By Christian Lightner
Modern, hip, and chic were not the words that came to mind each time I walked into the Arthur Murray Boston studio in the mid to late 1990s. Granted, I was young, so those words probably didn’t exist in my vocabulary, but my impression stemmed from facts such as the studio being run manually (without a computer) until the early 2000s and the physical space seemed to be “steeped in tradition.” Arthur Murray, in the opinions of some, was “old school,” perfect for empty nesters, and slightly behind the times. When you think about the legacy associated with a 100 –year-old company, these assumptions are natural. Those that were there, like the current Arthur Murray Natick Franchisee Olga Stepanets, aptly described the culture as slightly more mature and guarded than the modern version of our industry.
Fast forward to today. The physical transformation of the Arthur Murray Boston studio to a more open and modern layout, with brightly covered walls and a shiny new floor, in many ways reflects the modernization of the Arthur Murray culture over the last 25 or so years. Combine the general modernization of society with hit TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and Hollywood films like Shall We Dance, and the “off –the-beaten-path” narrative that once described ballroom dancing in the 80s and 90s is no more. It’s hip and cool. People of all ages are fully engaged in the social dancing scene, whether it’s learning the latest salsa or swing moves for the club or preparing more formal skills for an upcoming gala or social event. While it hasn’t reached the hysteric level of the 70s when Arthur Murray “Disco” Dance Studios taught the world to Hustle, the world of ballroom dance has certainly forged its way back into the mainstream spotlight and now registers on the “cool” meter for people of all ages.
Yet, if you talk to Olga, the aforementioned changes within our world are simply window dressing. “I really think it’s pretty similar, why people come to dance. People want to feel young, social, and motivated for self-improvement. Those things really haven’t changed in all my years.” So while salsa and swing have become the “thing to do” in the past two decades, ballroom dancing has forever served as a timeless medium that allows people to become the best version of themselves. More confident. More physically fit. More comfortable socially. More aware of their own body. No matter what has or hasn’t changed in this era of transformation, dancing has always, and will always, offer a sense of fulfillment and growth that is unparalleled in various other activities.
“What stands out to me is how dancing has always changed people. I remember teaching a shy, introverted person as a newer teacher that wasn’t the most social or outgoing personality. Having watched him grow as a person and eventually meet his wife in the studio and now have two kids in college, it’s so amazing to think of the role that dancing has played in his life and those like him,” says Olga. While there are countless inspiring stories of the role dancing has played in one’s personal growth, what stands out the most is the fact that the role never changes. Dances phase in and out, studios modernize their layout, and the cultural spotlight shifts fore and aft, but ballroom dancing has forever been a medium for personal growth and change. So while the 1990s world of Arthur Murray, in my eyes, seem like such a distant past, the real change that has taken place is in the hearts and minds of the students and teachers who have passed through the doors yearning for self improvement, and that type of change is truly timeless.