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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

It’s Time To Reframe The Choreography Question on ‘Dancing With The Stars’

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

The issue of choreography on Dancing With the Stars is a topic of conversation amongst the fans that happens every season and the question of who is using outside help is one that can send people into a frenzy. People tend to rank pros as “better” if they don’t use an outside choreographer, but that’s going about it the wrong way.  

A head coach has an assistant coach. A lead prosecutor has other lawyers working on the case. And on every dance TV show, theatrical show or dance film, a choreographer has an assistant — sometimes even multiple assistants. As choreographer Alan Salazar explained in my To The Pointe interview, he can sometimes be brought in to co-choreograph the entire piece or to refine the details once the piece is completed. 

In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters because the real issue is that the current system doesn’t protect choreographers.  

It’s why we see issues like this: 

  • Choreographers don’t receive benefits like health insurance and pensions. 

  • Choreographers currently don’t receive residuals on TV shows and movies if the show airs multiple times or from DVD, streaming and overseas sales.  

  • Choreographers don’t own their work and we often see other show franchises copying the dances from the U.S. productions. It’s legal and it’s allowed because the choreographers don’t have any recourse. 

Why is this happening? It’s because they are the only major group of artists in the entertainment industry who isn’t unionized. Actors, producers, directors, and yes, even the janitorial crew on a set is unionized. Choreographers don’t have that luxury, but they are in the long process of trying to change that status. 

It’s why the formation of the Choreography Peer Group at the Television Academy was so important. While they are a trade organization, not a union, it’s a place where the choreographers can gather and hopefully figure out the union situation.   

This will also clear up the murky Emmys situation over who worked on a particular piece. Emmys rules state that “all choreographers must have on-screen credit or a contract directly with the program.”  

That is why we don’t see those “ghost choreographers” nominated on DWTS. They were paid out of pocket by the pro, not by DWTS producers.  

While it certainly isn’t fair, the choreographers know going in that these are the rules. They aren’t stepping into unknown territory — and DWTS isn’t the only show where this occurs, choreographer Kristin McQuaid mentioned the same issue occurred on Dance Moms

Mandy Moore and Kathryn Burns, Governors of the Choreography Peer Group at the TV Academy, are leading the way when it comes to organizing the troops in the dance industry. However, it’s a long process. 

“That’s my next big fight,” explained Moore at the World Choreography Awards. “We have to unify and we have to show that we are a strong group. The industry needs us.” 


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