That's when he got his stage name. One night at the Blue Moon in Lowell, he said, the manager who was about to introduce him told him to pick another name because his was too hard to pronounce.
"All I could think of was Arthur Murray," the famous ballroom teacher, he said — and from then on he was known as Gene Murray.
Eventually he moved to New York, taking a nonstop whirl of ballet and other dance classes.
"Ballet was what I really wanted to do," he said, "but I didn't have the body for it.
"I always had to work on my weight. Even today I have three sets of clothes: I have a thin set, I have a medium set, and I have a fat set."
Tap, on the other hand, came easily. At one point he was chosen for a touring group of the June Taylor Dancers and traveled around the country in their Autorama Show, dancing around the cars when the new models came out.
But eventually he returned home, continuing to dance at local nightspots and then teaching, first in a rented studio in Peabody, then in another Essex Street building in Salem, and finally at his current studio at 175 Essex St., where he also has an apartment.
From the start, the Gene Murray School of Dance was different.
He couldn't stand "the ballyhoo of costumes" and the recital that is an end-of-year ritual at so many schools. It cut into the training time for young dancers.
"The first half of the year you'd do the barre" — teaching the fundamentals of ballet — "and then the second half, you'd have to spend teaching some stupid dance for the recital," he said.