Arthur Murray said he made a business out of ballroom dancing, but his real business was making people feel better about themselves. His success at it made him a very rich man at his death at age 95 last weekend in Honolulu.
If the smiles and charm of Arthur Murray dance instructors were not always genuine -- in 1946, disgruntled instructors went on strike wearing prison uniforms -- neither did the thousands of students who flocked to Murray's studios necessarily expect them to be. Murray understood that the mystique of gliding around a dance floor was the allure of a world apart, a place where smiles and charm for their own sake are as essential as rhythm.
As an awkward teen-ager, Arthur Murray Teichman discovered that skill on the dance floor was a perfect way to bolster self-confidence and win friends, especially in a society where courtships were governed by elaborate rituals. After ballroom dancing was largely eclipsed by the free-form dancing of the '60s, Murray once said it would never regain its popularity in a society in which the big question for new acquaintances was, "Your place or mine?"
Not so. Ballroom dancing may never be the rage it once was. But as long as romance is alive, there will be lovers and would-be lovers who feel the allure of a taut tango or a graceful, swirling waltz. And, chances are, they'll turn to an Arthur Murray studio to satisfy their urge.