|"The Nicest Guys
In Show Business" |
Cholly Atkins knew at a young
age he wanted to dance, and dance he did. Atkins nickname "Cholly"
is a slur on Charlie from writer Cholly Knickerbocker. At the
young age of ten, Atkins won his first dance contest in Buffalo,
New York doing the Charleston
and was impressed by the Chocolate Steppers. He would learn how
dance and became exceptional at the Soft Shoe executing it at
a perilously slow tempo and doing it perfectly, however they could
do fast tapping better than most.
By 1935 he was in Hollywood, California and had his own dance
troupe called the Rhythm Pals with William Porter. While in Hollywood,
he did some film work as an extra and he would meet and study
with many famous dancers, who by the way was very impressed by
Brothers while working on the Chattanooga Choo Choo number
(Sun Valley Serenade.) Atkins became a member of the famous Cotton
Club Boys in 1940, which was a all male dance troupe who used
to dance in synchronized formation lines (known as a 'Class Act')
at the Cotton Club in New York and did some of the choreography
for them as well.
After Coles and Atkins returned
from WWII, Atkins teamed with legendary Tap dancer Honi Coles
from 1945 to 1949 in nightclubs and a brief stint in England.
They would tour with many top bands of the day such as Cab Calloway,
Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and more. For a while Tap dancing
was put on the back burner in Broadway, Nightclubs and Movies
which left them very little work and because of this the team
of Honi and Coles disbanded for awhile till Vegas came calling,
and then only teamed up for special engagements. Atkin's soon
found work as in instructor and choreographer for the Katherine
Dunham Studio. Atkins finally started working for Motown as choreographer
to the Musicians, Singers and bands such groups as the Pips and
the Supreme's behind the scenes. In 1989 Atkins shared in the
winning of Tony Award as Best Choreographer for "Black and
Blue." Atkins died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.
Charles 'Honi' Coles was given
his nickname 'Honi' from his mother as a young boy in Philly.
The streets were beaming with aspiring Tap dancers and that is
where Coles "honed his craft. At the age of twenty Coles
joined the Two Millers and made them Three. However due to the
depression, new acts found it tough to get ahead financially and
broke up shortly after starting, with Coles going back home. While
at home, Coles practiced more and would be able to perform dance
steps others found almost impossible to do. He returned to New
York and headed straight for the Hoofers Club and showed 'em who
was king. The Lucky Seven Trio, Bert Howell and others all found
a use for Coles and his dancing prowess in their acts.
In 1940 he met Atkins and
his then partner/wife while traveling with Cab Calloway. By 1943,
Coles and Atkins joined the Army and upon their return from the
Military, Coles and Atkins formed their dance act and became headliners
for many years. After they split up Coles and Pete
Nugent opened their own dance studio called the "Dance
Craft" studio on 52nd Street in NYC, but nobody wanted to
learn to tap dance at the time and they closed the studio. Occasionally
Coles would dance with Atkins in Las Vegas Flamingo Shows and
Pearl Bailey after 1955 but soon would retire appearing occasionally
with Atkins. Coles became the president of the Negro Actors Guild
and became production manager for the Apollo Theatre. Later, Honi
won a Tony Award in 1983 for the Film "My One and Only."