'Honi' Coles - A Class Act

The life and style of a great tap dancer is celebrated


The fabulous talent of Charles 'Honi' Coles was celebrated on Sunday 19 August 2001 at The Royal Festival Hall in London with a day of classes, talks and performances organised by TapUK. The cast of performers and teachers included Tobias Tak, Will Gaines, The Jiving Lindyhoppers, Diane Hampstead, and from the US, Brenda Bufalino.

Despite the torrential rain, many braved the weather to make the event, and were rewarded with a diverse choice of activities to enjoy throughout the day. After an introduction, the ballroom was engulfed by tappers eager to participate in an advanced Coles style class with Tobias Tak. This was followed immediately by a talk from jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan, illustrated by several clips of Coles, together with his class act partner for many years, Charles 'Cholly' Atkins.

Coles himself seemed to look back on his life with some regret; he never appeared in a string of Hollywood films, and in some ways was born too late. In one interview, he described how the advent of Oklahoma, with its choreography by Agnes de Mille, sounded the death knell for the big tap number previously common in movies. Terry Monaghan added that there were no more big tap dance numbers until No No Nanette, many years later.

The day began to run late with the staging of the main show of the day, A Night At The Apollo. The Jiving Lindyhoppers opened, with their One Man Dance. Tobias Tak then displayed both his dancing and vocal talents. He introduced Diane Hampstead to the audience, and she delighted them with a sultry slow tap/soft shoe shuffle number. Will Gaines brought his tap mat and a band, but his humour would have been better received at the back had he used the microphone! "There's something I must tell you" he announced after his first number, "I'm really tired!" But he still managed to keep going for several more routines.

Brenda Bufalino has worked with many of the tap greats in her time, including Honi Coles. Her performance was a show in itself, illustrating the many different tapping styles, from Bill Robinson through John Bubbles to Coles and beyond. She then brought on all the performers for a few choruses and a jam session, which so impressed Will Gaines that he sat in the audience to appreciate it! 

With so much to cram into one day, some events overlapped. A class to rehearse the earlier Tobias Tak routine clashed with the second part of Terry Monaghan's talk. This was well worth seeing, as it contained both the full version of the Camera Three programme "Over The Top To Bebop" with Coles and Atkins, and a TV show from the late 70s presented by Mary Parkinson, which featured Chuck Green, Honi Coles and Will Gaines.

Brenda Bufalino returned to give two further classes. The first was The Coles Stroll, a routine that started as a walk before taking in the style and steps of Coles, and then an introduction to the Coles style, for the novices in the crowd. This was definitely a 'hands-on' (or should that be shoes-on?) day, as most people there participated in some of the classes.

During his first talk, Terry Monaghan called for the day to be repeated in the future, suggesting John Bubbles as another tap legend suitable for celebration. But this was Coles' day and there was no doubt that the day was an outstanding success. It was good to see one of the art's lesser known names as the subject of some rightful attention.

August 2001Andrew Winton


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