International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative 20th and 21st century professional tap dancers.With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

 

2011 Charles “Cholly” Atkins (September 30, 1913 – April 19, 2003), jazz tap and class act tap dancer, “the man with the moves” who choreographed, staged, and staged acts for countless vocal groups (between 1953-1994) was born in Pratt City, Alabama on September 13, 1913 to mother, Christine Woods, a native of Westminster, South Carolina, and father Sylvan Atkinson, a steel plant worker. At the age of seven, he moved with his mother and brother to Buffalo, New York. He began his professional career in 1929 as a singing waiter near Buffalo, where he met William Porter, another singing waiter; they formed the vaudeville-styled song-and-dance act in the early 1930s known as the Rhythm Pals. Around 1923, at the age of ten, he won a Charleston contest at a local theatre. A Russian physical education teacher and coach in elementary school who knew about cakewalks, struts, and acrobatics put together an elementary softshoe tap dance for Atkins and two other schoolmates. By the time he was in high school, around 1926, Atkins was alternating basketball practice with rehearsals for musicals. In 1929, began his professional career as a singing waiter at Alhambra on the Lake, a club near Buffalo, where he met his future partner, William Porter, who was a dancing waiter. By the late twenties, they worked as the Two Rhythm Pals, a vaudeville style song-and-dance team that incorporated solo dancing and the Charleston steps. Katherine Davis, a fine chorus line dance, taught him to tap dance and compose tap combinations.

They were also influenced by the classy flash tap dancing of the Chocolate Steppers (two males and one female), which they saw at Shea’s in Buffalo with Cab Calloway. By 1929-30, Atkins and Porter, as the newly-named Rhythm Pals, performed with Sammy Lewis’ Revue, a traveling show that had comedians, chorus girls, singers and dancers. In 1932 they went on the road again with Stringbean Williams, performing through New England. In 1936, they performed with singer June Richmond and the Les Hite Band. When his partnership folded in the late 1930s, Atkins’ skills landed him a job dancing and helping to choreograph acts for the renowned Cotton Club Boys, who were appearing with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in the Hot Mikado at the World’s Fair.

During the early 1940s, Atkins toured with his second partner, singer and dancer Dotty Saulters. This winning team shared stages with the Mills Brothers, the Earl Hines Band, the Louis Armstrong Band and Cab Calloway Revue. In 1946 Atkins formed his last and most enduring partnership with high-speed rhythm tap dancer Charles “Honi” Coles, and formed the class act of Coles and Atkins. A ”class act,” in black headliners’ terms, referred to tap dance acts of the 1920s, 30s, 40s that were based on precision, elegant dress, detached coolness, flawless execution, and dignity. Coles and Atkins’ formation of a class act team, in 1946, led to a series of tours with the bands of Charlie Barnett, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, Johnny Otis (featuring the Ink Spots), Charlie Barnet, and Billy Eckstine. In 1949, their creation of the show-stopping “Mamie is Mimi” number in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which they performed, went uncredited by the show’s choreographer Agnes DeMille. They also created choreography for June Taylor dancers for early television. Coles and Atkins continued to work in the 1950s.

By that decade’s end, tap dance took a sharp decline in popularity and jobs became increasingly scarce. Meanwhile, Atkins was building a new kind of dance career with a new kind of dance form. As early as 1953, he periodically coached vocal groups who were replacing variety shows at theatres around the country. His vocal coaching skills were solicited by the Shaw and William Morris Agencies, which led to him being named staff choreographer for Motown Records.

Between 1953 and 1994 he choreographed, directed, and staged acts for countless singing artists, including the Cadillacs, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Moonglows, O’Jays, Smokey Robinson and the Mriacles, the Shrelles, Supremes, and Temptations. He taught them to perform with gestures, rhythmic dance steps, and turns drawn from the rich bedrock of American vernacular dance and, in doing so, created a new form of expression called Vocal Choreography.

Atkins’ contribution to American culture is extraordinary and significant. He has won numerous Gold Record awards for his choreography and, in 1989, 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, recognizing his vast contribution to American culture, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Atkins the highest honor, a three-year Choreographer’s Fellowship for the Arts, to record his memoirs and tour colleges and universities, teaching vocal choreography as a dance genre. In 1999, Atkins received the Living Treasure in American Dance Award from the Oklahoma City University School of American Dance and Arts Management. Master choreographer, master dancer, master diretor, and master teacher, Atkins is the quintessential American dancer.

Constance Valis Hill