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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Working as an Instructor at Arthur Murray

This blog article follows up an earlier article called The Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

A dialogue between Baby Houseman and Johnny Castle
So where'd you learn to be a dancer?

Well, this guy came into this luncheonette one day, and we were all sitting around doing nothing. And he said that Arthur Murray was giving a test for instructors.

So, if you passed, they teach you different dances, show you how to break them down, teach them.

Johnny was merely a self-taught dancer, not a trained dancer, before he was hired by Arthur Murray. He received his dance training at Arthur Murray, and there he learned to dance well.

For some reason, Johnny had left Arthur Murray, and he apparently did not intend to return.


I was not able to personal stories about working as an Arthur Murray dance instructor in the 1960s, but I did find some information on the Internet about working there in recent years.

Much of the information is critical of the company, but I am sure that many of the company's employees and clients are generally satisfied with their experiences there. People with complaints are more likely to write long, detailed statements. Nobody reading this article should think that I myself am critical of the company, which has operated for many decades.

The company's website is here. The website includes a gallery of photographs of classes and events.

The website includes these videos.


When I researched the Arthur Murray company for this blog article, I was interested in four considerations:

1) How the company trained inexperienced instructors such as Johnny Castle.

2) Why Johnny Castle might have left the company.

3) Whether Johnny Castle's relationship with Vivian Pressman began at the company.

4) Whether Eleanor Bergstein's movie Let It Be Me is essentially a sequel to Dirty Dancing.

Read the below information with those considerations in mind. I will elaborate on those considerations in future articles.

I have lightly edited the following passages.


A website called Dance Spirit published an article How to Prepare for a Career as a Dance Instructor, which included the following passages:
Franchised dance studios like Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire are individually owned schools that are also members of a larger organization, and operate similarly to chain restaurants or clothing stores. Each studio has its own culture within the organization, but must adhere to business practices and syllabus standards, and pursue prescribed competition venues, as dictated by the organization.

If you decide to work for a franchised studio, you may be given several months of free training, which provides basic dance and teaching skills. You may need to find an alternative form of income to help pay your bills during this time, since you won’t begin earning money until training is complete and you have your own students. Studios will help new teachers develop a student base.

Although many franchised studios employ a staff person to concentrate on marketing, outreach and sales, it’s ultimately up to each teacher to keep students challenged and satisfied enough to continue with lessons. Some studios pay teachers based on the number of lessons taught, while others offer salaries. Additional perks include regular paychecks and access to health and life insurance.

Karena Shackel, a six-year veteran instructor with the Arthur Murray studio in Edina, MN, says that by working at a franchise, she doesn’t have to worry about accounting, marketing, advertising, studio maintenance and other business operations. She also likes that “with Arthur Murray, there is a recognizable name and a community larger than myself,” she explains. Through the organization, Shackel has easy access to dance workshops, seminars, coaches, judges and Arthur Murray–sponsored competitions.

Rebecca Trost, owner of Four Seasons Dance Studio, an independent studio in Minneapolis, began her teaching career with the Fred Astaire franchise. Though she says it was a great way to start out, she notes that teachers must be prepared for dress codes, required scripts for how to greet students and pressure to meet sales and quota goals.

Most franchised studios require contracts with a non-compete clause, meaning an instructor cannot teach dance outside the franchise for a certain period of time after terminating employment with the studio (usually two years). This clause protects the franchise from having teachers leave with its students. For teachers who intend to stay with the company and work their way up from instructor to manager, coach, judge or owner, the contract clause may never come into play. Before signing any contract, however, discuss all possible outcomes of your employment with your employer, then document the conversation in a letter signed by you both. ....

The Dancers website has a discussion thread titled Arthur Murray Teachers? responding to the following question:
My sister has an interview here to be an instructor. She is currently a dance teacher (doing ballet, jazz, etc.) they said they are willing to train her. Any insights on them or their training?
One response:
I must admit, I have a very poor view of the Arthur Murray company. They certainly employ some great teachers, but they also employ some very unqualified instructors. I have heard that they will hire someone with no ballroom experience (or even no dance or fitness training) to be an instructor. (Hence "we will train.")

They train these individuals just enough to teach their students. Their main job is to sell their students more lesson packages, so they are looking for individuals with sales skills. Don't get me wrong, all instructors need some sales skills (gotta make a living), but I don't appreciate the deceptive practice of learning from someone who barely has more experience than myself. ....
A second response:
I agree with the previous response. I interviewed there several years ago, when I was trying to decide where to teach. They didn't really want to hear my dance background, they wanted to hear about my sales and marketing background! They were willing to hire me on the spot because I had experience in sales, and didn't even ask me to teach a sample class or dance for them! I walked out.
A third response:
I used to sublet to a male Hip Hop teacher who had been an Arthur Murray-trained instructor for several years. It's one way to get yourself trained in Ballroom, if you have no other options. When he left them, due to their non-compete contract, he was prohibited from his teaching ballroom for three years, within so many miles radius.

He did not speak well of the experience, as they do emphasize sales, but he was a good ballroom teacher.

In contrast, one of my girlfriends spent thousands on years of ballroom dance lessons at an independent ballroom studio. She even paid them big bucks to be trained as an instructor, although she never did wind up teaching ballroom.
A fourth response:
They had to not only learn to teach, one step ahead of their students, but learn to sell lesson plans. It is a must that they sell lesson plans and they have to be at dance socials so many times per month, too.

It is not just like a school where you teach and that is good enough. ... Some people love it, because they make a commission out of the sales of lesson packages, but for someone like me -- no.

That is why my former teachers and bosses left Arthur Murray and started their own studio. They could not stand working for them.
A fifth response:
Arthur Murray is constantly searching for teachers ... They do not want part-time employees. They want full-time only so that they can train you to sell sell sell. The "teaching" that is done there is laughable.

They sell you on "earning potential". Fact of the matter is, if you do not up-sell, you will average $8 to $9 bucks an hour and will have a three-to-six month lifespan as an employee. They have a very complex non-compete contract that you must sign. Not worth it in my opinion.

I have a student that left Arthur Murray because it was so expensive and they were always shoving things down her throat and charging her up the ying-yang for it. She now takes lessons at a non-franchise ballroom studio as well takes class and partakes in our competitive team at our studio -- all while paying less between both studios compared to what she was paying at Arthur Murray. ...

In a nutshell, this is not a place where she will be happy if she is used to teaching in a studio setting. However, I don't see any harm in going for the interview. It's always good to have new experiences under your belt.
A sixth response:
I was training to be a teacher at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. ....

What everyone else says is true. You have to have strong marketing skills if you want to get hired. At the open interview I attended, there were like 30 people, and the 10 of us that were chosen all had at least a little dance experience. We did have a mini-class so the interviewers could how we moved (I think waltz and rumba basic steps, maybe swing too..).

They trained us without compensation Mon-Fri. It was actually tough because we had to be there at 5 or 6 p.m. and stay until 9 or 10 p.m.

What ended up happening was people left little by little because we were devoting so much time without pay. The training was nice, and I convinced myself, "Hey it's free dance lessons," but they weren't willing to hire more of us. I think they hired the last two that stuck it out, plus two right away because of their marketing skills and one who skill-competed in Latin ballroom styles.

I taught a few of the beginning classes while I was there (three months over the summer), and the studio itself was gorgeous (it even had chandeliers!) but it was when the economy hit rock bottom and I had to find work that would actually pay.

They kept telling me to stick it out- they wanted me to be an 'advanced teacher' but I had to learn the steps first! Also, because of the crummy economy, there weren't as many students (read: packages being sold). ...

Truly, the newer 'instructors' (who had good marketing skills but little dance experience) would watch the videos to figure out what to teach that night. We also had to dress very fashionable (which was nice) and get made up. At least I had an excuse to go shopping for nice clothes and curl my hair and do my make up.

I wished it could have worked out, because I did enjoy it while it lasted. On a personal level, I would never attend myself (unless I had oogles of money) nor recommend anyone else (because I don't know anyone with oogles of money, lol). The students who signed up were VERY well-to-do and could afford it (and I'm talking like, hundreds to thousands of dollars for a package).

The school paid for the certification exams that teachers are required to take, and there were lots of bonus incentives, including hefty ones if you took a student to compete.


A website called Ripoff Report includes a complaint and discussion posted in the year 2012. The complaint was posted by a dissatisfied customer who wrote:
... I began taking lessons there two months ago, only to find myself under high-pressure selling techniques ... to be closed by the staff and managers. I was under the impression that third-party closing -- where two representatives from the company get you in a room by yourself and attempt to close you -- was illegal in Texas. ...

I have [fellow] students that have told me that they have spent their life saving on this.

[The business uses] the "Arthur Murray" name to create the illusion that you are getting a high standard of dance teaching but ... I know for a fact that Arthur Murray Dance Studios ... hire staff with no experience necessary to teach the art of dance

Allegedly, this studio learned of a relationship that was brewing between a top-performing instructor and a student who was heavily invested financially in dance lessons at the studio. The studio looked to capitalize on this relationship ... The teacher and the student would enter into a consultation to own a franchise under the studio's business umbrella. The studio knew that the instructor did not have the funding to pull off such feat and covertly suggested that he approach the student for financial backing. ...

In addition to this, another former employee has told me that he was threatened to be blackballed and was assured that the owner of this studio would do all he took to make sure he didn't have a job in the dance world again after resigning.
An unidentified but generally knowledgeable person responded to that complaint as follows:
Most studios have rules against fraternization between teachers and students...but often those rules are ignored ... Students have often loaned money to teachers as well as to owners. Often! If a studio or instructor is out of money, and Mrs Rich Woman is there as a student who likes you, then the temptation is too hard to resist.

How do you go into business when you can't get a loan? It [borrowing money from rich clients] is a long-time hidden but tolerated practice in the dance business. A teacher wants to own his own dance business. He has the dance expertise to qualify as an owner but not the funding.

Enter a RICH student. Now the teacher is not supposed to approach the student....but....the corporate people don't have new franchise people coming out of the woodwork, and they need new [monetary] contributors ...

More than a few studios have started this way .... The ones I knew in the past usually involved an extra incentive such as "be a student here without paying for a long time, because you're the secret owner." A studio would have some student who couldn't dance worth crap but he had lots of dough and could sell "ice cream to Eskimos." The corporation wanted a franchise in that town, so they paid their corporation people to come in and train the rich student because most franchise owners need to dance-qualify a a certain level. The trainers literally gave up; they just signed off on the student's dance-instructor certificate. Fortunately, though, the new owner hired some good people who knew how to dance.

In regard to blackballing, it sure exists in the business in general. It dates back to teacher-training contracts. You see the ads all the time for new dance studio employees: Like to have fun? Looking for fun, positive, outgoing people? Like to dance? Want to get in a career where you can move up to management and even ownership? No experience necessary...WE WILL TRAIN!

This was where they old teacher-training contracts entered. The studios provide the expert training, because the teacher had no ballroom experience. Then if the trained instructor tried to take his training elsewhere, the studio would be out of its investment. So the studio often has a contract that says an instructor can't teach within a certain distance from the studio. ...

At the very least, certain studio owners will try the intimidation ploy: Want to work in this industry? Its a close-knit community. Your name will be mud. You probably won't get a job under the Aruthur Murray name because I'll tell the studio owner will tell the corporation what you did. And maybe no other franchise will hire you. So, shut up, behave and stay in the franchise.

In regard to high-pressure sales, in the old days the unofficial designation for a closing room was a desk with a "closing specialist". The student sat away from the door. The closer sat near the door. The teacher brought the student into the room and sometimes sat down with him. In the old days a measure of intimidation was the game. If the teacher did his job properly, he informed the closer about the student's objections before the meeting. The closer's job was literally to close the contract and get the signature by satisfying the objections. ...
Another customer of an Arthur Murray studio wrote:
As a newly minted Bronze student of an Arthur Murray studio in Washington State, I can attest to the truth behind some of the original complainant's allegations. To be fair, let me state up front that I am not convinced that Arthur Murray Dance Studio's lesson packages are a ripoff, but I am not quite convinced that they are not..

I am seriously considering the idea of terminating my agreement with my own studio. I love everyone on the staff at my studio. I've been learning a lot and having a blast doing it. I've improved my posture and body language -- all great things to experience. "Changing lives through dance" isn't a lie; if you're serious about learning dance it will be a fact.

However, two recent developments have made me uncomfortable with my current arrangement. I have begun to feel that I'm paying way too much for what I'm getting in return, and that certain members of the staff have not been completely honest with me about what I'm learning. ....

In regard to "high pressure selling techniques" ... there is definitely a lot of pressure placed upon new students to fully enroll and keep the "momentum" from their basic lessons going.

In my case, my primary instructor accompanied me into the general manager's office and discussed the program she was recommending, then sat more or less quietly while said general manager handled the financial end of the discussion with me. The agreement was for a year's worth of lessons and is the single most expensive deal I have ever signed in my life. ....
Another knowledgeable person wrote about the situation in 1968.
.... Smart studio owners and some really experienced teachers can spot a person with hidden money MILES away and often know exactly how to get that person to part with cash. As teacher or owner you can go to their regional training meetings and pick-up all the "lessons" from the old guys on how to maximize.

Most students are considered terminal in that their funds at over $100 per hour for the private lesson run out fast for most people. So generally the students are not long-term. ....

In general AM studios do not like a lot of private lessons on the book, so if you sign up for 30, they generally try to burn those out fast at a couple a week. That way they don't have to refund you. They can sell you more.

Vokes v. Arthur Murray, Inc., 212 So.2d 906, 28 A.L.R.3d 1405 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1968).Facts: Vokes (plaintiff) decided to become an accomplished professional dancer at age 51. Arthur Murray (defendant) was the franchisor of Arthur Murray Dance Schools. Vokes alleged that Arthur Murray's employees used flattery, cajolery, and awards to lead her to believe that she was a promising student capable of a career as a professional dancer.

Arthur Murray convinced her to sign up for $31,000 in dance lessons. Vokes brought suit to cancel the remainder of the 2,300 hours of lessons for which she had contracted. In her complaint she alleged that she had attained little or no skill as a dancer and had no aptitude, that Arthur Murrays employees had purposefully misrepresented her skills and taken unconscionable advantage of her, and that she had relied upon Arthur Murrays employees superior knowledge to assess her ability.

The defendant contended that its employees representations were statements of opinion and therefore not actionable. The plaintiff's fourth amended complaint was dismissed with prejudice, and the plaintiff appealed. [This comment ended here.]
An Arthur Murray employee defended the company:
Having worked at the Arthur Murray studios ... since 1999, I can speak with great conviction that our studio's mission is to make a difference in the lives of the people who come to us through dancing. And, in the 100 years that Arthur Murray had been in business, millions of lives have been and are still being touched all over the world.

Let's take a moment to be real, here. Is Arthur Murray a business? Yes. Are the teachers trained in both dancing and sales? Yes. And some of the best sales training around is simply providing the best customer service available, and that is the aspect that we most focus on. We understand we are not for everyone, but we are for those who value excellent service and a high-quality product. I think what needs to be clarified here is that what is at the heart of the teachers is not sales, but sharing the joy of dancing with their students.

Our students come from all walks of life, they are all ages, all ability levels, and they come in for many different reasons. It is our job to make sure they each have a fun experience and if they want to continue to learn, we do everything we can to make that a reality for them. We do start our students with an introductory lesson, just like any good business provides a consultation to determine what is best for you.

The next step for most students is a small package of lessons. That way they can learn the basics of the dances they are interested in and also determine if they want to continue learning afterwards. Beyond that, Arthur Murray functions just like any other school. We teach in semesters and we teach things in order from easiest to more difficult. We teach at the pace that is appropriate for each individual student. And, we teach to the goals of each individual student as well. We understand that not everyone wants to be on Dancing With the Stars, and that most of our students want to learn social dancing. ...

Our studios DO NOT have a "closing room", we do not use "High Pressure Sales Tactics", and we do not "tag team" when we are presenting a program for a student. Our sole purpose is to help the student reach whatever goal they have, whether it be dance related or to overcome some type of social anxiety, or to lose weight, or whatever. We work as a team with the students to provide a high quality product and service that we can be proud of, and we are all proud to say that we work for Arthur Murray.

Again, if you managed to find this article and you are thinking of learning to dance, please check out your local Arthur Murray studio and see for yourself. Make your own judgement and your own decision and don't allow anyone else's opinion to ruin what could be an amazing experience for you!
Another Arthur Murray instructor wrote:
... I am familiar with Arthur Murray Dance Studios and their practices in general. Most of the franchise owners were taught by former owners, all the way back. The tactics change little. ...

Let's get to the truth. The "room" the complainant refers too is called "a closing room"...most studios have them. While two or three sellers pressuring one customer is definitely not encouraged, most studios do it sometimes -- and sometimes inadvertently by having the teacher there with the "closer"

Yes, the instructors are heavy on the sales training, energy aspects ... and less so on the dancing. They are called front-department people. The better dance teachers are back-department people because, frankly, "beginners don't know the difference" in the eyes of the owners.

Yes, the student pays for the name and for the franchise fee the studio owner pays. No, the quality of instruction is little different than the studio up the road. However, Arthur Murray prides itself on studios NOT going "fly-by-night" and leaving the victim high and dry.

Yes, there are people who pay their life savings. Arthur Murray cut a deal with the Federal Trade Commission to avoid prosecution for "life-time memberships". The deal limited enrollments to, I believe, $10K. So, that gives you an idea just how bad their history was.

Now, all that said, many people spend their life savings at a bar or casino. At least with Arthur Murray you learn something. ...

The franchised dance studios are really social clubs that teach a little dancing. They sell the social aspects which people perceive they lack because they think they can't dance. Now to the studios' credit, in the end, the student realizes dancing wasn't the issue. .... Do they pay for that? You bet!! Big time -- but people pay for cruises too.

OK,.back the the sales aspects. Most work a procedure on you. You come in on a free lesson. The goal of that lesson is to sell you on a small course. You think you will learn all about dancing. Nope. The studio uses those lessons as part of a procedure to get you to buy a big chunk of lessons. Each of those small lessons is planned out to determine your objections. Done properly, few people resist.

Its how the studios have been run all the way back to just about when the GI's came home from World War Two. Originally Arthur Murray Dance Studios made money on group lessons as many GI's and others wanted to learn how to dance. ...

It was only when the popularity faded that they had to resort to "anyone coming in the door gets signed-up" tactics. Frankly I think it can be run the other way back again, but there are too many "in-bred" tactics to give that idea a try near-term.

So, if you understand all this and you want the social aspects, give Arthur Murray Dance Studios a try. ... Just watch your budget. No one sells social clubs like Arthur Murray Dance Studios. Many people have a real blast.
Another Arthur Murray employee wrote:
We do offer dance programs that are individually designed to help each student reach his/her goals in dancing. Yes, our prices seem higher than the other dance studios in the area, but, our programs are all-inclusive. We do not charge extra for group classes or parties. And the quality of our instruction is top-notch. Our instructors all complete a rigorous training period and must pass certification exams before they are able to teach any students. Arthur Murray has been in the business of teaching people to dance for almost 100 years. Our methods make it fast, fun and easy to learn. ...

At Arthur Murray, our goal is to help people from all walks of life realize their goals and dreams of learning to dance -- whether for social reasons or competitively. We pride ourselves on offering impeccable customer service and putting the well-being and interest of our student first. Please visit our website and look at the reviews our students have written, or come in to the studio yourself for a free introductory lesson to see what we really have to offer.

The Ballroom Dancers website has a forum discussion thread called Arthur Murray Stinks, with many and varied opinions.

Likewise the Indeed website has a webpage called Arthur Murray Dance Studio Employee Reviews with many and varied opinions.

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