Arthur Murray

Elizabeth McPherson, PhD, is a freelance writer and faculty member of Long Island University–Brooklyn.


Ballroom dance expert Arthur Murray (1895–1991) was a businessman at heart. With his acute sense of marketing via direct mailings, magazine ads, radio and television, Murray created a ballroom dance empire. When he retired in 1964, there were more than 350 franchised Arthur Murray studios thriving around the world, and today close to 200 studios still bear his name.


Murray was born Moses Teichman on April 4, 1895, in Galicia, Austria (now part of Poland), to parents Abraham and Sara. One year later, his father emigrated to the United States; his mother took him and his older sister Riwka the following year. Murray’s parents would go on to have three more sons: David (who would work for Arthur Murray International), Isadore and Israel.


The Teichman family lived on the lower east side of Manhattan and owned and operated a bakery. They struggled financially, and Murray took on various odd jobs at a young age in an effort to help out. He was a shy child with a stammer and it wasn’t until he began learning some ballroom dances from a friend that his self-esteem began to develop. He practiced his skills at weddings in the community—many of which he was not invited to—and went on to win a dance contest at a local settlement house.


After leaving high school, Murray found work in an architect’s office, took draftsmanship classes and continued dancing. In 1912, he began teaching evening ballroom dance classes at New York City’s Grand Central Palace. Once he started earning more from teaching dance than working in the architect’s office, he quit his day job to work full-time for the dance instructor G. Hepburn Wilson.


Murray continued his own studies at Castle House with Irene and Vernon Castle, learning dances like the “Castle Walk” and the tango. There he met Baroness de Cuddleston, who in 1914 invited him to be her dance partner and teach at the Battery Park Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, during the fall and winter. It was around this time that he changed his name from Moses Teichman to Arthur Murray, believing that a Germanic-sounding name, particularly during World War I, might hurt his career. The Asheville job allowed him to begin sending money home to his parents. He would return to teach at the Battery Park Hotel for two more years. 


In 1919, Murray enrolled in business school at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, while continuing to teach ballroom dance to students of all ages, including children at the resort hotel The Georgian Terrace. Just a year later, Forbes Magazine profiled him in an article titled “This College Student Earns $15,000 a Year” (equivalent to about $200,000 today).


The forward-thinking Murray used technology to gain national attention. He arranged for dance music to be transmitted from a radio station to a rooftop party at the Capital City Club in Atlanta on March 27, 1920—one of the first times dance music was transmitted by live broadcast. Murray started another marketing venture that same year, this one a mail-order business selling kinetoscopes (small, moving-picture toys) with the slogan “Learn to Dance at Home.” Unfortunately, the kinetoscopes were not sturdy enough for the mail, and Murray lost money. But it wasn’t long before he came up with a better marketing idea—dance instruction booklets using footprints that marked where the feet went with each new step. (Famous politician and lawyer William Jennings Bryan allegedly said to Murray: “Send out instructions for the left foot only—don’t tell them what to do with the right foot until they pay up!”)


Murray moved to New York around 1924, initiating an ad campaign with the slogan, “How I Became Popular Overnight,” that appeared in two magazines. He received an overwhelming response from customers. His major selling point was somewhat autobiographical—that anyone can learn to dance, and that doing so can dramatically improve one’s social life.


By 1925, Murray perceived that he had maxed out the mail-order possibilities for ballroom dance and turned his attention back to teaching. Some of his famous students through the years were Enrico Caruso, Elizabeth Arden, Cornelia Vanderbilt and the Duke of Windsor.


Also in 1925, Murray married Kathryn Kohnfelder shortly after meeting her at a radio station where he was teaching dance steps on a radio program. They had twin daughters Phyllis and Jane in 1926. Kathryn became Murray’s essential partner, writing many of the company’s dance manuals.


Weathering the Great Depression  was not easy on Murray’s business. He lost personal money in stocks, but survived the economic difficulties by downsizing his operations. A boon came when the general manager of the Statler Hotel chain requested that Murray send instructors to Statler Hotels around the country to teach and demonstrate the popular “Big Apple” dance. He agreed, and worked out a deal in which the instructors would give him a percentage of their pay. From this point, Murray branched out to franchise studios across the country, starting with Minneapolis in 1938.


Later that year, Murray wrote his first book, How to Become a Good Dancer, a teaching manual/instructional guide. He went on to write several others and develop an organizational magazine called Murray-Go-Round. His books and the magazine have a positive, self-help tone, with such encouragements as “STOP and think a moment—do you know anyone who is a good dancer and who is not outstandingly popular? I doubt that you do. And that is the main reason why people want to be good dancers. There is nothing so thrilling in life as to be popular with friends and sought after as a companion.”


Murray was so successful at keeping his name in the press—and thus in the public’s mind—that in 1942, Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger wrote the hit song “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry,” in which they subtly tease the positive qualities in Murray’s teaching and writing:


Arthur Murray taught me dancing 

in a hurry,

And so I take a chance.

To me it resembles the nine-day trembles,

But he guarantees it’s a dance.

Murray incorporated his company in 1946 as Arthur Murray International. In 1950, he launched a television show called “The Arthur Murray Party,” with Kathryn as the exuberant host. The popular show ran until 1960, bringing dance into homes across America.


All was not roses, however, as there were some legal problems related to the  company’s “hard sell” techniques with prospective students. In 1960, after numerous complaints of fraud, the United States Federal Trade Commission ordered the Arthur Murray Studios to “stop using bogus contests and high-pressure tactics to sell their courses of dance instruction,” as reported by The New York Times. The FTC and Arthur Murray Studios ultimately worked out a code of ethics for selling the dance instruction packages.


When the Murrays retired in 1964, they moved to Hawaii, where Arthur occupied his time with investments and collecting art. He died on March 3, 1991, at the age of 95, leaving a large “imprint” not only in dance, but also in the business and advertising worlds with his use of a franchise system and innovative marketing ideas. DT

Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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