The Silver Belles Tap Experience
Nov. 10-12, 2006

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This past workshop in the Tradition In Tap - Series
was dedicated to the work of The Silver Belles:
      living legends:
      • Dr. Marion Coles
      • Ms. Elaine Ellis
      • Ms. Cleo Hayes
      • Ms. Fay Ray

      Silver Belles Manager:
      • Ms. Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy

      and the late greats:
      • Ms. Harriet Browne
      • Ms. Hazel Walker Rogers
      • Ms. Bertye Lou Wood

The Silver Belles Tap Experience
L to R: Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Geri Rhodes Kennedy, Fay Ray & Elaine Ellis
Photo credit: John Clifford /

Pictures Taken in Classes
The Workshop's Poster
Participants Showcase - Program
Workshop Faculty
Workshop Description

This Exciting Tap Workshop Included:

  • Original Choreography created by the The Silver Belles.
  • Honorary Master Classes by leading tap artists.
  • Participants Showcase.
  • Tradition In Tap - Award Presentation.
  • Tap History Talks.
  • Video Clips.
  • Tap Technique.
  • Special Program for Young Tappers.

  • The Silver Belles with President Clinton
    L to R: Bertye Lou Wood, Marion Coles, Cleo Hayes, Mercedes Ellington,
    Fay Ray, President Bill Clinton & Elaine Ellis

    The Silver Belles with President Clinton
    L to R: Geri Rhodes Kennedy, Bertye Lou Wood & President Bill Clinton


    The Silver Belles are the most unlikely troupe of tap dancers. In their heyday they worked at some of Harlem's most prestigious haunts, performing with legendary band leaders like Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford and Duke Ellington. They met in the 1930s as chorus dancers at the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club. When the big band era ended, and with it the need for show dancers, they all went into other work. Thanks to founder Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy, they regrouped in 1985, put their shoes back on and - sassy as they ever were - are still performing regularly. They may not kick as high, but they are hip-swaying and show-biz savvy. These women will disrupt any notions you have of old age.

    Each of the Silver Belles has a distinctive, idiosyncratic personality and dance style. They share a love of dance and the ability to flirt with their audience. "We mug more now than we used to," explains Marion Coles. "I light up like a Christmas tree when I go out there, the right music will just push you," adds Fay Ray. "I may be old, but I'm not cold!" exclaims Bertye Lou Wood, the eldest.

    The Silver Belles have brought down the house at such places as Carnegie Hall with Cab Calloway, the Atlantis Casino in Atlantic City with Sister Sledge, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and were seen on television on 'Showtime at the Apollo'.

    The Belles, as they're fondly called, performed to a sell-out crowd at the now defunct Latin Quarter in 1987, just before it closed. The Latin Quarter used to be the stomping grounds for several members of the Silver Belles when the club opened as Connie's Inn in 1935. It became the downtown Cotton Club in 1936. Now, even the building is gone.

    The Silver Belles are featured in the new documentary Been Rich All My Life, directed by Sundance Audience Award winning filmmaker Heather Lyn MacDonald.

    The film is lively and humor-filled, sparkling with the verve and candor of these inspiring women. It follows them from their rehearsals at the Cotton Club, to their shows - and over the bumps in between. They perform to standing ovations at concert halls around the city, working with dancers some 60 years younger. They enjoy their weekly rehearsals, their love of their craft, the music, and the laughter and arguments of a friendship that has continued for over 70 years.

    They have rich stories to tell about the history they made during the 'Harlem Renaissance'. At the Apollo Theater, where they worked 15 hour days, rehearsing and performing a new show each week, these chorus girls led the historic strike that established the American Guild of Variety Artists. Archival film and photos from the 1920's to the 1950's, often from their own closets, blend into the present narrative (e.g., film footage of Bertye dancing with Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Cleo Hayes in Stormy Weather, or Marion lindy-hopping at the Savoy). The music in the documentary ranges over eight decades of jazz styles, the honky tonk sounds of the 20's, the big bands of the 30's and 40's (some of it written especially for these dancers), the bebop of the 50's - to the rhythms of contemporary jazz as the ladies travel the streets of their neighborhoods today.

    The ladies that make up The Silver Belles continue to make a significant contribution to our society.

    Been Rich All My Life - Postcard side 1Been Rich All My Life - Postcard side 2
    Promotion postcard for 'Been Rich All My Life' documentary

    Cleo Hayes Geri Rhodes Kennedy Elaine Ellis
    Cleo Hayes Geri Rhodes Kennedy Elaine Ellis

    Photo credits: John Clifford / Orlando Richards /

    Marion Coles Fay Ray
    Marion Coles Fay Ray


    More about The Silver Belles can be found at:

    Internet: Sample Articles: Sample Documents: The Henry Chu Picture Collection:
    Mr. Henry Chu was a student of the late Harriet Browne. He and his wife Patricia became friedns of TheSilver Belles. As a professional photographer he took many of the promo pictures we use today.

    Letter from Barbara Bush

    Workshop Faculty:
    Click on a name for extended bio and pictures

    Been Rich All My Life - Brochure side 1
  • Ofer Ben
  • Karen Callaway Williams
  • Kathleen Cirioli
  • Dr. Marion Coles
  • Elaine Ellis
  • Acia Gray
  • Cleo Hayes
  • Melba Huber
  • Avi Miller
  • Deborah Mitchell
  • Fay Ray
  • Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy
  • Germaine Salsberg
  • Prof. Hank Smith
  • Dianne 'Lady Di' Walker

  • Workshop Description:
    An intensive weekend of the exciting Silver Belles Tap Experience,

    Tap Course:
    Dr. Marion Coles, Elaine Ellis, Cleo Hayes & Fay Ray
    • Original Choreography: Prancing
      The Silver Belles, assisted in some of the classes by Karen Callaway Williams, taught an original routine named Prancing. This routine is part of the group's repertory.

    Honorary Tap Master Classes:
    Dianne 'Lady Di'  Walker, Karen Callaway Williams,
    Acia Gray & Deborah Mitchell

      Four leading tap artists taught reflections on The Silver Belles' legacy through their personal work. Each drew on the ladies' influence and contribution to their own careers.

    Tradition In Tap - Award Presentation:
    Dianne 'Lady Di' Walker
      Dianne 'Lady Di' Walker presented Dr. Marion Coles, Ms. Elaine Ellis, Ms. Cleo Hayes, Ms. Fay Ray, the Silver Belles' manager Ms. Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy, and the families of the late greats Ms. Harriet Browne, Ms. Hazel Walker Rogers & Ms. Bertye Lou Wood, with the Tradition In Tap Awards, for: "Outstanding Achievements & Significant Contribution To The Tradition And Art Of Tap Dance".

    Tap History Talks:
    Melba Huber
      Melba Huber is one of a few tap historians who write about the history of tap and the many artists who play / played important roles in it's development & growth. She led the emotional 'Tap History Talks' while interviewing The Silver Belles, while adding her own personal input.

    • Read Melba's article on The Silver Belles at, published on Dancer Magazine - April 1998
    • Read Melba's article on The Silver Belles at, published on Dancer Pages - Summer 1993

    Video Presentation:
    Prof. Hank Smith
      Hank Smith is a well known tap dancer and collector of video & movie clips. He has an extensive library of material starting from the early days of tap dance. Hank presented some clips of The Silver Belles on film and video.

    Tap Exercises:
    Germaine Salsberg, Kathleen Cirioli, Avi Miller & Ofer Ben
      Warm-up for each day with Germaine Salsberg, Kathleen Cirioli, Avi Miller & Ofer Ben who led morning tap drills - each with his/her own unique teaching style.

    Participants Showcase:
    Germaine Salsberg
      A happy event concluded this exciting Silver Belles Tap Experience. Germaine Salsberg emceed an informal Participants Showcase at theSaint Clement's Episcopal Church, in the presence of the legendary Silver Belles.

    The Silver Belles in Performance

    The Silver Belles in PerformanceThe Silver Belles in Performance

    The Silver Belles in Performance

    Cleo Hayes Bertye Lou Wood
    Cleo Hayes Bertye Lou Wood

    Elaine Ellis Hazel Walker Rogers Fay Ray
    Elaine Ellis Hazel Walker Rogers Fay Ray

    Marion Coles Harriet Browne
    Marion Coles Harriet Browne

    The Silver Belles featured on a Sister Sledge performance flier
    The Silver Belles featured on a
    Sister Sledge performance flier

    Chorus Girls
    Show Girls of the 20s and 30s

    Chorus Girls - Names

    The Silver Belles