Jan Murray obituary

Other lives: Supporter of new forms of dance in the UK, and inspirational teacher of arts journalism

My teacher and friend Jan Murray, who has died at the age of 74, was an outspoken and powerful arts critic and an influential voice for British and international contemporary dance.

Jan was the first dance editor for Time Out, the weekly London magazine, in the 70s, wrote for the Guardian and the Spectator, worked for the Arts Council and was on the board of the London Dance Umbrella festival from its beginning. She was also an inspirational teacher of arts journalism. To Jan, though, her most important and satisfying role was as an early supporter of new forms of black and Asian dance in Britain.

She was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the daughter of Ervine Murray, who worked in advertising, and his wife, Kathleen. Jan studied English at New Brunswick University. She danced in her youth but her height (she was very tall) seemed to rule out that career. Not long after graduation she headed to London to study stage management at Rada, but her love of dance, and writing about it, led her into journalism.

In its early days Time Out was a hotbed of creativity and was a good match for Jan’s talents and temperament. As its dance editor, she championed non-western dance forms such as capoeira and bharatanatyam, then little known or supported, and her expert observations on small companies such as Second Stride helped them to achieve wide recognition. She was especially instrumental in the inception of the MAAS Movers, at the forefront of the early black dance movement.

In 1978, while programming a dance event at the ICA, Jan joined forces with Val Bourne to produce the first Dance Umbrella, now a major international festival. Her book, Dance Now, written in 1979, is still in print.

As dance editor on Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1980s she founded the Young Dancer of the Year award, which gave financial support to gifted but underprivileged dancers.

Jan later taught arts journalism and dance history at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth, and also in London at The Place and at Birkbeck University. Generous, demanding and frank both in print and to her friends, Jan had a huge influence on standards in contemporary dance throughout the world.

Her brother, David Murray, music critic for the Financial Times, died a week before Jan. She is survived by her niece, Alison Fairweather Murray.

Susan Sheahan

The GuardianTramp

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