Arthur Murray was an icon in many ways.  He helped revolutionize the way people viewed dance and industrialized the way businesses marketed with his mail order foot prints.  He created the first dance studio to become a franchise.  Second oldest only to A&W.  He gave many people opportunities to help be successful like himself including yours truly.  But as many great icons often do, he created others that were just as iconic.

A beauty to say the least, Ms. Doris dances here for Ziefeld Follies.

On a sunny Saturday in April 2009, Cari and I had the pleasure of visiting the state of Florida at a convention that paralleled no other; Arthur Murray’s Franchisee convention.  The excitement of meeting with your peers is always exciting, but none came close to the special delight of our guest speaker.  Enter Doris Eaton Travis was her name and dancing was her game.  A one on one interview was held and we had the pleasure of being in her presence.

When looking around the room, I could see so much talent and wisdom.  Anything you ever wanted to know about Arthur Murray and about dancing was right at the tip of your fingers.  All it took was one question.  But all of our tongues were silent.  Silent with the spectacle on stage.  Not many of us can say we knew Arthur Murray personally, but we could come close with 6 degrees of separation.  Doris was 1 degree from knowing Arthur Murray, the man, herself.

Let me tell you a little about her accomplishments.  At the age of 14, Doris became a girl for the famed Ziegfeld Follies as the youngest girl ever to be in the show.  From there she never looked back.  She continued to perform on stage and in films throughout the 20’s and 30’s.  It wasn’t until 1936 when she started working for Arthur Murray himself as a tap dance instructor.  According to her, she bugged Arthur to teach her countless times.  Enough so that he decided to put her in an instructor training class just to keep her quiet.

Unfortunately that did just the opposite.  Her hunger for learning and ballroom dancing grew.  She learned step after step.  She did such a great job that Arthur noticed her one day and asked “Why isn’t she teaching?” and made her a teacher right on the spot.  From there she modeled herself after both Arthur and Kathryn as an entrepreneur and helped Arthur accomplish his dream of Franchising his studios so that the world could enjoy dance as much as he.

TIME OUT!  In case you don’t know, here’s a bit of history.  How many woman can you name that owned a legitimate business in 1941?  You could probably name only a few.  In fact Doris was the first woman in U.S. history to own her own business (talk about history maker).  In a time of MAN, she was the only WOMAN.  As if being the first wasn’t enough, it wasn’t for Doris.

TIME IN!  After creating the first business, she went on to own over 30 franchises.  And if the question is “Did she own them all at once?”  The answer is YES!  I would imagine at this point in time she sat down in one of the many offices she had in the midwest studios and asked the question “I think I should start something new with all of this time I have free now that I own over 20 schools?”.  Because what happened next could only come from a self chat such as that.

Arthur Murray was successful in the 50’s for having the Arthur Murray Party on TV.  It was a television show dedicated to teaching people dance and introducing them to new styles of music and dance around the globe.  It was so successful that Doris, having the Broadway Star roots run through her body, decided to have a Television spot of her own.  It was just as successful as it’s predecessor and another star was born.  Although it wasn’t anything like today with hit shows like Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, in my personal opinion it had much more class.  Watching such cool dancers do such cool social dance moves far outweighs the likes of plastered makeup on almost forgotten contestants trying to win a trophy.

Have you ever been dancing and see the old guy in the corner.  He doesn’t look like much, but he has a line of dancers waiting for him because when he busts out a move, it required the combination of no blinking, a video camera, a group of dancers in a half circle watching with their mouths wide open and 70 years experience.  I’ve had that pleasure.  I was the one who was caught in the middle of it all, not knowing what was going on and in a flash I turned around and there he was, challenging me.  Challenging me with the coolest move I’ve ever seen.  So cool that I asked him to show me and he resulted in pushing my hand away, backing up, opening his palms and asked with his body “What do you got?”  He turned away and with his back turned I scratched my head and thought as I looked to my Counterpart Bobby and stated “I think I just got smoked by the Old Guy in the club.”  I laid in the fetal position for the next five minutes.

How does that relate to this story?  It doesn’t.  Just kidding.  That old guy was everywhere on her show in the form of young instructors, men and women that adorned the studios for Ms. Doris in the midwest.  In fact I would imagine, her show was the first to have the phrase cool used to describe it as something other than the refrigerator.  Now that’s cool to be called cool for the first time!

3 of a Kind: Doris, Cari and Juan share in common the joy of a life changed by Arthur Murray

Flashback to the conference room of the famed Fontainebleu in Miami.  There we sat as Ms. Travis finished her interview.  She rose from her chair to a thunderous standing ovation, strutted a couple of dance moves to show us all that she still has it and proceeded to allow us the privilege of taking a photo with her one last time before her exit.  Over the years she accomplished much.  From joining Arthur Murray and owning her many studios to having her television and Broadway career.  From getting her bachelor’s degree at the University of Oklahoma graduating cum laude at age 88 to being presented with an honorary doctorate at 100.  This woman had done it all.

Her final curtain call came on the day of May 11, 2010.  Fresh off the celebration of her 106th birthday.  She will forever be missed and remembered the world over.  This column was created to share with others that which she has shared with us.  Created to share her wonderful life that touched so many.  And as for this person, she couldn’t have made a bigger impression as an icon.

I guess now she gets to bug Arthur once more to figure out how she can get a franchise in the sky.