Kathryn Burns and Jamal Sims

Kathryn Burns and Jamal Sims

Joseph Cultice/Love Artists Agency; Location: Mihran K. Noho Studio
September 04, 2023
In The Mix

The Choreographers Guild Is Making Moves

The newly founded guild aims to raise respect and awareness of its members' important work.

Ann Farmer

In addition to choreography for almost 200 episodes of television — and with two Emmys for Outstanding Choreography for The CW's Crazy Ex-GirlfriendKathryn Burns's body of work includes the outrageous debutante ball in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Who can forget the mockumentary's "Blood Moon" folk dance, which ends with actress Maria Bakalova on her back, flashing her bloody thighs and underwear at aghast onlookers?

"That scene was so much fun," says Burns, who was until recently a governor of the Television Academy's Choreographers peer group. Asked to keep her part in the film hush-hush until its release, she eventually got to sit down and enjoy seeing her name in the credits. Only ... it never appeared. Her contribution was "lost in translation," Burns says generously. "It was an honor to work on it, but a bummer when that happens."

It occurs more often than you might think: professional choreographers routinely discover their credits have been omitted or show up at the very end, under Extra Credits. Online at IMDb, they are listed under Additional Crew. This, of course, is not just a "bummer," as getting recognition is key to getting jobs. That's one of many issues inspiring last year's launch of the Choreographers Guild; and as one of its biggest proponents, Burns serves as the guild's first president.

"We've known we needed it for years," says Jamal Sims, who participates in the guild's leadership and choreographed Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies for Paramount+. He says it took the lull of the pandemic and dedicated individuals like Burns to pull together choreographers working in film, television, commercials, music videos, live concerts and other media to form this collective. "We need to stand together," Sims says, noting that other guilds exist to champion and protect the rights of directors, producers, costume designers and more.

Pushing for proper recognition in a credit scroll is just part of the agenda. The guild advocates for economic security for choreographers, including fair compensation, health benefits and residuals. It also works to secure copyright and intellectual property rights, and it fosters education — both through bolstering communication between members and by raising public awareness about the roles choreographers play in entertainment and the arts.

"Everyone loves dance," Burns says. Unfortunately, she adds, "You can be the best choreographer in your field and not be able to pay the bills."

Watch "What Does a Choreographer Really Do?" from the 2017 "Whose Dance Is It Anyway?" event.

The article originally appeared in emmy magazine #8, 2023, under the title, "Making Moves."

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