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Do I have to go to college to become a choreographer?

I'm a dancer and I want to own a dance studio but I don't want to attend college for a long time. dance entrepreneur businessowner

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Esther Renee’s Answer

Choreography is one of many avenues one may choose to take to have a career in dance. While having a college degree in dance/choreography is not a requirement to succeed in the industry; it is helpful depending on the area one wants to explore. Typically, earning a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) can help if one is pursuing the following types of dance careers.

• Company director

• Marketing/PR/social media manager for company, venue, or festival

• Company operations manager or development officer

• Movement therapist

• Physical therapist

• Dance historian

• Dance critic/journalist (editor at Dance Spirit, anyone?)

• Dance filmmaker/photographer

• Costume designer

• College dance professor

• Talent agent/manager

As a studio owner, developing an understanding of sound business practices on top of continual learning and growth in dance is important. I would encourage you to explore all possibilities and to consider the pros and cons before making a definite decision. The following is the sentiment of many successful professionals in dance:

Perhaps one of the most tangible benefits of graduating with a BA, BFA, or BS is entering the industry with a built-in career network. This might mean you already know the people who are hiring or can get you hired, and have to spend less time and energy to breakthrough. "I'm actually seeing many companies move away from the cattle-call audition—choreographers are meeting prospective dancers through workshops, intensives, and, yes, by working with college students".

To this point, most of my personal dance network was formed while attending college and majoring in dance. However, I will be the first to also to state I have met many extremely successful dance professionals that did not go to college, although the struggle may be significant in the journey to the "big break". At the end of the day, your dreams and your ability to achieve them can only be determined by yourself. Maybe visiting a few colleges and universities with both good business schools and dance departments should be a part of your decision-making process. Here is a list of top-ranked dance programs to check out and see what you think.

Best wishes as you pas de bourree into a wonderful future!

Esther Renee recommends the following next steps:

Look into dance and business programs to determine is/is not for you!
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Jennifer’s Answer

The funny thing with the arts is that, while higher education can certainly help you train and become better at your art form, it does not necessarily help you get work in your field. I went to University of Illinois and received a BFA in Modern Dance Performance in 1992. I feel that the experience allowed me to get a pretty good understanding of what the life of a dancer would be like (hard work, more credit hours than my now husband who got a degree in Aeronautical Engineering!), but within the safety of a college setting. My experience was such that I was not made to feel that I was good enough to have a performance career (by faculty), thus, I believed that I couldn't. I was encouraged to teach, which I did (along with running a studio for a few years ) for about 10 years post-college, which I loved and I still teach for the love of it today. While teaching, I observed how hard it is to maintain the quality of a dance studio, as it is only as good as the faculty available to you and really good dance teachers are transient by nature so you need to be up for the challenge of constant change and it helps if you can teach all disciplines.

The fact that I have a degree from such an esteemed university has certainly helped me in my current career in the corporate world, but it was not often appreciated in the dance world. When you go to an audition they couldn't care less who has a degree in dance, they care about who fits what they are looking for (good technique, personality, height, weight, etc). As far as becoming a choreographer, its not that dissimilar to a degree in performance not helping a 'wanna be performer'. You will be judged by your work - and the catch 22 of needing someone to give you a chance so you can prove yourself/show your work can be frustrating.

It's a tough road (dance as a career) and I learned from my college experience that I was not cut out for a life of performing (injury prone and lack of good training, and perhaps not passionate enough to 'starve for my art'). I believe this was a valuable lesson to learn by the age of 22. Some of the benefits of getting a degree is the hands-on production experience, consistent high-level training, and the contacts/people you meet while in school (both faculty and fellow students) - as well as having "the traditional college experience", depending on where you go. To be fair, I don't know that I went to the right program for what I wanted to do. I was a jazz dancer and the program was only focused on modern dance. I now love modern dance, but I was more interested in 'entertainment dance', which was frowned upon by the faculty so I stopped doing it. I didn't have anybody in my life who knew anything about dance to help guide me. So, if you do decide to pursue a degree, I encourage you to seek help from people you respect in the dance world and to visit the programs and meet the faculty.

Jennifer recommends the following next steps:

Explore degree programs with choreography programs and see if they appeal to you.The program and the teachers should excite and challenge you, and provide plenty of opportunities to create and present work.
Consider the cost of the degree. I was lucky enough to get a small scholarship and my parents paid for the rest (in-state tuition back then was really reasonable) so I graduated debt-free. I do not recommend taking on a lot of debt prior to trying to make it as a choreographer.
Consider a side-hustle to help make money between gigs. I waited tables and taught dance 22 hours/week, but that is hard on the body. If you can get certified in Pilates, it is a good paying teaching job and not as hard on your body.
Choreograph regardless of whether you pursue a degree, and post it everywhere to gain exposure. You need to be your own agent these days and social media can help you get work.
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Erika’s Answer

Hi Jordan! You have received some very in-depth, wonderful answers. My short advice is to remember that there is more to running a dance studio than becoming a fantastic dancer and choreographer yourself. It is a business, which requires budgeting, staffing, marketing, facility management, community outreach, networking, etc. Earning a BFA (I earned a BFA at SMU in 2009) will teach you so much about dance, dance history, performing, choreography, etc, but you may also have opportunities while in school to take business-related elective courses in marketing, communications, accounting, etc. Having a strong foundation in both will open up a lot of opportunities for you. Best wishes!
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Kaniisha’s Answer

I think we have entered a time in which going to college is not necessary to be a choreographer. But it’s important to understand that if you want to be a choreographer in an institution than i would suggest yes. However there are so many ways to choreograph and make an impact outside of school systems.
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Mansi’s Answer

Even though some choreographers start without getting a formal education, but most of the choreographers acquire formal training through a dance school/institute to brush up their skills. In addition to these qualities, dancers must be physically coordinated, flexible and fit to perform different acts and forms.
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David’s Answer

There are a lot of skills you can learn to make you more effective at running a dance studio and being a choreographer. In high school, I worked at a dance studio to get some experience and this launched my passion for entrepreneurship and the idea of running my own business.

I highly recommend rounding out your skill sets in marketing to enable you to be able to bring business into the dance studio.

David recommends the following next steps:

Work at a dance studio as a receptionist and help with social media work
Identify if you want to run a studio, or maybe work as a choreographer in a production
Learn marketing skills