Leaders, Legends & Trailblazers
Charles “Honi” Coles, April 2, 1911 – November 12, 1992, was an amazing American actor and tap dancer, also known for his role as Tito Suarez in the film Dirty Dancing.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Coles developed his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of his hometown. He first went to Harlem, New York as one of the Three Millers, who were known for their intricate and difficult dance steps executed on tiny platforms.
Here he is with “Cholly” Atkins a video:
He later returned to headline at the Apollo Theater.
In 1940, while dancing with Cab Calloway’s band, he met and teamed 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. Their partnership lasted nineteen years.
Coles placed tap in the world of concert art when he performed in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of Agnes de Mille’s Conversations about the Dance.
Coles made his Broadway debut in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949. He also appeared in Bubbling Brown Sugar and My One and Only, for which he received both the Tony and Drama Desk Award for his performance.
Here he is Over the Top Be-Bop from 1965 on CBS:
Coles was a close associate of tap dancer Brenda Bufalino, who was instrumental in helping him rebuild his career in the early 1970s.
During the 1980s, Coles taught dance and dance history at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and George Washington University.
The American Tap Dance Orchestra was and founded by Bufalino along with Tony Waag Coles in 1986 as a tax exempt 501c3 charitable organization. During that time the Orchestra performed in hundreds of concert, stage, and film projects and thrilled audiences around the world. From 1989 to 1995, the company also operated Woodpeckers Tap Dance Center in New York City, and presented on-going classes, performances and related activities. Coles also had a part in the 1987 hit movie Dirty Dancing.
In 1991, Coles was awarded the National Medal of Arts by president George H.W. Bush. Charles Honi Coles died from cancer on November 12, 1992. He was inducted, posthumously, into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003. His wife Marian Edwards Coles died on November 6, 2009. While he was performing “My One and Only” Charles had a stroke.