Bob Fosse, who was born in Chicago in 1927, was one thebiggest names in jazz dance and choreography and still is a huge influencer tomany within the industry and around world. He started his very successfulcareer at a relatively young age as by the age of 13 he had a dance partner andwas bringing in money as a professional dance act and by 15 he had his firstchoreographic experience while working at burlesque houses. During this time healso regularly performed at these venues, as it was at these clubs where he wasfirst exposed to themes of Vaudeville and burlesque. Once completed andgraduated from high school, Fosse enrolled into the U.S. Navy in 1945 at thetail end of World War II. After he had completed his military involvement in1947 he moved to New York to try pursue and fulfil his dance career, whilestudying acting at the American Theatre Wing.
After gaining roles in Broadwayshows as part of the chorus and making his debut on television in musicals suchas ‘Kiss Me Kate’, he started to gain attention from major Jazz influencerssuch as Jerome Robbins and George Abbott. This led to Fosse’s first choreographicproject in 1954 on the musical ‘The Pajama Game’, which was directed by GeorgeAbbott. This was the start of Fosse’s huge choreographic success, as thisresulted in his first Tony Award for ‘Best Choreography’. He then collaboratedwith Abbott again to choreograph ‘Damn Yankees’, which was also a great successas it gained another Tony Award for Fosse. He then went on to create worldfamous stage musicals and films, such as ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Cabaret’, whichwere often reflective of the yearning of sexual freedom in the USA at thattime, or own his own life experiences. Fosse was also known for mixing a variety of differentstyles of dance together, such as; tap, ballet, gypsy, ballroom and cancan.This was as he took inspiration from various dancers, choreographers andartists, many of whom he idolised and became heavily influenced by their work.One of his main influencers was Jack Cole, who was world famous for being theone to start training jazz dancers for the Hollywood movie business, to whichcaused him to later be known as the “Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance”.
Fossewas also inspired by Cole as he was known to create his own style by incorporatingother genres of dance to build and expand his own range of technique, which hada direct impact, not only on his own unique stylistic quality, but also howFosse would later end up working and creating his own movement quality. Fossealso derived from his own personal experiences and lifestyles as he was knownto have a tendency to fall into heavily drinking, smoking, taking drugs andbeing a ‘womaniser’. These experiences then later influenced him when writing,directing and choreographing ‘All That Jazz’.
Fosse also developed his unique and individual style fromtrying to stray away from traditional ballet technique and poise and create newaesthetic lines of movement. Some of these qualities include; turned in kneesand feet, abstract head movements, contraction rolling of the shoulders, andfinger snapping. These movements were often subtle but very refined, to thepoint where a single finger movement would’ve been rehearsed for hours. Eventhough these movements may not have been overly complex they were stillintricate and characterised by the sensual stylisation of the dancers. Anotherhuge inspiration to Fosse, which majorly impacted his overall tone andcharacterisation of his choreography, was his experiences in the nightclubs andburlesque houses. The atmosphere of these clubs and shows were often dark andheavily sexual, to which Fosse then carried on to his later choreography. This wasoften portrayed by the dancers wearing fishnet stockings, gloves, and bowler hatswhich were often titled to the side, to which it was many thought was to showthe women dancers as sensual and mysterious, however it is actually known thatit was a choreographic and personal choice by Fosse as he often wore hats dueto early balding in his teens, and had a dislike for his hands so chose tocover them with gloves.
An iconic piece of choreography from Fosse comes from thestage production and film ‘Sweet Charity’ which is ‘The Rich Mans Frug’. Thisfamous dance is split into three distinguishing sections: ‘The Aloof’, ‘TheHeavyweight’, and ‘The Big Finish’, which is all a narrative to portray therich lifestyle. The first part of this segment of dance is ‘The Aloof’. This,as the word ‘aloof’ in the title suggests, is meant to depict rich people assobbing and cold, as the dancers keep a stern and cold facial expression, as ifbecause they are rich and ‘above everyone else’ that they are incapable offeeling emotion.
This is also shown through the posture of the dancers as theywalk with their head up and a snobby presence. Along with this, there is use ofisolation of each body part, but in particular the wrists and arms, to whichwas often a trademark of Fosse’s choreography. The second of the three dancesis ‘The Heavyweight’, which out of the three has the most comical undertones toit. This comically represents the differences and competitiveness between menand women, especially within a rich lifestyle. This part also has various bodyisolations but in addition to the arm and hand isolations there were alsoprominent corresponding pelvic isolations, along with very angular positionsand shapes. The final section is called ‘The Big Finish’, which is clearly thegrandest and most telling piece of the three. This is to show the lavish andparty aspect of the rich lifestyle, which lies under their moody and arrogantdisguise. However, this then dies down and they return to their regular livesand behaviours, much like how they were at the beginning of the dance.
Another hugely infamous piece of Bob Fosse choreography is ‘AllThat Jazz’ from the musical ‘Chicago’. This piece is very refined and slinky,which clearly portrays the tone of women empowerment and sensuality. Thebeginning of the piece is quite gestural and musical, however it is prevalentthat every movement has been heavily rehearsed and thought out, to which Fosse oftenheavily focused on. The movement, although subtle, is very bold and createsclean lines, which reinforces the powerful image it portrays. The stylisticquality of hand movements and gestures, head rolls and breath depicts theslink, sensual and mysterious tone, which is also reiterated by the costumes asthey consist of fishnet stockings, mesh tops, and tight fitting attire.
Theoverall piece uses musicality, costuming, and aesthetic motifs to create astrong atmosphere, which Fosse often used in his choreography to signify his uniquestyle.Bob Fosse, although passed away in the late 1980’s, remainsone of the most influential figures in the dance world today, with his ownstyle and quality of movement still being used in modern day choreography andshows. For example, the piece ‘Big Spender’ from ‘Sweet Charity’ has beenreplicated and recreated numerous times in varying instances. Also ‘Chicago’ isstill one of the leading musicals, with the rendition of ‘All That Jazz’remaining extremely close to the original choreography and becoming of the mosticonic dances from a musical. Fosse’s influence can also be spotted in modernday pop music and videos, such as Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, Maddona’s ‘Vogue’,and many of Michael Jackson’s music and dance videos.
His style has also laidthe foundation for many other choreographers to derive from as his yearn tostray away from the norm and make a statement will forever carry his lasting legacy.