Halloween Stories
Home Halloween Party from Hell

   

Tales of the SSQQ Halloween Party
By Rick Archer,  October 2007

Over the years, the SSQQ Halloween Party has grown to the point where it might be considered a Legend.  From the very first party on, our Halloween Parties have been popular events.  Halloween and dancing seem to go hand in hand.  The party has grown so large it attracts crowds approaching 300 people.  The studio is so full that we completely fill 2 dance floors with wall to wall people. 

I
n 1978, our first SSQQ Halloween Party was held at a student's apartment clubhouse. The second party was at Stevens of Hollywood in 1979.  Starting in 1980, the rest of the parties have been at our location on Bissonnet.  Simple addition shows we have had more than a few parties.  2007 marks Number 30.

With this many parties, as you might imagine, over the years things have happened. Some of the stories are funny, some are odd, and one incident was downright frightening.    We hope you enjoy the anecdotes!

Tales from the Crypt The SSQQ Haunted House Things Go Wrong
The Halloween Party from Hell The Story of the Monster Mash Back to the Top

 Tales from the Crypt

Shortly before the night of the 2000 Halloween Party, I came to the studio to discover a mystery - Dracula had been "disturbed". 

If you are new to the SSQQ Halloween, it helps to know that Dracula and his coffin serve as centerpiece.  "Dracula" is a big part of SSQQ Halloween. More people have had their Halloween pictures taken with Dracula at the studio than any other monster. 

It must be because Dracula is so cute and photogenic. Or maybe he is just in a very strategic spot in Room 2.

I credit Southern Importers for giving me the idea to have a semi-realistic Dracula.

In 1991 Southern Importers posted an incredibly realistic Dracula lying in repose next to their front door.  People would line up next to his coffin to marvel at how perfect the sleeping Dracula looked, only to suddenly flinch in terror as Dracula's hand would rise swiftly to grab them!! 

I was fortunate not to fall for their trap.  I was in such a hurry that I just glanced at Dracula in admiration and kept on going.  A few minutes after entering the store, I heard screams followed by nervous laughter. Curious, I decided to see what was going on. 

I discovered six or seven people where surrounding Dracula's coffin in animated conversation.  Every time a new person walked in the store, they would hush and wait to see what happened.  If the newcomer stopped to look, sure enough the hand would jump up to grab him or her/.  Screams would be heard throughout the store and everybody who was in on the joke would laugh.

I didn't have a clue how they pulled off this trick so I began to watch from a distance.  I discovered the
policeman who runs security at the store had wired up Dracula's hand using fish line.  From a remote vantage point 20 feet away, he could wait for the perfect moment to jerk the wire.    I smiled.   He would definitely have gotten me too.  What a great trick!

While I observed, I saw one poor lady who completely fell apart.  

Our victim was ranting and raving about how great Dracula looked.  She had 5 kids with her and a girl friend too.  Just fooling around, this lady actually leaned over the coffin to expose her neck.  She dared Dracula to bite her.  The policeman's timing could not have been better. Up leapt that hand and out came a blood-curdling scream that would have made Janet Leigh proud.

Actress Janet Leigh's
scream in "Psycho" is the most famous movie scream in screen history. Her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis carried on the family tradition in "Halloween".  Well, guess what, this woman's scream was real.  She was terrified!

I hoped to duplicate this horror magic at SSQQ.  My friend Larry Carlton offered to help.  At the time, Larry taught shop at a Cy-Fair high school. His teams won many state contests under his guidance.

I told Larry that I wanted a great coffin.  His students made a terrific life-size coffin for me as a class project.  It was incredibly authentic. 

Unfortunately for my purposes making Dracula proved more problematic.  The costume was no problem, but finding an adequate torso was.  I bought an inflatable body, but the results were mediocre.  Again Larry came to the rescue by bringing body parts to the studio: arms, torso, head, legs... all held together with stakes.  How ironic!

Unfortunately the SSQQ Dracula proved too flimsy to jerk around with fish wire.  Every time we jerked the chain, his arm came off.  What a shame.


Wouldn't it be fun to terrorize some dance students?  Oh well.  Instead
over the years we have learned to be content just to admire the impressive coffin with Dracula lying peacefully in repose. 

Former SSQQ instructor Judy Archer had a real talent for making Dracula look good. She created the Dracula costume and would bring Dracula him to life so to speak every year about a week before the party.  It would take Judy about half an hour of careful concentration to complete her task

After that,
we just let him lie there and be gruesome until the party.  Then people would line up for the chance to have their picture taken with him!

DRACULA IS DISTURBED

Dracula typically minds his own business during his celebrity week at the party.  He isn't much fun to look at, so we usually put a blanket over him during class. 

One night In 2000, I came to the studio early.  I noticed the blanket had been removed from Dracula and I could see that his head was no longer attached. 
Nothing was damaged, but his body parts were clearly out of place. Hmm. This was on a Thursday, just two nights before the 2000 party.

Dracula wasn't damaged, just 'disturbed'. 
Someone had obviously been messing with Dracula. I showed Judy who agreed he had been knocked around.   With a frown, Judy immediately set about redoing Dracula.  Neither of us could figure out what had happened to mess him up so much.  It didn't seem like vandalism but rather mischief. 

The mystery was solved the next day.  I always have my friend Solomon, a carpenter, at the studio to help me with the Halloween Decorations.  There are always small construction projects where he is invaluable.

This Friday morning, Solomon brought a friend named Luis along to help.  Solomon and Luis helped me
set up the SSQQ Haunted House.  As the three of us walked through Room 2, Solomon pointed out Dracula to Luis and said something to him in Spanish. Luis frowned deeply as Solomon laughed. I asked Solomon what the deal was. 

THE STORY

The story went like this. Every Wednesday night around midnight Solomon's son Joel cleans the studio with the help of Solomon's wife Rosalva and his daughter Dulce.  Apparently a couple nights earlier Joel was sick, so his sister Dulce asked Luis to take Joel's place in the rotation

To set the scene you need to know the studio is a scary place late at night after the lights are off. The studio gets VERY dark. Until you turn on the wall lights all you have to see by is the eerie glow of the red exit lights. 

For example, one night at Halloween time in 1999 I was frightened so badly I actually screamed out loud!  I was closing up and the last person to leave the studio.  As I was leaving I glanced over my shoulder and was frightened to see a man crouching ready to leap at me... it wasn't till after I had jumped into a "kung fool/ready for battle fighting stance" that I realized it was the new standup Wolfman (see the picture at right) we had just bought for the studio.  Obviously I was quite relieved but that didn't stop my heart from beating furiously for quite a while!   

My subconscious had reacted to a very real threat!!

Getting back to our story, Dulce, Joel's sister, is about 21 and very pretty. Physically Dulce is barely 5 feet tall and quite thin.  It turns out Dulce has a sneaky side.  Using her mother to set Luis up, Dulce turned out the lights in Room 2. She put a broom right next to Dracula's coffin, then showing a lot of guts she actually crawled into the coffin alongside Dracula and closed the lid. A couple minutes later Rosalva asked Luis to go into Room 2 and get the broom next to the coffin. 

More than happy to help, Luis walked into the dimly lit room.  Just as he reached for the broom, Dulce's arm reached out of the coffin to grab Luis as she roared, "I vant to suck your blood!!" 

Luis screamed bloody murder and exploded into a dash out of the studio for the street! 

Rosalva watched the whole thing. She was convulsed with laughter at her daughter's practical joke.  Luis in the meantime had crossed Bissonnet before coming to a stop. Rosalva had to cross the street to calm Luis down and coax him into returning. Luis eventually pulled himself back together, but I am sure he visited a place in his psyche most of us would rather not experience. 

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 The SSQQ Haunted House

SSQQ has an excellent Haunted House. It isn't easy to make a good Haunted House. Just as an example, the Haunted House at the Renaissance Festival in 2001 was so lame even my daughter Sam, age 10, was yawning as we left the place. Despite spending a great of money on terrific displays, the place just wasn't scary at all. Ho hum. 

Most terror revolves around what you can't see. Therefore we keep our Haunted House quite dark. Very dark.

It is quite an adventure to walk through our Maze in Room 6. To create the Maze, we hang several 6-foot tall black felt curtains from the ceiling to make many twists and turns.  Did I say we keep the room as dark as possible?

And the screams from 'Psycho' and the music from 'Halloween' and 'The Exorcist' definitely don't make the walk in the dark any easier. In total darkness with creepy music, shrieks and screams, you may indeed conclude you are more than slightly worried as you begin your trip!

Ghosts fly in the air. Things in the dark touch you. Bats and spiders rub against your faces.

Our guests definitely develop a respect for the adventure. Newcomers to the Haunted House always say their trip through the SSQQ Haunted House turned out to a whole lot spookier than they had expected. 

There is just something about wondering what surprise might lurk around each dark corner that gives people the creeps. Their imaginations are usually working overtime as they slowly take each cautious step!  Some visitors even encounter genuine terror!!  

Back in the 80s and the early 90s, the SSQQ Haunted House used to consist of a long walk through a darkened Room 4 with the creepy music playing. Ho Hum. Cute but boring.

In 1998 Judy Archer got the idea to hang several 6-foot black felt curtains in Room 5. Helped by Susie Merrill and Tom Flaherty, this was the true start of the SSQQ Haunted House. I have to hand it to Judy; I originally made fun of the idea. But once I saw how effective the curtains were, I was very impressed. Now I wanted to play!!

We got serious in 1999 by moving the curtains to Room 6. We added many more curtains and improved the music. With its many twists and turns in the darkness, the walk became a true Maze. Judy added a laboratory, hanging skeletons, a graveyard, and a Psycho display.

The 1999 Haunted House was very cool. Even better it was a complete surprise to our guests. Not having ever gone through it before no one knew what to expect.  Everyone was sweating a little when they exited, then they turned around and thanked us for helping them get into the true spirit of Halloween.

The Haunted House definitely sets the tone for the Party.

 TALES OF HORROR - THE M AND M GIRL!!

In 1999, our first
Haunted House paid unusual dividends as at least one guest experienced true terror that first night!!

That evening a gorgeous redhead named Gayle Luber came traipsing la di da through the Maze with her boyfriend Steve Mink. She and Steve were colorfully dressed as M&Ms. In the grand style of little Red Riding Hood, Gayle carried a basket full of M&Ms. 

Gayle stopped to laugh at the ghoul standing still in one of the curves in the Maze. Gayle told Steve this was the most pathetic monster she had ever seen.  Just as she started to poke the Monster to prove how fake it was, the Monster came to life and reached for her!  

Caught totally off guard, Gayle let out the most blood-curdling real-life scream I have ever heard! 

Her scream was easily as good as the one from the famous Psycho shower scene.  It should have been.  Gayle's scream wasn't faked; it was genuine fear!  

In her panic, Gayle threw her basket of M&Ms in the air and jumped into Steve's arms all in one motion.  As the result of her terror, hundreds of M&Ms came raining from the sky.  As they landed, the M&Ms scattered all over the floor.

I was in another part of the Haunted House at the time.  That scream scared me!  That scream was real!   It sounded like someone had been attacked!  Or maybe someone had fallen and been hurt.  Frankly, I was pretty worried.  I made my way through the secret passage to locate the sound of the terror. 

Just about the time I arrived was when
I heard Gayle begin to laugh. 

Peeking from behind a curtain I realized Gayle had fallen victim to Patrick Steerman  (pictured with Sharon Crawford).  Patrick was an SSQQ Staffer who had volunteered to greet people inside the Maze.  None of us had imagined just how effective Patrick and his ghoul outfit would be, but obviously he was very effective!!

Later at the party I asked Patrick what had happened.  Patrick explained his simple technique - he just stood there in a corner.  If no one paid attention to him, he continued to remain a motionless prop.  In Gayle's case, a couple people had just passed Patrick without incident.  Watching them pass, Gayle let down her guard when she saw how harmless Patrick was. This made her even more vulnerable to his trap!

I will never forget this incident. Not only did I hear the scream first-hand, the next morning I was given a vivid reminder. 

In order for classes to be held in Room 6 on Sunday, we always have to dismantle the Maze the morning after the party.  Although the curtains come down a lot faster than they go up, it is still requires two hours of four people working together to finish the job. 

The morning after Gayle's moment of terror, I was up early to begin the cleanup.  As I took down the curtains, I couldn't keep my eyes off those M&Ms laying there on the floor.  The longer I worked, the more my desire grew.  Pretty soon I was certain they were talking to me.

"You know you want to eat us!  We taste so good and you are so hungry!  mmmm!!"

Yeah, yeah, I know they had millions of germs on them blah blah blah.  Let me tell you something - if you get hungry enough, those germ arguments lose a lot of their power!!  I fought the urge, but the charms of the M&Ms continued weaken my resistance.  The siren call of the M&Ms grew louder and louder.  Finally I had to have one.  Making sure no one was looking, I reached down and grabbed one off the floor

I
ate it!  That's when I discovered it had a peanut inside!!

Uh oh!  That did it!!  These M&Ms had nuts in them.  Now I was completely helpless.  

You know how you spill something in the kitchen and you call the dog to come eat it up?   Well, that was me. 
My resistance caved in and I became an M&M tramp.  I spent the rest of the morning carefully ridding the floor of all M&Ms by eating them.  Yum!!!  

What a marvelous cleaning technique!!  I had so much fun I even took a picture of them. Such wonderful memories.   By the way, for you germ experts, please note the dark lining of filthy dirt on the wall.  Also please note that ten years later I am alive and doing fine.  So put that in your bonnet and figure it out.

By the way, there is a cute footnote to this story.  Steve and Gayle were Swing Kids who originally met in Swing classes at SSQQ.  After a lengthy engagement, they got married in May 2002.

I am so glad to see they weren't too traumatized by Patrick's monster!   

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Things GO WRONG

I love Halloween. As a Scorpio due to my October birthday, astrologically I am supposed to be fascinated with the Occult and the Hidden Side of things. Well, this pegs me to a Tee!!  I get the biggest kick out of the costumes, the monsters, and the legends. While most people prefer Christmas, I freely admit my favorite time of the year is Halloween without a doubt. As a result, the SSQQ Halloween Party has always been a labor of love. 

However not everything associated with the Halloween Party has been fun. There have been quite a few headaches that I could have done without. 

For example, in 1998 we had just finished installing $50,000 of new dance flooring. We were so proud of our floor!!  It was just beautiful. So imagine my shock when I looked up and saw some guy roller skating around the dance floor!  Not only did he barely avoid knocking down dancers as he flew by, he was skating to his heart's content.  Now many dancers wear special shoes that are designed particularly to protect elegant surfaces such as our new floor.  

Who on earth is stupid enough to wear roller skates on a perfect dance floor without even asking first? 

Another gentleman came as a Scarecrow one year. It was a great outfit complete with real straw. In fact I am sure he saw a scarecrow in some field and stole it on the spot complete with rags, hat, and straw!  In retrospect I guess if he had known what a pain in the butt his outfit would turn out to be, I suppose he would have thought twice.  But  the fact of the matter was that as he danced around the room eventually every piece of straw in his outfit ended up on our floor. 

It took hours to clean that straw up. It was everywhere!!  Indeed each night for a week I was still finding straw in places I didn't know even existed. Straw that fell from his outfit was found in every room that night including the lady's bathroom too.  How the straw got in there I am still curious to know!

Another incident that I have never gotten out of my craw was the disappearance of my 'horror tape'.  Even before the Haunted House, we used to have one room that was dark and creepy. In the background played a Horror cassette tape. I am a bit of an expert on Horror music since I have bought so many of them. Screams, creaking doors, thunder, eerie ghost sounds, you name it, I have heard them all. And yes, they all help to set the mood. 

What made my favorite Horror tape so good was it combined organ music with vocals. It turns out the spookiest sound of all is the human voice. This particular narrator would give me the creeps with his suggestions of eternal damnation, stories of disembodied souls, and the dangers of entering the mansion on top of the hill!  It was a really spooky tape.

One night in 1992 as we cleaned up after the party, I opened up the cassette player to retrieve my wonderful Horror tape only to find it was gone. Someone apparently noticed the excellence of the tape and took it home with them. What has always hurt the most is that despite buying every Halloween CD or cassette since the theft of my favorite tape, nothing has even come close since. I am still so aggravated!

Then of course there is my own stupidity to deal with. The dumbest mistake I ever made was the Dance Wax episode of 1980.

To set the scene, in September 1980 I was asked to leave Stevens of Hollywood for good.  I was given two weeks to find another place for my dance classes.  Fortunately I got lucky.  I was taking private dance lessons from a teacher named Glen Hunsucker. His studio was called 'Dance Arts Unlimited'.  Glen specialized in teaching jazz, tap, and ballet.

By coincidence, Glen had recently relocated to a much larger place on Bissonnet. He said he had two extra rooms I could use.

So
I sub-leased the two rooms.    We officially moved in on October 20, 1980.  My thoughts quickly turned to having a Halloween Party.  

In order to have a Halloween Party, Glen said I would have to pay extra rent to use the entire studio.  In addition I had to bring in my own sound equipment and make sure all the decorations were down the next day.  I agreed to the terms.

The night of the 1980 Halloween Party, a visitor to the party begged me to use dance wax.  This was a new request.

As you will see, in regards to the dance wax incident, no truer words have ever been spoken.  I was about to learn another painful lesson the hard way. 

I knew absolutely nothing about dance wax.  I had never even heard of dance wax before.  I had no idea how dance wax was even supposed to be used.  Whenever my group went dancing, we would leave the studio and go to some club.  Dancing here at Dance Arts was a new thing.  

However dance wax didn't sound dangerous.  

I looked at the man and decided his idea seemed like an innocent request.  So I said sure, go ahead and use it!  Then I walked away to begin my next Halloween Party chore.

Left to his own devices, the man reportedly emptied two entire cans of dance wax.  He didn't know anything about it either!! 

To make his girlfriend happy, he sprinkled all the contents from both canisters all across the floor.

It didn't take but minutes to discover this dance wax was murder!  The dance wax coated the entire floor with a surface so slick we could have played ice hockey in there that night.

What a nightmare!! 

No one could dance.  Everyone complained.  Ordinarily a little dance wax is useful for sliding your feet in Western dancing, but this was ridiculous. People were even having trouble standing up!  Soon my ears were burning.  Oh my gosh, people were mad!

I was sick in my stomach. I got out a broom and swept the stuff up (the picture was taken the night of the dance wax blunder).  It did no good. The damn stuff was glued to the floor.  I had no idea what the antidote to this stuff was.

The dance wax effectively killed the party an hour early.  I watched helplessly as all my guests shrugged their shoulders and took off.  I was fit to be tied.

After everyone left, I got a mop and worked over the entire floor. It still did no good!  I had not a clue how to get this wax off the floor.  Two hours later I was exhausted. 

I decided I had no choice but to give up and go home. 

A few hours later I was awakened by a phone call.  It was Glen Hunsucker, the owner of Dance Arts. The moment I answered, he started screaming at me about the dance wax!!  Glen was furious that I had ruined his floor. 

His jazz dancers were completely unable to dance. Jazz dancing requires quick stops and changes of direction.  Each time a dancer would plant their foot, the foot would keep going.  There was absolutely no traction.  The dancers were literally afraid of hurting themselves, much less being able to dance.  My mistake was a fiasco!

Glen's immediate solution was to move his rehearsal to the backroom where I usually held my classes.  Although the room was much too small, at least this area had no wax in it.  Then he hired a man to get the wax up professionally. The bill - which of course I had to pay - was over $500.   That bill really stung.  That was a lot of money for me in those early days of my career.

Still the money was nothing compared to the psychic pain. I think I stayed in Glen's doghouse for an entire year over that incident. He reminded me of my stupidity at least once a month.

One year later, Glen raked me over the coals when I asked to use the studio for our next Halloween Party.  He made me beg, crawl, and plead for a week before he finally relented to let me use the studio again after ruining the place the previous year.

I was so miserable about the whole thing. 

Naturally you assume the dance wax incident was the worst thing that ever happened at an SSQQ Halloween Party.  Wrong.  I haven't told you about the Halloween Party from Hell a year later.  Interestingly, as you will see, the dance wax story actually played a major factor in this event.

Warning - If you are squeamish by nature, do not read the following story.  It is a tale of misery you will find hard to believe.


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The Story of the Monster Mash

Sometimes in a morbid moment you wonder what your epitaph might be. I suppose if my friend Mike Fagan has anything to do with it, I will have a very unusual epitaph. 

Mike says the thing he will remembered me best for is that I got rich selling a dance where people paid me a lot of money to teach them how to dance poorly. 

THE MAKING OF THE MONSTER MASH

The Monster Mash is actually a pretty clever dance.  It is a simple dance, but when you look closer you will see each movement fits the music like a glove. I think Mike is being a little hard on me. You don't suppose he is a little jealous maybe?  I mean, after all, Mike has to work for his money! 

The inspiration for the Monster Mash began in the spring of 1992. One night at Practice Night a lady named Stacy and her girlfriend Trina were watching as I taught our Sock Hop line dances. As they sat on the chairs behind me, they were twirling their arms and making goofy points with their fingers. Amused, I went over and asked them what they were doing. 

Stacy said she was a dancing raisin from the California Raisin commercials. This struck a chord. By an odd coincidence, I had discovered a $5 CD of California Raisin music at a music store and bought it on a whim. On the album was the California Raisin version of Marvin Gaye's classic "Heard it Through the Grapevine". 

Mike Fagan is a former Texas State Whip champion who in his spare time just happens to be a genius.   Mike went to Stanford, then received a PhD in computer science from Cal Berkeley.  Today Mike is the head of the computer research dept at Rice University.   As an academic, Mike regularly slaves long hours for little pay investigating the secrets of computer engineering. 

As someone who is accustomed to being around very bright people, Mike loves to tease me that I have found the one profession - dance teaching - where 'intelligence' may not be necessary to succeed

Mike is one of my best friends, but he does have the irritating ability to tease me better than anyone I know.  Over the years he has had way too much fun at my expense.  As the saying goes, with friends like him, who needs enemies?

As smart as Mike is, there is one thing about me he has never been able to figure out. The question that has bothered Mike ever since he has known me is how one night in 1992 I ever managed to get ONE HUNDRED people to pay me $10 a person to teach them how to look ridiculous and dance poorly. 

It may just be envy.  After all, Mike is a highly-educated genius, but he doesn't always get paid very well despite his incredibly difficult work.  At the same time, when compared to Mike, I am about as smart as a moron.  

Yet Mike has always been impressed that one day in the grand tradition of PT Barnum ('there's a sucker born every day') I managed to separate seemingly bright people from their hard-earned cash with amazing ease. In a sarcastic, yet oddly affectionate way, to this day Mike remains stupefied that people who appear to have brains and jobs would fork over $10 to take a Halloween Line Dance Crash Course and that I was clever enough to talk them into it

So how did I do it?   Well, I can't say I put a lot of foresight into my Monster Mash Scam, but I did use one trick - I refused to show anyone what the dance looked like. No one knew what the dance looked like.

There's an old saying: "I'll give you a peek and show you the rest if you'll buy me a house in Hollywood West."  Or, in other words, curiosity killed the cat.  You get the picture.  For some reason, people were actually very curious what my silly new dance looked like.

THE MAKING OF THE MONSTER MASH

If you can permit a moment of immodesty, I think the Monster Mash is actually a pretty clever dance.  It is a simple dance, but when you look closer you will see each movement fits the music like a glove. I think Mike is being a little hard on me. You don't suppose he is a little jealous?  I mean, after all, Mike has to work for his money! 

The inspiration for the Monster Mash came six months earlier in the spring of 1992. One night at Practice Night a pretty lady named Stacy and her girlfriend Trina were watching as I taught our Sock Hop line dances.

As they sat on the chairs behind me, they were twirling their arms and making goofy pointing motions with their fingers.  Amused, I went over and asked them what they were doing. 

Stacy said she was pretending to be a Dancing Raisin from the California Raisin commercials.  I laughed.  How clever!   Then I had a flash.  Stacy's move had struck a chord.  By an odd coincidence, I had recently discovered a $5 used CD of California Raisin music at a music store. I looked at the titles and bought it on a whim.  On the album was the California Raisin version of Marvin Gaye's classic "Heard it Through the Grapevine". 

I was intrigued. Since I was already teaching Sock Hop Lines, I wondered if I could make up a dance based on Stacy's Raisin moves.

I spent the next couple days choreographing a line dance to the California Raisin "Grapevine" song. I incorporated Stacy's arm movements and added a few of my own. I also took suggestions.  Pretty soon I had a very clever little dance!   When we debuted the Raisin Dance at the 1992 Sock Hop, it was a huge hit. Everyone got a big kick out of it. 

As Halloween rolled around, my memory returned to the success of the Raisin Dance six months earlier. We had always danced the Four Corners to "I'm Your Boogie Man" by KC and the Sunshine Band at the Halloween Party, but that was about it for line dances. Quickly my thoughts latched onto the goofy Halloween song "Monster Mash". 

As I choreographed movements to the song, I would ask people what they thought. The universal reply was "too graceful".  I was locked into the 1980s Thriller Video, but my advisors visualized the stiff, awkward movements of Frankenstein. They told me they couldn't imagine a monster dancing very comfortably.

The whole idea of the song was a bunch of corpses, i.e. 'stiffs', coming alive to dance at Halloween time. "They did the Mash, it was a Graveyard Smash". Finally I realized my mistake. I had been fixated on the sophisticated dancing of Thriller, but my moves didn't fit the concept of the song.  With the suggestion to make the dance uglier, now I was able to think out of the box. So I turned my toes in, touched my knees, and lurched around… bingo!! 

Immediately my critics smiled. The uglier the dance got, the better it looked. 


Now that I was off of Michael Jackson and thinking more like Weird Al Jankovich, I was ready to rock.

I got a wonderful inspiration to copy an ancient dance from my youth called The Freddy from a Herman's Hermits song. The Freddy was a very stupid dance from the Sixties where straight arms and straight legs would fly out at the same time. It looked ridiculous 30 years ago and it still did now.

If I had a conscience, I would have done Society a favor and allowed The Freddy to die a much-deserved death, but like a fool I resurrected it from its grave.  All I had to do was change the move a little by lifting the arms with the elbows bent and the hands pointed down.  It looked horrible. Voila!!

Now that I had a perfectly awful movement to fit the phrase "They did the Monster Mash", I smiled with great satisfaction.  I was on to something!!   Next I added the popular Monster Stomp as a take-off on old-fashioned barn dancing. Everyone liked that too. Then I added a toes-in lurch pattern and called it The Frankie Twist. As you can see in the picture at right, The Frankie Twist  was perfectly awful. 

The second half of the dance was complete. Now I was ready for the finishing touch. I added the Igor Shuffle, a pattern called Monster Attack, and a pattern called Scary to complete the first half.

I thought the dance was extremely clever. It fit the music perfectly!  I was proud of myself.

The 1992 Halloween Party would be the event where I first unveiled the Monster Mash.

I decided to teach the Monster Mash in a Crash Course that would begin two hours before the Party started. I told everyone they better learn it because we were going to film them dancing it at the Halloween Party, then show it on the studio TV the following week.  That got their attention!   They could be movie stars!

Then I began to manipulate their curiosity.  Earlier in the year the Raisin Dance had been such a big hit, I was able to play off its popularity by telling my students that the Monster Mash was even better.  I teased my students endlessly with little peeks and of course they played along by begging for more.

I said, 'No way!  Come learn it at the Crash Course!'  Of course they protested, but I could see they were hooked.  Shame on me. I was a smooth-talking guy!!

Please don't misunderstand. I could have cared less about making big bucks.  I was just having fun!  I knew I had cooked up a very cute, clever little dance and I was just as proud of it as any writer would be after getting his first story published in a magazine.  My students knew I was playing a game with them and they fed off of my enthusiasm.

I announced in every class for weeks that we would teach the Monster Mash and all the other line dances in a Crash Course that began a couple hours before the party. The chance to show off on TV, the curiosity about the dance, the memory of how much fun the Raisin Dance had been all worked in my favor.

Coming to the studio an hour early was convenient and the whole thing
sounded like fun.  The buzz was huge. I don't know who to thank, but apparently the leaders of the "In-Crowd" decided coming to the Halloween Party Line Dance Crash Course was the 'In Thing' to do that year.  At that point a bunch of people decided to take it as a group.  Those people turned around and recruited their friends.  Without my knowing, the idea snow-balled into something big.

On the night of the 1992 Halloween Party, we had 100 people show up for the Monster Mash Crash Course.  I was astonished.  Never in my wildest imagination had I expected a crowd this big!

Sure enough, 100 people showed up at 7 pm the night of the party in order to be the Very First Humans ever to learn the amazing 'Monster Mash'.  I sense that the reader is having a hard time believing this too, but I swear it is true. ONE HUNDRED PEOPLE.


MIKE FAGAN'S JAW DROPS!!

Shortly after I started the Monster Mash Workshop, Mike Fagan came to the studio early to help us set up for the party.

He wondered why the parking lot was so full of cars and asked some people what the big deal was.  They pointed down the hallway, so Mike wandered into Room 1.

Mike stopped at the door. His mouth dropped in amazement.  He watched in total shock as 100 students practiced the precise footwork of the Monster Mash such as the Monster Stomp, the Igor Shuffle, and the Frankie Twist

I noticed Mike out of the corner of my eye and waved to him.  Mike had been teasing me for weeks about the Monster Mash in a good-natured way.  But now it was almost too difficult for Mike to restrain himself.  Let's speak candidly - the students looked pretty silly dancing the Monster Mash.  But it was one thing for them to look silly.  That Mike could handle.  But it was much harder to hold back the belly laugh when he realized just how seriously the students were taking the instruction. 

One man asked me how far to turn his toe in on the Frankie TwistA woman asked me how much to bend her knee. 

From the corner of my eye I thought Mike would rupture. 

We took a short Break. After all, this Monster Dancing can be very tiring!   Mike immediately cornered me.  He was laughing his head off to see so many people.  That's when I mentioned they had each paid $10 for the Crash Course.  That is when Mike stopped laughing. He had not realized I charged MONEY to learn this dance.

"Are you telling me you are making $1,000 teaching that stupid dance?"

I simply smiled back. Why upset him any further?

"Those people look terrible!"   I nodded quietly in agreement.

"They are paying you $10 a person to teach them how to dance poorly!?"   I nodded again.

Mike nearly went into shock. His face indicated total astonishment.  His eyes became glassy.  Mike was a brilliant scientist with a PhD in one of the toughest fields in academia, but I had just made in a couple hours nearly the same amount as he made in two weeks work at Rice University. 

Mike was having a lot of trouble wrapping his brain around the injustice of the moment.

He looked at me and said, "How did you do it?"  

The tone of his voice was vaguely reminiscent of the
classic line 'I am not worthy'.

This moment was special because without a doubt it marked the most respect Mike has ever shown me in our entire 20 year relationship.  I will always savor Mike's incredulity as one of the crowning moments of my wonderful life.

Mike could be seen shaking his head in disbelief for the rest of the night. Perhaps you might imagine how much I savored this moment. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had an evil idea.  With a smile I told Mike I usually got even more people and that this was a slow night. It took him several years before I confessed I had been pulling his leg.

Mike has never recovered. Each year at Halloween Time Mike still gets that haunted look. He will rant to anyone who will listen how amazed he is that I continue to persuade people year-in year-out to part with hard-earned cash for the privilege of looking awful. 

What Mike didn't know was that those huge numbers were a one-time aberration. Mostly it was just curiosity and the chance to get in the mood for the party early. I am sure if most of them had a clue how goofy the dance was, the numbers would have been much less.  Sometimes it doesn't hurt to do the Fan Dance, yes? 

And to be honest, I was pretty surprised myself at the number of people who came. I hadn't expected to have anywhere near this many people show up, but I never told Mike Fagan this. I just let him continue to think I got 100 people on a regular basis. 

One more thing - we haven't charged people to learn the Monster Mash in years. I started teaching all the Line Dances for free during the week before the party long ago. But I have never told this to Mike. He continues to believe I make $1,000 every year for teaching the Monster Mash.  Let's leave it that way.

That same night we debuted the Monster Mash at the 1992 Halloween Party.  With 100 people screaming their heads off in laughter, the Monster Mash was just as big a  hit as the Raisin Dance had been earlier in the year. 

What made it fun was the freedom to dance the Monster Mash about as spastically as humanly possible. Yes, the critics were right. The uglier we danced it, the better it looked. There was no doubt about it - the Monster Mash was the first dance ever created where dancing badly looked better than dancing gracefully.

It was the Revenge of the Two Left Feet Nerds.

Although I deeply appreciated the artistic and financial success of the dance, in retrospect I wish I had chosen a different costume to dance in for the debut.

I looked totally ridiculous as the Head Monster wearing a clown costume.  By the way, that's my daughter Sam, age 1, and her mother Judy in the picture. I guess I wasn't very scary, was I? 

Mike didn't let me forget it either.
 In his bitterness, he lashed out at everything.

AFTERMATH

I was so pleased with the reception to the Monster Mash that the following year 1993 I choreographed a dance based on the song and video "Thriller". Then in 1994 I added yet another dance based on a song called "Monster Rap".

By adding the three dances I had choreographed to three other famous line dances - Four Corners ("I'm your Boogie Man"), Slap Leather ("Ghostbusters"), and the Cha Cha Hustle ("Black Magic Woman") - we now had six dances to perform. Just like the Sock Hop Party, now Line Dancing had become a major part of each new Halloween Party. 

And it all started with that night in 1992 when I saw Stacy practicing her little move which inspired the Raisin Dance. 

However I was disappointed when the two newest dances - Thriller and Monster Rap - were widely ignored. I couldn't figure out what the problem was.  I was just as proud of these two new dances as I was the Monster Mash and I couldn't figure out why no one liked them.

Then it dawned on me - they were too difficult for people to pick up on the spot at the party!   Both songs involved some pretty sophisticated dancing. 

I realized
most people skipped Thriller and Monster Rap at the party because they realized they looked foolish.  And unlike the Monster Mash, 'foolish' didn't cut it with these two dances.  These dances rewarded 'good dancing', not 'bad dancing'.

Frustrated with the rejection of these two excellent line dances, in 1998 I decided to change my tactics. Rather than make people take a Crash Course to learn the six dances, I decided to just give the line dances away for free. I decided I would rather make less money if I could have more people participate in the Line Dancing at the party.  I have never told Mike Fagan about this decision because he wouldn't be able to understand it.  He may be smart, but he gets confused by the lure of easy money and dance studio scams.

So in 1998 we began to teach the dances  for free. People could simply come an hour early from 6-7 pm each week night before the party, learn the dances, then stay for their regular 7-9 pm class.  As a result, for the past several years anywhere from 10 to 30 people make an effort to show up early to learn the dances ahead of time. 

This turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made. Now when we start the Line Dancing at the Halloween Party, the floor is crowded from wall to wall with Monsters dancing their fangs and claws off.

It is a real treat to see.  The costumes are so good and the dancing is so good that at times it looks like a scene straight out of the Thriller Video. It is really a lot of fun to watch!

And let me add that of all the 6 dances we do, the one people still talk about is the Monster Mash. It was the dance that started the tradition and it is the dance that makes people laugh. 

The Monster Mash is indeed a Graveyard Smash.  And this is a good thing!

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THE 1981 HALLOWEEN PARTY FROM HELL

2007 UPDATE

This is the absolute true story of the longest and most frightening night of my entire life. 

I have always loved throwing my Halloween Party.  Dancing and Costumes go so well together and it is always fun to promote a little mischief.   People appreciate my efforts.  They compliment me on hosting such a well-run party.  Of course I enjoy the kind words, but inwardly I always smile at the part about the 'well-run party'.  These people of course have no idea about all the screw-ups I made in the early years while I was learning my lessons. 

Of course most of the screw-ups occurred at one particular party.  The 1981 Halloween Party from Hell was a catastrophe of unbelievable proportions.  Get ready to be amazed at all the crazy stuff that happened.  I promise you will not be disappointed. 

One serious warning - this is definitely one hell of a good story. But it is also very creepy.  If it is nighttime and you are alone, be sure the doors are locked and your trusty dog is nearby.   Now click the Devil and away you go!

   
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