Fosse's Darkly, Sensual and Syncopated Choreographic Style

Much of Fosse's darkly, sensual and syncopated choreographic style comes from his early experiences as a child performer in the sleazy vaudeville shows and his exposure to more adult preoccupations performing in burlesque clubs and strip clubs in Chicago. In Bruce Handy's interview with Sam Wasson (the author of 'Fosse'), Wasson suggested that in Fosse's film 'All that jazz' he referenced in a flashback scene at a burlesque house 'where the young Joe Gideon is molested by a trio of old strippers' (Handy - 2013).

Wasson went on to say 'it's an essential point in understanding and empathizing with Fosse that he got clobbered by sex too young (Wasson - 2013). Wasson then goes on to suggest that this is the reason for his over sexualised choreography, almost like the abuse process had led him to become hyper sexualised. This also links to the theory that Fosse had been traumatized by some of his early experiences, 'you think about almost any woman in a Fosse film any woman is sexy and scary.

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That's what gives those numbers their power. That, to me, is the 13-year-old boy in Fosse: scared of sex and drawn to it.' (Wasson - 2013). This theory could possibly explain why Fosse choreography and direction put strong, scary and incredibly sexy female characters at the heart of the production, which wascertainly the case in Cabaret and Chicago and the semi-autobiographical fantasy 'All that Jazz' film directed by Fosse which was inspired by Fosse's manic efforts to stage the 1975 production of Chicago on Broadway while simultaneously trying to edit his film 'Lenny'.

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Fosse's signature style was unashamedly, unambiguously erotic and didn't just indelibly stamp the world of dance, it refines the packaging of sexuality and entertainment (Rosman, L - 2017 ).

Fosse was a visionary, incredibly driven and intense and an artist quite unlike anything ever seen before. 'His dances were sexual, physically demanding of even the most highly trained dancers'. (St James Encyclopedia Of Popular Culture - 2000). He revolutionized how dance was viewed on the screen and paved the way for a whole generation of film and video directors, showing dance through the lens as no one had ever done before.

Multiple performers, artists, directors and choreographers have been influenced by his work and the legacy of Bob Fosse clearly visible today with artists such as Beyonce and Michael Jackson. Beyonce's video for 'Single ladies was inspired by Fosse's choreography called 'Mexican Breakfast' which was aired on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in 1969 and although Michael Jackson dance routines have influences of Fosse a great deal the music videos 'Bad' and 'Thriller' are most notably in the style of Fosse and almost tributes to him. There are many sources of information that suggests that Jackson drew inspiration from Fosse's work. There's an article in Rolling stone dating back to 2015 which points out that Fosse stared in a film in 1974 called 'The Little Prince' where he played a character known only as The Snake where he dances in a way that it would be hard to believe that Jackson didn't draw any inspiration from it in the style he moves. (Pollard - 2016). Infact Jackson wanted Fosse to choreograph his music video'Thriller', which unfortunately didn't happen but it was clear within the choreographic style what he was thinking.

Paula Abdul, an American pop singer, has openly spoken about her admiration for Fosse and his work and quoted him as inspiration in a Rolling Stone magazine interview in 2014 for her Cold Hearted Snake video, which she choreographed in 1989 (Parker 2014). The video, choreographed by Abdul, uses the narrative of Fosse's number 'Take Off With Us? from All That Jazz (1979) as producers arrive at a dance rehearsal featuring a scaffolding in a studio. Abdul employs Fosse's hypersexual and fetishistic aesthetic in costumes and movement choices. She wears a pilot hat and a net top, whilst the other dancers wear mismatched costumes made of thigh-high boots, shorts, bras and jackets. She also utilises Fosse's structural strategies placing five women in a V formation in a well-established second position that five men slide into to penetrate the space in between their legs. Although, Abdul clearly quotes Fosse as dancers climb the scaffolding, perform large extensions, and rub each other sensually, she also employs a distinct 1980s jazz dance style with numerous pirouettes, sharp kicks, and fast changes of direction, which is different to Fosse's rhythmical complexity and compact isolations. Her video acts as a commentary on Fosse's tantalising number in a safe way, which dilutes his sexually challenging work to attract a younger, MTV audience.

Many believe that his ultimate legacy is seen in the 'Big Spender' number which has been imitated so many times, also using those so familiar camera close ups and numerous fast edits and cut a ways which give a sense of excitement is common place is music videos and dance films today. Notably in the famous 'Maniac' dance number from the 1983 film 'Flashdance', Madonna's 'Vogue' music video from 1990.

'Today, even with its brilliant Kander and Ebb score, first-rate performances and timely cynicism, it's still Fosse style that's packing them in at ''Chicago.''(Gold - 1996)

It's clear that Fosse is a key factor in the success and longevity of Chicago. Fosse's choreography still stands strong in Chicago and doesn't seem to date or lose any of its impact artistically or visually. It still oozes sexiness through the movement choices and their arrangement on the body with both the female and male characters.


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Fosse's Darkly, Sensual and Syncopated Choreographic Style. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved from

Fosse's Darkly, Sensual and Syncopated Choreographic Style
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