Ask Rhee Gold: Choreographer Contracts

Advice for dance teachers | Choreographer Contracts

Q: Dear Rhee,

Off and on for many years, our studio has brought in master teachers to create choreography for our competitive students. This year a choreographer set a fantastic routine on a large group of our older students. The total expense for this was more than $4,000, including the cost of the choreography, airfare, hotel, and per diem. But when I saw the finished routine, I was proud of my kids and I could tell that they were pleased with themselves, so it was well worth it.

The judges and audiences at regionals loved the routine, although during one of the critiques, a judge told me that he had seen a similar number at another competition. I assumed he meant that another school had used the same music. I didn’t think much about it.

We saved and did fundraising for an entire year to bring our kids to nationals. We rehearsed our “special” piece more than any other because we were so proud of it, and the kids were so excited to perform it. But before they had the chance, a different school came onstage and performed the same choreography to the same music. After a whole season of rehearsing and perfecting the routine, my students, their parents, and our teachers were so disappointed, and so was I. It turns out that the choreographer I had hired to choreograph for my students set the same routine on students from a studio on the other side of the country. Neither I nor the other studio owner knew that until we arrived at the same competition.

We both felt betrayed by the choreographer and we want to be sure that no one ever does that to our students again. What do you suggest we do to avoid a similar circumstance in the future?

By the way, I have become good friends with the other studio owner, so this situation wasn’t a total loss. —Heather


A: Dear Heather,

Believe it or not, I have heard about situations like this before. It happens more often than you might think. The choreographer may believe that the schools won’t run into each other, so setting the same piece won’t make a difference to anyone. But in my mind, if you are spending $4,000, you should get an original piece of choreography, unless you and the choreographer make other arrangements.

I suggest that you create an agreement or contract for a choreographer while you are negotiating fees and logistics. The following are some points that the agreement should cover:

  • Choreography presented by [insert choreographer name] for [insert school name] shall be original and created specifically for our students. It shall not be rechoreographed at another school, or set on other students, unless prearranged with [insert school name] and its directors.
  • Upon payment for choreography, [insert choreographer name] agrees that all choreography created for [insert school name] dancers is the property of [insert school name] and its directors. [Insert school name] reserves the right to clean and/or change choreography based on the discretion of its directors.

I believe that including these two points in your agreement will make it loud and clear to any choreographer what you expect. (If you hired me to choreograph, I would certainly think twice before setting the same piece on someone else after I read your agreement.) If the choreographer doesn’t abide by the agreement, you have documentation if you want to act. Please pass this info on to your new school owner friend. Good luck. —Rhee