Growing up in dance, many small ballerinas dream of performing on grand stages across the world. Whether it be dancing in a professional company, going on a national dance tour, or becoming a full-time dance teacher --- the opportunities for finding your voice and place in the dance world are endless. However, sometimes dancers might wonder “what else is out there?” and end up making a career transition to other roles in the dance industry.
Aside from performing onstage, dancers are equipped with the tools to pursue many different career avenues: screen performing, instructing yoga/Pilates, physical therapy, arts administration, marketing, and much more. Specifically, sometimes dancers seek to try their hand at choreographing: the act of sequencing dance steps and moves together to create the foundation of an entire dance piece. Moreover, a choreographer conceives, creates, and directs dance/movement in a wide range of performance contexts, including dance, theater, film, television, opera, live events, and more.
If this sounds like you, or you are interested in dabbling into the creative side of the dance world through choreography, please keep reading to find a few professional tips and advice on starting out and transitioning into becoming a choreographer.
Teaching Dance at Local Studios
One significant stepping stone to trying your hand at choreographing is teaching dance classes at your local studio. With the skills necessary to teach basic and technical dance technique, you can try teaching weekly classes, setting up master classes and workshops, or even just subbing classes. With a foundation in dance and teaching, some advantages to beginning your choreographic journey as an educator include a deeper knowledge of dance technique, pedagogy (or the art, science, or profession of teaching), strengthened communication skills, and an understanding of injury prevention for young dancers. As easy as it sounds, to promote a safe, equitable learning space for all students, dance educators are constantly diving deep into curriculum, standards, and systems to ensure the best education for young dancers as possible. Proper dance education is crucial not only for safety, but to promote qualities both in class and at home, like creativity, teamwork, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. A foundational knowledge in these areas can only further set you up for success in the creative leadership role of being a choreographer.
Choreographing Youth/Teen Recitals
Similarly, teaching at a dance studio might also mean finding your voice as a choreographer for young and teen dancers in their annual recital. Usually starting from a theme chosen by the dance studio owners, you will have the artistic liberty to choreograph and imagine a routine for your class of dancers. As an introduction to choreography/movement patterns, it is important to remember to play to your dancers strengths when creating. If you are working with a class of new dancers under the age of 7, it may be best to keep the dance happy, upbeat, and relatively simple, rather than high intensity, technical, and emotional. Additionally, some dance pieces are created with a focus on storytelling: a true event that took place in history or a representation of a common, or not-so-common, human experience. Starting with an idea or a story is a great way to allow dancers to connect to the piece initially, and in turn, connect to the choreographed movement later on. Either way, in your early career transition from dancer to choreographer, it is valuable to remind yourself that your job is to highlight your dancers’ strengths, while still pushing them to their fullest potential (both on and off the dance floor).
Another great transitional role as a performer to dabbling into the choreographic world is serving as a dance captain for a production. A dance captain is a performer, either on or off stage, that is responsible for maintaining the artistic integrity and show standard once the creative team leaves a production. This role acts as a balancing act between the performers’ world and the creative world. Once a choreographer hands off the project, a dance captain is required to execute, teach, and clarify choreography to new members of the cast with poise and expertise, as well as lead put-in rehearsals. As you can tell, finding your voice as a dance captain is no small feat; leading with authority yet not being authoritative and staying organized with your choreography notes is essential in creating a healthy balance of your performer duties as well as stepping into the leadership of the creative choreographic role of a production.
Share Your Work!
Next up, and simply put: your work won’t take off the ground unless you put yourself out there! In this day and age, the accessibility of social media, websites, and online materials make it incredibly easy to create and post your work for the world to see. No, you don’t need to have thousands of followers to book a job, but having an online presence is important to staying up-to-date in the industry with industry trends and dance connections. While it can be nerve wracking, consider creating a public social media account to showcase your choreography projects (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok — the opportunities are endless) with examples of dances you’ve choreographed and projects you’ve worked on. Some dancers even create choreography-specific Instagram profiles to build a page solely dedicated to that. If you are new to the game, consider setting choreography on a group of friends and filming in a studio or a site-specific location to gather footage to start out. When creating a virtual space, it is important to keep in mind how to market yourself to potential employers and casting directors both off and online. Having a clean AND easy-to-navigate platform is essential to solidify your brand as a choreographer, as well as showcase your best choreographic work.
Your work won’t take off the ground unless you put yourself out there.
As you can see, there are many avenues to find your voice on how to become a choreographer. For support in your choreographic career transition, it is important to remember that there is always a network of other dancers, choreographers, educators, and artists to seek out for industry advice and guidance. After all, networking isn’t just for those seeking a 9-to-5 desk job – choreographers, dancers, and other artists do it every day! Other great resources to aid in your transition from dance floor to creative table include seeking advice from your dance mentors and instructors, looking to online resources like DancePlug, studying from industry choreographers and mentors, connecting to local dance studio owners, and more.