Quick Bio: Honi Coles

A still of Honi Coles from ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987)

In my intermediate Rhythm Tap class this half-term we’re practising a combination created by tap legend Honi Coles. Who? You know, the guy who played bandleader Tito Suarez in Dirty Dancing (1987). But he was much more than that, so I thought I’d share with you everything you need to know about him:

Who: Charles ‘Honi’ Coles

Born: 2nd April 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: 12th November 1992 in Queens, New York

Learnt to tap dance: On the streets of Philadelphia where people would challenge each other in ‘cutting contests’, which are basically tap dance battles.

Known for: The fastest feet in showbiz. After being let go from the dance act ‘The Three Millers’ he apparently shut himself away for a year and practised constantly (known as ‘wood-shedding’), and when he returned to the performing circuit he had perfected his technique and could fit a crazy number of steps into a bar of music.

Tap Dance Style: Classic, class act, soft shoe, high-speed rhythm tap

Said: “If you can walk, you can tap”.

If you can walk, you can tap

Recognition: Drama Desk Award (1982), Tony Award for Best Choreographer (1982), Dance Magazine Award 1985, Capezio Award for Lifetime Achievement (1988), National Medal of the Arts (1991). He was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

Performed with: Cholly Atkins (an expert Wing dancer) as class act ‘Coles & Atkins’ for 13 years. Prior to that, he was one the ‘Three Millers’, who were known for performing extremely intricate steps on tiny platforms…until he was replaced by someone else. In the late 1930’s he performed with the ‘Lucky 7 Trio’. He also toured with the Swing bands of Duke Ellison, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong.

Stage: Vaudeville circuit, Broadway (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, My One and Only)

Movies: Rocky II (1979), The Cotton Club (1984), Dirty Dancing (1987)

TV: Tap Dance in America, Conversations in Dance, Great Feats of the Feet, The Tap Dance Kid, Mr Griffin and Me, Charleston, Archives of a Master, etc

Taught: Taught Dance History at Yale, Cornell, Duke and George Washington universities. He opened the Dance Craft Studio on 52nd Street in New York City with fellow tap dancer Pete Nugent in the 1950’s, but by then tap dance was falling out of fashion.

What they said about him:

“A supreme illusionist”

“Brilliant”

“…the delicacy and power of a master pianist’s hands”

“…makes butterflies look clumsy”

Amazing! I have to admit, I knew nothing about him until reading the book ‘Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955’. Watching some of his performances on YouTube are definitely inspiring me for my rhythm tap classes. Just need to get quicker!

References:

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