Bob Fosse's Dance Styles

Written by emily pate
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PBS's "Broadway, the American Musical" distinguishes director/choreographer Bob Fosse as "visionary, intense and unbelievably driven." Born in 1927, Fosse's parents enrolled him in tap lessons. He proved to be a prodigal dancer, making a living from it starting in high school. Fosse would later establish his own style of jazz dance defined by a heightened sexual energy, a comedic sensibility and technical rigour and precision.

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A Style With Sexual Freedom

Fosse began his career in high school dancing in burlesque and vaudeville. These "sexually free" atmospheres put him in constant contact with strippers. Fosse took this element of sexuality and fused it into his own choreography and dance styles. This was manifested in the hip thrusts so typically seen in Fosse's choreography---see the "Cabaret" and "All That Jazz" films. Fosse also used provocative dance steps using chairs, with dancers often sitting on a backward chair, legs stretched open and arms cradling the chair's back. This style is clearly seen in "Cabaret's" "Mein Heir" number.

Vaudeville/Burlesque Styles

Fosse's burlesque beginnings stayed with him his entire career and was integral in his defining styles. Fosse's iconic hunched shoulders and pigeon-toed steps are repeated examples of this style in his work. Fosse also incorporated dances that centred around choreography using hats and kicks, another vaudeville mainstay. Fosse's "Redhead" displays this style well in a ballet sequence that uses his brand of jazz dance and English music-hall style dance.

World and Ethnic Styles

Fosse depended on styles taken from different cultures to create his own brand of choreography. He fused elements from styles like the cancan and gypsy-inspired numbers with vaudeville and Fosse's risqué jazz dance styles. The influence of these genres is evident in the ballet sequence in "Redhead," which incorporates a bit of a gypsy dance and the cancan, and "Damn Yankees'" "Who's Got the Pain," which incorporated Latin dance styles.

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