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Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry

by Sandi & Dan Finch

That’s the title of a 1942 song, written by Johnny Mercer and sung by Betty Hutton in the movie “The Fleet’s In.” (A copy of the sheet music hangs in our dance room.) Arthur Murray was teaching a lot of people to dance in those days, building one of the most successful franchise businesses in the country. His schools employed as many as 1,500 with 200 teaching at any one time in his New York studio, which occupied 12 stories of a downtown office building, and needed 16 assistants to handle appointments. 

It was an unlikely outcome for an awkward teenager, so tall and skinny and shy, and as a result so teased that he dropped out of high school. In his autobiographic article in “The Dance Book of Arthur Murray,” he tells how he tried working at 10 jobs over the six months after becoming a dropout and was fired from all of them. Not because he didn’t try, he said, but because he lacked poise and self-assurance. Wouldn’t you know it, dancing is what saved him. 

Arthur Murray, 1913He went back to high school, where one girl “took pity on me,” he said, and offered to teach him some steps. Dancing brought him out of his shyness, and he devised a plan to get really good by crashing wedding parties in the immigrant colonies on New York’s East Side to dance with people who didn’t know him. Then he entered a contest—and won, and brazenly asked for a job as instructor at a dance hall—and got it. (Photo taken in 1913) He went on to college to become a businessman and attempted to become a hotel manager, photographer, architect, newspaper reporter and ad man, but continued to teach dancing. In his sophomore year, he realized how much money he was making at dance and dropped out of school, this time to become a success. 

In the 30 years in which I have taught dancing, I have known any number of people whose lives have been radically improved by dancing,” he wrote “There are qualities in dance that far surpass mere entertainment or exercise. The dance is a vitally important factor in our social plan, the American way of life, and should be acknowledged as such.” Among his students reputedly were the Prince of Wales, opera singer Enrico Caruso, and the prime minister of a British colony. 

His life lesson? He was just a dropout until he found something that gave him confidence, overcame his gawkishness and shyness. It might not be dance for everyone, but as he said, “There would be more happy people if more of them danced.”
 

 From club newsletters prepared by an and Sandi Finch , April 2014, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, June 2016.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.

Aditional articles and dance helps by
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