Dance Studios

Chain studios vs independent; costs and benefits

Here's a typical start of a discussion on

: >Was wondering if anyone here has experience with Arthur Murray Dance Studios.
: I tried several of their free lessons/sales pitches...I found it very
: interesting comparing their approach vs independent studios.
: I was also mildly amused by their moderately high pressure efforts to
: close a sale (i.e. 2 on 1 in a very small room, explaining to me how
: they "had the power to change my life").
: I found them to be quite expensive, almost twice what an independent
: studio charges but in addition, the teachers that I saw/ worked with
: at Arthur Murray (two different studios) did not have nearly the
: experience or skill of the teachers that I found at private studios.

Here's a more balanced view:

I have been taking lessons at A.M. for five months now (and still am). Generally, I like the people, but it is _very_ expensive and yes often times I do feel there's a "moderately high pressure efforts to close a sale" (the 2 on 1 in a very small room part...gee that's the same thing I get at my studio :) )...

I am lucky that my personal instructor is one of their best... for some of the teachers are not very good (at least one evolved from a student herself, has only danced at A.M. functions all her life, and has only "heard about other people do different kinds of Rumba").

This is not to say it's bad (though I'm quite sure I sound just a bit cynical so far). If I knew as much about dancing five months ago as I do now, would I have signed up with them? NO. But if I were to do it over again, would I sign up with them though I can dance elsewhere far cheaper (hell for $100/year I can dance just as much and perhaps even learn faster at the dance team at my university)? I actually think yes, but that's because at this point I've grown attached enough to the people there, though it costs me more than 100X as much...which makes me wonder, but I guess they got me hooked. :)

For a really good comparison of franchises vs. independent studios (and a great article about dancing in general), you may want to see this URL:

I would say Arthur Murray is not a bad option as long as one doesn't go nuts on the lessons--I do find it quite worthwhile in some idiosyncratic ways, if that's the right way to put it--and provided you have a thick wallet. It's okay as long as you know what _you_ want before you walk into a studio--independent or franchised--to sign up for lessons, otherwise of course they'll arrange it in such a way that it best suits their interests.

Hope this helped, Thomas (still wondering what got into me to pay more than twice as much per month for dance lessons as I pay on my mortgage...gee why didn't I just buy three houses :) ).

In defense of chain studios:

Every "chain" studio is independently owned and operated. They are Franchised but other than that are mostly unconnected. This means that the quality of instruction (along with just about every other aspect of the studio) will vary tremendously from place to place (and even from owner to owner or manager to manager in the same place). The only way to know which studio is best for you is to try them and see for yourself. Do not listen to predjudice and generalizations.

An interesting side note to the franchised dance studio is that Arthur Murray was the very first franchise; before Ray Krok (McDonald's) there was Arthur.

Nine out of ten independent instructors started out at a "Chain" studio and dropped out or were trained by a drop out. Most independent instructors that I know are the people who couldn't make it in a studio. There are some wonderful independents but there are some awful ones too. The only way to find out is to ask around or try for yourself.

If you derive from your dancing the benefits that you desire then you will continue to buy dance lessons, if you don't then you won't. And as for being qualified, the chains require their teachers to be certified and trained. Independent instructors have no such requirement. [Janet Foreman]

Studio policies and politics

One thing newbies should be on the lookout for is isolation. Some studios in the area have a reputation for isolating their students from other dancers. Nominally they do that to make sure their dancers have lots of floor-space, but it seems that they may be scared of losing customers to better (and/or substantially cheaper) teachers. In contrast, one excellent and successful independent studio owner in the area never advertises - he gets students by word of mouth: people see his students dancing at other studios and ask them where they learned... That's a promising sign. The places where the students never mingle are afraid of guys like that... [Bill Sherman]

Money: contracts, and long term contracts

>Another friend said that he had learned a lot at Arthur
>Murray's, but it was too expensive for him to continue at this
>time due to a reduced income for the next 2-3 years. Private
>lessons are about $65 for 45 minutes, but the quality of
>instruction is supposed to be excellent!

Arthur Murray studios are all independantly owned so will vary as widely as any independant studios or teachers do for that matter. I'm certainly proud of the studio that I am associated with, I've been teaching there for about seven years now. [Brent Smith]

>> You can quit but what if you already signed a long term contract?
> The real question is not whether you are learning but what you are
> learning and it's true value.

I agree that the contracts are things to watch out for, but, for instance, the Arthur Murray I attend the 'contract' they use is completely non-binding for the customer. If anything, it only promises that the studio will make itself available for the lessons you request on contract. You can sign on saying you'll do 4 lessons a week for 8 months if you want to, and then drop out for months at a time or change frequency of lessons...doesn't matter. [Warren Wright]

>I was told that one Sacramento man has spent $16,000 over 6
>years, taking dance lessons at a Sacramento Arthur Murray's,
>which I find unbelievable.

This represents in the neighborhood of $50 per week, small change to a large number of people with professional incomes. Many people spend more than $50 a week on their recreation, sport, hobby, social life, etc. [Ron Nicholson]

Good advice from the Federal Trade Commission

[Copied from]

Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission

Dance Studios -- November 1992

Although dance lessons may offer opportunities for fun, entertainment, and companionship, they also may be more expensive than planned, especially if you do not know how to protect yourself against some dance studio sales practices. For example, beware of:

Signing long-term contracts and prepaying thousands of dollars for dance lessons or clubs that you may be unable to complete or cancel;

Signing additional contracts before the current one expires;

Making large prepayments to studios that may be unable to give refunds should they suddenly close or go bankrupt.

In an effort to make consumers aware of certain sales practices used by some dance studios, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has prepared this brochure. It also suggests ways in which you can protect yourself.

Sales Techniques

If you are thinking about or are already taking dance lessons, you should understand the sales techniques that some dance studios may use to persuade you to take lessons, or to take additional lessons.

Relay Salesmanship. Some studio instructors use the technique of relay salesmanship _ consecutive sales talks by more than one representative in a single day _ to try to persuade students to buy lessons or buy more lessons. This tactic may put you under heavy pressure to sign a contract, encouraging you to buy lessons you may later realize you do not want or cannot afford.

Overlapping Contracts. Some studio instructors try to convince their students during lesson time to sign additional contracts before completing the current lessons. In some instances, you may unwittingly be buying additional lessons that extend beyond your interest, your physical fitness, or even your life expectancy.

High-pressure Sales. Some studio instructors, using high-pressure sales tactics, exploit student emotions or personal vulnerabilities to oversell lessons. Sometimes, when students refuse to buy additional prepaid lessons, instructors will neglect them in classes, embarrass them in public, or transfer them to a less skilled instructor.


Awareness about the possible use of these sales techniques can help you avoid potential problems. In addition, you may avoid some potential problems if you comparison shop for dance lessons.

Finally, before signing or renewing a contract for dance lessons, consider taking the following measures.

Pay in advance for only a certain number of lessons to see if you like them. You may get a discount if you make a large prepayment on a long-term contract, but it will have little value if later you are unable to take the classes, you want to cancel them, or the studio closes before your lessons are completed. At this time, only a few states require studios to post bonds to protect consumers' prepayments.

Insist that the following items are clearly stated in writing:

· any oral promises;

· the cost per hour of private and group lessons;

· your cancellation and refund rights; (These are important in case you change your mind about lessons, move, or become ill.)

· any prepayment protections, if required by state law.

You can ask about these important items when you comparison shop.

Do not sign a contract immediately, especially if you have concerns about the stability of the studio or are asked to prepay a large amount of money for a lifetime membership, an exclusive club membership, or dance cruise offer. Take time to think about the matter and talk it over with a friend, a family member, or an attorney. Even if your contract offers you a refund or cancellation option, you may be unable to get your money back if the studio closes or its refund check bounces. Prepay only as much as you can afford to lose if the studio closes.

As an additional precaution, you might wish to contact your local or state consumer protection office to learn what rights you may have under local or state law with regard to maximum costs for contracts, cancellation and refund rights, studio bonding requirements, and a "cooling off" period, which may give you a few days to reconsider your decision after you sign your contract. Also, by contacting your local Better Business Bureau office, you may be able to learn if there are any current complaints registered against the dance studio you are considering.


If you have a problem with a dance studio and cannot resolve it, send a letter describing your complaint to your local or state consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau. (Check your phone directory for addresses.) Also, send a copy of your letter to: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. Although the FTC generally cannot intervene in individual disputes, the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law violations requiring action by the Commission.

Arthur Murray, the man and the myth

OK, time to air my gripe about Arthur Murray discussions.

I'm tired of hearing and reading people ragging on Arthur Murray over the years. In almost every case, they are actually complaining about the (alleged) unethical business practices of a certain unnamed corporation which (allegedly) preys on widows and other poor souls.

Okay, I can't disagree, BUT please don't confuse a certain corporation with the gentleman Arthur Murray.

His life really *was* transformed when he learned to dance. This meek, socially awkward young man really did gain a self confidence which he never knew before he learned to dance. I know it sounds trite because we've heard self confidence as a sales pitch, but the young Mr. Murray's experience was fresh, vivid and profound, and he never lost his genuine fervor for it.

Arthur and Kathryn Murray sold the name as a studio thirty-five years ago. Whatever the Arthur Murray Studios have done since then has NOT been Mr. and Mrs. Murray.

Long after he and Kathryn retired, and were living comfortably in Hawaii, Arthur would sometimes meet someone on the beach who was interested in discovering dancing and (according to stories their daughter Jane told me) he would invite them up to their condo for an impromptu free lesson. Kathryn was a bit nervous about her husband inviting strangers into their home, especially with their valuable collection of paintings on display, but Arthur Murray always wanted one more person to discover the joys of social dancing, and the boost in self esteem which could result from learning to dance. [Richard Powers]

I was with the arthur murray chain for many years; I met arthur in the 50's & he was a sharp but honest businessman. At one time there were over 450 franchise studios in the world.

What happened was arthur couldn't be everywhere & found it difficult to screen all new or potential studio owners. There were studios in London, Australia, Russia & you name it. Arthur was a trusting soul so in came the gigolos & fast buck operators who began to oversell the students & finally when 2 women in Kansas City cried wolf after they came out of the ether the damage had been done.

A huge media covered court case followed which resulted in putting strict limitations on the way the studios were to be operated. The name Arthur Murray got a black eye which caused the closing of lots of franchises & lack of business. Many employees went to Fred Astaire or Veloz & Yolanda studios to teach while others opened or went to work for such places as Johnobert Powers or Eileen weather modeling & charm schools. The famous Cambridge Diet were ex arthur murrayites. Sid & Jenny Craig were Arthur Murray studio owners in the 50's.

Arthur had the greatest sales approach via a manual called "the Louise Taylor junioring method". It was all legit but some used it to go the wrong way--what else is new! [anonymous]

See also the obituary of Arthur's wife, Kathryn Murray.

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Last modified on: Saturday, October 9, 1999.