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?"