SALEM — On summer evenings the music drifts out onto the Essex Street pedestrian mall, floating down from the open windows on the third floor of a red-brick building.
A passer-by might pause and look up. Occasionally someone will settle onto a bench to listen. Some have asked if there's a concert upstairs.
For 36 years Gene Murray has kept the music going in his airy studio in downtown Salem, but that will end June 30.
Murray, 72 , is closing his School of Dance, after teaching thousands of local children and adults the art of ballet, the joys of tap and the intricacies of ballroom dancing — all, of course, while minding their manners.
Along the way he's become something of a legend in local dance circles as both a wit and a disciplinarian, a professional tap dancer who always loved ballet first, and a man who knew how to wield a cane — to pound out rhythms while calling out instructions to his dancers.
In the studio, "I take command," he acknowledged. "I always have."
Sometimes he takes command pretty loudly. He cracks up when telling the tale of one dancer, whom he mockingly berated for being late to class, replying that she knew exactly how late she was, "because I could hear your big mouth all the way down the street."
Commanding presence or not, he is devoted to his students.
"He always has a pet name for all the girls that he makes up," said JoAnna Mooney of Beverly, who has been taking her daughter to classes there for five years. "... He really is passionate about the girls loving what they do and doing it well."
Although he's taught thousands of children, he's also taught a lot of adults — including quite a few dance teachers who still take class at his studio.