Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Arthur Murray: How to Become a Good Dancer

Here are some scans from Arthur Murray's book "How to Become a Good Dancer". Originally published in 1938, Arthur Murray's book illustrates the popular ballroom dance steps using the footprint diagrams he developed for his mail order dance instruction booklets in the 20's.

My edition is from 1942, and the 200+ page book covers general dance technique, Fox Trot, Waltz, Tango, Rumba, La Conga, Samba, and finally, on four piddly little pages at the end, has the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop.

Interestingly, the steps as illustrated are not what you'd learn today in a jitterbug/swing dance class. There are some similarities, but the names of the dances/moves and even where to place beat 1 are different! This is a good reminder that we often view the past through our own experiences, or oversimplify it by thinking that one person's experiences represents everyone. But this way of thinking about "how things used to be" isn't usually accurate. If you danced at the Savoy Ballroom you would have one idea of Lindy Hop, but if you took a class from Arthur Murray you'd have a completely different understanding of the dance - both things you could have done in New York in 1938. Is one right and the other one wrong?

All swing dances used to be called the Jitterbug - 
today we distinguish and separate the various forms much more. 
Here, Shag is called a variation on the Jitterbug.

The photograph referenced in the above instructions.

This version of the Lindy Hop starts on the triple step (our modern beat 3) and 
removes the rotation of the partners. 

This version replaces the triple steps with a tap-step, but it's still an 8-count basic.

"Sugars" are what we call swivels today.


  1. Thanks for posting! It is very clear there are many dance truths out there. :-)

  2. Have you ever seen the pathe newsreel 'how to dance the jive' where the jitterbug is demonstrated?

  3. Always great to see how timeless some dance advice can be. Thanks for sharing this.


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