Career as a Choreographer

You are going to need a lot more than your dancing shoes to become a choreographer, says Patricia Mascarenhas.

Do you dream about dancing on the sets of ‘Jhalak Diklaja’ or ‘Dance India Dance? Do you have the knack for teaching people how to move to your tunes? If so, then choreography as a career could be a perfect fit for you.

Choreography is the art of conceptualising and orchestrating dance compositions to make up a dance sequence. “A choreographer is in charge of planning a routine, or set of steps and movements, for a performer to execute during a musical number,” says Lillian Mendes, choreographer, Dance Planet.

As an art form, dance has always been an integral part of Indian culture. It is an age-old tradition which has given birth to varied dance forms. This rise is explained by the growing popularity of dance shows and courses that teach dance forms. “Opportunities in this field are expanding with entertainment progressively transforming into an organised industry,” informs Mendes who got her first break in Nach Baliye 4. Aspirants also get to choose between various dance forms like: bharatnatyam, kathak, kathakali or jazz, ballet or hip- hop.

This doesn’t mean that choreographers and dance instructors waltz off with big bucks. They have to stay on their toes to tango their way through this unconventional profession. “Dance is very extensive and you have to be very knowledgeable about it,” informs Mendes. Dhiraj Bakshi, founder, Split Sole Dance Academy agrees, “If you have an in-depth training to build your skills in order to be able to execute your creativity to its best capacity, then you are doing justice not only to the art form but also to yourself,” he adds.

Earning a formal degree is not a necessary; however, a degree prepares you for the practical business of the industry and expands your artistic skills. “There is always more to learn. I have been a part of every dance teacher's class in the city. I have done my Arangetram in Bharatnatyam and am currently pursuing MA in the subject,” says Tanvi Mehra, founder, Tangerine Arts Studio who has also trained in ballet with IFBC, contemporary, jazz and hip hop with Henry Stevens, dervish whirling with Zia Nath, salsa with Rahul Saxena and Zouk with Marcos Fonseca in London. Mendes agrees, “Attending school helps you gain the knowledge. Even the least favourite teachers, choreographers and directors can teach you something,” she says.

Dancing and choreography comes more naturally to some people than others. While technique is very important, time and patience are also required. “It is a demanding profession that requires long hours and immense personal sacrifice,” says Mehra adding that rehearsals can stretch on for seemingly endless hours so much so that the studio becomes your home. Apart from the endless dance workouts, one also has to deal with other physical demands. “You have got to learn to embrace body aches, injuries, bruises, rejections, dance fallouts etc,” advises Bakshi.

The key to becoming a successful choreographer is to be recognised by others. The best choreography positions are awarded to those who are well-established.

The competition in this field is fierce, you don't get to be a Saroj Khan or a Prabhu Deva right at the start. As a choreographer, you have to build your way up, especially in the entertainment industry, which sees new talent every day. “Pay always varies, depending on experience. Obviously, more talented choreographers make more money, as can more experienced choreographers. It starts somewhere from some thousands and can go to lakhs,” informs Mendes.

The spectrum of choreography is very vast as it includes events like sangeets, stage shows, tv reality shows, movies, ads, music videos, dance classes etc. What you earn depending on the project you are working on. Some choreographers work for small, regional dance companies. Others find work with opera companies and in musical theater or films, television, movies, music videos, and commercials. Some choreographers form their own dance companies.

The fringe benefits in this field outnumber the monetary aspect once you hit it big time. The best part of the job is travel — to be able to see the world, get people to dance on top of glaciers, in hot-air balloons, at exocti locales. “Travel is the biggest high you get in being a choreographer because you get to see the world and shoot or perform at some exciting places. Also you get to interact with a lot of celebrities that you work with,” says Bakshi.

Degree Courses

  • Nalanda Dance Research Centre's Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, Mumbai
  • Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Bangalore
  • Faculty of Arts, University of Mysore, Mysore
  • MS University, Baroda
  • Government College of Dance and Music, Bhubaneshwar which offers diploma and degree courses in dance and choreography
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, for choreography and ballet direction
  • National Institute of Kathak Dance, New Delhi
  • Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts and Communication, Hyderabad

Short Courses

  • Shaimak Davar’s Institute of Performing Arts, New Delhi and Mumbai
  • Danceworx Performing Arts Academy started by Ashley Lobo in New Delhi and Mumbai
  • Terence Lewis, Mumbai

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