Jack Cole        

     Born: April 27, 1911 (?) - Died: February 17, 1974 


The Father of
Theatrical Jazz Dance  

Jack Cole virtually invented the idiom of theatrical jazz dance. He developed an entirely personal mode of jazz-ethnic-ballet that prevails as the dominant look of and technique for American show dance. Cole's unmistakable style endures in the brilliant work of Gwen verdon, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion, Peter Gennaro, Michael Bennett, Rod Alexander, Carol Haney, Matt Mattox, Camille Long Hill, Tommy Tune, and countless other dancers and choreographers.

     Jack Cole

Jack Cole -- creator of the first Theatrical Jazz Dance technique.

Born in New Brunswick, NJ as John Ewing Richter, Jack Cole will always be remembered as the prime innovator of the theatrical jazz dance heritage. Early on he decided to pursue dance with the Denishawn Dance Company led by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Cole also performed with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, but eventually left the modern dance world for commercial dance career in niteclubs, performing with Alice Dudley, Anna Austin and Florence Lessing.

Jack Cole

Cole and Florence Lessing
Jack Cole with Florence Lessing in Moon Over Miami

Highly disciplined and dedicated to absolute perfection Cole was known for being a tyrannical task master. Throughout his career, Cole viewed information, thought and knowledge as necessary support systems to his life as a dancer and choreographer, not merely  as avenues to the period, style and local color preparation for each new show. He made extraordinary demands on his dancers. He was reputed to have used vulgar language and even physical violence in his quest for artistic excellence.

In a 1968 interview with Dance Magazine he confided, "Sometimes you have to slap them. Sometimes you have to kiss them. It isn't like painting or writing or something that can be done in solitude. The trouble with choreography is you have to get the person out of the way before you can bring out the dancer." But the mastery of technique wasn't everything. Cole also demanded that his dancers be in touch with the emotions and attitudes of the movement. In the same interview Cole says:

"In the theatre you want to see real people doing real things, expressing valid emotions in an artistic, meaningful way, disclosing bits of insight that will transfix you and make you understand something about life, and about yourself . . . I just try to touch the dancer at the center of his emotion. I try to remind him of what he is -- a dancer, and actor, a real person. If you're ashamed of this or that emotion, you can't dance. You yourself may not behave a certain way as a person, but when you dance you must bring real emotion to whatever you're doing. Isn't that what dancing is about --emotion, life -- and not just patterns in the air?"

Tonight and Every Night   Cole and Rita Hayworth (1945)

The Cole Style

Jack Cole developed an entirely personal mode of jazz-ethnic-ballet that prevails as the dominant look of and technique for dancing in today's musicals, films, niteclub revues, television commercials and videos. His highly individual style emphasized isolations, angled foot placements, quick directional changes, and long knee slides.

Cole's mastery of India's bharata natyam greatly influenced his style. He set authentic Indian dance to contemporary jazz music (like Raymond Scott's "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Animals") and combined the movements with African-American and other ethnic dance characteristics. This was the first formation of a serviceable theatrical jazz dance style. It became known by many as the "Cole Style" but Cole called it "urban folk dance."

The Merry Widow   The Merry Widow (1952)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Cole is credited with choreographing the Broadway shows Magdalena, Carnival in Flanders, Kismet, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Kean, Donneybrook!, Jamaica and Man Of La Mancha. His filmwork includes Eadie Was a Lady, Moon Over Miami, On the Riviera, Cover Girl, The Merry Widow, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There's No Business Like Show Business, The I Don't Care Girl, Thrill Of Brazil, Down To Earth, Kismet, Les Girls, Some Like It Hot, and many others uncredited.

     The Cole Legacy