Dancer / Choreographer Training and Qualifications
Dancers generally need long-term on-the-job training to be successful. 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. Some earn a bachelor's degree
or attend dance school, although neither is required. Becoming a choreographer
usually requires years of experience.
Education and training. Training varies
with the type of dance and is a continuous part of all dancers' careers. Many
believe that dancers should start with a good foundation in classical technique
before selecting a particular style. Ballet training for girls usually begins
between the ages of 5 to 8 with a private teacher or through an independent
ballet school, with more serious training beginning between the ages of 10 and
12. Boys 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 dances often begins
later than training in ballet; however, many folk dance forms are taught to very
young children. As a result, a good number of 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 usually
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 is made up of 74 accredited dance programs. Many
programs concentrate on modern dance, but some also offer courses in jazz,
culturally specific dance, ballet, or classical techniques. Courses in dance
composition, history and criticism, and movement analysis are also available.
A college education is not essential for 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 usually 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 for teaching dance or choreography in local recreational programs.
Studio schools prefer teachers to have experience as performers.
Choreographers should have a thorough understanding of the dance style that
they arrange. This often is gained through years of performing and practicing.
Some dance conservatories offer choreography courses.
Other qualifications. Because of the
rigorous practice schedules of most dancers and choreographers, self-discipline,
patience, perseverance, and a devotion to dance are essential for success in the
field. Dancers and choreographers also must possess good problem-solving skills
and an ability to work with people. Dancers, above all, must have good health
and physical stamina, along with flexibility, agility, coordination, and grace,
a sense of rhythm, a feeling for music, and a creative ability to express
themselves through movement. Choreographers should possess many of the same
attributes while also being able to plan and coordinate activities.
Because dancers and choreographers are typically 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
looking for work.
Advancement. 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 a 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.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
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