Honi Coles, Photo by Kenn Duncan Honi Coles in his Tony award winning role as Mr. Magix in My One and Only. Coles played a major role in the resurgence of tap dancing beginning in the 1970s, performing, teaching, and collaborating with younger artists to pass on his skills and knowledge (1983). (Photograph by Kenn Duncan.)


A self-taught tap dancer, Honi Coles (1911-1992) hung out on street corners in his native Philadelphia and entered amateur talent shows in early attempts to perform. In 1931 he joined the Miller Brothers and resolved to crack New York. After a year of daily eight-hour practice sessions, he had incredibly fast feet and a complex rhythmic tap style. Coles played the 1934 opening of Harlem's Apollo Theater. Teamed with Charles "Cholly" Atkins, the partners toured with the big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Cab Calloway and made short films for television. The duo's slow soft shoe routine to "Taking a Chance on Love" was considered the definitive "class act." Coles performed on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949) and subsequently toured with Kiss Me Kate. In 1965 he was featured with "Cholly" in a CBS-TV Camera Three program and was prominent in the TV movie on which The Tap Dance Kid was based. Back on Broadway for Bubblin' Brown Sugar (1976), Coles won a Tony award in 1983 for his role in My One and Only and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1991.


Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins on stage, 1948 Honi Coles on stage in 1948 with his most enduring partner, Cholly Atkins, demonstrating the elegance and precision that defined their "class act." (photo courtesy of Cholly Atkins Collection.)




Learn more in Charles "Honi" Coles, an essay by Jenai Cutcher West.