Arthur Murray International, Inc.
Arthur Murray International, Inc.
Sales: $50 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 611610 Dance Studios
Arthur Murray International, Inc. is a private dance instructional company best known for its “footprints” style of teaching dance. The company consists of approximately 275 franchised studios in eight countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Italy, and South Africa. Former staff members who have worked their way up in the company own and operate the franchised studios. These owners typically began their careers with Arthur Murray as dance instructors, realized the opportunity of operating a studio, and reached executive level. Arthur Murray staff members were eligible to become franchisees within just a few years of beginning as teachers. Sales for Arthur Murray International during the late 1990s amounted to an estimated $50 million.
The company was designed to teach people to dance in the simplest fashion in order for them to build confidence and poise, find a fun way to exercise, and meet new people. The program was structured with four basic movements, from which combinations were derived. The first lesson was free and, thereafter, lessons averaged about $40 and ranged in skill from introductory to competition-level programs. Not only did Arthur Murray offer basic dance programs based on skill level, the company also offered extended curriculums covering virtually the entire spectrum of dance.
Early 1990s: Murray Teichman’s New Career
Arthur Murray International, Inc. was founded by an ambitious man named Murray Teichman who, in 1912 decided to teach dance in the evenings at New York City’s Grand Central Palace in order to make some extra money while working in an architectural office during the day. He did this for two years until he accepted a position as a full-time dance instructor for G. Hepburn Wilson, the first instructor to offer individual dance lessons as opposed to class lessons. It was around this time, in 1914, that Murray Teichman met the Baroness de Kuttleson. She convinced him to change his name to Arthur Murray and worked with him as his dance partner in Asheville, North Carolina, in a resort called the Battery Park Hotel.
In 1919 Arthur Murray enrolled at Georgia Tech for business administration and taught dance in his spare time at the Grill Room of the resort hotel, the Georgian Terrace. He had over 1,000 children enrolled in his dance lessons, all varying in age groups and social levels. Clients included people such as famed golfer Bobby Jones and the Chandler twins of the Coca-Cola estate. Murray earned $15,000 per year teaching dance in this manner, a major achievement at that time.
The first time dance music was broadcast live on the radio was on March 27, 1920, and was credited to Arthur Murray. He arranged the event using Georgia Tech students and transmitted the music from the radio station, which was only just a few miles away from the Georgia Tech affair. The novel event received national coverage.
1920s–30s: First Losses, Then Gains, Then Franchising
At about this same time in 1920, Murray began a mail-order business headlined, “Learn to Dance at Home” using a new “kinetoscope” technology which included a toy moving-picture device. He ordered 1,000 kinetoscopes and placed ads with coupons. He had an abundance of replies so he placed more ads. However, the kinetoscope manufacturer went bankrupt and Murray did not get his money back. This was the first decline Murray felt since he had begun profiting in dance instruction.
Due to the difficulty he was experiencing with the mailorder business, Murray then came up with the idea of the “footprints” style of teaching dance, now an Arthur Murray trademark. Since he was able to outline the dance steps and formulate a proposal, he obtained a loan and began a new mailorder business. Murray created a dance instruction book using the footprints diagrams and placed a few newspaper ads. He decided that people would not accept the latest dance trends from Georgia and he moved his office to Fifth Avenue in New York and hired a secretary to handle the responses to the ads and the mail orders. The courses sold for $10, however business was slow and Murray suffered financially.
Murray then decided to leave Atlanta and move to New York in 1923. He placed an ad entitled “How I Became Popular Overnight” in a national magazine. He received 37,000 replies. Then he ran the same ad in the New York Times Book Section. He enjoyed similar success and business started to pick up again. By the spring of 1925, when Murray married Kathryn, his mail-order business was six years old, netting $35,000 per year, and more than five million Americans had learned to dance through the mail. After that, when advertising costs increased, Murray abandoned the mail-order business and returned to personal dance instruction.
The 1920s were difficult for business, especially during the stock market crash of 1929. The Arthur Murray studio was located at 11 East 43rd Street in New York. Before the crash, it was utilizing six floors for its sessions. However, the studio survived the Depression with only two floors remaining active.
After the Depression, Murray used health concerns as a means to promote dance lessons. He developed an organizational magazine called the Murray-Go-Round, which still exists today. It was in the magazine and the advertisements that Murray conveyed the idea of dance as a way to develop confidence, exercise, and become popular.
In 1937, Arthur Murray developed the Big Apple dance with given “call” names such as “Peel the Apple” and “Cut the Apple.” Just one year later, John Hennesey, general manager of the Statler Hotels, requested that Murray send his instructors to the Statler chain of hotels. Murray did, but with a business deal that the teachers send a percentage of what they made to him and keep the rest. This began the Arthur Murray franchise system and, in 1938, the first franchised Arthur Murray school opened in Minneapolis. By 1946, there were 72 franchised studios grossing almost $20 million per year and Arthur Murray was incorporated. At that time, students were paying for lessons at $4 to $10 per hour.
1950s: Arthur Murray and Television
Arthur Murray began his venture into the world of television by buying five 15-minute spots on CBS in July 1950. He also convinced his wife, Kathryn, to teach for the show. Before producing the third show, Murray bought a half-hour series on ABC for the summer and called the show the “Arthur Murray Dance Party.” Two years later, by the summer of 1952, the “Arthur Murray Dance Party” had broadcast 100 shows and had signed its first sponsor, General Foods. During this time, new student enrollments averaged at about 2,000 per week. Finally, from April 1957 through 1961, Murray included famous stars in his dance competitions on the “Arthur Murray Dance Party.” Numbering among the studio’s famous student clientele were Johnny Carson, Mr. & Mrs. Merv Griffin, Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, Ed Sullivan, Don Ameche, Helen Hays, Joey Bishop, Jane Fonda, and Kris Kristofferson.
1960s: Style and Management Changes
The 1960s brought dance style changes. The Twist in 1961 replaced romantic, social dances. For Arthur Murray, this meant a decline in business for a couple of years. In 1964, Arthur and Kathryn Murray retired from active participation in Arthur Murray International, Inc. George B. Theiss, along with Phillip Masters, Samuel Costello, and other investors, bought the company. Theiss became president and Masters took the position of chairman. Theiss began his career with Arthur Murray as a teacher, first learning the Arthur Murray Magic Step method in Madison, Wisconsin. He became a franchise owner and manager in 24 cities and one of the major franchisees of the company. Masters also became a teacher, and later, a franchise owner. He was named Zone Supervisor of the Arthur Murray studios in the Northeast.
With new leadership, Arthur Murray evinced a fresh vitality and approach to teaching dance. In 1967, Theiss coined the phrase “Touch Dancing” to refer to social or partnership dancing. From about 1968 onward, Touch Dancing remained popular in conjunction with such Latin dances as the Mambo, Merengue, and Tango.
1970s and 1980s: Disco and Touch Dancing
In December 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released. This marked a substantial increase in people taking lessons at the Arthur Murray studios. By 1978, everyone wanted to learn the Hustle and by mid-1979, the Fox Trot, Rumba, and Cha-Cha, all Touch Dances, were popular. During this time, Arthur Murray also hosted the first world championship competition to be held in the United States, in New York City.
Finally, while on a trip with his wife in Paris, Theiss found the Lambada. He brought it back to the United States and introduced it to the Arthur Murray Dance Board. Arthur Murray became the first dance school to teach the Lambada in the United States.
Dancing can lead to romantic situations or can simply be an enjoyable, friendly interaction between two people … the choice being a mutual one by both partners. At Arthur Murray, dancing is a social pursuit. Dance partners cannot help but take an interest in the person in their arms. Naturally, on the dance floor there are many introductions and new friendships begin when the music stops. Through dancing, many people experience personal improvements in other areas too—hair styles and general appearance. Consequently, a positive personality can be developed through exposure to a dance environment such as that found at the Arthur Murray Franchised Dance studios.
1990s and The New Millennium: The Health Concern
The 1990s brought tremendous change for both the Arthur Murray organization and American culture as a whole. Arthur Murray died in 1991. The company celebrated its 80th year in May 1993. Samuel Costello died in 1995. During that same year in November, Arthur Murray International invited presidential hopefuls to a Presidential Dance-Off, scheduled for February 1996. The idea came after the film An American President was released. In the movie, Michael Douglas told Annette Bening that he danced well because he took six lessons at Arthur Murray.
In terms of dance, people turned to a variety of line dances. Some lasted only a couple of months, while others, like the Macarena, lasted a couple of years. By 1996, Latin dances were extremely popular. Ballroom and competitive dancing was on the rise as it came to be known as “Dance Sport.” Along with this trend of “Sport Dancing,” came the introduction of competitive dance in the future Olympics.
The idea of dance as a sport seemingly paralleled the nation’s concern with health in the 1990s. During this time, an increasing number of Americans exercised, dieted, and looked after their physical and psychological health. Indeed, health became of paramount interest for many people in the 1990s due to mounting job pressures and life stressors.
Proven to be a health benefit, dance instruction from Arthur Murray was now being used for physical therapy in hospitals such as Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. The medical profession had helped the Arthur Murray business by recognizing dance as both a physical and psychological benefit, making dance one of the ideal exercises. Dance, a light aerobic workout, was a stress and tension reducer and could even help people lose weight. Dance exercise became fun because lessons were taught as part of an enjoyable social event. Studies concluded dance to be one of the top five physical activities out of 60 choices. Due to all these benefits, physicians and psychiatrists were recommending dance as a means to healthier physicality and mentality.
All these factors benefited the Arthur Murray studios, and the company continued to promote a healthy well-being as part of the benefits of taking lessons. “Ballroom dance is a rigorous activity that uses the larger muscle groups, and is usually done over the course of an hour, or an entire evening,” said Theiss. “It’s most frequently compared to ice dancing, and no one would question the athletic ability of an ice skater. Since we work without gliding across the ice, it’s possible that a competitive ballroom dancer might even be in better shape than a figure skater.” Firmly rooted as one of the founding forces in the dance instruction field, Arthur Murray International could well be expected to maintain its prominence, no matter the changing trends and lifestyles of its constituency, for years and years to come.
Arthur Murray Studios.
Dance America; Fred Astaire; YWCA.
- Murray Teichman begins teaching dance as a second job in the evenings.
- Teichman becomes the dance partner to the Baroness de Kuttleson, who also convinces him to change his name to Arthur Murray.
- Murray coordinates the world’s first radio broadcast of live dance music for a group of Georgia Tech students.
- Murray begins his mail-order business, “Learn to Dance at Home,” which leads to his footprints style of teaching dance.
- Arthur Murray writes the ad headlined “How I Became Popular Overnight.”
- Mail-order business nets $35,000 per year with more than five million Americans having learned to dance by mail; Arthur Murray returns to personal dance instruction.
- Arthur Murray starts an organizational magazine called the Murray-Go-Round.
- Arthur Murray develops the Big Apple dance given “call” names, such as “Peel the Apple” and “Cut the Apple.”
- First official opening of a franchised school occurs in Minneapolis.
- Arthur Murray International incorporates; company has 72 franchised studios grossing nearly $20 million annually.
- Arthur Murray buys a half-hour show from ABC called the “Arthur Murray Dance Party”; Murray’s wife, Kathryn, teaches dance on the show.
- “Arthur Murray Dance Party” signs with their first sponsor, General Foods.
- Arthur Murray retires from active participation in the organization and George B. Theiss, along with Phillip Master, Samuel Costello, and other investors, buy the company.
- George B. Theiss coins the phrase “Touch Dancing,” popular among the Latin dances.
- Arthur Murray dies.
- Samuel Costello dies.
- Kathryn Murray dies.
Murray, Kathryn, and Betty Hannah Hoffman, My Husband, Arthur Murray, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.
—Kimbally A. Medeiros