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:

Keep Going

Thursday 12th September would have been my first week back at Rhythm Tap, this time in the intermediate class, but I had to go home from work the day before as I was unwell, and I didn’t return until this past Tuesday. I had also been intending to get back in the gym after having most of the summer off, but besides being unwell, the university gym that I use is now closed because…they are demolishing the building to build a shiny new one!

To be fair, the gym will be temporarily rehoused in another part of the campus from some time in October, and full memberships will be heavily discounted to only £10, but I wonder if there will be a reduction in the number of machines. Until I get to try it out, I plan to concentrate on doing some stretching.

But yeah, I was really annoyed that after a lovely two week break to recharge for the autumn, I had to then be run down by illness. I had my weekly timetable all mapped out: Gym on Tuesday lunchtime. Ukulele class Wednesday evening (starting this week). Tap class Thursday lunchtime. Just shows how our plans are not always under our control!

I managed to get along to my tap class on Thursday, and it was EXTREMELY CHALLENGING! I knew it would be, from the last time I had a go at that class in the evening, but not being 100% better, I felt ever so slightly vacant. The warm up was all call-and-response, which is one of my favourite things, but being a bit out of it, I felt slightly like a rabbit in headlights…especially with only 5 of us in the class – nowhere to hide! In the exercises and routine I felt like I couldn’t keep up with instructions and the speed of the steps.

Then I had that creeping feeling again. You know the one. It’s too difficult, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do this anymore, etc, BUT I’ve been through this before at previous levels – it’s challenging and you want to give up, but actually, if you want to improve, you have to push through it, and in time it will get easier. Besides, those of us who have just moved up from advanced beginners are all in the same boat and we can support each other!

We are learning a routine to a song by Gentleman’s Dub Club, which is just my thing. I just need to watch the video I took of the routine and practice a lot, because I retained NONE of the information given – doh!

11 Reasons Why Gregory Hines Was Awesome

220px-Hines
Gregory Hines (1946-2003)
  1. He revived Rhythm Tap in mainstream culture in the 1980s and 1990s after it had seriously gone out of fashion
  2. He was an amazing improviser (just watch some of his stuff on YouTube for inspiration!)
  3. He started dancing semi-professionally aged 5, with his brother Maurice, and took lessons with Broadway choreographer Henry Le Tang, who taught people such as Bunny Briggs, Eleanor Powell, Sandman Sims and Debbie Allen
  4. He was inspired by some of the tap dance heavyweights, including Sammy Davis Jr and the Nicholas Brothers
  5. He has influenced many, many artists such as Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, Jane Goldberg, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance
  6. In 1988 he successfully petitioned ‘National Tap Dance Day’ in the US (25th of May, which happens to be Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s birthday), which has now morphed into International Tap Dance Day!
  7. He starred on Broadway, and in many films, including ‘White Nights’ (1985), ‘The Cotton Club’ (1984) and ‘Tap’ (1989), receiving a Tony Award in 1992 for the musical ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ plus several other nominations.
  8. He created a fantastic documentary for PBS in 1989 on the history and culture of tap dance, called ‘Tap Dance America
  9. He was a great singer, fronting a rock band in the 70s and later performing with artists such as Luther Vandross
  10. In the late 90s he had his own sitcom ‘The Gregory Hines Show’, plus he had a recurring role on the popular sitcom ‘Will and Grace’
  11. In 2019, 16 years after his untimely death at the age of 57,  the US Postal Service created a Gregory Hines Black Heritage postage stamp

Awesome.

Strength

inCollage_20190430_140007133.jpg

This week I made it back to the gym – yay! I did the crosstrainer to warm up, and then the low bike for about 5 minutes. I followed these up with some lower body strength work (30kg seated leg curl, 40kg seat leg press), and then some stretching of the calves, hamstrings, quads, achilles and feet. Because almost all of the lifts at work are out of order at the moment, I took my shower stuff over to the gym with me, rather than trying to climb 9 floors’ worth of stairs back at work! However, I won’t be repeating this. In the shower cubicle itself there was NOWHERE to put ANYTHING. No shelf or hooks or anything, so although I could throw my towel over the door, I had to put everything else on the wet floor. Not impressed!

Since Wednesday evening I’ve been feeling really rough with hayfever or a cold – not sure which at the moment, but I suspect it is hayfever (pollen & pollution) as I have maintained my sense of smell… I wasn’t sure if I was going to even make it to my tap class today, but I decided to dose up and soldier on! (Not something I usually advocate if rest is in order, but I really don’t want to miss any classes this time when we only have 4 in the block and today we would be filming the routine for practice purposes).

Rhythm Tap Class

We were a larger group than usual because a few people from Wednesday evening’s class joined us, plus another few who were trying out before enrolling. We worked on our around-the-world roll again and our swing-beat paddle exercise where we did:

  • 4 x 4 beat paddle (heel dig – pickup – toe – heel drop)
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig and last heel drop – requires balance!
  • Repeat

It’s another great exercise to try and get your head around. And then you have to try and not use your head.

Quite quickly we moved straight onto our Bollywood routine as there are only 2 weeks left after today (rhythm tap to Bollywood music, rather than dancing Bollywood style). I really like this routine…but then I say that about all of them! It’s quicker than we are used to, but that’s good as it challenges us to go for it.

Thankfully the shower situation worked out when I returned to the office as I managed to get a lift very quickly. In the afternoon I had a chair based massage which was organised by the HR department, and despite everyone saying that the massage was too firm, I really enjoyed it and found it greatly beneficial to my post-tap muscles! Sadly it was only for the upper body, but I’ll take that 🙂

Around The World

After a relaxing break from work over Easter, this week I returned to the day job, my soap side gig and rhythm tap class!

I didn’t make the gym because with the Bank Holiday on Monday, there were only 2 possible days that I could go and I just couldn’t fit it in. I suppose I could have gone Wednesday, but I don’t like to work out the day before a dance class. I will get back to it next week when the schedule is back to normal.

I did do a lot of walking last week, with a weekend in Birmingham and Hughenden Manor National Trust, plus I did a New York City Ballet Workout, so I’m not too concerned about loss of fitness or anything.

Rhythm tap class was amazing as usual! I think everyone was hyped to be back, including our teacher who had been at a tap retreat in Italy over the break. Mountain views, food, wine, day trips and tap classes…So jealous!

There were some new people joining us this term; some who have moved up from beginners and some who want to refresh their steps after years away from it. This week we worked on a travelling shuffle-step exercise, which we did each way sets of eight, four, two and one. Our teacher got me to do it with her double time – that was fun!

The other main exercise was an ‘around the world roll’. This is like a cramp roll, but in a different order:

E.g. Starting on the right

R-Toe L-Toe L-Heel R-Toe

And you end with the left foot off the ground ready to start the left side:

Our routine is to a high energy Bollywood track and I’m loving it!

Speedy

For the last month I’ve been obsessing over a clip of Greg Burge and Hinton Battle on stage in Sophisticated Ladies. I swear, I have never seen such quick, accurate and flamboyant hoofing in my life, plus they do ridiculously high kicks and the splits, which reminds me instantly of The Nicholas Brothers. And the music is fab. Love it! I have a lot of training to do LOL.

Today was the final rhythm tap class before a 3 week break for the Easter Hols. A few of us were asking what we’re going to do?! Well, I’m going to continue with the gym hopefully.

I really love the routine we’ve been doing to Aaron Taylor’s Easy. There are slides, 4 beat riffs, pick-ups, turns, lots of shuffles in different directions including across the body, and more. I felt I kind of had a bit of the ‘lazy leg’ today where I wasn’t always hitting the floor, but I just need to do some general practice and, inspired by Battle and Burge, perhaps a bit of work on leg speed…

Exciting news – our teacher is hopefully going to start a level 3 (intermediate) class on Thursday lunchtimes from September so that some of us can move up and progress! That solves my issue of trying to do those late Wednesday nights and starting work late the next day. I can’t wait!

Winter Festival

Oooweee! I am VERY excited to be heading to Tap Dance Festival UK 2019 in Manchester in two weeks’ time! Although it lasts an entire weekend, complete with Friday night showcase and Saturday night tap jam, I’m only doing the Saturday classes. After checking the website nearly every week since I booked, the schedule has finally come through:

tap fest uk 2019

Last year I attended for the first time and had a half day pass, which included 3 amazing classes in the morning. This year’s schedule looks great, and I’m especially looking forward to the Musicality and Choreography class with Sarah Reich, an amazing tap dancer from the US, plus the Tap Attack workshop with the award-winning Jo & Kai Scanlan – I really enjoyed their class last year!

Last year I booked Beginner Level (0-5 years’ experience), but this time I have booked the ‘Adult’ stream, just because the Beginner to Advanced levels are aimed more at teenagers in their teaching style. I probably won’t stay for the Musical Theatre Tap at 15:30 just because we could do with getting on the road for the 3.5 hour drive get home, and I am actually attending her Theatre Tap class at the MOVE IT dance exhibition in March! I will let you know how it all goes. WHOOP!