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On Stage: Fosse's Signature Style

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On the list of influential choreographers of the 20th century, one name stands in bold relief: Bob Fosse. Born in Chicago in 1927, Fosse showed exceptional talent for dance at an early age, and was tap-dancing on vaudeville and burlesque stages before he was old enough to attend high school. As the only male at dance school, Fosse initially endured teasing and whistling, but the joking didn't last long. “I beat up a couple of the whistlers,” he said, “and the rest sort of tapered off after a while.”

Fosse's signature style, which he described as the “Fosse Amoeba,” was distinctive for its shoulder-rolling, turned in knees and toes, finger-snapping, bowler-hat-wearing, hip-thrusting, gloved-“jazz-hands” shuffle. The brash sexuality of his work reflects the influence of the vaudeville stage combined with the styles of Jack Cole, Jerome Robbins, and Fred Astaire. Biographer Martin Gottfried claimed that Fosse put bowler hats on his dancers because he wore a bowler hat to hide his balding head, and that they wore gloves because Fosse didn't like his hands. Whatever the reasons, there is no mistaking a Bob Fosse show.

You can catch Chicago, a musical satire on the themes of corruption in the criminal justice system and the rise of “celebrity” criminals, and one of the shows most closely identified with Fosse's work, onstage at Wilner Auditorium at Wichita State University, from April 21 to April 24.  

Sanda Moore Coleman received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1991. Since then, she has been the arts and community editor for The Martha's Vineyard Times, a teaching fellow at Harvard University, and an assistant editor at Image. In 2011, she received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange prize for fiction from Poets & Writers magazine. She has spent more than 30 years performing, reviewing, and writing for theatre.