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Home > Dance Biography

Biography: Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse is probably the most influential man in jazz dance history. He choreographed several great Broadway musicals of our time such as 'Cabaret', 'Sweet Charity', 'Damn Yankees' and 'Chicago'. Fosse designed a style all his own that has continued to carry on in dance studios around the world. Fosse’s credits are an Academy Award for 'Cabaret', three Emmy’s for 'Liza with a Z', and two Tony’s for choreographing the Broadway show 'Pippin’.

Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse was born on June 23rd, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. He was born into theatre and was touring his own dance show by age 13 called ‘The Riff Brothers’. Fosse grew up amidst the Cabaret nightclubs and was exposed to this type of performance in his early years. At age 15 he choreographed his first Cabaret number where the dancers wore Ostrich feathers as a costume, it was very risqué for his time. This kind of sexually suggestive nature later became a huge part of his signature style.

After taking years of acting classes, Fosse went on to perform on Broadway. His first part was in 1948’s ‘Call me Mister’. After spending time in the Broadway chorus, he later got a bigger part in ‘Dance me a Song’. Fosse also had dreams of making it big in Hollywood; he traveled and landed a few film rolls including a dancing role in ‘Kiss me Kate’.

Jazz Dancer
photo by trepidityprojects

His first big break was the choreography of ‘The Pajama Game’ in 1954. He also received acclaim for his staging of ‘Steam Heat’, which became quite a hit. After dipping his feet in the Hollywood scene Bob headed back for Broadway and ended up making it big. Fosse began getting more and more work and slowly but surely started building himself a name on the Broadway circuit.

Fosse’s style really highlighted isolated movement. He’d take a group of dancers and sometimes would have only a finger or an eyebrow moving at a time. He was very simplistic yet powerful in his staging and movement. He’d have the dancers move very slowly at times, and would linger on movement. In any Fosse number, you’re sure to find cigarettes, net stockings and a tipped hat. He used a cool, jazz sensibility in his choreography, yet it was Burlesque in nature and sleek by choice with pelvic movement and heavy leans.

Fosse Dancers
Fosse dancers

Bob ended up pairing with a dancer by the name of Gwen Verdon who had the main dancing role in ‘Damn Yankees’. This role was infamous for the number ‘Whatever Lola Wants, Lola gets’. He began casting her in many leading roles such as ‘Redhead’ and ‘New Girl in Town’. This duo ended up getting married in 1960.

Fosse was directing and choreography many shows by this time from ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Dancin’ to ‘Chicago’ and ‘Cabaret’. He was also soaring in film as well with many of his Broadway hits that were set for TV. He had his share of disasters as well but succeeded them. One of which was his divorce to Gwen Verdon. This happened right after his heart attack while working on his production of ‘Chicago’. Gwen had the leading role, they continued to work professionally after their marriage dissolved.

Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse

Fosse died on September 23rd, 1987 at the age of 60. This was just moments before the curtain rose for his rendition of ‘Sweet Charity’. He died doing what he loved; smoking and dancing! His life was later portrayed in the biographical movie ‘All That Jazz’. It showed his reckless way of living as well as the creative endeavors, which made his name so big today. His legend continues to live on and we see his style in many works of today. His choreography in ‘Chicago’ just recently graced the sliver screen in an adaptation by Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. His hits were also recreated for the long running show ‘Fosse’ on Broadway. Fosse’s legend is one that will never die. His influence on the dance community is without question, one of the most withstanding.





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