Beyonce Grave Robs Bob Fosse

We have been big Beyonce fans — but there’s a storm brewing in Beyonceland as it becomes clear she lifted the choreography for her “Single Ladies” video from a Bob Fosse dance number called “Mexican Breakfast” starring Gwen Verdon and performed live in June, 1969 on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Here is the original “Mexican Breakfast” in it’s fully glory — and while the audio has been removed for Copyright reasons, you can still see the dance in full:

If you are unfamiliar with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” — here is the official video. The Beyonce people do not allow that YouTube video to be embedded for playing on websites.

I wonder why?

Here’s why: This is Fosse’s “Mexican Breakfast” choreography with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” playing instead of the original music.

There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between 1969 and 2008 — suggesting the ultimate in artistic grave robbery — and that speaks to the ultimate genius of Bob Fosse as a choreographer.

How could Fosse invent something in 1969 that would still be fresh and incredibly popular 40 years later?  Only his SuperGenius knows while the rest of us are left wandering in the dust.

In the past, I have argued stealing for inspiration is good — there are no original ideas any more — but a bright and dangerous line has been crossed by Beyonce into what I believe is “choreographic plagiarism.”

Inspiration is different than copying.

Beyonce seemed to know she went too far directly lifting dance steps, camera movement, energy, invention, heart, mind, soul and spirit from “Mexican Breakfast” as she confesses in this interview. It’s especially damming she mentions YouTube because it was YouTube that caught her dancing on Bob Fosse’s grave:

It’s unfortunate Beyonce and her team couldn’t come up with a more original idea for her song.

If she had to lift “Mexican Breakfast” — she should’ve given Fosse credit for the choreography right from the start — but sometimes ego and fantasy stand in the way of truth and morality.

Here are Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse later in life.  Let’s celebrate their original, genius, work together that still stands fresh and delightful today in spite of their deaths.  He died in 1987; she in 2000.  We’ll also try to look beyond their curious personal relationship as we admire them from afar in awe.

If we condemn Beyonce — then we must celebrate Fosse — for in her betrayal, we are shown the true beauty of his original and everlasting, human, aesthetic.

22 comments

  • Gordon Davidescu

    The funny thing is that we only know about this because of how famous Bob Fosse remains. I have seen more than one Hindi film from the 70s and thought to myself, “Haven’t I seen that dance before?” and recognizing dance moves that are reappropriated by dancers in the late 1980s, 1990s, and today. It’s wonderful how Bob Fosse remains an inspiration.

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  • You’re right, Gordon! Fosse is more famous and well-liked in death than he ever was in his life. Janna and I moved to Washington, D.C. a few months before Fosse died. The entire city was in shock.
    “Jazz Hands” become a Fosse fixture and then a stereotype. He still has influence over many of the young choreographers of today. The movie he made of his life, “All that Jazz” is still an incredible work and gave Roy Scheider the best role of his life.

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  • Oh so much fun, David. It is fun to watch one style influence another. I agree Beyonce went too far.

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  • Thanks for that confirmation, Anne. I don’t think there’s any way “everyone” could see this direct theft if not for the magic of YouTube.

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  • while i agree that beyonce (or her choreographer) were greatly influenced by fosse’s style, i don’t think you’re recognizing the multitude of other influences that are present in this video. i don’t think it’s as simple to say that beyonce lifted one fosse video and used it for this song. other than beyonce “lifting” from fosse’s style, she also uses a technique known as j-setting which is quite popular in black gay male ball culture.
    j-setting:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-QRjkmLEuE
    you can see the influence in terms of the dance style and one dancer leading, doing an 8-count and then the other dancer follow and add on to it.
    she is also noticeably influenced by the dance style of hbcu all-female southern dance troupes.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YviRcSsKE1s
    again, we see the lead-follow paradigm which also influenced j-setting
    do we say that she’s “stealing” from all of these sources or do we recognize that she is weaving a style that is uniquely her own? what is the difference between stealing and paying homage to a legendary choreographer?
    also, one of her previous videos, “get me bodied,” pulls from a fosse as well, i think in a much more obvious manner down to the set design and hair flips!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5TM-79P1Rg
    at the same time, in the extended version of b’day she says that she got the idea for the video from watching fosse videos on youtube so i don’t think she is stealing so much as she is reintroducing fosse to a generation that may not be as familiar with him.
    personally, i think beyonce drawing on these different sources makes her videos more visually interesting and adds depth to them in a way that is missing from most mainstream pop videos. if we think of her videos as visual text, i think wwe can delineate between theft and adopting the techniques. i think it depends on one’s own ideas about paying homage vs. stealing but i think beyonce is paying homage and not stealing.
    isn’t this more interesting than a rihanna, britney spears or miley cyrus that has no obvious influences than marketing a female singer to her teenage fanbase?

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  • Thank you for your comment, aisha.
    I’m not sure if an established history of artistic “thievery” you recite helps Beyonce’s case as an original star of magnitude and passion. If she’s borrowing inspiration on purpose, she needs to make that “tribute” clear to everyone viewing her work and not just “reveal” it after the fact when she’s been caught. Transparency in performance is important because people will believe what you are performing actually was invented by you or for you.
    As for the less thrilling stars you mention — I prefer band originality over blatant, if layered, copying of other people’s ideas and dreams.

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  • i guess i’m viewing her ‘plagiarism’ in the trajectory of contemporary hip-hop & r&b artists that often sample from an artist that they’re influenced by without necessarily deviating too much from the original or acknowledging the original. some argue that this makes hip-hop/r&b less artistic/original which i think is sometimes true, but when done right i think a sample adds to the new song and shows the musical or in this case choreographic past that an artist is pulling from.
    so in that light ‘single ladies’ choreography is like hearing talib kweli sample nina simone’s ‘sinnerman’ for ‘get by’ which i think is an innovative use of simone’s voice for making a great song. or for a sample that ruins both the original song and the revamping of the sample, plies sampling janet jackson’s ‘come back to me,’ for ‘bust it baby’ which makes listening to the original song as bad as listening to the use of the sample.

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  • I don’t think we can make a fair comparison, aisha, between “sampling” a nugget of audio and “stealing” an entire choreographic performance.
    Sampling is a brief burst in order to avoid full-out copying and underlying rights revenue sharing, while what Beyonce did was basically copy Fosse’s “Mexican Breakfast” as demonstrated in the multiple YouTube videos where Beyonce’s song is played directly over the original choreography suggesting — not a sampling — but a direct theft of tone, spirit, and movement.

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  • She also ripped off from “There’s Gotta Be Something Better” from Sweet Charity. Check out the butt slapping at 4:47 in this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wGgfYJoZts&feature=related

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  • Thanks for that interesting link, Lizzie!

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  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/Jaqg7GQlr._1ljVrTy8fs6fWujrQM4lludEpPh4-#c09f7

    I want to know who did the original music in the “Mexican Breakfast” performance. Also, what was the title of the song?

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  • Stealing dance moves gets you awards now.
    http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1621402/20090913/knowles_beyonce.jhtml
    Even worse, this is in the article :

    As the crowd cheered, Beyoncé and her dancers went through the Bob Fosse-inspired…

    Bob Fosse isn’t here to say “J’accuse!” so we have to be.

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  • Gordon!
    Yes, her new defense is “inspired by” — which is weak because she didn’t use it right from the start.

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  • I’m with Aisha on this one
    I say leave Beyonce alone.
    yes she might not have mentioned that the influence of her video was Fosse’s at the start. but there’s a lot of dance moves out there with different names that have been “lifted” from people like Mr Fosse. e.g. the “walk it out” dance move….. LIFTED!!! but no one is complaining about that.
    it’s only because Beyonce did it and you guys are just hating. at least she didn’t deny the fact that she saw the video on youtube and liked it.
    and and and…. Fosse had other influences too. some of his movements are “LIFTED” from Jack Cole’s style (who was one of Fosse’s and many other Jazz Choreographers at the time’s influence.) But no one picks up on that do they??? Does this also mean that Bob Fosse wasn’t very original???
    I’ve studied the history or dance and the practitioners till present….. nothing is original anymore and hasn’t been even before Fosse made his mark.
    so instead of hating on Beyonce… just think….
    WOW…. WELDONE Mr Fosse!!!!!!!
    at least Beyonce made other people who weren’t aware of who Bob Fosse was in the first place acknowledge him a little!

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  • Beyonce basically said it from the start that Bob Fosse’s wife inspired Single Ladies that video that you’re using is before Single Ladies really got big. The former Spice Girl used “The Frug” as inspiration, too. Beyonce did mention that reference point with Get Me Bodied. That’s how I even know what it was because I’m not familiar with Fosse.

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