Arthur Murray Dance Studio in LIFE magazine, 1936

27 09 2009

Google Books has scanned every issue of LIFE magazine for free online viewing, and I’m enraptured, basically. I’ve been reading old LIFEs for years, ever since I first discovered them in the University of Waterloo book stacks as an undergrad.

This afternoon, when not napping (colds are fun), I’ve been reading one of the first issues, especially the photo series on the Arthur Murray Dance Studio (which, by 1936, had instructed 60,000 wannabe dancers, and a total of 700,000 by mail order). The captions for this article are interesting all by themselves. First, there’s a four-part series of photos of a new Arthur Murray student:

  • A Murray pupil, after signing up, first learns correct posture with the help of an instructor and a mirror.
  • On his way to ballroom success, he now dances with his expert, tactful teacher.
  • Back before the mirror, he tries the new swing step which is applicable both to the waltz and the fox-trot.
  • In a few weeks he is good enough to appear in a hotel ballroom with a friend. A strict Murray rule prevents his taking his teacher out alone unless she wishes to retire permanently from the Murray faculty.

You could write a Ph.D. on just that last caption alone. Other photo captions in this article (all grammatical errors theirs):

  • A regular twice-a-week pupil at Arthur Murray’s is Mrs. Roy Howard, wife of the publisher. Here she is shown brushing up on her rumba.
  • Mrs. Roy Howard fox-trots happily with Murray Instructor Anthony De Ghillany, onetime shot-put champion of Hungary.
  • In the Murray building, 128 studios occupy eight floors. Curtains are drawn for individual lessons. A loudspeaker phonograph system provides a constant choice of four kinds of dance melodies.
  • Mr. Murray likes to dance with his wife, but gives personal lessons only in exceptional cases to very special people.
  • His coat-tails flying authoritatively, the man on this page is Arthur Murray himself, at right with one of his instructors, above with Mrs. Murray. Chic, petite, competent, the latter edits the house-organ Murray-Go-Round, is the mother of twin 10-year-old daughters. The instructor at right is from Virginia. Southern girls, says Mr. Murray, make the best teachers, are forceful, gracious, properly extraverted.
  • The Murray faculty must attend a weekly one-hour meeting at which the dancing master discusses new methods of teaching and handling pupils. Here he demonstrates a difficult new step while making a wisecrack which spreads smiles all around.
  • Between lessons busy Murray teachers relax informally in restrooms like this one, play cards, discuss their pupils, briefly remove shoes from hard-working feet.
  • Montclair, N.J. Country Clubbers get weekly instruction from a Murray expert.

If you want to see this issue, you can go here. The Arthur Murray pictures start on page 32.

According to Wikipedia, Arthur Murray, who was born in 1895, died in 1991, just short of his 96th birthday. I guess all that dancing is good for you.




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