Coles & Atkins: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.

Next up we’ve got Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins.

Who are Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins?

Coles & Atkins were tap duo known for their suave style and impeccable unison. Instead of showing off acrobatics and bold tricks, the pair mesmerized audiences with their cool, laid-back vibe and signature “Soft Shoe” dance where they performed a painstakingly slow and hypnotically smooth routine in perfect harmony—a talent that is especially challenging for tap dancers who need to not only match the physical movements of their partner but also the exact sound and quality of the taps.

Before they were a team

Charles “Honi” Coles (1911-1992) grew up in Philadelphia where he learned to tap on the streets, challenging neighborhood kids to dance duels—and usually winning. As a young adult, Coles moved to New York City to perform as part of vaudevillian troupe, “The Three Millers.” But when the other two dancers sought to replace Coles, he decided to prove them wrong by perfecting his technique and amping up his performance. When Coles returned to the NYC dance scene, he was hailed for his graceful style and incredibly fast feet. He performed with “The Lucky Seven Trio” and as a soloist for Cab Calloway’s orchestra before pairing up with Cholly Atkins (*read more about Coles & Atkins below). After their career as a duo, Coles worked as production manager for the Apollo Theater, served as president of the Negro Actors Guild, co-founder of the Copasetics (a tap ensemble honoring Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), and won both a Tony and Drama Desk award for his performance in Broadway’s My One and Only. Later in his life, Coles was bestowed a Dance Magazine Award, Capezio Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, and National Medal for the Arts to honor his lasting legacy in tap dance.

Honi as Tito, the bandleader, in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing

Charles “Cholly” Atkins (1913-2003) was born in Pratt City, Alabama and moved to Buffalo, New York with his family at the age of seven. Atkins grew up performing in his school’s musicals and, as a teenager, worked as a singing waiter. He and coworker, William Porter, partnered up to form the song-and-dance act, “Two Rhythm Pals.” Atkins went on to dance with Dotty Saulters before pairing up with Honi Coles (*read more about Coles & Atkins below). Throughout his performance career, Atkins also choreographed and coached behind-the-scenes. He was named staff choreographer at Motown Records and staged acts for stars like the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes. He also won a Tony Award (shared with Fayard Nicholas, Frankie Manning, and Henry LeTang) for his choreography in the Broadway show, Black and Blue. In 1993, Atkins was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship to teach vocal choreography (staging for vocal artists and singing groups) in colleges and universities.

A “class act”

Coles & Atkins won over audiences with their elegance, charm, and no-fail formula—beginning with a fast-paced song-and-dance number, followed by their trademark soft-shoe, and ending with an impressive dance challenge where each performer one-ups the other with their very best moves. The dynamic duo performed throughout the Las Vegas show circuit, with the big bands of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Billy Eckstine, and Count Basie, and on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Coles & Atkins were considered a “class act”–the cream-of-the-crop tap dancers—and their signature style continues to influence and inspire tap dancing today.

Bettye Morrow

BDC’s ‘Remembering Bettye Morrow’ Class: Commemorating an unsung tap heroine 

We all remember the names of tap greats – Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the Copasetics, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. Looking more deeply and broadly, we see that far more dancemakers were influential and accomplished in their own ways. Sometimes it’s up to people who learned from them and worked with them to honor their legacy.

That’s what Justin Boccitto and Germaine Salsberg, BDC tap teachers, recently did in memory of tap icon Bettye Morrow, who passed away in 2016. Boccitto studied with Morrow extensively. Salsberg took Morrow’s class when she was still teaching at BDC, and “saw it as a fun challenge”. On Friday, June 29, they held an Advanced Beginner tap masterclass with Morrow’s material and in her teaching style.

Tap into your bone density!

Bones are dynamic! Even though they are hard, bones are living and continually changing parts of your body that have cells working on them that are designed specifically to either make new bone or break it down. While it may sound strange that our body would want to break down our own bones, it’s a really important process for keeping the whole entire body healthy! There are a couple of reasons for this, and one is that minerals such as calcium are stored in your bones. Of course, you’ve probably heard this a lot, and heard that calcium is really important for healthy bones. What you may not have heard is that calcium is critically important for many functions taking place in the body, including nervous system activity and muscle contractions, and when your body needs calcium for all of these important things, it is going to have to get it from somewhere. That somewhere is your bones.

“Developing peak bone mass (the most bone mineral possible) in the teenage years through the 30s is the cornerstone of optimal bone health,” says Dr. Dorothy Fink, an endocrinologist and internist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, where she often treats dancers. “There are cells in the body that build bone (osteoblasts) and cells that break it down (osteoclasts). These cells work together every day to keep your bones in the best shape possible.” 

BDC honors National Tap Dance Day

In honor of National Tap Dance Day on May 25, we asked our Tap Faculty to tell us their influences, inspirations and favorite things about tap dance.

BDC Tap Faculty

What’s your advice for tap dancers in training?

In trying to grow in tap, don’t get caught up in Broadway tap versus rhythm tap. If there’s no rhythm, there’s no tap. Tap technique is the focus and you can get exceptional technique from so many teachers. Take classes with a variety of teachers to reach your full potential. ~Aaron Tolson

Who are some of your favorite tap dancers throughout history? 

The Nicholas Brothers, The Condos Brothers,The Berry Brothers, Vera Ellen, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Honi Coles  ~Doug Shankman

Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller, Sammy Davis, Jr. ~Lainie Munro

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Lois Miller, Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, Baby Laurence, Bill Bailey, John Bubbles, Gregory Hines, Jeni Le Gon , Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lon Chaney, Ayodele Casel, Chuck Green, Coles & Atkins,  Arthur Duncan, Jimmy Slyde, Bunny Briggs, Buster Brown, and the list goes on and on! ~Jason E. Bernard


Savion Glover, Jason Samuels Smith, Randy Skinner, Nicholas Young, Dormeisha Sumbry-Edwards, Derick K. Grant, Diane Walker, Curtis Holland, Michelle Dorrance, Jared Grimes


“Begin the Beguine” with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1940 

“Challenge Scene” in Tap featuring Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis, Jr., Arthur Duncan, Bunny Briggs, Jimmy Slyde, Steve Condos, Harold Nicholas and Howard “Sandman” Sims

“Jump N Jive” with the Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather

“Pick Yourself Up” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time 

“Prove Me Wrong” with Gregory Hines & Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights 

“Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly 

“Too Darn Hot” with Ann Miller in Kiss Me Kate 

For more tap dance footage visit our playlist on our YouTube channel!


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Yes, that’s Bernadette Peters’ voice you hear singing “Star Tar” from the original Off-Broadway cast album of Dames at Sea. The new Broadway production’s director/choreographer Randy Skinner held a master tap class at the Broadway Dance Center, proving that classic American dance style is alive and very well.

via DAMES AT SEA’s Randy Skinner Holds Master Tap Class at Broadway Dance Center on

Michelle Dorrance awarded MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

We’re so excited for Tap faculty member Michelle Dorrance on being announced as one of the 2015 MacArthur Fellows.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.

Michelle Dorrance is a tap dancer and choreographer breathing new life into a uniquely American art form in works that combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance. Dorrance uses her deep understanding of the technique and history of tap dancing to deconstruct and reimagine its artistic possibilities.

Read and see more at: MacArthur Foundation

BDC Works: Jared Grimes

Broadway Dance Center’s Jared Grimes is not only a triple threat; he’s also a producer, director and choreographer! His unique style of blending tap, jazz, and hip-hop within his performances leaves audiences speechless. Jared has showcased his talent through nearly every facet of the entertainment world, from appearing on television shows such as FOX’s Fringe, touring with stars like Mariah Carey, and recently debuted on Broadway.

He lent his imaginative choreography to commercials for Macy’s and Chili’s, as well as appeared in commercials for Coca-Cola and Subway. He danced alongside legends like Gregory Hines and Wynton Marsalis, and even performed for President Barack Obama. Grimes gives us the chance to take a closer look into his world, and tells us more about choreographing for Cirque Du Soleil and the production of his project Broadway Underground.

What was your dance training like growing up?

My mom was actually my first teacher. I would watch her dance and think, “I want to be just like her!” So, I started off taking tap, and then I tried different styles at other dance studios.

Where did you get the idea for Broadway Underground? Can you tell us a little about it?

When I first moved to the city no one would let me perform, and it was just because no one knew who I was. It was the first couple of months that I had moved here, and I was new. I was like, damn! I called this person and he said no, or this person said that she didn’t have any space. I always wanted to create an outlet for people that gave them an opportunity to showcase their talents, whether they just moved to the city or they recently started dancing. I hoped that one day I would be able to do something like that, and the vehicle that I came up with was Broadway Underground. The whole idea was to mix my Broadway friends with people who are not on Broadway; passionate people who are just looking for a chance.

How can artists become a part of Broadway Underground?

Broadway Underground the remix is kind of like an open mic. In a way, we revolutionized the whole thing. Everybody can bring their own CDs, choreography, and costumes, and showcase their talents. I always have agents, producers, directors, and casting agents there to pick up people that are looking for an opportunity. The acts should be under three minutes each, and the first thirty numbers that sign up get to perform. Then there’s the element of putting together a show on the spot with these acts, five minutes before the show starts. I look at the list, craft the whole show and make sure that it’s all balanced. There can’t be too much of one style of dance back-to-back.

How did you get the opportunity to choreograph for Cirque Du Soleil? What has that experience been like?

They actually saw me at Broadway Underground! A long time ago we used to do it more like a choreographer showcase. It was a production of people that I would see around the city and ask to perform. They happened to come one night, and I guess that some of my material was exactly what they were thinking for their show. I want to say just two or three weeks later I was having auditions for the show. I was one of six choreographers at the time, and I ended up being the only one. Cirque Du Soleil was tough! You know when you envision such an entity, and you have so many thoughts about what it will be like before you get into it? For me, none of those were accurate. It was a lot of mountains to climb daily, in terms of what they expected and how they expected it to be. I didn’t enjoy it at times, but did enjoy at other times. So it ended up being a challenge and one of the toughest and greatest experiences at the same time. I always say if I can make it through that, I can do anything!

Do you prefer appearing in commercials or choreographing for them? What’s the difference for you?

I am a performer first and foremost. I’m really not sure how all of the choreography stuff even started. I began doing choreography in college and then through Broadway Underground, and I didn’t mind doing it for my own projects. Then my career kind of took off, and I started doing everything at the same time. In a way, I was killing many birds with one stone. It was easier to hire me to perform, choreograph, direct, produce, and even compose for one project. To me, appearing in commercials and choreographing for commercials are each their own form of freedom. When you are actually performing, you get to indulge in freedom in the moment. When you choreograph you feel that freedom for a second and then you have to live vicariously through the people that get to do it every night. It’s very bitter sweet.

What would your advice be for any artist trying to pursue a career in entertainment?

My advice would be to do as much as possible. I came to the city and thought that I was just going to be a tap dancer. Then thanks to all of the training that I had done growing up, I broke down all of the doors. The fact that I could do more than one discipline was a huge plus. So, take as many classes as possible and train as much as possible. You need to eat, sleep, breathe your dreams, and you need to be constantly thinking about how you are going to achieve them. There is no down time or time to relax. As soon as you relax, somebody passes you by. So, always keep busy and constantly work. I always say that you should practice as if you are not good; as if you suck! You should be afraid of becoming complacent. The entertainment world is one of those worlds where people become comfortable with their names or their resumes and they sometimes feel that they can relax. I think that’s unacceptable for people that are up-and-coming, and even for people that have already made it. To me, it’s about the heart and it’s about propelling the genres and taking them somewhere. Then maybe one day people will be saying your name. Duke Ellington for example; people will know who he is forever because of how hard he worked.

Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?

My two idols are Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr., for very obvious reasons! My whole goal was to be a different, updated version of those two.

Can you tell us about The Jared Grimes feel?

That’s my band! It’s like Pop and R&B Jazz. We are kind of like the Dave Matthews Band. Well, we don’t play that type of music, but when you hear DMB you know that they have a signature sound. I thought it would be cool to do something where everybody kind of connected to tap and music. I always wanted to be in a band. I am one of those people who set a goal in my mind and the goal was to breakthrough into the music industry, and to change the whole landscape. Jared Grimes Feel is the name of the band because we are probably the only band where the front man can sing, write, compose, and dance as if my tap shoes were a guitar or piano. So we came up with the idea to throw a party at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill where we open up for choreographers that I admire. We do a 45-minute set, and after that we clear the table and open up the floor for the dance performances. It’s kind of like a new version of a speak easy. It’s a Vegas type of feel with a little twist, but in New York. 

Can you talk a little about your experience with After Midnight?

 It’s cool! It’s actually my first Broadway show! I’ve done a lot of regional theater shows and I am really kind of tired of doing regional. I love it, but the whole goal of regional is to hopefully do a show that comes to Broadway. I have done so many shows that haven’t, so it was kind of cool to do something that was Off Broadway but kind of seen as Regional Theater. I always thought it would be cool if it went to Broadway, but in the back of my mind I thought it probably wouldn’t. So, when the buzz started about it might go on Broadway, my good friend, who is one of the producers, brought me on as one of the choreographers. It’s been a blessing, but it’s also still kind of surreal. It really hasn’t hit me yet, because this world is so new to me. It’s a show where I can do whatever I want on stage. I almost feel guilty about that. I have hustled so much until I got to that point, so that was kind of a big payoff. I am blessed an honored and excited to see where that takes me after.

You have been a part of so many amazing projects. Is there one you’re most proud of?

I don’t think that there’s one in particular. Everything is school, and everything is a lesson. With Cirque Du Soleil, I learned how to be a crazy choreographer, with After Midnight I get the opportunity to grow every night in the show. I never look at it like I have a project; I just think about what choreographer I get to work with or how I can’t wait to work with a certain director. I see all of my projects as an opportunity to enlighten myself and those around me, and see what I can add to the pot.

What has been your most memorable TV/FILM moment?

I think it’s the movie I did, The Marc Pease Experience, with Anna Kendrick and Ben Stiller. I got to improvise with Ben Stiller for two scenes. Everyone thought that I was pretty funny, and I don’t think they expected that. Ben and I dug doing improve scenes outside of the stuff we were given to see if we could find anything. I thought he was going to be this really light, fun, loving guy on set but he’s really not. He’s funny but he’s all about the scene and devoting as much energy to the take. So, here I was all smiles ready to do a scene with him. There was a balance between his professionalism and my ambitious personality. I saw it as a challenge to not get blown out of the water, but yet add comically to the scene. The other projects that I have done are more dramatic. Its fun to do more dramatic roles because its challenging, but I enjoy comedy the most because being silly is more my true personality.

Michelle Dorrance: Artist to Watch (And Hear)

Known as one of the most sought-after tap dancers of her generation, Broadway Dance Center’s Michelle Dorrance has undoubtedly left her mark on the world of dance. When she’s not traveling the world teaching and choreographing, you can find her on stage inspiring others with her brilliant performances. Michelle’s impressive resume includes four years with the Off-Broadway show STOMP, performances with the most notable tap companies in the world, and countless festivals.

Sharing the stage with dancers such as Sam Weber and Dianne Walker, Michelle is known for her awe-inspiring, unique routines. As the winner of the 2011 Bessie Award and the 2012 Princess Grace Award, this talented dancer most recently received the 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award. Taking a break from her busy schedule, Michelle sat down with us to answer some questions about the Pillow Festival and what advice she shares with her students.

Can you tell us a little bit about winning the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award?

 What I can say is that it seemed absurd to me that I was going to get it. I told Ella Baff, the executive and artistic director, “are you sure there isn’t someone else you want to give this to?”  Ella is a champion for supporting a vision that encourages and promotes change in our culture. She is making sure that tap dance is a part of an institution like Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and supporting my vision for what I what to do with it. Clearly, she can acknowledge famous outstanding choreographers.  For me it’s more of an emerging artist award.

You had put together a show with the award money. What was the process like?

I have always had a huge passion for blues music and its origins. It has influenced me as an artist and a dancer for a really long time. I think tap and the blues have very similar origins and similar stories racially, socially and politically. I wanted to create a piece of work that was entirely blues based. I had worked with a musician, Toshi Reagon, in the past. She has a huge range musically and can take it in any direction. I knew she would bring the same approach to blues that I bring to tap, so I knew she’d be the perfect person to write my music. She was going to bring not just the traditional country blues, but also a more Led Zeppelin feeling. I wanted to explore that musically and I knew that we could create some emotional and political concepts together. We played on a lot of characters, emotions and abstract narrative that can bring you a feeling of different political and social ideas. Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards came on as choreographers with me. It was a godsend to be able to collaborate with some of my favorite artists and move forward with this idea I’ve had.

The list of artists who have won the Pillow Dance Award include Alonzo King, Annie P. Parson and Crystal Pite. Are there any similarities or influences these artists have had on your dancing?

Some of those people were revolutionaries and were willing to take risks in times when their names weren’t so well known. If anything they inspire me to push further.  I can relate to Kyle Abraham because we’re of the same generation. I love the messages and the content that he is bringing to the table, on top of the incredible movement. I am so humble to be in the company of such giants.

What was your dance training like growing up?

My mother was a professional ballet dancer who opened up her own dance school.  Being that my classes were all free, I studied every style of dance at first, but when I started taking tap it became my love immediately.  I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t in love with it. It came to define me, and I felt like it was who I was. It was a powerful feeling and it came much more natural to me than anything I had ever done. I feel blessed to have had my mother as a teacher. She always encouraged me and I learned a lot from her choreography.  I had another incredible teacher, Gene Medler, who had started seeking out the tap community when I was young. He opened up the tap world to not only me, but also many dancers in North Carolina where I was born.  We were exposed to all of the legendary hoofers and professional choreographers, and got the chance to attend some of the first tap festivals.  I couldn’t have asked for a better training experience.

You’ve performed in so many incredible shows with such talented artists. What was your most memorable performance experience?

That’s impossible to answer. I at least have to give you three performances! The three shows that I feel I learned a tremendous amount from are, Imagine Tap! choreographed by Derick K. Grant, STOMP and Jason Smith’s critically acclaimed Charlie’s Angels: A Tribute To Charlie Parker. Performing them is memorable in the lessons you learn along the way, and how it demands more from you as a performer.


You teach students all around the world. What is your advice for students who want to pursue a career in tap?

Definitely do it! First piece of advice I have is what I would tell any dancer or athlete. Practice hard and practice smart. Don’t just practice what you’re good at. Have a passionate work ethic, stay humble and never give up. Those seem to be all generic pieces of advice, but they are important. For tap specifically, make sure that you’re approaching the art form with integrity and know your history.  Know the music that has influenced tap, and the tap that has influenced history. Know the styles that have influenced tap, and the styles that tap has influenced. I think that tap is so unique. You are a musician and a dancer and you are responsible for the music that is coming from your feet.  Also, remember that it is an art form because too many people try to lump it into just a form of entertainment.

Do you encourage your students to take other styles of dance?

Yes, you have to know your body, that’s huge! Tap predates all other American street styles and influenced House, Lindy Hop, Boogie, etc. There are so many different movements along the way inside of tap.  You can learn more about yourself physically when you push yourself to do other styles. It gives you a chance to discover why you make certain choices in your tap dancing.

You founded Dorrance Dance in early 2011. What was your vision behind the company?

What I wanted to do was to honor tap’s tradition, incredible legacy and the art form, while pushing it and exploring it rhythmically, aesthetically and conceptually. I never want to abandon its roots, and at the core of what I am, it’s impossible. I know a lot of people who try to take risks and push something in a new direction and sometimes they lose the core of what it is. That I can say will never happen. I had these incredible dancers and too many ideas that excited me. I had too many concepts in which I wanted to kind of show off. I love being able to use tap dancers that have other forms in their bag because it allows you to explore more. For my company it happens organically.

What do you look for in a dancer?

I look for incredibly hard working, inspiring dancers who practice with performance integrity.  There is a dancer that I work with that always stands out to me in rehearsals.  This guy is never less than full out in rehearsal and everyone should practice like that.  I have never once had to ask him to step it up.  I also look for strong improvisers as well as soloists who are interested in creating group energy, and being a part of whatever my vision is choreographically.  I am inspired to work with a dancer who has a unique personality and that is very different. I don’t want a specific body type.  I like the grittiness and the rawness of a bunch of unique dancers, characters and personalities working together. They might have to all do the same thing, but none of them are going to look the same.  I think it’s very powerful as dance and theatre to be moved by a group of diverse people.

How can dancers become a part of Dorrance Dance?

I don’t have actual auditions for the company, but my advice would be to come to class!  I have literally watched students grow in class and saw them attain a new skill set and new level. Whenever you can be connected to someone’s learning process and feel their connection in a room, that’s the first thing to lead you to want to work with them. In a classroom setting you get to know who someone is. People always ask me if there’s a certain skill that they need to know. I want someone with his or her own unique style; I don’t want a bunch of me’s running around!

How would you say that your choreography differs from other tap choreography?

That’s hard for me to say. I don’t know, I think I just manifest my influences a little differently than others.  I have friends who are choreographers, but what comes out of us is very different. With any given choreography, the collections of influences that go into a piece are what make a difference. Lets say one thing that will influence it is that my dancer is 6 foot 8, another thing is a cartoon, and another thing is a really sad song that I used to listen to in high school.