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A choreographer is a man or woman who designs and directs the routines used in dance, gymnastic events, and other types of performance pieces. He or she spends a great deal of time inventing, editing, and practicing routines to ensure that they are in time with music, meet the appropriate level of difficulty, and provide entertainment for audiences and judges. Some expert choreographers operate their own businesses, offering freelance services on a contract basis, though the majority of professionals are employed by dance studios and schools, music video or television production companies, and universities.
A professional dance choreographer may work with a solo dancer, a couple, or an entire group of performers. He or she listens carefully to a piece of music, working out the timing and nature of different dance steps. Most choreographers work very closely with dancers, teaching them moves by example and spoken instructions. They provide direction and encouragement to ensure that dancers master their routines before a performance in front of an audience. The work of a choreographer is demanding and time-consuming; a professional may spend weeks or even months inventing, arranging, directing practice, and making slight changes to a difficult dance piece.
A highly-skilled choreographer can use his or her knowledge of the human body and its movement to choreograph routines for gymnasts, cheerleaders, divers, ice skaters, and other individuals who participate in events where physical maneuvers are predetermined. A gymnastics choreographer, for example, might work with a competitive team to help them compose demanding, aesthetically pleasing routines on floor exercises, parallel bars, and rings. An expert working with a cheerleading team may incorporate stunts with dance numbers that keep crowds entertained and excited. Other choreographers might work for a movie or television company, orchestrating car chases or fight scenes.
Most working choreographers have been involved with dance and music since they were children. They have spent many years studying dancers, routines, and music pieces to learn just how and when certain moves should be carried out. An individual who has extensive dance experience and wants to become a professional choreographer can pursue degrees from universities or certificates from accredited dance schools to improve their credentials and allow them to gain an academic perspective on dance and movement. Many new choreographers begin their careers by assisting established professionals in the trade and practicing simple routines at first, moving on to longer or more detailed work after years in the business.