Gwen Verdon had worked with the influential choreographer Jack Cole, who coached dancers at Columbia Pictures, and who incorporated "ethnic" styles of dance—Balinese hand movements, flamenco, African-inspired pelvic thrusts—into his own work. Fosse, on the other hand, had been, since the age of thirteen, a hoofer in various dives in his native Chicago. There was always something of a beer-hall stench in his work, a Runyonesque feeling for diamonds in the gutter. Fosse's choreographic style was based on the body turning in on itself, so that only isolated body parts—the pelvis, legs, knees, hands, arms, shoulders—articulated movement. What was articulated was rarely joy. Fosse's work was characterized by a grim sexuality and a fierceness that "explodes" in a shoulder shrug (don't care-ish). He used the black American dance vernacular, which vaudeville had grown out of—minstrelsy, jazz, and tap—and he crossed that vernacular over to a white mainstream audience. (In the way of popular culture, Fosse's style was made even more recognizable in music videos starring Michael Jackson.)
In Chicago Fosse exploited the blackness at the core of Roxie's and Velma's witty, angular style. In [Zora Neale] Hurston's essay, she might be describing Fosse's choreography and what it engendered in his audience when she wrote in the section called "Dancing":
Negro dancing is dynamic suggestion.... For example, the performer flexes one knee sharply, assumes a ferocious face mask, thrusts the upper part of the body forward with clenched fists, elbows taut as in hard running or grasping a thrusting blade.
What separated Fosse from his contemporaries—Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, and so on—was his desire for his dancers to project thinking, wit, above feeling. This made him the perfect choreographer and director for the grim post-Oklahoma age of theater.
Damn Yankees dance demo with Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon
on The Garry Moore Show (1962)
Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall in My Sister Eileen (1955)