Bob Fosse: The Choreographer Series

15th December 2021

Bob Fosse: The Choreographer Series
Maria Hanlon

Maria Hanlon

It’s time to introduce you to another ground-breaking choreographer, Bob Fosse. We’re going to investigate Fosse’s life, work, and influence on dance as we know it today.

Who Is Bob Fosse?

Bob Fosse was an American dancer, choreographer, and director who reshaped musicals with his distinctive style of dance. This included his frequent use of props, signature moves, and provocative steps. You have probably seen many Fosse moved without realising, think curved shoulders, turned-in knees, bowler hats, punctuated hand movements, finger snaps, sideways shuffling and of course…jazz hands. Sounding familiar?

Fosse started on stage, where he worked on prominent productions such as Sweet Charity (1966–67, 1986–87) and Chicago (1975–77), and later had a successful, yet brief film career, which was highlighted by Cabaret (1972). Fosse married dance partner Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987) on May 3, 1947, in Detroit. In 1952, a year after he divorced Niles, he married dancer Joan McCracken in New York City. This marriage lasted until 1959, when it also ended in divorce.

bob fosse

Bob Fosse Choreography

Impressively, Bob Fosse is the only person ever to have won Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year, in 1973. He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Director for Cabaret, and won the Palme D’Or in 1980 for All That Jazz. Fosse won a record eight Tony’s for his choreography, as well as one for direction for Pippin.

Famous features of Fosse’s choreography include the use of turned-in knees, the ‘Fosse Amoeba’, sideways shuffling, rolled shoulders and jazz hands. Fosse was hugely influenced by Fred Astaire and used props such as bowler hats, canes and chairs. In fact, his trademark use of hats was apparently because he was self-conscious, according to Martin Gottfried in his biography of Fosse, “His baldness was the reason that he wore hats and was doubtless why he put hats on his dancers.” Fosse also disliked his hands so often used gloves in his performances.

As a choreographer, some of his most popular pieces include ‘Steam Heat’ (The Pajama Game) and ‘Big Spender’ (Sweet Charity). The ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ scene in Sweet Charity is another example of his signature style. Watch it here.

For Damn Yankees, Fosse was inspired by the ‘father of theatrical jazz dance’, Jack Cole. In 1957, Verdon and Fosse studied with Sanford Meisner (read our guide on Sanford Meisner on our website!) to elevate his acting skills. According to Michael Joosten, Fosse once said: “The time to sing is when your emotional level is too high to just speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you feel.” 

In Redhead, Fosse used one of the first ballet sequences in a show that contained five different styles of dance: Fosse’s jazz, a cancan, a gypsy dance, a march, and an old-fashioned English music hall number.

Bob Fosse’s Chicago

One of Fosse’s most notable productions was Chicago, a 1975 American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. It’s set in Chicago in the jazz age. The story line is based on a 1926 play of the same title by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins and the crimes and criminals on which she reported. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the ‘celebrity criminal’. Chicago is the longest running American musical in Broadway history, and you can still buy tickets to see it and Fosse’s magnificent moves today.

bob fosse chicago

Bob Fosse Musicals

Here is a list of musicals that Bob Fosse choreographed:

Bells Are Ringing (1956)

Big Deal (1986)

Chicago (1975)

Damn Yankees (1955)

New Girl in Town (1957)

The Pajama Game (1954)

Pippin (1972)

Pleasures and Palaces (1965)

Redhead (1959)

Sweet Charity (1966)

bob fosse choreographer musicals

Bob Fosse Movies

Here is a list of film Bob Fosse choreographed:

The Affairs of Dovie Gillis (1953)

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Give a Girl a Break (1953)

My Sister Eileen (1955)

The Pajama Game (1957)

Damn Yankees (1958)

Sweet Charity (1969)

Cabaret (1972)

The Little Princess (1974)

Lenny (1974)

Thieves (1977)

All That Jazz (1979)

Star 80 (1983)

bob fosse dancers

Bob Fosse Quotes

“Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

“I thank God that I wasn’t born perfect.”

“I’m still working on my life, just like it’s out of town, and when I get it fixed, I’ll bring it in.”

“Don’t dance for the audience; dance for yourself.”

“I would never discriminate against someone’s talent because they showed the poor taste to like me.”

“In today’s world, everything seems like some sort of long audition.”

“It’s showtime, folks!”

“Dance expresses joy better than anything else.”

“They may not know what I’m doing, but they know I’m doing something!”

“If you think you can do better, then do better. Don’t compete with anyone, just yourself.”

“When you are in trouble or have a dilemma, ask yourself, “What’s the important thing?”

“And when you wake up in the morning, ask yourself how you can be a better person, not just a better performer.”

bob fosse dancers

Is Bob Fosse Still Alive?

Fosse sadly died of a heart attack on 23rd September 1987, at the age of 60. He passed away at George Washington University Hospital while the revival of Sweet Charity was opening at the nearby National Theatre.

That’s Everything You Need To Know About Bob Fosse

Next time you’re watching a movie or musical and you see jazz hands you can think of Bob Fosse! We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about another amazing choreographer and if you’d like to find out more about other choreographers who influenced the dance world, have a look at our Choreographer Series on our website.

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