A choreographer is like the director and the screenwriter of a film, all rolled in to one, but for dancers and dance routines instead of actors on screen. They create and plan the routines for performers to play out, usually to music or to evoke some sort of idea in the heads of the audience.
To do this, you’ll need a high level of dancing ability yourself, the patience to teach it to other people and the ability to know what looks good to a wider audience, as well as the communication skills needed to make sure that your point is coming across clearly to your dancers.
The best choreographers run whole shows by themselves, playing out a storyline through meticulous planning of dances, costumes, music and visuals, to engage an audience completely. Choreographers often run their own dance schools, which also involves balancing their own accounts and managing costs.
Salary & benefits
Salaries are extremely varied as to whether you work purely on a freelance basis, run your own company or work for someone else. Your payment for individual shows will vary based on your experience and reputation, so it can be a highly variable career in terms of finances. The average salary in America in 2014 was $35,000, but this will include huge name choreographers like Louie Spence, who earn extremely high salaries and so is likely slightly skewed.
The working hours of a choreographer tend to be long due to rigorous teaching demands in the daytime and further classes or performances in the evenings, because you would tend to be working on more than one performance at a time. There will be travel involved the higher up the chain you get, as popular shows often tour a country or even a continent.
Most choreographers start out as professional dancers and then move into choreography from there, as this gives you the basis you need to understanding the limitations of the body and how difficult routines are. There are, however, specialist one year diplomas in choreography which could be an alternative way in.
Training & progression
Dancers begin training early in their lives, taking grades equivalent to those on a musical instrument and many go to a specific dance school or take a Dance/Musical Theatre degree, some of which will include modules on choreography.
From dancing, a dance captain often steps up to the role of Assistance Choreographer, where they will help to rehearse the moves and give their input on what steps would fit, without taking on the full creative burden that the choreographer has. From there, all progression is performance based and the way to get noticed is to choreograph routines that simply cannot be ignored!