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Non-ballet: Bob Fosse 2

What made Fosse's style unique?

Bob Fosse made history as the first person to win a Tony, Emmy and Oscar in the same year (1973) and his films and shows remain iconic to this day: CabaretSweet CharityChicago, All That Jazz &c. This post will take a look at the common theme running through these different shows: Fosse's choregraphic style.

Fosse created his choreographic voice by fusing a number of different dance styles. His own early training was in ballet, he was an accomplished tap dancer but perhaps his biggest influence was the burlesque dancing he saw in night clubs as a young man.

Burlesque dancing (a raunchy, sexy style of dance found in adult shows) is about as far removed from classical ballet as can be imagined.

Classical ballet places importance on creating a sense of line which runs from the fingertips to the toetips. This sense of line in its purest form is well illustrated in this photo of Anthony Dowell in arabesque fondue (from Camilla Jessel's really excellent book, Life at the Royal Ballet School):

Burlesque dancing, on the other hand, prefers to create angles to show off parts of the (usually female) body. Here is a typical burlesque inspired pose from Fosse's show Chicago - not only are the bent knees a feature, but the right elbow and wrist are bent, too:

But there is another more interesting secret to Fosse's hallmark style: he turned his own weaknesses into key strengths.

Fosse was balding prematurely (one of the reasons he moved away from Hollywood)
- this is why so many of his sequences feature hats (especially bowler hats).

Fosse hated his hands
- which is why he frequently used gloves and made use of other unconventional gestures.

Fosse thought he was hunched
- so rolling shoulders (and hips) became a core part of his dance vocabulary.

One final feature to look out for is isolated movements - where the dancer freezes and just an eyebrow twitches or the fingers click.

All these points can be seen in Fosse's own cameo as a snake in The Little Prince (1974). You might see some moves which influenced Michael Jackson's Billie Jean in this clip, too:

To see more of Bob Fosse's choreography I highly recommend the tribute revue Fosse which is available on DVD here. Here's one final clip, a tap dance number from that DVD, inspired by Fosse's show Redhead:


  1. Thankyou very much for this, I had to do something for a GCSE performing arts portfolio on Bob Fosse, this was very helpful :)

  2. ^^me too! :D love the tap dancing :)