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Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins

Stage Name

Birth Name

"Cholly" Atkins

Charles Sylvan Atkinson

"Honi" Coles

Charles Coles

"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 to Tap 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 the Nicholas 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."

Birth Place

Birth Date



(A) Pratt City, Alabama 9/13/1913-4/19/2003 Catherine (divorced) n/a
    Dottie Saulters (widowed 1962) ??
      Maye Harrison Anderson (till 2003) ??
  (C) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 4/2/1911-11/12/1992 Marian 2 Children

Dance Types

Dance Partners

Music Titles

Ballet (Atkins) Cotton Club Boys Mamie is Mimi
Buck and Wing Dottie Saulters (1940s) Taking a Chance on Love (Soft-Shoe)
Charleston Each Other    
Eccentric Dancer Rhythm Pals (Atkins 1930)    
Modern Dance (Atkins)        
Soft Shoe        
Step Dance        




Club Harlem (Atlantic City, 1965) Apollo Theatre Billy Eckstine in Atlantic town center (1965)
Cotton Club His Majesty's Theatre-Canada [1946] Black and Blue (1989)
Lookout House (Kentucky Casino) Royale Theatre (Buffalo) Bubbling Brown Sugar (Coles 1977)
  Shea (Buffalo) Conversations on the Dance (Coles 1977)
  Stanley (Pittsburgh)   Dancing Pirate (Coles)
    Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Coles and Atkins 1949)
    Kiss Me Kate (Coles and Atkins)
    My One And Only (Coles 1983)
    Newport Jazz Festival (Coles / Atkins 1962)
    Paree-Paree (Coles)
    Rock and Roll Revue (Coles)
    Shoot Me While I'm Happy (Coles)
    Swing Hostess (Coles)
    Tommy Tune Tonite! (Coles 1992)
    Las Vegas shows  (Coles and Atkins)


Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...





A historical look at tap dancing Honi Coles 1980 City College of New York
Charles 'Honi' Coles and Some Tap Dancing History ~ 1984 Afram Assoc
$ Class Act Cholly Atkins 2001 Columbia Un iv Pr
$ Jazz Dance Marshall and Jean Stearns 1964 Da Capo Press
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime: Vocal Chor. of Cholly Atkins ~ 1996 University of Illinois Press,
$ TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955 Rusty Frank 1995 Da Capo Press




$ 1936 - Charge of the Light Brigade (Atkins) Camera 3: Over the Top with Bebop (Coles / Atkins) n/a
1956 - Basin Street Revue (Atkins) Charleston (1979 Coles)      
1956 - Tap dancin' (w/ Maceo, Nicholas,
Coles-Atkins, Bojangles )
Conversations About the Dance (1985 Coles)      
Gerry Moore Show      
1965 - Camera Three (TV) Jack Haley's Ford Hour      
$ 1978 - The Wiz [ DVD] (Coles) Kate Smith Hour      
1980 - Tap Dancin' (w/ Tune, Ames, Chaney, Brown, Green, Black) Milton Bearle Show      
The Tap Dance Kid (Coles)      
$ 1985 - The Cotton Club [ DVD] (Coles) Tap Dance in America (1989 Coles)      
$ 1987 - Dirty Dancin' [ DVD] (Coles) U.S.A. Dance      
$ 1992 - Twist! [ DVD] (Atkins)        
$ Rocky II [ DVD] (1979 Coles)            

NOTE: Also performed with the Billy Eckstine show at the Apollo