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Arthur Murray

dance school founder

Arthur Murray

Moses Teichman was born in New York City on April 4, 1895, the first of four children of recent Jewish immigrants from Austria, and grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Awkward and shy as a child, he found that he had a gift for dancing, and by his early teens girls were seeking him out to be their dance partner.

Moses dropped out of Morris High School and took a job with an architect, intending to become one himself, and also took drafting courses at Cooper Union. He supported himself during this time by working as a dance instructor with the G. Hepburn Wilson Dance Studios, which specialized in the new dance crazes that young urbanites picked up and then just as quickly abandoned for new ones, such as the bunny hug, grizzly bear, kangaroo dip, and turkey trot. He left his architecture job and drafting courses after winning a waltz contest in 1912 and enrolled at Castle House Dance School on Long Island, run by former vaudeville performers Vernon and Irene Castle. There, he met Baroness de Kuttleson, a well-known dance instructor, who in 1914 took him with her to Asheville, North Carolina, where he was "hired out" to teach the wealthy. It was the Baroness who suggested he change his name, due to the growing anti-German sentiment arising from World War I. (Some sources say his original name was Arthur Murray Teichman and that he simply dropped his last name.)

Murray left the Baroness in 1919 after learning that she was charging one tycoon's wife $50 a lesson but only giving him $5. He then moved to Atlanta, where he enrolled in a college business management degree course. To pay tuition and living expenses he became a dance teacher at the Georgian Terrace hotel (one of the most elegant in the city). He soon had almost a thousand students, and was featured in a Forbes magazine article titled "This College Student Earns $15,000 a Year."

Murray opened the first dance studio under his own name in Atlanta, and local radio broadcasts of his dance instruction boosted his business prospects. He tried selling a mail order package that included dance instruction along with a kinetoscope, but lost money when the kinetoscopes proved too fragile for the mail, and then their manufacturer went out of business. His next idea proved to be a winner, however. Recalling his architecture classes and the precise drawings he made in his drafting job, he sketched out diagrams for the footsteps of various dances, with the feet in silhouette and lines and arrows illustrating the correct movements. He named his business the Arthur Murray Correspondence School of Dancing, and solicited customers by running ads in pulp magazines and the Hollywood gossip weeklies. The venture proved so profitable that he had moved back to New York City by 1923, opened an office, and hired a staff to keep up with the demand. He also opened a dance studio in New York City and began franchising his more professionally geared instructional materials to hotels across the United States.

Murray's business thrived over the next decade, but he shut down the mail order division when demand fell off during the Great Depression. By this time he had married Kathryn Kohnfelder, a schoolteacher from New Jersey, and the escalating success of his empire enabled them to move to Mount Vernon, an affluent Westchester County suburb of New York City. The first Arthur Murray dance studio franchise opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1938, and by 1946 there were 72 Arthur Murray schools across the country. In 1950, Murray went on television with a dance program hosted by his wife, The Arthur Murray Party, which ran until 1960, on CBS, NBC, DuMont, ABC, and then on CBS. As his business expanded, Murray commissioned a series of recordings to be used during lessons. Performed by studio orchestras under Murray's name, these recordings featured instrumental versions of popular favorites as well as dance-oriented rhythms.

Arthur and Kathryn retired and moved to Honolu, Hawaii, in 1969, but both stayed active for most of the rest of their lives. Arthur Murray died in Honolulu on March 3, 1991. The Arthur Murray franchise continued after the couple's retirement, and there are still over 200 Arthur Murray franchises in operation today.

Encyclopedia of World Biography

World War I

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This page was last updated on 03/03/2018.