And while the rhythm swings,
What lovely things I'll be sayin'
For what is dancin'
But makin' love set to music playin'?
— Excerpt, "Come Dance With Me" by Sammy Cahn and James Van
as performed by Shirley Horn Shirley Horn With Horns (Mercury)
At age 14, a pal named Joe Feigenbaum taught the man who'd become Arthur
Murray his first dance steps. This
was not necessarily because young Murray was interested in dancing, no. It was
popularity with girls that he sought. Tall,
lanky and an introvert, he longed to attend the dances his friends frequented.
At 15 he attended neighborhood weddings, where willing partners of every size
and age could be found. This clever
move was a harbinger of the many brilliant ideas that were yet to come.
Born in 1895, Murray Teichman grew up on New York's Lower
East Side, in the Jewish Ghetto of the day. He had four siblings. His
parents were poor Austrian immigrants, and were two of the many who came to the
United States through the great hall at Ellis Island possessing little in the
way of material things, but big dreams in their hearts. Sources for this article
conflict, one saying that Murray Teichman was born in the United States3
yet Wikipedia13 states that Teichman was brought to the U.S. with his
His first dance contest win was a first prize. He won the contest at the
Grand Central Palace, a famous dance hall of the day. His partner, somehow, made
off with the single trophy; a silver cup which was awarded, and it ended up in a
pawn shop. Had the cup ended up in Murray's hands, it'd have never been
pawned; dancing had, by now, become a very important part of his life. The
experience made a lasting impression on the young man and at every dance contest
he held or which bore his name, a prize was awarded to every winner.
He became so popular he began studying with the famous team of Irene and
Vernon Castle, the dance instructors to high society. The Castles were arguably
the "mother and father" of American ballroom dance education. He ended up working for
them. He taught dance to the residents of Boston, Massachusetts at the famous Devereaux Mansion. By the time World War I had broken out, he changed his name
to "Arthur Murray," because of rampant anti-German sentiments in the U.S.
His daytime vocation at the time was that of a draftsman. He worked for a
while at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and later enrolled at Georgia Tech, where he
supported himself by hosting dance parties at the nearby Georgia Terrace Hotel.
He fast became popular for his skills not only at dance but as a businessman.
While a student in 1920, Murray organized the world's first "Radio Dance." A
band played in a Georgia Tech campus studio, and the music was broadcast by the
relatively new medium of radio to a receiver and amplifiers located at the
roof of the Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta.
The First Arthur Murray Dance Studio
It was also at the Georgia Terrace Hotel that he started the first "Arthur
Murray Dance Studio." He became so popular and busy giving dance lessons he
quit Georgia Tech and pursued dance instruction full-time.
His skills at marketing and "thinking outside of the box" led him to create a
program of dance instruction which involved the use of the "kinetoscope," until
then a toy which showed brief motion pictures. That way the dance lessons could
be mailed to students and they could learn in their own homes. Sadly, the
company that manufactured the devices failed, and Murray took a financial hit as
Never deterred by failure, he used his drafting skills to create
dance instructions, consisting of footprints which students could follow at
home. Mail-order "students" received lessons one step at a time. By the early
1920s, half a million of the mail-order dance instructions had been sold. Murray
had pioneered what would become the modern mail-order business, in which one
signs up for a "club" and receives merchandise automatically until the customer
writes a cancellation letter.
Rumor has it that he got the idea for the mail-order lessons when statesman
William Jennings Bryan was attending a high-society dance and told Murray "you
know, I have a fine idea on how you can collect your money. Just teach 'em with
the left foot and don't tell 'em what to do with the right foot until they pay
By 1925, he decided to hire and train dance instructors; in exchange for the
use of his name and his brand-named dance lessons, he'd keep a modest
portion of their earnings, in
There was a lady in Murray's life; the dance partner with whom he'd appear
when doing public performances. He married his wife Kathryn in April of 1925.
They'd met when he was broadcasting a dance lesson on the radio and she was in
Hard times fell on the Murrays during The Depression,
as sales of the mail-order dance instructions dwindled. But even before the
beginning of Worlld War II, things were looking up again for Arthur Murray. The Statler
Hotel group hired his instructors to teach dancing at every one of their hotels.
Major steamship lines included Arthur Murray's instructors available to all of
their guests. The Arthur Murray franchise was making money.
The Arthur Murray dance method was being taught in hotel ballrooms all over
the country by the time, in 1938, the second Arthur Murray Dance Studio opened in Minneapolis,
Minnesota to great acclaim. Murray picked two obscure dance steps, "The Lambeth
Walk," and "The Big Apple," and turned them into dance crazes.
Composers Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer wrote a hit song, "Arthur
Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry," which charted in 1942. In the 1943 film
The Sky's The Limit starring Fred Astaire, his partner asks him, "Where
did you learn to dance like that?" Astaire's answer: "Arthur Murray." There were
other movie mentions of Arthur Murray in 1987's Dirty Dancing and 1995's
The American President.
During World War II, the Murray organization had all it could do to keep
current on the dance styles of the day. "Swing" dancing had become the craze of
the day, stemming from its early beginnings in black clubs where it was called
the "Lindy Hop" and the "Jitterbug." At first, in order to keep up with the
times, Murray told his dance instructors to go to the clubs and just teach what
they saw there. It wasn't until 1951 when dancer and Arthur Murray instructor
Laure Haile notated and unified "Swing" for Arthur Murray in her 1951 syllabus.
Haile's syllabus remains to this day the last word on Swing dancing.
By the late '40s and early 1950s Arthur Murray was ahead of the curve,
teaching the hot new Latin dance steps from Havana, Cuba. Dances like the Mambo,
Cha-Cha, Merengue and the Beguine all were added to the Murray repertoire. The
Brazilian Bossa Nova and Samba were next.
At the height of the swing era, there were over 3,500 Arthur Murray dance
studios worldwide. Ballroom dance had changed and with it, so did the Arthur
Murray style. One innovation, however, backfired. Murray tried to teach some of
the latest steps under the name "Rock 'n Roll." He failed miserably. He'd
underestimated the teenage public. The crazed free-style rock 'n roll dancing
was a far step (pardon the pun) from ballroom dance and all of its rules. The
"Rock 'n Roll" effort failed and was given up.
No mention of Arthur Murray would be complete without mentioning Dean
Collins, who choreographed over 100 movies. He taught Arthur Murray instructors
in California through the '40s and '50s, and even gave Arthur Murray private
lessons in some of the new Swing dances.
In the summer of 1950, Murray bought five fifteen-minute television spots on
CBS. "The Arthur Murray Dance Party" featured Kathryn Murray doing the teaching.
It was such a hit, Murray bought a half-hour summer series on ABC. They signed
their first sponsor, General Foods, in summer, 1952. The show aired for 12 years
on national television. Needless to say, viewers flocked to the Arthur Murray
Studios to learn more.
Arthur and Kathryn Murray had twin daughters. Daughter Phyllis married a
college professor; Jane married Dr. Henry Heimlich, who introduced the heimlich
maneuver which aids choking victims.
The Murrays officially retired in 1964, but remained active as late as the
late 1970s, when they appeared as guests on television's "Dance Fever" disco
Arthur Murray died on March 3, 1991; Kathryn Murray died in 1999.
The Times Are A-Changin'
The Disco era of the 1970s and '80s overshadowed much of the interest in
ballroom dancing, which faded into the background and was only something one
needed to do if one were a member of society, a debutante or the like. A brief
effort at mixing Disco and Swing was made by entrepreneur Jimmy Merry who opened
the Red Parrot Night Club in New York City in 1980. Beside a disco dance-floor,
the club featured a bandstand, complete with a piano on a revolving stage. The
disco would be interrupted for half-hour sets of Big Band style jazz music. The concept
was a hit for the club's first few years, but slowly competition by other venues
made the big band no longer financially viable. The idea had
come too early, however, as today Swing dancing is now back in vogue as people young and old
want to do something more than just flail about on the dance floor.
The recent revival of Swing dancing, as well as the tremendously renewed
popularity of Square dancing, have kept the Murray franchise afloat. Sadly,
there are only about 200 Arthur Murray Dance Studios left worldwide.
The current television hit "Dancing With The Stars," on the ABC network, has
done a lot to bring would-be dancers back into the studios. The Arthur Murray
chain advertises on the show's website.
The Arthur Murray chain is responsible for the growth of dance as exercise,
also known as DanceSport, a growing phenomenon which aims to be included in Olympic
December 4, 2000: Two Aboriginal actors hired by the producers of
Survivor: The Australian Outback to act as advisers to contestants
are claiming that were paid far less than what they had expected. Alec
Hooligan and Arthur Murray told the London Daily Telegraph that they had
anticipated receiving $200 a day for more than two weeks' work but were only
paid a total of $814. The pair said that, beyond providing consulting
services, they wore kangaroo skins and carried spears to scare the
contestants during one episode. The Telegraph observed that performers in
Australia are guaranteed $586 per week or $140 a day.12
What?! I thought he died in 1991?
There's another Arthur Murray; one who has been an advocate for
the Aborigines for many years.
Arthur Murray, National NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
The NAIDOC stands for "National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance
Committee." Today the acronym has become the name of an entire week of
celebration of the history, culture and achievements of the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples. Mr. Murray won the Lifetime Achievement Award in
Born on the Brewarrina mission, Murray was adopted and brought up on the
Collarenebri reserve in New South Wales, Australia. He left school at 13, gave
up a promising boxing career and became an agricultural laborer in order to
support his wife and 12 children.
In 1981 his son, Eddie, died in a jail cell in Wee Waa. Thus began his
campaign to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. He became a national figure in
Australia after his activism helped lead to the establishment of the Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Murray has volunteered for the Aboriginal Legal Service, was leader of the
Wee Waa Aboriginal Advancement Association and Aboriginal Education Assistant.
He was involved in the "Brewarrina Riot" after the death in custody of Lloyd
Boney. It took seven years, and a nine week jail term, before charges against
him stemming from the Riot were dismissed due to video evidence.
Mr. Murray believes that a united Australia is the only way social justice
can be improved and true Reconciliation can be obtained.
- Arthur Murray Dance Studios Website ("History"):
http://www.arthurmurray.com/history.asp (accessed 11/10/07)
- Website of Georgia Tech: Alumni Obituaries: "Arthur Murray Taught The World
- "Biography of Arthur Murray" by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace
People's Almanac reproduce with permission at:
- "Arthur Murray" by Autumn Lansing SOLID! The encyclopedia of big band,
lounge, classic jazz and space-age sounds.
http://www.parabrisas.com/d_murraya.php (accessed 11/10/07)
- "Arthur Murray" IMDb
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0614837/bio (accessed 11/10/07)
- "East Coast Swing" Website of Cornell University (uncredited)
- "Vernon and Irene Castle" Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_and_Irene_Castle (accessed 11/10/07)
- Arthur Murray Quotes
- "Arthur Murray Confident of Brewarrina Appeal" by Tom Jordan and John
Tognolini http://www.greenleft.org.au/1992/46/3736 (accessed 11/10/07)
- Website of National NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance
Committee) Arthur Murray - Lifetime Achievement Award
- "Brewarrina Riot: The Hidden History" by Dr. Roderic Pitty Aboriginal Law
Bulletin 1994 No. 51
- Aboriginal Actors Claim Survivor Producers Cheated Them StudioBriefing, December 4, 2000
http://imdb.com/name/nm0614837/news (accessed 11/10/07)
- "Arthur Murray" Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Murray (accessed 11/10/07)