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Save the Last Whip for Me
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Written by Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
April 24, 2001

 


Mario Robau, Jr.

Mario Robau, Jr., is not only Houston's leading teacher of the Whip and the West Coast Swing, he is the most famous Swing teacher in all of the United States. It is a credit to his stature that he was able to pretty much single-handedly transform Houston from a Whip city into a West Coast Swing city with a single wave of his hand.

Just so you know exactly where I stand concerning this move, I applaud him. My guess is his decision to embrace WCS wholeheartedly accelerated its immersion into the Houston market by 2 or 3 years. Rather than languish with an outmoded system, Mario's bold move brought Houston on board with the dance that had already conquered the rest of the country. I might add Mario was the only man in the city who could have pulled this off as cleanly as he did. 

You see, Mario is the undisputed leader of the Houston Whip/WCS community. He warrants so much respect, people are willing to follow his leadership. For example, despite my overwhelming fondness for the Whip, when I was told of his move to WCS, my first thought was only that he made his decision based on something the rest of us didn't know about. I was well aware he was on top of the mountain and could see the whole picture much better than the rest of us "local dance teachers." Although my alarm bells went off because it meant the Whip was in more danger than ever before, I completely trusted that he knew what he was doing.

Mario's Background

Here is a little bit of history about Mario Robau, Jr. I do not know him on a personal level, but since we have followed similar paths through the years, it has been easy to follow his career. 

Mario was a football player at Sharpstown High School when his father, Mario Sr., began teaching him how to Whip. Due to his natural ability and his father's attention, he picked the dance up very quickly. Mario soon began winning Whip contests here in Houston in the early 80s as a long, tall skinny teenager. After high school, he went north for a long stay in Dallas where he immersed himself deeply into daily Whip/Push training. I heard he lived and breathed the dance for over a year, possibly longer. Mario returned to Houston to become the leading Whip dancer in the state of Texas.

Mario won practically every contest in sight throughout the 80s until he got tired of winning all the time. Texas got too small for him, so he turned his attention to the national scene. It is my understanding that Mario won the US Open National Swing Championship on two different occasions in the early 90s. I also know for a fact that he nearly won the event two other times in the mid 90s, finishing a frustratingly close "second" both times. 

After all his glory in dance competitions, the late 90s saw Mario back off from competition to concentrate more on teaching in Houston at the Southwest Whip Club as well as conducting dance workshops around the country nearly every weekend of the year. It is said that he travels 47 weekends out of 52 a year to teach workshops at contests and dance conventions. 

It was during the 90s that Mario became the most famous Swing dance teacher in the U.S. Mario's incredible knowledge of music and dance combined with a terrific wit and stage presence made him easily the most popular slotted swing teacher in the country. As a simple example of his fame, I can't pick up a national dance magazine without finding at least one reference, anecdote, or quote attributed to Mario Jr. Although I understand that he has begun to tire of his prominence since it takes so much time away from his family, the fact is undeniable that his name is known everywhere.

I might add that Mario is a very busy man. I attempted twice to interview him for this article, but both times he was too preoccupied to sit down with me. Instead I will just speculate about the possible reasons behind his decision to import WCS into Houston. (Note: If I am totally off-base, I do not mind being corrected. I will be happy to add any new information in an update to this article in next month's SSQQ Newsletter). 

The Big Move

It is a safe guess that during the 90s Mario became sold on the importance of bringing WCS into Houston as a result of his experiences throughout the country. During his trips to every major dance community in America, I imagine Mario was not only asked to share the double-resistance secrets of the Whip with other dance professionals, but he in turn was profoundly influenced by the West Coast Swing techniques he came into contact with every place he went outside of Texas. I am sure Mario soon realized West Coast Swing was THE DANCE practically everywhere else in the country.  

And I imagine at some point he decided despite his personal fondness for the Whip (please recall his quote at the top of this article) that there were too many compelling reasons to bring WCS to Houston to postpone the move any longer.

In 1999, Mario persuaded Damon and Lisa D'Amico to leave their hometown of New Orleans to relocate to Houston. West Coast Swing champions in their own right, Damon and Lisa were asked by Mario to come to Houston for the explicit reason of bringing their knowledge of West Coast Swing to the Southwest Whip Club. 

Although other Houston-area dance teachers had been quietly making the same move, it was Mario's stature that alerted everyone WCS was not just a fad, it was here to stay.

And now the die was cast. If one paid close attention, the death knell for the Houston Whip could be heard starting to toll…

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