teaching dance or choreography
in local recreational programs. Studio schools prefer teachers
to have experience as performers.
Because of the rigorous practice schedules of most dancers, self-discipline,
patience, perseverance, and a devotion to dance are essential
for success in the field. Dancers also must possess good problem-solving
skills and an ability to work with people. Good health and physical
stamina also are necessary attributes. Above all, dancers must
have flexibility, agility, coordination, grace, a sense of rhythm,
a feeling for music, and a creative ability to express themselves
Because dancers typically perform as members of an ensemble made
up of other dancers, musicians, and directors or choreographers,
they must be able to function as part of a team. They also should
be highly motivated and prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent
employment and rejections when auditioning for work. For dancers,
advancement takes the form of a growing reputation, more frequent
work, bigger and better roles, and higher pay. Some dancers may
take on added responsibilities, such as by becoming a dance captain
in musical theater or ballet master/ballet mistress in concert
dance companies, by leading rehearsals, or by working with less
experienced dancers in the absence of the choreographer.
Choreographers typically are experienced dancers with years of
practice working in the theater. Through their performance as
dancers, they develop reputations that often lead to opportunities
to choreograph productions.
Professional dancers and choreographers held about 38,000 jobs
in 2004. Many others were between engagements, so that the total
number of people available for work as dancers over the course
of the year was greater. Dancers and choreographers worked in
a variety of industries, such as private educational services,
which includes dance studios and schools, as well as colleges
and universities; food services and drinking establishments; performing
arts companies, which includes dance, theater, and opera companies;
and amusement and recreation venues, such as casinos and theme
parks. Over one-fifth of dancers and choreographers were self-employed.
Most major cities serve as home to major dance companies; however,
many smaller communities across the Nation also support home-grown,
full-time professional dance companies.
Dancers and choreographers face intense competition for jobs.
Only the most talented find regular employment.
Employment of dancers and choreographers is expected to grow
about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014.
The public’s continued interest in dance will sustain larger dance
companies, but funding from public and private organizations is
not expected to keep pace with rising production costs. For many
small and midsize organizations, the result will be fewer performances
and more limited employment opportunities. Although job openings
will arise each year because dancers and choreographers retire
or leave the occupation for other reasons, the number of applicants
will continue to vastly exceed the number of job openings.
National dance companies likely will continue to provide jobs
in this field. Opera companies and dance groups affiliated with
colleges and universities and with television and motion pictures
also will offer some opportunities. Moreover, the growing popularity
of dance for recreational and fitness purposes has resulted in
increased opportunities to teach dance. Finally, music video channels
will provide opportunities for both dancers and choreographers.
Median hourly earnings of dancers were $8.54 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $6.71 and $15.62. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $5.87, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $21.59. Annual earnings data for dancers were
not available, because of the wide variation in the number of
hours worked by dancers and the short-term nature of many jobs—which
may last for 1 day or 1 week—made it extremely rare for dancers
to have guaranteed employment that exceeded 3 to 6 months. Median
hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number
of dancers were as follows:
|Performing arts companies
|Other schools and instruction
|Drinking places, alcoholic beverages
|Other amusement and recreation industries
Median annual earnings of salaried choreographers were $33,670
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,530 and
$48,940. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,980, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $68,190. Median annual earnings
were $34,090 in “other schools and instruction,” a North American
Industry Classification System category that includes dance studios
Dancers who were on tour usually received an additional allowance
for room and board, as well as extra compensation for overtime.
Earnings from dancing are usually low because employment is part
year and irregular. Dancers often supplement their income by working
as guest artists with other dance companies, teaching dance, or
taking jobs unrelated to the field.
Earnings of dancers at many of the largest companies and in commercial
settings are governed by union contracts. Dancers in the major
opera ballet, classical ballet, and modern dance corps belong
to the American Guild of Musical Artists, Inc. of the AFL-CIO;
those who appear on live or videotaped television programs belong
to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; those
who perform in films and on television belong to the Screen Actors
Guild; and those in musical theater are members of the Actors’
Equity Association. The unions and producers sign basic agreements
specifying minimum salary rates, hours of work, benefits, and
other conditions of employment. However, the contract each dancer
signs with the producer of the show may be more favorable than
the basic agreement.
Most salaried dancers and choreographers covered by union contracts
receive some paid sick leave and various health and pension benefits,
including extended sick pay and family-leave benefits provided
by their unions. Employers contribute toward these benefits. Dancers
and choreographers not covered by union contracts usually do not
enjoy such benefits.
People who work in other performing arts occupations include
actors, producers, and directors and musicians, singers, and related
workers. Those directly involved in the production of dance programs
include set and exhibit designers; fashion designers; and barbers,
cosmetologists, and other personal appearance workers. Like dancers,
athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers need strength,
flexibility, and agility.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general information about dance and a list of accredited
college-level programs, contact:
For information about dance and dance companies, contact:
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,