Honi Coles: One of the Last

Like the Nicholas Brothers, Charles “Honi Coles” (1911-1992) hailed from Philadelphia. Schooled in the rigorous methods of street tap, he moved to NYC, initially dancing with a trio called The Three Millers, who were known for their ability to do hard-to-execute moves in tiny spaces. In 1934 he made his solo debut at the Apollo Theatre. For a time he performed with Cab Calloway’s band, and then in 1940 he teamed up with Cholly Atkins, forming the popular duo Cole and Atkins. From 1949 to 1951 the team danced in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The team broke up in 1959 when the demand for live dance acts had all but been extinguished.

In the early 1970s, Brenda Bufalino, who later co-founded the American Tap Dance Foundation, began working with Coles, essentially grooming him and encouraging him toward a major comeback. Subsequently, Coles appeared in the Broadway shows Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976-77) and My One and Only (1983-85); the tv movies The Tap Dance Kid (1978) and Mr. Griffin and Me (1981); and the theatrical films Charleston (1979), Rocky II (1979), The Cotton Club (1984), and Dirty Dancing (1987). He won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for My One and Only. He also taught at such major institutions as as Yale, Duke, Cornell, and George Washington University. After Coles died in 1991, Tommy Tune dedicated performances of his show Tommy Tune Tonite! (1992-93), which used some of Coles’ choreography, to the late dancer.

To find out more about vaudeville and stars like Honi Colesconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.