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Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins
     

Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins

by Cholly Atkins, Jacqui Malone
 

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Cholly Atkins's career has spanned an extraordinary era of American dance. He began performing during Prohibition and continued his apprenticeship in vaudeville, in nightclubs, and in the army during World War II. With his partner, Honi Coles, Cholly toured the country, performing with such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie. As tap reached

Overview

Cholly Atkins's career has spanned an extraordinary era of American dance. He began performing during Prohibition and continued his apprenticeship in vaudeville, in nightclubs, and in the army during World War II. With his partner, Honi Coles, Cholly toured the country, performing with such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie. As tap reached a nadir in the fifties, Cholly created the new specialization of "vocal choreography," teaching rhythm-and-blues singers how to perform their music by adding rhythmical dance steps drawn from twentieth-century American dance, from the Charleston to rhythm tap. For the burgeoning Motown record label, Cholly taught such artists as the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Marvin Gaye to command the stage in ways that would enhance their performances and "sell" their songs.

Class Act tells of Cholly's boyhood and coming of age, his entry into the dance world of New York City, his performing triumphs and personal tragedies, and the career transformations that won him gold records and a Tony for choreographing Black and Blue on Broadway. Chronicling the rise, near demise, and rediscovery of tap dancing, the book is both an engaging biography and a rich cultural history.

Editorial Reviews

Terry Lawson
To have Atkins' memories preserved is to have an immense contribution to nearly a century of American popular song and dance acknowledged, and in his own lifetime. Motown may have been just a stopover in this storied life, but we, and the company, were lucky to have him.
Gerald Early
Class Act is a wonderfully evocative autobiography providing rich portraits of African American theatrical life and the world of tap. Whether as a dance partner of Honi Coles or as the instructor of young talent at Motown Records, Atkins was a major figure in American dance whose story is humane, humorous, and compelling.
Otis Williams
His choreography is so unique, it´s just like a Rolls Royce among a whole lot of Yugos. He´s classic, man.
Jabari Asim
AsClass Act makes clear, professional tappers formed an elite brotherhood, a society of proud, resolute strivers with no shortage of dignity, talent or wisdom. We should be grateful to cholly Atkins for generously sharing his with us.
Gladys Knight
Cholly Atkins was our everything. . . . He taught us how to walk onstage, how to walk offstage, how to move.
Quincy Jones
Cholly is one of the true icons of American culture -an original hoofer. He took social and street dances of the time and combined them with style and class, introducing a new dance genre, vocal choreography. Weaving rhythm and groove seamlessly, he created dance with flair while allowing several generations of young people to stand on his shoulders. Pops put a little dip in their hip and a little slide in their glide. He is a serious legend and one of the finest human beings I've even known. The legacy of Cholly Atkins is one that will be with us forever. We are blessed to have been touched by his magic.
Billboard.com
Whenever the tongue gets too tangled, or poetry reaches an impasse and other creative gestures fall short, the most expressive option is often just to dance. If there's a hard lesson in this homily, Cholly Atkins has long since learned it. As a result, the heritage of rhythmic hoofing that underlies the history of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop has never been the same. If all this comes as news to you, don't ever again attend a convention, seminar, or teach-in about the aforementioned music genres without having first read Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins>...Because until you do, you may be half-informed at best about the evolution over the past century of black dance rhythms and the importanceof vernacular choreography.
Melvin Franklin
He´s the wellspring from whence we flow. . . . [He] understands the way that the human body moves, he understands the grace of dance.
Carol J. Binkowski
A personal encounter with an exceptional man whose winning personality shines through on every page...provides solid information about the history of American jazz dance.
Library Journal
This is more than a factual biography of a great artist; it is a personal encounter with an exceptional man whose winning personality shines through on every page. The story of Cholly Atkins is that of 20th-century American jazz and tap dance. As a dancer, he teamed with Honi Coles and appeared with Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and others across the country; his anecdotes about these experiences offer a keen perspective on the performing life. A versatile artist, Atkins developed "vocal choreography" specially tailored rhythmic dance routines based upon steps used by African American chorus lines of the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. It resulted in a successful Motown career and in his role choreographing the signature moves of such groups as the Pips and the Supremes. Later, he earned a Tony award for his choreography for the Broadway show Black and Blue. His personal heartaches and struggles are addressed honestly, and his triumphs over them are inspiring. Written by the 87-year-old Atkins and Malone (drama, theater, and dance, Queens Coll.), this book resonates with charm and provides solid information about the history of American jazz dance. For entertainment collections. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Based largely upon her interviews with choreographer Cholly Atkins in the 1980s, Malone (dance, Queens College) presents a study of his life and the cultural milieu through which he moved. The text follows Atkins' life and career from his boyhood to his performances in late 1920s vaudeville, his work with Motown artists in the 1960s, and his current work as a dance workshop presenter. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Detroit Free Press - Terry Lawson
To have Atkins' memories preserved is to have an immense contribution to nearly a century of American popular song and dance acknowledged, and in his own lifetime. Motown may have been just a stopover in this storied life, but we, and the company, were lucky to have him.

International Herald Tribune
As Class Act makes clear, professional tappers formed an elite brotherhood, a society of proud, resolute strivers with no shortage of dignity, talent or wisdom. We should be grateful to Cholly Atkins for generously sharing his with us.

Detroit Free Press
To have Atkins' memories preserved is to have an immense contribution to nearly a century of American popular song and dance acknowledged, and in his own lifetime. Motown may have been just a stopover in this storied life, but we, and the company, were lucky to have him.

— Terry Lawson

Dance International
Class Act chronicles Atkins' amazing career, from his entry into New York City's dance world to his performing triumphs and personal tragedies to the career transformations that won him gold records and a Tony award. Anyone interested in tap dancing and/or the history of rock and roll will enjoy this book.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231504126
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
08/07/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
280
File size:
16 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

What People are Saying About This

Gladys Knight
Cholly Atkins was our everything.... He taught us how to walk onstage, how to walk offstage, how to move.

Quincy Jones
Cholly is one of the true icons of American culture — an original hoofer. He took social and street dances of the time and combined them with style and class, introducing a new dance genre, vocal choreography. Weaving rhythm and groove seamlessly, he created dance with flair while allowing several generations of young people to stand on his shoulders. Pops put a little dip in their hip and a little slide in their glide. He is a serious legend and one of the finest human beings I've even known. The legacy of Cholly Atkins is one that will be with us forever. We are blessed to have been touched by his magic.

Gerald Early
Class Act is a wonderfully evocative autobiography providing rich portraits of African American theatrical life and the world of tap. Whether as a dance partner of Honi Coles or as the instructor of young talent at Motown Records, Atkins was a major figure in American dance whose story is humane, humorous, and compelling.

Meet the Author

Cholly Atkins has been a jazz dance artist, choreographer, and director of stage acts for decades. He has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many dance organizations.

Jacqui Malone, who began interviewing Cholly Atkins in 1988, was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship to write this book. Author of Steppin'on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, she is a professor of drama, theater, and dance at Queens College.



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