NEW YORK – Cholly Atkins, the legendary tap dancer who taught all the Motown acts how to move, died Saturday in Las Vegas at age 89. He was surrounded by family, as well as "students" Gladys Knight and Mary Wilson.
Atkins had a long and heralded history with Honi Coles in the world of tap and even starred on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949 with Carol Channing. He performed with jazz masters Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Count Basie. In the 1980s he won a Tony Award for his work as choreographer of Black and Blue on Broadway.
What Atkins really means to pop culture can never be overestimated. He created all the dance steps that the famous Motown groups used to accompany their hits. He invented the "stop" in "Stop! In the Name of Love" and the “train pull” in Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia." Every move or twist of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations and the Four Tops came from Atkins. Michael Jackson learned his earliest moves at Atkins' feet. Atkins called his own moves "vocal choreography."
"What the Funk Brothers were to the Motown music, Cholly was to the dancing," former Supreme Wilson said tonight. "He was on par with Fred Astaire. He was a wonderful human being. It's a shame he didn't receive all the recognition he deserved."
Atkins did receive an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degree from the Oklahoma City University School of American Dance and Arts Management. He also wrote an autobiography called Class Act with Jacqui Malone.