Five Choreographers Who Make Every Movie More Awesome

By on May 30, 2014 in ArticlesEntertainment

Working as a choreographer for film, television, or music videos can be a pretty thankless profession.  You craft gorgeous movement for other people, often after years of working as a dancer yourself, and then you might get mentioned in the credits somewhere near the end.  Music video choreographers don't even get a credit sequence, and their work sometimes  spawns major dance crazes.  Choreographers are hired to create movement for everything from opening credit sequences to love scenes to massive musical numbers.  They get more recognition in the concert dance and musical theater worlds, but their paychecks are less.

The money is in commercial work, with the trade off being that audiences are often far less aware of your contribution to the finished product.  However, there are a few choreographers who have managed to turn their abilities into major money and major recognition.

Before we get into our list below, take a minute and watch this video from this year's Vibe XIX dance competition. The group is called "The Company". Their routine will change your life:

Amazing right? Here are five choreographers who have made us want to get up and dance… and spend money on tickets.

Rob Marshall

Net Worth:  $16 million

Rob Marshall was a massively successful dancer and choreographer on Broadway before Hollywood picked up the clue phone.  The Carnegie-Mellon University graduate has been nominated for five Tony Awards for choreography, and another for directing.  After successfully choreographing a number of television movies, including revivals of "Victor/Victoria" and "Cinderella", he directed and choreographed a television movie adaptation of "Annie".  It was a hit, and he was offered an even bigger project.  He went on to direct and choreograph the smash hit movie version of the long-running musical, "Chicago".  The film earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and opened the door for a major career in Hollywood.  He has since choreographed and/or directed "Memoirs of a Geisha", "Tony Bennett: An American Classic", "Nine", "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides", and The Oscars.  He's currently directing the movie adaptation of the dark musical, "Into the Woods".  There are other choreographers on this list who have had longer Hollywood careers, but when it comes to consistent success, Rob Marshall is king.

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Kenny Ortega

Net Worth:  $10 million

When it comes to commercial dance, Kenny Ortega is a legend.  First, he learned how to choreograph for the camera from master dancer/choreographer, Gene Kelly, his longtime mentor.  Then there's his long running collaboration with Michael Jackson which continued through "This Is It", which Kenny Ortega choreographed and directed.  Then there's the fact that he choreographed this little movie called, "Dirty Dancing", fairly early on in his career.  Kenny Ortega's list of choreographic credits is close to ridiculous.  Some of his projects include "St. Elmo's Fire", "Pretty in Pink", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "The Great Outdoors", "Shag", "Hull High", "Newsies", "XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies", the "High School Musical" franchise, and a dizzying number of music videos.  He has won three Emmys, and a number of other honors.  He parlayed his choreography skills into a busy directing career, as well, finding steady work directing movies and television dramas such as "Chicago Hope", "Ally McBeal", "Gilmore Girls", and the "High School Musical" franchise.  It's clear all of his hard work paid off.

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Adam Shankman

Net Worth:  $3.5 million

Adam Shankman was born to dance, he just didn't realize it until after high school.  When he was 18, he decided he wanted to be a professional dancer.  So, he auditioned for all of the best dancing programs in the country, including NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and Juilliard.  He got into every single one – without ever having taken a dance class before.  He chose to go to Juilliard, but dropped out when his career in musical theater took off.  After working as a dancer on Broadway, he jumped over to touring with Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.  Paula Abdul guided him towards a career in choreography, and when he finally got the chance to choreograph a music video, he took it.  He lied and told the production team that he had choreographed for Paula Abdul, which was not entirely true.  They were desperate, however, and he was hired.  He went on to choreograph for such projects as "Roundhouse", "Addams Family Values", "Don Juan DeMarco", "Tank Girl", "Scream 2", "She's All That", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Step Up" and "Step Up 2".  Like our other choreographers on the list, he also began directing along the way, including such projects as "A Walk to Remember", "The Wedding Planner", "Hairspray", and "Glee".

Debbie Allen

Net Worth:  $3 million

Debbie Allen seemed destined for stardom from a young age.  An exceptional dancer, she went on to graduate from Howard University with degrees in Greek Literature, Speech, and Theater, and then took Broadway by storm.  She was nominated for two Tony Awards for her work in the musicals "West Side Story" and "Sweet Charity", and she is most widely recognized for her starring role on the television series, "Fame".  However, it is her work as a choreographer that first made her famous in Hollywood.  She's choreographed the Oscars five times, as well as the Emmy Awards.  She also choreographed "Fame", "Polly", "Quantum Leap", "A Different World", "That's So Raven", and most recently, "Hellcats".  This in addition to her prolific acting career, which has included appearances in such projects as "The Cosby Show", "A Different World", "In the House", "Touched By an Angel", "The Division", "Grace", and "Grey's Anatomy".  Like Kenny Ortega, she has also become a sought after director, and has found success with both television comedies and dramas, including "A Different World", "The Sinbad Show", "The Jamie Foxx Show", "Everybody Hates Chris", "The Client List", "Grey's Anatomy", and "Scandal".

Paula Abdul

Net Worth: $2.5 million

Paula Abdul started dancing when she was eight and went on to become an L.A. Lakers cheerleader.  After only a few months with the squad, she was promoted to head cheerleader and choreographer, and eventually she dropped out of college to focus on choreographing full time.  She became the choreographer everyone wanted, after working on The Jackson's video for "Torture" in 1984.  This led to multiple choreography jobs for the Jacksons, including Janet Jackson's famous video for "Nasty".  She eventually launched a successful recording career of her own.  She continued to choreograph in addition to releasing a string of popular pop songs.  Some of her choreography credits include "Can't Buy Me Love", "Big", "Coming to America", "She's Out of Control". "The Karate Kid, Part III", The American Music Awards, The Oscars, "Jerry Maguire", "American Beauty", and "American Idol".  She has also continued to choreograph for commercials, music videos, and for "The X Factor", for which she served as a judge for one season.  Rather than add directing to her resume, she has chosen to serve as a judge on multiple reality competition shows.  She sat on the judge's panel of "American Idol" for eight seasons, and has also judged "Live to Dance", "Dancing with the Stars", and multiple editions of "So You Think You Can Dance".

These five choreographers took their dance training and turned it into bank.  There are a few other honorable mentions to this group, including Anne Fletcher, Wade Robson, Nappy Tabs (Napoleon and Tabitha D'umo), Derek Hough, and Rosie Perez.  All of these artists have moved beyond the dance studio into steady careers on television or in films.  Unfortunately, most choreographers still struggle every day to get the recognition they deserve.  The next time you're watching a great music video that makes you want to groove in your seat, or you're cheering at a great musical number in a film, remember that there is most likely a talented choreographer behind all that on-screen awesome.

Articles Written by Paula Wilson
Paula Wilson is a writer, director, production manager, and former professional dancer, originally from North America, who has worked as a performer or director in ten countries and sixteen states. When not writing for CNW, she serves as the Artistic Director of The International Partner Dance Intensive (www.tipdi.com). Follow her on Google+.
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