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Cholly Atkins (1913-2003)

Tap had dropped dead," Coles remembered of that decade. Coles and Atkins broke up in ; and for the next sixteen years, Coles worked as production stage manager for the Apollo Theatre with duties that included introducing other acts.

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He served as president of the Negro Actors Guild and continued his association with the Copasetics, a tapping fraternity named in honor of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, which he had helped to found in At the Newport Jazz Festival in Coles was in the forefront of the tap revival that brought veteran members of the Copasetics back to the stage.

He joined the touring company of Bubblin' Brown Sugar performing the role of John Sage in , and regained his stride as a soloist, performing at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall.

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After receiving a standing ovation for his performance in the Joffrey Ballet production of Agnes De Mille's "Conversations on the Dance", in , Coles firmly placed tap dance in the world of concert dance. Jack Kroll in Newsweek called Coles "Brilliant! Coles was a tap dancer of extraordinary elegance whose personal style and technical precision epitomized the class-act dancer.


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The historian Sally Sommer wrote that Coles was "a supreme illusionist he appeared to float and do nothing at all while his feet chattered complex rhythms below. He was awarded the Dance Magazine Award in , the Capezio Award for lifetime achievement in dance in , and the National Medal of the Arts in Coles last appeared as master of ceremonies at the Colorado Tap Festival with former partner Atkins, performing up to the end of a long and rhythmically brilliant career.


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  8. He died in New York City. He teamed up with Mr. Coles after the war.

    Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins

    In , they appeared on Broadway in ''Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'' and stopped the show every night with their high-flying segment with the ballerina Anita Alvarez. The duo broke up in the early 's, as tap lost popularity, but reunited in for occasional engagements. In the mid's, a vocal group called the Cadillacs asked him to help add some onstage pizazz. He refined techniques he had already used with performers at the Apollo, teaching the Cadillacs how to sing, move away from the microphone and dance, and then go back with enough breath to sing again.

    As he described it in his autobiography, ''Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins,'' written with Jacqui Malone Columbia University Press, , he used the precise, jazz-based moves that chorus girls had practiced for years. His clients included doo-woppers like the Cleftones and the Heartbeats, and their pop descendants, like Little Anthony and the Imperials. With his help, Gladys Knight and the Pips became one of the first black groups to make the transition from road tours and state fairs to swank night clubs and theaters.

    Berry Gordy Jr. Atkins became part of Motown's artistic development department, which included everything from costume preparation to etiquette school. He eventually worked with Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and many others. Atkins's wife, Maye, who survives him, said his concern was to retain the essence of a performer's style. Atkins's career was stalled by alcoholism, but he stopped drinking in He continued to work and lecture at tap festivals, where he was a prime attraction.

    His honors included a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in Atkins said Mr.

    Atkins was absolutely businesslike when it came to dance.