The Arthur Murray Dance Studio Helps Couples with First Dance Jitters



Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Danvers offers lessons in both traditional and contemporary dance styles

Photos by Elise Donoghue

As I stepped into the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Maple Street in Danvers, a retro, elegant, professional vibe embraced me. Up-beat music and energized voices carried down the staircase. There were several lessons going on, and I immediately felt a bit giddy and wanted to sign myself up. Who wouldn’t want to be enveloped by this place’s charming, soothing, swanky ambiance, and to learn those dances we all wish we could perform on demand at weddings or other functions?

How do you imagine your first dance at your wedding reception? The people at Arthur Murray have a passion for helping make that vision a reality—they take it very seriously, and they excel when it comes to working with wedding couples. After having the pleasure of meeting Joanne Crosley and her husband/partner Mitchell, co-owners of the Danvers studio, there is no doubt as to why their studio has been going strong for over 30 years. Joanne and Mitchell share their many years of experience working with wedding couples as well as those seeking dance les- sons for other occasions, or simply for the enjoyment of it.

As most brides know, there are hundreds of details to attend to in preparation for the wedding day. One of my first questions had to do with timing: How much lead time is advisable for a wedding couple that wants to learn a choreographed partner dance? “Ideally,” says Crosley, “when the bridal gown is ordered, start your dance lessons.” That’s not to say every couple will need that much time, but she and Mitchell like to get as much time as possible with every couple. She has taught couples in less time than that but does think it’s easier to take a stress-free approach to lessons. “They enjoy the experience of taking lessons if they don’t have to rush through it.” Joanne and Mitchell, feel strongly that a couple should give themselves enough time to prepare their dance so they can feel confident dancing together in front of their guests.

According to both Joanne and Mitchell one of the more rewarding aspects of teaching partner dance is noticing the “magic” that happens between the couples. They observe when the “sentiment and emotion of the song comes through and it becomes not simply a learned dance but a very personal and treasured experience for the couple.”

Which comes first, the dance or the couple’s special song? Says Crosley, “We always first ask if they have chosen a special song to dance to at their wedding, and if they have chosen a song, we start the first lesson with their song and work with them to stylize their first wedding dance based on their song’s melody and tempo.”

Many couples think they need to learn a traditional waltz for their wedding, but in reality, the tempos of the songs used nowadays are stylized foxtrots and rumbas. Joanne feels that the best approach is to work with a couple’s song so that they emerge on their wedding day with a dance that matches their music.

Joanne and Mitchell purchased their Arthur Murray franchise studio in the 1980s. They have built a clientele that spans generations. Of the students I spoke with during my visit, all shared a fondness for the studio and the many wonderful experiences they’ve had there. Amy and Nick, who met performing live theatre, were at the studio to practice their dance for their casually elegant March 2015 wedding at Artists for Humanity Epicenter in Boston’s South End. Their song is a modern rendition of a Beatles song, and they are working on a stylized number for their first dance. Interestingly enough, Amy quite literally grew up there: Her parents used to take ballroom dance lessons at the Danvers studio when she was a baby. They’d bring her to their lessons in her baby carrier and place her in a cozy mezzanine area elevated off the dance floor so she could watch them as they took lessons. Amy kept in touch and Joanne was delighted that Amy would be bringing her fianceĢ there to learn their wedding dance.

Ralph, 76, and his wife, Lynn, actually met for the first time in 2010 while taking lessons at the Danvers studio. They married in July of 2012, and all their grandchildren—as well as their Arthur Murray dance instructor—attended their wedding.

People have been drawn to the Arthur Murray studios since the 1930s, when Arthur Murray’s mail-order business started to become a household name— dance step footprints were actually printed on sheets of paper that were laid out on the floor for practice. After the mail-order business started to taper off, studios started opening in different parts of the country. Arthur Murray’s studio captured, or one could say created, the market for learning partnered dance, and filled that demand unlike anything else ever had.

Marisa Crosley gives one-on-one instruction to Amy Carroll and Nick Myrs

The Danvers studio is part of a larger Boston-area studio franchise, and teaches all types of partner dancing for many occasions, not just weddings. The Boston-based Arthur Murray studio, which is located at the Park Plaza Hotel, also teaches many wedding couples. They generally start classes in the evening when people get out of work, and their studio is convenient for those who work in Boston. Mark Lightner owns the Boston-area Arthur Murray flagship location and the franchises.

Lightner advises couples to allow “about four to six months to learn a wedding dance, but this time frame can vary greatly.” He stresses that their studio encourages clients of all dance experience levels. In fact, most of their clients have little to no experience. For a novice couple, he thinks dances with a moderate tempo are best. According to Lightner, “Watching a couple grasp their dance education, and seeing how fun and easy it is to dance with some knowledge, is definitely the best part.”

In previous years, many couples came in requesting to learn a waltz. But, according to Lightner, “There has been an explosion of a variety of songs and dance styles.” In addition to the waltz, they teach swing, salsa, and even the tango. Lightner’s new student director describes the first dance as “a special moment, one of the first things you do together once you are married, and a lot of couples want to be ‘in the moment,’ not thinking, counting, or feeling nervous, just moving effortlessly in each other’s arms to the music.”

According to Boston ballroom dance instructor Richard Downey, who worked at Arthur Murray and now teaches ballroom dance to students of Harvard Business School, “Arthur Murray simply offers the best approach for partner dancing.” According to Downey, it’s not just the long-standing name recognition that is its claim to fame: The company’s philosophy and approach provide lessons “in a way that is not frightening” for those new to partner dancing. As an instructor, Downey sees it as his goal to instill confidence in his clients, and he feels the Arthur Murray approach does just that.

Downey has taught many wedding couples, and it’s his favorite type of lesson to teach. “It’s not just teaching one to lead and one to follow—teaching dance gives a couple a very special way to express themselves, to each other and to those watching them.” He sees his instruction as his wedding gift to them. “Years from now, after the wedding is over, they could be standing in their kitchen, and they can re-create that dance, that moment, from what I taught them. I feel privileged to get that hour a week with them during all their wedding preparations, to give them a gift that can last longer than something off their bridal registry. The dance they learn is also a gift to each other on their wedding day and for many years afterward.”

If you’re seeking lessons for your first dance, the Arthur Murray Studio is sure to instill the confidence in you and your partner to create a personalized, elegant, and magical moment as you debut as a couple at your wedding reception. arthurmurrayboston.com

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