Jack Cole (April 27, 1911 in New Brunswick, New Jersey – February 17, 1974 in Los Angeles, California) was an American dancer, choreographer, and theatre director known as "the Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance".
Cole was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Early on he was sent away to boarding school by his parents who divorced and discontinued contact with him. He decided to pursue dance with the Denishawn Dance Company led by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn who was particularly fond of Cole, and invited him to join the first all Male dance company based at Jacob's Pillow led by Shawn himself(Ted Shawn and the Men Dancers). He made his first professional appearance in August 1930, and although he had previously studied ballet, Cole was entranced by the Asian influences Denishawn utilized in its choreography and costuming. Cole also performed with another pair of pioneering modernists, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, but eventually left the modern dance world for commercial dance career in nightclubs, performing with Alice Dudley, Anna Austin and Florence Lessing.
No other American dance artist had a similar career trajectory, starting at the roots of modern dance, becoming a commercial dancer in nightclubs across the nation starting at The Embassy Club and headlining at the Rainbow Room by May 1938. He ended his career as a desired coach to Hollywood stars and a highly innovative choreographer for the camera.
Cole was a performer in Broadway musicals, starting with The Dream of Sganarelle in 1933. His first Broadway credit as a choreographer was Something for the Boys in 1943. Cole is credited with choreographing and/or directing the stage musicals Alive and Kicking, Magdalena, Carnival in Flanders, Zenda, Foxy, Kismet, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Kean, Donnybrook!, Jamaica, and Man of La Mancha.
His film work includes Moon Over Miami, Cover Girl, Tonight and Every Night, Gilda, Down to Earth, The Merry Widow, Meet Me After the Show, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, On the Riviera, There's No Business Like Show Business, The I Don't Care Girl, The Thrill of Brazil, Kismet, Les Girls, Let's Make Love, Some Like it Hot, Designing Woman, Three for the Show, Lydia Bailey, Eadie Was a Lady and many others. He was famous in Hollywood for his work with Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor and Marilyn Monroe. Cole worked closely with Monroe in particular, influencing her iconic performance in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and in five other films.
Cole virtually invented the idiom of American show dancing known as "theatrical jazz dance." He developed a mode of jazz-ethnic-ballet that prevails as the dominant dancing style in today's musicals, films, nightclub revues, television commercials and music videos. According to Martin Gottfried, Cole "won a place in choreographic history for developing the basic vocabulary of jazz dancing--the kind of dancing done in nightclubs and Broadway musicals."
Cole-style dancing is acrobatic and angular, using small groups of dancers rather than a large company; it is closer to the glittering nightclub floor show than to the ballet stage.
Cole is remembered as the prime innovator of the theatrical jazz dance heritage.
Cole's unmistakable style endures in the work of Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion, Peter Gennaro, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune, Patsy Swayze, Alvin Ailey (who was a dancer in the musical Jamaica), and countless other dancers and choreographers including Wayne Lamb. Verdon said that "Jack influenced all the choreographers in the theater from Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse down to Michael Bennett and Ron Field today. When you see dancing on television, that's Jack Cole." Verdon was Cole's assistant for seven years.
If not for Cole, it is unlikely Gwen Verdon would have gone on to achieve fame as a dancer; without his instruction, many now-immortal stage and screen actresses probably would not be remembered as dancers today.
Cole and his subjects dance. Choreographer Chet Walker titled Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project, given its world premiere in May 2012 at Queens Theatre in New York's Flushing Meadows Corona Park.