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Save the Last Whip for Me
Page Two

Written by Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
April 24, 2001

How Did We Get Into This Mess in the First Place?

In order to understand the current dilemma, some background is necessary.

For those of you who know little about the Whip or the West Coast Swing (WCS), Slotted Swing dancing developed in California during World War II as an adaptation to severely crowded dance floors. The "Slot" is a term for dancing in a line, i.e. north-south, east-west Once everyone started to dance in the same direction, twice as many couples were able to take the floor. After the war ended, GIs returning to the Lone Star State brought this new dance back with them. However, once the dance was tried to the slow Rhythm and Blues sound that was prevalent in Texas during the 40s, a different form of the California dance emerged as an adaptation to this radically different music. 

The raw, sexual "down and dirty" feel of the Blues inspired an eye-catching style infamous for its "R-rated bump and grind" hip motion. This new dance became known as Push in the Dallas area and Whip here in Houston. Meanwhile, the dance that started in California continued to develop there along different lines. It eventually became known as West Coast Swing. 

In other words, Whip and West Coast Swing are actually "separated at birth" siblings. In California, the WCS has always been danced to much faster music than the Whip. Since the hip motion used in the Whip is definitely not graceful at the speeds the WCS was danced to, WCS dancers learned to ignore hip motion. Instead, they embraced a style emphasizing flashy footwork and plenty of improvisation. In other words, the difference in the regional music preferred in California versus Texas resulted in two very different looking dances. However, both dances kept many of the same patterns and timing. 

As a result of this inherent similarity, unless the song is extremely fast, it is fairly easy to combine the Whip and the West Coast Swing and dance them both to the same song.

A 50-Year Houston Dance Tradition

Although the Whip has existed in Houston since the end of World War II, even here in its hometown it has never been a widely popular dance. I have danced the Whip for 20 years and I doubt that at any given time there were more than 400 active Whip dancers in the entire city. 

The main reason the Whip is not popular is simple - it is too damn hard for most people to learn well enough to look good at it! Women find the hip motion difficult to master and the men find the double-resistance lead difficult to understand and learn. The number of people who quit Whip lessons out of frustration is legendary. Only the best dancers in the Houston have ever been able to master the Whip. 

The Whip has been struggling to stick around for a long time. For example, the Whip nearly disappeared totally from the Houston dance scene once before. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the back-to-back Disco and C&W dance crazes inspired by "Saturday Night Fever" and "Urban Cowboy" obliterated nearly all interest in the Whip. However to the surprise of many veterans, in the mid 80s the Whip roared back to life when many of Houston's great Western Swing dancers began to tire of Western music and began looking for a new challenge. The Houston dance elite discovered the Whip and became enchanted with its intricacies.  

The Eighties

This brought some very talented dancers into the small Whip community that still existed. However, this new blood began to clash with the Whip old guard who complained that the young "Whippersnappers" were bringing too much Disco influence into a dance that was meant only for R&B music. For example, I was criticized by my teacher for "bouncing too much" and my friend Mike Fagan was criticized as the weirdest Whip dancer that ever existed with his breakdance moves and jazz footwork. Even Mario Jr. once told Mike, an eventual State Whip Champion, that his footwork was straight from the Planet Mars. This quote made so many people laugh (because it was true) that we eventually named our most difficult Whip class after Mike. This is how the SSQQ "Martian Whip" class got its name. 

Out of this clash between the Whip Old Guard and the Young Guns came a compromise - at each contest you could dance Traditional Whip (the old rhythm and blues style) or Contemporary Whip (Whip combined with disco moves, faster music, acrobatics, jazz dancing, costumes, the works). Interestingly, Contemporary Whip began to resemble West Coast Swing (but don't tell anyone!). And, not surprisingly, it was in the Contemporary category that Mike Fagan won his State Championship in. Martian Whip ruled!!

Despite the Whip's strong 5-year revival, in the late 80s interest began to shift back to Western dancing. Songs by George Strait, Clint Black, and Reba McEntire sparked a Western dancing comeback that crested with "Boot Scoot Boogie" and "Achy Breaky Heart" in the early 90s. The Whip once again returned to the endangered species list. Interest in the Whip during this period narrowed to a mere trickle here at the studio, a phenomenon that was echoed throughout the city.

The Nineties - Recent Developments

The 90s brought several important developments that moved the Whip even closer to the brink of extinction. One development was the increased use of dance videotapes to export dance moves across the country. The West Coast Swing had never penetrated Texas to any great extent because most Texas Slotted Swing dancers were quite content with the Whip and knew very little about its WCS counterpart. But once they saw the flashy WCS style on dance competition tapes, the Whip's market share in Texas began to erode.

A second development was the increasing interest in national Country-Western dance contests. These contests feature competition not only in Twostep, Polka, and Waltz, but also in Cha-Cha, East Coast Swing, and, you guessed it, West Coast Swing. Texas dancers have always done well in these competitions since Western music is so popular here. However, Texas dancers quickly discovered that Whip was next to useless at these competitions. Why learn the Whip if it was WCS that was expected on a national platform? As most of the best young dancers gravitated towards WCS, this was definitely a bad omen for the Whip. 

The final problem was a blurring of traditional regional lines as dance teachers flitted across the country by airplane to enter huge national dance contests and conduct workshops. Each region began to see what was going on dance-wise in other parts of the country. As a result, a massive amount of dance "cross-pollination" began to occur throughout America in the 90s. For example, I was amused to see a listing for "Houston Whip" as a dance class at the Northern Virginia Swing Club in 1995. But this door swung two ways: Houston-based dance teachers also began to bring West Coast Swing techniques back to Houston from their trips to other parts of the country.

At the forefront of this development was the man most credited with bringing West Coast Swing to Houston, Mario Robau Jr. 

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