Remembering Phillip H. Cole Jr.

Dancer, Choreographer, Master Teacher, Mentor, Humanitarian By Jillian Groening
  • Phillip H. Cole Jr.

Born in New Orleans in 1945, Phillip H. Cole Jr. led a life full of performance and adventure, set on sharing his talents with the world.

“If you can walk, you can dance,” was the late artist’s motto, according to an obituary published in the Montréal Gazette, and he lived it wholeheartedly.

A graduate of the Wilberforce University in Ohio, Cole was granted the first Luard Scholarship in the United States in 1969. According to a biography published by the State University of New York (SUNY), the award allowed the esteemed young artist to pursue academic studies as well as dance and theatre in the United Kingdom, studying at London Dance Centre and the Choreographic Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Returning to the United States, Cole shared his vast performance knowledge and love of jazz with students at Antioch College in Ohio before relocating to the Federal City College in Washington, DC, where he performed with dance legend Katherine Dunham in the National Wolf Trap Production Company’s staging of Treemonisha

While based in Washington, Cole founded the Cole Harrison Dance Company, which toured his choreographic creations across the globe.

In 1977, Cole was invited to join Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal by the co-founder Eva von Gencsy. After a few seasons performing with the company, Cole became the co-owner and co-artistic director of Dance Factory Inc. alongside Don Jordan, his husband. A biography on Jordan published by Studio Bizz says the studio trained many dancers who are still performing on Broadway, off Broadway and beyond. It was in operation for sixteen years and specialized in jazz, classical ballet, tap, modern dance and African dance.

Cole later returned to his academic roots and was welcomed into the SUNY family after he started teaching as a guest at the Adirondack Jazz Dance Theatre in the early 1980s. He continued his association with the university as a lecturer and professor for more than fifteen years. According to Jordan’s biography, Cole enjoyed inspiring students and training bright young minds, sharing his wisdom through class studies as well as directing the Theatre Dance Group and the Summer Safari Dance Program for children.

After a long battle with cancer, Phillip H. Cole Jr. died September 2, 2016, at the age of seventy-one. His funeral service was held September 17, 2016, at St. James United Church in Montréal, Québec.

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