Articles

THEY PAY AS THEY SWAY

Toe-trampers and lonely hearts rush in to pay the piper when Arthur Murray’s maestros call the tune

IAN MACKENZIE April 1 1949
Articles

THEY PAY AS THEY SWAY

Toe-trampers and lonely hearts rush in to pay the piper when Arthur Murray’s maestros call the tune

IAN MACKENZIE April 1 1949

THEY PAY AS THEY SWAY

Toe-trampers and lonely hearts rush in to pay the piper when Arthur Murray’s maestros call the tune

IAN MACKENZIE

THE YOUNG fellow in the brown off-the-rack suit stopped at 435 Yonge Street, and looked up at the second-floor window signs that said “Arthur Murray Studios of Dancing.” He glanced shyly at the hurrying pedestrians on Toronto’s main stem, then pushed open the street door and slowly climbed the single flight of stairs.

Firmly fixed in his mind was a picture of a tall, tail-coated man-about-town he had seen dancing smoothly with a devastating blonde in a Murray ad. His own dancing was so bad that he was scared to leave the stagline at his local dancehall. He figured that maybe with, say, 20 bucks, a few hours’ whirling with a teacher, he’d get this thing by the throat. And he’d heard that those Murray girls were pretty swell.

The wallpaper in the stairway— black Trojan heads and plumed centurion helmets on a light ground —numbed him slightly, and he balked a bit when he made the reception room with its bright green walls and cavorting zebras. He stared at a pair of unblinking ebony heads, while the incessant throbbing of muted African rhythms made his blood race.

Things started to happen, fast. Instead of slapping down his cash and getting on with the onetwo-three-four, he found himself telling an attractive and friendly girl about his job, his home, his friends and his hobbies. Why did he want to learn dancing, the girl asked? He couldn’t get the talk around to cash.

He never did get the talk around to cash. A few minutes later, a pretty, slender, smiling girl took charge of him. She piloted him out on to the floor of a mirrored private studio for a trial spin.

He managed to blurt out that he only wanted to learn the foxtrot and waltz, just so he could get around without stumbling. But the girl just smiled at him, easing him along with friendly remarks like these: “You have a natural poise.” “Don’t tell me you haven’t danced before.”

Within an hour or so the bemused young man was going down the stairs. In his pocket was a paper signing him up for Arthur Murray’s 100-hour selfimprovement course at $605, terms.

This smooth miracle happens every day, or evening, in the Arthur Murray studios of Canada. This is no front-parlor or parish-hall operation; it’s big business, streamlined and efficient. In this way, dancing ability (and its attendant “social success”) is sold, much in the same fashion as the glib-tongued and angle-wise vacuum-cleaner salesmen sell their wares.

The Toronto studio with 500 pupils grossed $300,000 last year (its first complete fiscal year). This means that the average student invested $600 in dancing lessons on time payment. In 1949, the studio expects 1,000 pupils, and a gross of $500,000.

At Hamilton, Ont., the Murray studio grossed $150,000 in its first year, February, 1948, to February, 1949.

Who gets this amazing money? American Ted Maris and Canadian Gertrude Scott hold a franchise from Arthur Murray for Southern Ontario, and they are co-directors and operators of the Toronto and Hamilton studios. From their total gross of $450,000, they sifted out a net profit, of just under 25%. This makes them tycoons of terpsichore.

They pay Murray a flat 10% of their gross to use his name, his methods and his advertising organization.

Murray first extended his United States circuit of 200 dancing schools to Canada by opening in Montreal during 1946. Since then he has spread to Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Every Canadian studio took more money last year than studios in cities of comparable size south of the border. In the early months of this year the Toronto studio led all North American studios in volume of business.

Until two years ago the dancing business in Canada consisted of about 100 old and genteel academies, a few hundred private teachers operating in their front parlors, and a handful of specialists like Toronto’s Boris Volkoff who teach ballet as well as ballroom. Continued on page 63

THREE DANCING DON’TS:

Continued from page 15

Murray threw a whizz-bang among them. Applying highly organized business methods to selling hours of tuition, he has got Canadian dancers behind him in a nation-wide conga line.

An important percentage of Murray pupils are highly personable and perfectly stable individuals who simply hanker for perfection in the ballroom. Others, however, are lonely hearts, wallflowers, rough diamonds and the occasional middle - aged Lothario— people who have failed to find companionship or satisfaction in everyday recreation and seek through dancing lessons an outlet for their frustration or an inlet to more gracious society.

Ted Maris frankly admits that many of his pupils are maladjusted, points out that much of his advertising is aimed at this type, and claims a strong element of mental therapy in his money-spinning enterprise.

According to the Murray tradition,

dancing is not merely a means of keeping time to music. It is a way of life. It is the golden gate to that coveted trinity — personality, popularity and prosperity. And several thousand Canadians are paying $5 an hour for use of the key.

Gertrude Scott (she and Maris are in their early 30’s) is a native of Hamilton. She was a Murray executive in the Detroit school when she met Maris, who was then earning $13,000 a year in his father’s furniture business at Grand Ledge, Mich.

When Murray opened in Montreal, Gertrude, seeing further possibilities in Canada, persuaded Maris to interview the maestro of the American dance floor. Maris offered Murray $25,000 for the Toronto franchise.

Murray said, “I don’t sell franchises. I grant them.” But he was impressed by Maris’ personality and financial stature. He put Maris through two years of grooming for directorship in Detroit, teamed him with Gertrude, and let them loose on Toronto.

The couple put $100,000 into clear-

ing a poolroom on Yonge Street and fitting uf) two floors with hardwood surfaces, tropical decor, subdued lighting and music radiating to several salons from a central record player.

They trained 40 young men and women to fit the three key roles in the Murray method the interviewers, the supervisors and the teachers. This corps came from many parts of the world and from several strata of society.

Meet Joe Morgan. He is one of those young Englishmen who earned their first pay behind a gun. When the war was over the fact that he had been deadly with a Browning in the turret of a Lancaster did not impress employers. vSo he came seeking his fortune in Canada.

He was full of RAF slang like “bang on, old boy,” and “absolutely wizard!” When he was asked what he could do he said: “Anything you like, old top!” So they sent him selling encyclopedias to Northern Ontario nickel miners—in winter. That took the fizz out of him.

For many weeks afterward Pilot Officer Morgan pounded the streets of Toronto, trying job after job. There were times when the toes came through his shoes and afternoon tea was the last meal of his day.

Recently, Morgan’s fortunes changed. He now earns $75 a week as a mercenary in Arthur Murray’s North American army. Morgan the rear gunner is teaching women to rumba.

He is one of 300 young people who have jumped on Murray band wagons and are earning from 25 to 125% more than the average Canadian wage.

Ex-Mountic on the Tango

Morgan is one of two men and six women teachers who reached Canada during the last 12 months as immigrants from the United Kingdom and were attracted by Murray advertisements for staff. Another girl teacher is Anita Elsa Allen who came on a visit from Lisbon to the Canadian National Exhibition, then wrote her English father and Portuguese mother she was staying in Toronto to dance to Murray’s tune.

Three Dutch girls who intended to grow tulips in Canada are growing bank balances at Murray’s instead. A Cuban beauty and two sirens from Guatemala are injecting some native undulation into the rumba’s “ Havana Lobe" and the samba’s “Copacabana cam paso."

Among the many native Canadians is Janet Ritchie, a dark and willowy gal who tried to pay for New York singing lessons by washing dishes, found working for Murray more expeditious, and returned to her native Toronto to give Maris the benefit of her New York experience. She’s one of the best paid teachers.

If you still think male dancing teachers are sissies, consider the case of Fred Broadley. Broadley, a husky, 200-pound blond, resigned recently from the RCMP to demonstrate the “triple twinkle” in the waltz and the three positions of "cl gaucho" in the tango.

Another Canadian is Wanda Big Canoe, whose father is chief of the Georgina Island Indian Reserve at Lake Simcoe, Ont.

These teachers have brains in their heads as well as their feet—they depend as much for their livelihood on salesmanship of the Murray-going-habit as they do on their instructive ability. They receive a basic wage of $20 a week, plus a variety of commissions ranging up to 15% on extended hours of tuition and introduction of new business.

Maris says he picked them for their personality. They had to be natural

dancers but their style didn’t matter. They had to be attractive, but not necessarily beautiful or handsome. Each teacher signed on represents 20 screened. Each was first given five to 10 weeks’ training free.

Teachers make between $50 and $75 a week during winter, and more in summer when people looking ahead to the new season start taking lessons.

Interviewers work on a straight percentage basis, and in Toronto make between $80 and $100 a week. The commission varies up to 15%. according to the manner in which the new student has been introduced. One girl, aged 19, sold enough tuition in one week last fall to clear $175.

Supervisors, who are in charge of teams of teachers and interviewers, and excel equally at dancing and salesmanship, earn about $125 a week, mostly in a basic salary.

Hours are from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week.

Everybody on the staff must dance —even the clerks and switchboard girls. At the moment they are all learning the mambo. Word has been flashed from Murray H.Q. in New York that the mambo is mandatory. It is a rumba spiced with jive.

The difficult dances spell fat fees. When the new look came in jitterbug began to wane and there was a coincidental drop in pupils. Teachers cast around for something to take its place. They noted a steady enthusiasm for the Latin-American dances. Down in Cuba the influence of North American swing was beginning to show in South American tempo. Bands were playing a new dance called d commando which reflected the impact of jive on the rumba.

Murray and other American teachers imported it. El commando was too formal a title. They wanted “a good $10 word” for it. So they picked on mambo, which in Cuba is applied to the sexy walk of Negro women.

Maris is plugging the mambo with brass and jungle drums on a Toronto radio station. The drain away of jitterbug students has been halted. The mambo has beguiled them.

Murray teachers give their time free to organize dancing lessons in the studios and at hospitals for blind, deaf and amputee veterans. One of the girls has taught a whole classful of veterans with one or two artificial legs to dance.

Maris carefully fosters a family loyalty in his team. Although the juniors call him “mister” the older teachers call him Ted. “We have lots of parties,” he says. “I often have them up at the house.”

Teacher-Pupil Dates “Out”

Janet Ritchie chimes in: “We stick around together in a crowd. Often after 10 o’clock we all go off to a night club and dance for fun. But people see what good dancers we are and begin talking about Murray’s. It’s fine for business too.”

Maris has laid it down that no teacher makes a date with a pupil.

Despite this, two Toronto girl teachers have married pupils.

“Things got so far on,” said Maris, “that they came to me and said: ‘Look here. This is no ordinary date. It’s serious.’ So I let them step out. But I clamp down on anything casual.”

Several of the teachers are working wives though they all use the prefix “miss” professionally.

At one time pupils were taught privately in small studios. Now they are taught in larger studios in groups of eight or 10. This enables them to kick right off into what Maris calls “the ballroom atmosphere” and overcome Continued on page 66

Continued from page 64 any self-consciousness. “Again,” Marls adds, “in the private studios some of the guys would get a bit fresh with the girls.”

A few pupils like bank managers, company directors, and professional men, often goaded into taking lessons by their toe-trodden wives, are, however, taught privately and never appear at the Tuesday and Saturday club sessions.

One of the best sellers in the Murray publications is called “Popularity—a Manual of Social Success.” its chapter titles: “What Do Your Eyes Reveal?” “Are You Attractive to Men?” “How to Make a Man Propose.” “Your Character— How Dancing Reveals It.” “Are You Fun to He With?” “How to Attract the Stag Line.”

This last, by Mrs. Arthur Murray, advocates a flowing skirt because of the way . . .“ your legs are able to move under it.” It warns: “A girl

might as well have a wooden leg as wear a girdle that is too long and too tight\for her.” Girls are advised not to snicker at the “feel” in dancing. “A man’s arm does encircle your frame, and a good dancer, with his weight carried forward, uses a certain amount of close position chest lead.”

Roth men and women are warned to beware bending the knee too much, “as this may give a wrong impression.”

Elsewhere the book says: “Men who try new steps and fancy steps, and race with the music, usually make the best companions. And girls who fall into their partners’ moods and travel with them make the best wives.”

Again: “The key to good dancing,

good character and happy living, is abandon, letting go, turning your feelings loose.”

Arthur Murray gladly suffers the cracks exploded at his expense by topline comics. It’s publicity that can’t be bought. Such as Bob Hope’s: “How we used to dance together, Arthur Murray and I, when we couldn’t get girls.”

Y ou, too, Can Be Tops

The life story of Murray, as told in a recent biography, began: “At a highschool dance some 20-odd years ago a kindhearted girl took pity on a tall, gangling youth who was edging up against the side of the wall, looking wistfully at the gay couples whirling by.

“ ‘Let me show' you, Arthur,’ she offered, coaxing him to follow her out on the floor. ‘It isn’t really hard . . . see . . . you’re catching on already!’ ”

'Phis act of mercy set Murray rolling. He became a teacher later at New York’s Castle House, won the approval of an instructress, Baroness de Cuddelston, who took him as her assistant to the fashionable resort of Asheville, N.C.

Later again he splurged a big ad over magazine pages under the heading “How 1 Recame Popular Overnight,” and began to teach the foxtrot by mail. From this, the Arthur Murray system and his dancing studio circuit grew.

That system, the Murray way of life, starts with the ads which say that you, too, can be the envy of the ballroom. When a toe-crusher plucks up enough courage to call at the Toronto studio, he probably finds the gaudy foyer peopled thickly as pupils and teachers are changing over.

One of the teachers may be dressed in a purple blouse and a long “leopard skin” skirt. Another in a tight black frock with a bustle built for amplification of rumba bumps.

The men teachers are all slick, healthy, well-groomed and completely masculine.

All teachers carry businesslike port-

folios in which the progress of their charges is recorded in mathematical precision.

The men pupils outnumber the women five to one.

No matter how much promise a newcomer displays he is taken back to the basic steps of the foxtrot. He is shown what Murray calls “the magic step.” This is a simple key to a great variety of further steps. After doing this once or twice he finds a sudden ease in his style.

The teacher walks the prospect up and down the room in time to the music, explaining how he must carry his weight slightly forward, lighting on the ball of the foot, gracefully, springily. She illustrates points by getting him to watch himself in a big mirror. Within half an hour his dancing has improved.

Then he is taught a few steps of the samba and finds this is not so difficult after all. “The most popular numbers nowadays,” coos the pretty teacher, “are the rumbas, sambas and tangos. And now the mambo is coming out. It’s going to be the rage. It’s not much fun at a dance if you can only do the foxtrot and waltz.”

Nijinsky in a Manhole

The prospect is told that instead of playing hockey or amateur dramatics many people make a hobby of dancing. It costs no more than other hobbies and it is both healthy and social.

It is emphasized that Murray’s never give mere dancing lessons. They give a course best suited to individual requirements. “It’s like going to college,” says the teacher.

The prospect is tickled pink by his progress and intrigued by the ease with which he has learned a bit of the samba. Already he has developed a sense of obligation to Murray’s. Now he gets down to business.

First there is the most expensive “lifetime course.” This costs $5,500 on the installment plan, or $5,000 cash. It provides 1,000 hours of instruction and 26 hours annually of refreshers for as long as he lives. Maris has sold only one of these in Hamilton, and none in Toronto.

Scores of Toronto pupils, however, have signed up for the next most expensive “personality course” of 200 hours which sells at $1,150 on the budget plan, less $100 discount for cash.

Next comes the 100-hour “self-improvement course,” guaranteed to enable anyone to dance well with anyone else for $605, or $550 cash. Prospects refusing to commit themselves to this are often persuaded to take a 35-hour course for $265, or a 25-hour course for $191.

Cheapest is the “preliminary,” selling at $38.50 for five hours of tuition. It is sold only as a last resort.

Pupils’ credit is checked through orthodox agencies. Hours of tuition are generally spread over the installment payment period, but it frequently happens that pupils go on paying for courses long after they have been completed. Twelve hours’ notice is required to cancel a lesson.

Few of the pupils are wealthy. In a sheaf of contracts kept by Gertrude Scott one is signed by a boy of 18 working in a downtown store for $100 a month. His course is costing him $191.

A young bank teller earning $100 a month has signed for a course costing $605.

Flipping through the pages, Gertrude will say: “Here is an interesting man. He wanted 10 lessons. We took him in, signed him for a 40-hour course and afterward extended him to a 200-hour Continued on page 69

Continued from page 66 course for $850. Now, altogether, he has invested $1,500. The other day I saw’ him outside. He works down a manhole in the street.”

One of the Toronto pupils is 87 years old. “He never stops dancing,” says Gertrude. “One club session when it was 90 degrees he wore out all our teachers and then went around asking other pupils to dance. I swear he’ll drop dead on our floor one of these days.”

Club sessions are Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. The Saturday session is run to a live band and attracts the biggest crowd. These sessions are included in the student’s course. They are titbits of social activity which often prompt pupils to sign up for extended instruction. Here the pupil gets the opportunity to dance with other teachers and pupils. He is not permitted to a club session until his dancing has reached a certain standard.

At these sessions you see a few awkward or ugly men and women. One or two faces suggest emotional instability. The odd elderly man dancing with a pretty young teacher looks a bit too rapt to be easy on the eye. No racial prejudice exists. Several Chinese and Japanese faces swim through the crowd.

No Wallflowers at this Party

Occasionally the gaiety and friendliness seem overdone, but the over-all view is not displeasing. The majority seem to have a good time.

The sessions are controlled by a smart woman M.C. at a microphone. She introduces new students by name and leads applause for them. Occasionally she strikes up the “Happy Birthday Song” for some student celebrating an anniversary.

Several Paul Joneses are started to warm things up. The M.C. will herself leap into the jive with such vigor and spontaneous merriment that the others form a ring round her and clap.

Nowhere else would you see such flawless interpretation of complicated dances. There are no wallflowers. The male teachers see to that. And when a stag line shows signs of developing the women teachers gush up with open arms and carry the men away onto the floor.

One widow of 60, a slim, gentle woman with twisting, sensitive hands —she works for her living in a hospital kitchen—says: “I never had a chance to dance in my youth. When 1 was left alone I happened to see a Murray advertisement and thought I would try it. It has done me a lot of good. It

has given me confidence and friendship. I spend all my money here.”

The other week a fragile girl of 20 went round the club session showing an engagement ring that had been placed on her finger by a fellow pupil.

“That child came here a bundle of nerves.” Gertrude Scott says. “She used to weep if she put a foot wrong during her lessons. Now she laughs and chats with anybody and is always at ease.”

Prizes Lure Them On

Throughout a course a series of points is awarded to students for introducing new business. These points can add up to be worth a refrigerator or a silver dinner service. It is easy to understand a pupil within reach of one of the hundreds of valuable prizes contracting for an extended course to be sure of getting it.

For the introduction of a new pupil taking $100 worth of instruction an old pupil gets a $10 cut, its equivalent in prize points, or additional tuition.

This introduction of material gain into the ballroom ideal is the spark plug of the Murray enterprise. Ted Maris, for example, will cry exultantly: “Toronto beat New York again last month!” You assume Toronto pupils have proved themselves better dancers in some contest. “No! No!” explodes Maris. “We did $11,000 more business than the main New York school.”

Murray business is there for all students to see on a wall chart. In February Toronto was at the top of an eight-week competition ladder, above all competing Murray studios in North America. Toronto teachers can win bonuses of about $40 each from the parent concern by keeping ahead. Last year they shared $6,000 prize money. It is the same system employed by direct selling outfits to spur on their door-to-door teams.

A teachers’ popularity contest is also under way. It won’t be judged on a vote of pupils but on the hours of extended tuition they sell. The present contest is comically charted on the wall showing the various teachers in a swimming race from Canada to Bermuda. As his business goes up the teacher progresses through the sea. The first teacher to reach a fixed business figure will get a free holiday in Bermuda.

The pupils are drawn into the spirit of these contests. They soon begin to feel affected by the academy’s fortunes and develop a mood of rivalry toward other studios. At club sessions cheers greet announcements of Toronto’s business victories.

The Toronto school has imported an idea from England. This is the awarding of bronze, silver and gold medals, for set standards of dancing. The aim is to get these standards accepted throughout Canadian ballrooms and provide dancing teams for Dominion championships, and ultimately for international festivals. A familiar question at'the Toronto studio these days is: “Are you going in for a bronze

While bronze medals make friends the dance studio still depends on salesmanship for its new clients. At the Toronto studio the staff tells, with mixed amusement and pride, the story of the man who was seen leaning against the wall of the reception room a few months ago. An interviewer stepped forward briskly saying: “I’m

. sorry you’ve been kept waiting. Step ft right this way.”

In a few minutes he found himself dancing with a teacher. P’inally he bougnt a course.

“And to think,” he said as he signed up, “I only came up here to sell you a magazine subscription.”