The Gables-Based Dance Studio Now Has Over 70 Franchises
It’s among the oldest franchise companies in America, and from its headquarters in Coral Gables, it’s taking dance lessons and competitions worldwide via 280 franchises in 23 countries and growing. This Gables-based juggernaut? Arthur Murray International.
Engineer and dance lover Arthur Murray never imagined a century ago that the system of instruction he started would be encouraging dance parties worldwide, even in nations where ballroom and other forms of the art were traditionally skills to be mastered only for rigorous competitions.
But the innovative company he founded in New York in the 1930s, now called Arthur Murray International, has outlasted most franchises from his pre-transistor era. And thanks to new dance teacher franchisees like Alfredo DiNatale of Peru, the future looks bright – despite coronavirus.
“When I do a dance competition here in Peru, and participants get a chance to go to international events in Las Vegas, New Orleans or New York, that’s what makes us special and different,” says DiNatale, a dance champion who came to the U.S. doing tours of Peru’s “marinera” style. He chanced upon Arthur Murray studios and spent years teaching varied styles in Coral Gables. “It’s not a school. It’s a community. It’s a culture we’ve created for our students everywhere.”
Indeed, the late Arthur Murray not only systematized dance instruction and launched franchises, he popularized dance using every medium of his day. He started teaching as a youth in the 1910s at the Grand Palace in New York City, then wrote pamphlets and books to promote the social side of dance. In 1920, he arranged a radio transmission of live dance music to his students, a first for its day. By the time he formally incorporated in 1946, his 70-plus franchised schools were grossing nearly $20 million a year, a big sum for the time. He then boosted business through a TV show with wife Kathryn, “The Arthur Murray Party,” which aired from 1950 to 1962, featuring guest stars like Groucho Marx and Bob Hope.
Since the 1970s, the company has expanded internationally, with total revenues by all franchises about $154 million last year (Murray passed in 1991). Business has been lifted recently by the booming TV series, “Dancing with the Stars.”
DiNatale’s role as a judge in Peru’s version of the TV show helped him develop Arthur Murray studios in South America, including one that just opened in Chile. The 43-year-old dance icon positions his studios among the most expensive in the market, thanks to their tested teaching system, social dance activities and opportunities for travel to international events.
Going global has its challenges, however. In some European countries, dance schools are seen as places to train for serious competitions, not a community for people to learn, meet folks and enjoy dancing. It takes careful marketing to shift perceptions.
“We make it a total package, where you can use it like a club,” says Wayne Smith, a former Miami-Dade science teacher who’s been with Arthur Murray some 50 years and now heads up franchising from Coral Gables. “We try to build a family relationship around the world with our studios, where they have intercommunication with each other, and we create fun activities.”
Coronavirus has stubbed business this year. Some studios have closed temporarily, others operate at limited capacity and online, and big events have been postponed. The Coral Gables unit that opened in 1956 still offers in-person classes.
For the year, the pandemic certainly will reduce the royalities from franchisees. Yet Smith and DiNatale are hopeful long-term, since social dancing is a central human experience. “Social dancing is romantic, fun and great exercise,” says Smith. “What else does that?”
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