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Charles "Honi" Coles
On this date in 1911 Charles “Honi” Coles, a Black tap dancer, was born.
A native of Philadelphia, Charles Coles developed his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of his hometown. He first came to New York as one of the Three Millers, who danced on top of pedestals, executing difficult steps such as barrel turns, wings, and over-the-tops on tiny platforms. Coles’ second stint in New York occurred in 1934 when he opened at the Apollo Theater. He soon earned the reputation of having the “fastest feet in the business,” and was hailed as an extremely graceful dancer. He firmly placed tap in the world of concert art when he performed in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of Agnes DeMille’s Conversations about the Dance.
In 1940, while dancing with Cab Calloway’s band, he met and soon paired up with Charles “Cholly” Atkins. As Coles & Atkins, their routine opened with a fast-paced song and tap number, followed by a precision swing dance, a soft shoe, and a tap-challenge. By the time Coles & Atkins last danced together in 1959, the Big Band era was over and Broadway had little interest in tap dancing.
During the 1980s, Coles taught dance and dance history at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and George Washington University. Singer Lena Horne once said of Coles, “Honi makes butterflies look clumsy. He was my Fred Astaire.” Charles “Honi” Coles died on November 12, 1992.
The Ghost Walks:
A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business 1865-1910
Henry T. Sampson
Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ., 1988), p.321