Dance is everywhere in the entertainment industry. From Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” to HBO’s “Euphoria”, from TikTok dance challenges to music videos, choreography is driving storytelling and influencing popular culture. But who are the artists behind these dances, and what do they get for their work?
A new labor organization, the Choreographers Guild, aims to answer these questions and advocate for the rights and interests of commercial choreographers working in film, television, music and digital platforms. The guild was formed in 2022 and started accepting members in spring 2023, after a series of Clubhouse meetings among choreographers who shared their challenges and concerns.
“Hearing stories about these major choreographers that I looked up to having their work being reused in commercials and reused on competition shows and reused on Broadway, without them being compensated or getting credit — it was appalling,” said Kyle Hanagami, a creative director and choreographer.
The guild plans to tackle a host of issues, such as establishing a standard pay minimum, securing health care and pensions, strengthening choreographers’ copyright rights and more. The guild operates under four tenets: economic security, credit, strengthening copyright and education.
“Choreographers are asking for the same thing that has been standard in the entertainment industry for other creative professions for decades,” said Steve Sidawi, a labor organizer and the guild’s interim executive director.
The guild is part of a larger movement among commercial dance creators pushing for more compensation, recognition and respect in the entertainment industry, where choreographers have been persistently and often bafflingly sidelined. In the more traditional worlds of film, television and music videos, there is little standardization in choreographer pay or crediting, and choreographers are often forced to sign away the rights to their work. In the wilder wilds of YouTube and TikTok, where choreography is frequently built to go viral, questions of crediting and compensation for dance creators have become especially complicated and urgent.
“The people who are creating these dances that are taking over the world, they’ve been done such an injustice,” said JaQuel Knight, a director and choreographer.
The guild hopes to change that by uniting choreographers across generations and genres, and by raising awareness of their role and value in the entertainment industry.
“Why are we not working together to fix our problems?” said Kathryn Burns, an Emmy Award-winning choreographer and facilitator of the Clubhouse meetings.
The guild is currently in a soft-launch stage, but it has already attracted hundreds of members and supporters. It is also in the process of becoming the official labor organization for entertainment-world choreographers, who are anomalies in their union-dominated fields.
“There’s so much more that we do than just create ‘5, 6, 7, 8,’” said Vincent Paterson, a veteran choreographer and director. “We’re storytellers.”
Film and TV choreographers are organizing their own union, Marketplace, 5/31/2023
Entertainment Industry Choreographers Are Starting to Unionize, The New York Times, 3/10/2022
A new guild aims to get choreographers’ work proper credit, Los Angeles Times, 4/5/2023