The May 2009 SSQQ
Newsletter Issue Three
Written by Rick Archer
REMINDER: HONKY-TONK BLUES WESTERN PARTY, SATURDAY, MAY 16
9:15 - 11:30 pm, cover charge $7
Take a Cue and Wear some Blue!
7-9 CRASH COURSES
(To register, just show up 15 minutes before class starts.
Registration goes very fast.)
BEG C&W: TEXAS TWOSTEP - Robert and Cher
INT TWOSTEP: CIRCLE TURNS - Linda
DIRTY DANCING (Cpls Only) - Ben
BEG WESTERN CHA CHA - Anita
BEG WESTERN WALTZ - Jill
MORE SYNCHRONIZED POLKA - Steve C
A fun evening of Western Dancing! The featured Crash Course is Ben
Liles and his infamous "Dirty Dancing" Crash Course. The Dirty
Dance Crash Course is twenty years old, but it is just as much fun
today as it has been for the last two decades. Based of course on
the movie, these intimate moves are best used to Swing and Jitterbug
music. However a creative mind can find many different dances to
apply them to. Some people don't even need music.
Another interesting Crash Course will be Steve Casko's "More
Synchronized Polka". This class will cover difficult patterns such
as clockwise and counterclockwise Shadows and Handoffs, Dishrags and
Pinwheels. If you haven't had the Beginning Sync Polka crash
course, you can take this one anyway as long as you can Polka well.
Otherwise it isn't fair to hold the class up.
Today Thursday around noon my daughter Sam, 17, came in to my
office. Sam is a Senior at Duchesne, a private Catholic girls
school on the corner of Memorial and Chimney Rock.
Sam had just completed her final Final Exam today. Sam is finished
with high school on her way to the University of Texas next fall.
Sam has been going to Duchesne for fourteen years - practically her
entire life! In my opinion, she has received a marvelous education
at this school. I recommend this school to anyone who wants their
daughter to get a first-rate college prep education.
Sam and I would like to take this time to thank all of you for
supporting Sam's academic career all these years through your
patronage of the dance studio.
THE MISSING JOKE PICTURES
In last week's Newsletter I wrote about five new Joke Pictures on
the SSQQ Web Site, but forgot to list a URL. That was typical of my
scattered mind these days.
If you want a quick smile, go visit
DANCING THE VIENNESE WALTZ IN AUSTRIA
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2009 4:27 PM
Subject: Private Lessons - Austrian type of Waltz
After enjoying our two months of East Coast
Swing lessons at SSQQ earlier this year for our daughter's wedding,
my husband Richard and I could be considered advanced beginner or
intermediate level swing dancers. Now we are traveling to Austria in
mid June of this year, and we wanted to have some private Waltz
lessons to get us up to speed in short order. Is there anyone who
can help us out in this regard? Thank you for your help, Mary &
(RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: Now doesn't that sound
like fun? These two are with a group going to Austria. On one of
the nights, they are supposed to have a class in "Viennese Waltz"
with a dance to follow. Richard and Mary decided the smart thing to
do was to get a head start.
I enjoyed helping them get ready, but now I am really envious!
Marla needs to schedule a cruise to Austria. Please pester her to
Mario ROBAU's Intensive Weekend - April 24-26, 2009
FORWARD: MARIO'S SOLAR WHIP CLASS ON MONDAYS
As Memorial Day approaches, Mario Robau is currently finishing up
his second month teaching here at SSQQ.
His first two classes here have been a phenomenal success by every
measure. For example, Mario's first class in April had 100 people;
his second class in May had 80 (a number that surely would have been
higher if not for the huge rain deluge on Registration Night).
Mario has been able to challenge his students in ways I never
thought possible in a group setting. Oddly enough, Mario has not
taught difficult patterns. Instead, he has concentrated on making
normal patterns fancier using footwork techniques. It is amusing to
see many of Houston's finest Swing dancers try to master the
intricacies of syncopations and flying feet. These are people who
are not used to feeling foolish on the dance floor any longer, but
here they are grimacing as they try to master lightning quick dance
And you know what? They love it. You don't get to be as good as
these people are by shying away from challenges. Furthermore, they
are overjoyed to have the man who can best challenge them emerge
from his self-imposed retirement to begin kicking their backsides
again. Bring it on!
Best of all, Mario seems to be enjoying himself. In his own words,
his days of competitive dancing are winding down. After a career of
double figure Houston City Championships, double figure Texas State
Championships, three US Open Swing Championships plus many other
equally impressive accomplishments, competitive dancing has lost
some of zest.
These days Mario is turning his attention to teaching more 'social
dancing' than he used to. This is one reason why he was receptive
to teaching here at SSQQ... social dancing has always been our
When Mario and I first talked about establishing his "Solar Whip"
class here, I asked him if he would be interested in participating
in our April Sleazy Bar Dance Party. Mario grinned and said it
would be an honor. Mario then asked if I would consider organizing
an "Intensive Weekend" for him.
Since I had no idea what an "Intensive" was, I asked him to
explain. Mario explained the Intensive was more like a college
lecture course than it was a dance class. He said there would be
dancing of course, but the emphasis was mostly on 'theory of
Theory of Dance? Was he pulling my leg? I took a good look at
Mario's expression. He looked serious to me. Okay. I'm game.
So we made a deal - Mario would help me promote the Sleazy Bar Whip
Party and I would help organize his Intensive.
I soon discovered there was a lot of interest in his workshop.
Despite some cancelations and a couple people who couldn't find
partners, we still ended up with 15 couples. That was an impressive
I had been curious from the start how Mario could make the class
relevant for so many people with different levels of experience. As
I surveyed the 15 couples, I spotted several competition dancers in
the crowd. The majority were experienced social dancers who were
also taking Mario's Monday Night "Solar Whip" class. I also noticed
people who had been dancing WCS less than a year. I could tell that
every one of these people had different skill levels and different
objectives. Now how exactly was Mario going to relate to so many
different experience levels and different reasons for taking the
THE INTENSIVE BEGINS
The first two hours of the workshop took place on Friday afternoon,
April 24. We set up tables, listened to some introductory ideas
from Mario, and then began videotaping. Two couples danced at a
time for about half a song.
The idea behind the videotaping was to give Mario something to refer
to at the very end of the workshop when he talked to each couple
separately. In other words, after he had spent twelve hours
imparting various ideas to us, now he could relate those ideas
directly to areas he thought needed improvement.
LEGEND OF THE HOUSTON WHIP CRASH COURSE
After the videotaping, we broke for an hour of dinner. Everyone
came back at 7 pm for Mario's Friday Night "Legend of the Houston
Whip" Crash Course.
I was pretty curious what Mario had to say and teach. Although
Mario Junior is 18 years younger than me, his father Mario Senior is
a Whip dancer himself. Over the years, Mario Senior has surely told
his son many stories about the good old days. In addition over the
years Senior introduced Junior to all sorts of veteran Whip dancers
with anecdotes to share.
Sure enough, as I listened to Mario speak, he definitely knew some
Whip stories I had never heard before. Mario said the whole thing
started with the Charleston, an eight-count dance, during the
Roaring Twenties. This was actually something I had heard before.
He said the Charleston started out with people dancing apart, but
eventually the men and women found a way to dance the Charleston in
The original Charleston was an eight count pattern - step pause,
front-kick pause, step pause, back-kick pause. Mario said the
social arbiters of the day decided the front kick was un-ladylike.
Something about the dress coming up and showing too much leg. It
had to go. This sounded like a yarn to me. But Mario said it with
a straight face, so I guess he wasn't pulling our leg.
Now that the front kick was gone, the Charleston partner dance was
reduced from an 8-count to a 6-count. And somewhere along the way
the back kick was changed to a rock-step. Behold - these two
changes brought on the 6-count Swing.
Mario went on to explain how the changes in music over the next
twenty years morphed East Swing into Jitterbug, West Coast Swing,
and Whip. Unfortunately he went a little too fast for me to
remember all the details. I remember making a mental note to ask
him some more questions one of the days. Over the years, I get the
impression that Mario has met and talked with every major player on
the local dance circuit, state dance circuit and national circuit
past and present. I have no doubt he has some stories to tell.
Wouldn't it be fun to get some of those memories down on paper?
Saturday morning the gang showed up bright and early at 10 am.
Mario handed out a textbook he had written to each person. This
textbook was so long it even had a Chapter Index: Pattern Design,
Connection, Music Theory, Pattern Selection, Footwork and Weight
As I scanned the Chapter Titles, I couldn't help but grin. I have
often teased that dance teachers don't make as much money as
psychologists because they don't have enough inscrutable terms to
I'm telling you, when those therapists start spewing out that
psychobabble stuff - Maladaptive psychoneurotic triadic dysfunction,
transient situational adjustment reaction, ego mass diffusion,
motoric inhibition of ideational functioning - the patients just
surrender. The moment they realize they can't understand a thing
the therapist is saying, they assume they must be so mixed up they
Lawyers play a dirty trick of their own - everything is done in
Latin. Amicus curiae, Casus belli,
Caveat emptor, Certiorari, Contradictio in adjecto, Fiat justitia
ruat caelum, Habeas corpus, In absentia
In camera, In flagrante delicto, In loco parentis, Ipso facto, Nolle
prosequi, Nolo contendere, Non compos mentis Obiter dictum, Persona
non grata, Posse comitatus, Prima facie, Subpoena ad testificandum,
Sui generis, Tabula in naufragio, Volenti non fit injuria, and of
course my favorite..... amo sui yui (I can't wait to sue you).
No wonder these guys are rolling in the dough. No one can
understand a word they say. How do you argue with them?
But for my money, therapists and lawyers can't hold a candle to
physicians. Doctors are the worst.
My gosh, every disease has some awful Latin or Greek name. How
about these for starters: Aarskog syndrome, Abductor spasmodic
dysphonia, Abiotrophy, Ablation, endometrial abruptio placentae,
Absinthism, Acanthamoeba keratitis, Acanthosis nigricans, Acapnia,
Acaricide, Acathisia, Aceruloplasminemia, Achondrogenesis,
Achromatopsia, Acoustic neurofibromatosis, Acrocephalosyndactyly,
Acrochordon, Acrocyanosis, Acrodermatitis enteropathica, Acrodynia,
Acromegaly, Acromioclavicular joint, Acromion, Acrophobia,
If some doctor tells me I have an acute case of
Acrocephalosyndactyly, gee whiz, I mentally start updating my will
on the spot. I figure if you can't even pronounce it, it must be
On the other hand, here are my important professional terms - walk
walk, tap step, triple step, step ball change, frame, wiggle,
bounce, posture, shake your booty, shake your groove thing, plus my
single most impressive word - syncopation. No wonder I am at the
low end of the professional pay scale. If anyone can understand me,
how tough can my job be?
However, as I made a cursory scan through Mario's opus, I gasped.
Compacting patterns, V-Shaped Leads, Embellishment (good one!),
Connection, Extensions, Compression, Scrolling, Bending, Time
Warping, Texture, Legato and Staccato. Holy Smokes! I knew
instinctively I had just discovered a very good reason why Mario was
at the top of the dance teacher food chain. This was the best dance
teacher jargon I had ever heard.
I made a silent vow to memorize this book. So what if I didn't know
what these terms meant, as long as no else did either I was in the
clear. This notebook alone was guaranteed to make people respect
me! Move your Legato and Shake your Staccato!
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
We spent Saturday morning listening to Mario explain ideas about
dance patterns that I frankly admit I had never heard before. This
was about the time I shed my earlier irreverence about Mario's
complicated dance terms. Mario clearly understood the dance at a
level I had never even imagined existed. I felt like I was getting
a PhD lecture on WCS. This guy could definitely walk the talk.
The end of morning covered a segment I found very interesting -
scrolling dance patterns. Mario showed how to take common WCS dance
patterns like the Whip Step and the Basket Whip (aka the Walkaround
to old-timers) and create brand new patterns by modifying the
footwork. I smiled as he demonstrated three fairly simple Whip Step
patterns I had never seen before in my life. Now why didn't I think
I was enjoying myself. It was interesting hearing all these new
concepts related to teaching the dance I enjoy the best. At various
points, Mario got us all up on our feet to practice what he had just
explained. This is how he bridged the gap from the theory to
Mario spent a lot of time on connection, i.e. the tension between
the man's arm and the lady's arm. He covered the idea of A-Shaped
leads and V-Shaped leads. He explained how the position of your
body creates a leverage that makes each move easier to lead and
follow. As I listened, I realized everything he said made perfect
sense. In fact, much of what he said was common sense information
that I had actually 'felt' for a long time, but had never actually
put into words. I had all sorts of little 'aha' moments.
Ultimately "gravity" is the world's oldest dance teacher. Gravity
affects your balance. If you do something wrong, thanks to gravity,
you lose your balance. Every time you fall down, gravity is telling
you to try something else. Eventually if you do it right, gravity
leaves you alone.
When you dance long enough, your body actually learns to hit these A
and V positions without anyone having to teach it to you. All dance
principles can be learned intuitively through practice, but it will
take a long time. However if someone can point out these balance
secrets in advance, the learning curve can be accelerated. That's
why a good dance coach can save you a lot of time. A good coach
will make the difference between learning things the hard way -
gravity - and the easy way.
The second part of Saturday covered Music Theory and its
relationship to West Coast Swing dancing. Quoting from Mario's
textbook, dance music can be divided in Standard 8 Bar Sets (32 beat
phrase) and 12 Bar Blues (48 beat phrase). Mario Robau is a widely
recognized master at music interpretation. His deep understanding
of music allows him to predict changes in the music and choose the
right dance movement to fit each special part of the music.
For example, Mario is famous for is teaching people how to "Hit the
Breaks". "Hitting the Breaks" is a technique where you anticipate
stops or breaks in the music. Once you know when these Breaks are
about to appear, you can insert special memorized routines for
I will readily admit that most of what Mario spoke about in his
music theory segment was over my head. What I did understand
however was that Mario's gift as a dance choreographer is based on
his deep understanding of the music plus his extensive bag of dance
tricks. Not only does Mario know what to look for throughout every
song, he has several dance movements he can choose from to express
the music perfectly.
The ability to express the music through movement is of course the
very definition of dance. I just had never realized before the top
professionals in the world of 'social dance' took the music just as
seriously as any Broadway choreographer.
I don't know where Mario would rate himself up against famous dance
choreographers like Bob Fosse, Tommy Tune, and Twyla Tharp, but he
clearly plays in a league way beyond the understanding of the rest
THE SLEAZY BAR WHIP WORKSHOP
The group took a two hour break and then reassembled at 7 pm
Saturday night for Mario's Sleazy Bar Whip Workshop. I have taught
this workshop myself from time to time. For strictly professional
reasons, over the years I have acquainted myself with various
disgusting and thoroughly vulgar moves a man and a woman can perform
on the dance floor.
Now all of you have seen "Dirty Dancing" and love it. You might not
be aware that Houston has its very own homegrown "Dirty Dance".
Known as the "Dirty Whip", this dance thoroughly deserves its bad
reputation. The Whip got its start as a pickup dance in honky-tonks
and bars around Texas. When the nasty blues music came on, women
would get out on the floor and start to roll their hips.
Once that sensual blues sound came on with those suggestive lyrics
and hip-grinding sax riffs, the place got hot and inhibitions
disappeared. How does that saying go - "dance is the vertical
expression of a horizontal desire"? If you are talking about the
Dirty Whip, I guarantee no dance in history has ever created a 90
degree shift in positions faster than the Dirty Whip.
Now I personally have always played the Sleazy Bar Whip Workshop for
laughs. I think it is very difficult to be 'deliberately sexy'.
Let's face it - the whole point of the workshop is to learn 'how' to
be sexy. If you were already proficient, what do you need the
Workshop for? And since many of the positions are frankly a bit on
the awkward side if not done correctly, the opportunity for
embarrassment is rife. I have always had a field day making people
laugh. It is definitely a fun workshop to teach.
This year after I finished my own semi-sleazy workshop on Saturday
Night, I decided to go into Room One and take a peek at what Mario
had taught. I gasped in surprise. The entire room was filled with
100 people dancing very sophisticated 'sleazy' patterns. This is
not easy to explain, but in essence Mario had injected an 'artistic'
element into these movements. These people were not only naughty,
but they looked good doing it!
I was impressed. A lot of these people looked really good. In
fact, I could not help but notice some of those women were moving in
highly "professional" ways. Where did they learn to do that? Hmm.
I wonder. There's an old saying that good girls have to learn the
Whip, but bad girls just get out there and do what comes naturally.
There were definitely some naturals out there tonight.
Not that I minded. After all, that was the whole point of the night
- lose your inhibitions and make some mischief. I just hadn't
expected 'creativity' to be added to the mix.
Mario was smiling too. I think he had fun teaching that class.
THE SLEAZY BAR WHIP PARTY
The three-hour Whip Party was a smashing success. I estimate we had
a crowd of 150 people. It was quite a bash. Many of Houston's
finest Swing dancers put on quite a show all night long.
I had a lot of fun as well. My biggest problem is getting started.
I have always been slow to warm up. Sometimes I just sit down and
get comfy. That's when I decide it is easier to just to enjoy the
show than it is to force myself to get up and dance for the
millionth time in my life. And the longer I sit there, the harder
it is to get going.
However tonight I was in luck. I didn't have to force myself to get
going; someone lit the spark for me. One of the ladies from the
Intensive, Amy Carter, came over and asked me to dance. Amy is
quite a dancer, so I was flattered to be asked. So I got up off my
big fat youknowwhat. I had a great time dancing with her. And now
the ice was broken. The next thing I knew, I danced practically
non-stop for the next two hours.
I absolutely love Blues music. I may be getting up in years, but
that Blues music can still get my blood stirring like the good old
days. It was fun to discover the Magic is still in there.
On Sunday morning, the group crawled in on all fours. Having that
kind of fun doesn't come without a price. That party had beaten the
stuffing out of a lot of people. Where we had been sitting at
tables taking notes the day before, half of us slunk over to the
couches instead. We weren't alert, but we were alive. Thank
Mario looked a little tired himself. No one minded a bit. If he
wanted to warm up slowly, that was just fine with us. Coffee cups
appeared everywhere, but without notable success. No one was in
much of a hurry.
Nevertheless, to my surprise, Mario soon found his stride. This
morning's new material was very interesting. Yesterday had been
music theory. Today was about selecting patterns to fit the music.
Mario explained how the Leader should try to pick patterns that
emphasize count 1 of every 8 beats in order to remain in accordance
with the music (that's a quote from his textbook).
Since dance music is recorded in eight-beat segments, an eight-beat
pattern accomplishes this goal very nicely. The problem is that
most WCS patterns are 6 beats in length. So one modern trick is to
learn "extensions", i.e. ways to add two beats to a pattern and make
it an eight-beat pattern.
As I watched Mario's different suggestions on ways to "extend"
patterns, I was fascinated at how clever these moves were.
Sometimes you add two extra walks, sometimes you grab a woman's arm
and make her repeat a movement to kill two more beats, or maybe you
stand there and grin for two beats. Whatever. The point was that
Mario had more tricks up his sleeve than a saloon card player.
This was my favorite part of the weekend so far. Unfortunately,
duty interrupted my reverie. A group of five dance students
strolled into the studio about 11 am for their Sunday private
lesson. Unfortunately their instructor got the wires crossed and
no-showed. All attempts to reach the instructor by cell phone
failed. I decided the right thing to do was pick up the lesson.
Over the years, people have bailed me out plenty of times when I
made a mistake; this would be a good time for me to do a good deed
for someone else. You gotta balance the Karma, right? So I
disengaged from the Intensive and taught the Ballroom lesson
instead. Although I enjoyed the lesson, I definitely regretted
missing an hour and a half of the most interesting part of the
Intensive. Oh well.
Marla didn't do much to make me feel better about missing this
section. When I returned to the group, she was full of enthusiasm.
"Guess what, Rick? We worked on styling. This stuff was wonderful!
Marla said that Mario had given them a fairly simple 32-beat pattern
using common moves that fit the music to a T. While the men led
these basic moves, the women had a specific job trying to hit the
most important beats (1, 3, and 5) with a special movement.
As Marla explained it, Mario had spent time talking about moving the
five body parts - head, arms, shoulders, hips, and feet - at these
specific points. They also spent time changing up the anchor steps
with special taps, kicks, and holds. The whole point was to dance
the same common patterns as everyone else, but mysteriously seem to
look sharper doing it than everyone else.
Marla concluded her recap by saying this was definitely the best
part of the weekend. I rolled my eyes. Oh great. No good deed goes
I now apologize to everyone, but I don't remember much from this
final three hour segment. I was hanging for dear life. I knew I
still had four hours of teaching ahead of me on Sunday evening. To
conserve energy, I went into a state of semi-consciousness. In
other words, I was there, but I wasn't completely there.
Consequently, this part of the workshop is now a distant blur in my
One thing I do remember is that our goal in the afternoon was to
identify "Verse" and "Chorus". We would change our dance style
according the energy of the music. Mario showed us all kinds of
different ways to interpret the music by changing the style of our
dancing when it was Verse and changing it again for the Chorus.
In addition, Mario had many ideas I had never heard before. He
talked about varying the distance between partners, varying your own
height, changing the width of the slot, and varying the variations.
It wasn't that this material was over my head, but it was very
unusual. I sensed that this material was directed at the most
advanced dancers because it was highly technical. I just wish I had
more energy at the time because it definitely required
Mario concluded the day by reviewing the videos with each couple
individually. Since the workshop ran a little over time, the Sunday
4:30 classes had just begun. Consequently Mario had to use the
studio office to go over the videos. This was an unanticipated
development. I groaned. Since no one even uses it anymore, that
office is a mess! Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.
I suggested the people wait on the couches in Room Two till it was
their turn. As I taught my class in the same room, I remember
watching their worried faces with great amusement. No one was in a
joking mood; I can assure you of that. I don't what they worried
about more - the thought of what Mario might say or the fear of
seeing the office clutter first-hand. Welcome to the Jungle.
Since I was busy teaching, Marla went to see Mario by herself. When
I asked her later on what he had criticized me on, Marla said Mario
couldn't find anything at all to criticize. Yeah, sure. Still, I
appreciated her diplomacy. Just another of the many reasons why I
(By the way, after Marla read this story, she told me in no
uncertain terms I needed to tell the truth - yes, Mario was able to
find a few small things I could possibly improve on. Maybe some big
ones too. No one's perfect.)
Mario covered a vast range of subjects. The sheer volume and depth
of the material reflects the 'intense' nature of the Intensive.
All teachers realize that a student can only grasp so much based on
his ability and his previous knowledge. You can also add that
'stamina' plays a part in comprehension as well. I can attest to
Mario explained everything very well. He had music ready at all
times to help make his points. In addition he frequently asked
various students like Mara Rivas or Cher Longoria to stand up and
dance with him to help demonstrate his points. So I can say without
hesitation that we all 'understood' what he was talking about.
However I can't say we all understood his points well enough to put
them into action. There was just too much to remember! I have been
teaching dance for thirty years, yet even with my experience I found
myself hearing a remarkable amount of material for the very first
For example, although I definitely followed what Mario told us about
music theory, I certainly didn't understand it well enough to
actually apply it. This is one area where I would like to hear what
he had to say again. I think taking the Intensive a second time
around would be helpful.
One suggestion would be to conduct shorter seminars (4 hours?) on a
specific subject so the students could practice one specific skill.
However, since the weekends are the best time for these seminars and
since Mario travels out of town on most weekends, this might not be
a practical idea for him.
For me, what I enjoyed the most from the weekend wasn't so much what
I learned, but that I was given a glance into the highest level of
my own profession.
I remember going to a Rockets game a few years ago. A friend had
given me front row tickets, so I got there early to watch the
players warm up. What I quickly became aware of was the incredible
grace and economy of motion in these athletes. I swear these giant
men in their own way moved just as gracefully as any ballet dancer.
I have played basketball my entire life, but I have never seen
anyone move like they did. Nor were they ever out of control. They
were like giant cats, totally sure of their movements. They
combined the same quickness and balance you would expect from the
lead in 'Swan Lake'. These men had a gift.
After the Intensive, I had a similar feeling about Mario. Everyone
knows he is a marvelous dancer, but he is a different cat himself.
Watching him morph his dance style at will the moment a song changed
to a different tempo was like watching an X-Man mutant reshape his
When Mario talked candidly to us about switching styles to the
music, Marla looked at me and said, "I only have one style. Do you
have any extra styles?" I shook my head. Nope. I only had one
style too. Not Mario. It was a little spooky seeing him float from
one dance persona to another. This was my first real glimpse at
the kind of control a championship dancer has over his own body.
Name a body part and Mario would move it six different ways without
bothering to think about it. Pretty amazing.
However, believe it or not, there was something I found even more
impressive. That was Mario's keen intelligence and his ability to
express his dancing knowledge in fairly comprehensible ways.
Here is a story I have never told before. Sometime around 1985, my
friend Mike Fagan and I took a dance workshop from a guy who was a
city Whip champion. Among other things, this guy claimed he could
take anyone and turn him into a dance champion as well.
Soon the guy taught a fancy move. Mike and I immediately asked him
what his footwork was. His answer? "I don't know. I just do the
move and my feet go along for the ride. If you want to know what my
feet do, watch me!" So we watched. His feet did something
different every time.
That's the day Mike and I realized that many of the best dancers
don't even have a clue what their feet are doing. They have a gift
which allows them to see a dance move and intuitively copy it, but
they don't have the slightest idea what their feet are doing. They
can't even begin to explain how the move works. They may win
contests, but they make lousy dance teachers.
Mario on the other hand knows exactly what his feet are doing. Even
better, he can also explain what his feet are doing. In other
words, Mario is just as analytical as he is graceful on the dance
floor. Now THAT is impressive.
But what I find most impressive about Mario is that he can also tell
you in simple human terms - not greek, not latin - how you can learn
to move your own feet better. In other words, he communicates just
as well as he dances. When it comes to 'genius' in any field, it
isn't often that your best dancer turns out to be your best teacher
A PARTING THOUGHT
Let me finish up with a story. My first love is Whip Dancing. This
infatuation dates back to 1978.
I admit my nose was bent out of shape when West Coast Swing broke
into the Houston area back in the late Nineties. West Coast Swing
invaded the city like a tidal wave. It quickly began to supersede
the Whip faster than you can say 'Killer Bees'. About this same
time, it was Mario's father oddly enough who sent shivers down my
spine when he announced to me "the Whip is Dead." Uh oh.
No matter how unhappy I was about this unwelcome development, I
figured it wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened. As long
as people were still interested in dancing, I guess I could accept
this new direction. So I went about learning the West Coast
The more I learned about WCS, the more I realized just how similar
the two dances were. They weren't really different dances, but
rather different styles. It didn't take me long to realize that
Whip and West Coast could be effortlessly danced to the same song.
Furthermore, although West Coast was now the more popular dance, I
saw places - Closed Position for example - where the hip motion of
the Whip could thrill a man in ways the dance-apart style of the
West Coast Swing could never emulate. The phrase 'down and dirty'
was meant for the Whip, not WCS. West Coast might be easier to
learn and prettier to watch, but Whip still had a sizzle to it that
no man can ever forget.
As I grew more familiar with West Coast Swing, it dawned on me that
I didn't have to choose one dance over the other. I could have my
cake and eat it too.
As I experimented, I realized at certain music speeds, both dance
systems worked in perfect harmony. You could flow into the Whip and
back out to WCS so fluidly a casual onlooker would never realize you
were using two distinctly different dance systems. When the music
got faster, WCS was clearly the better system to use. When the
music slowed down - slow Blues for example - the double resistance
of the Whip became very useful. I smiled. The Whip wasn't dead
after all. We just had to find a special place for it. Something
this good needed to be preserved. As I like to say, when the music
is fast and the lights are bright, West Coast Swing is definitely
the prettier dance. But when the music is slow and the lights are
low, bring on the Whip.
So in the late Nineties I began to teach Whip and West Coast side by
side in the same class. I didn't have any trouble teaching Whip
from the Closed Position, but I had fits teaching both dances from
the Open Position.
For the life of me, I could not understand why I was able to lead a
Whip or a West Coast Swing Sugar Push Basic any time I wanted, but
could not figure out how to teach a student how to do the same
thing. Time and again, I would try to teach Whip leads to a WCS
student only to discover I had confused him completely. Finally I
made a simple compromise. Open Position was now reserved strictly
for West Coast Swing, Closed Position was reserved for the Whip.
That solved the problem nicely. The confusion disappeared.
But was I happy about my decision? Not at all. In the dark corner
of my mind, I was mad at myself.
Fast forward ten years. Recently out of curiosity, I told Mario
about my dilemma. He knew the answer before I finished my
question. Mario told me if I shortened my left arm on 4, I would
get a Whip lead. If I extended my arm on 4, my lead would change
the energy to West Coast. His suggestion worked like a charm. Mind
you, the difference in the two elbow positions was no more than two
inches apart, but the difference in tension was remarkable. In the
blink of eye, my understanding of the problem had gone from the
intuitive level to the explanatory level.
I was flabbergasted.
For the first time, I was pretty sure I could now teach a man to go
back and forth between leading both systems. But if it was so
obvious, why didn't I think of it?
After all, for the past ten years, I have always deliberately
shortened my arm whenever I wanted to switch from West Coast to the
Whip. Why didn't it occur to me that other men needed to do the
same thing? Shortening my arm was just something "gravity" had
taught me during years of practice. In fact, now that I thought
about it, I realized I even had actual drawings of men dancing the
Whip with their elbows tucked in their bellies. But it had never
once occurred to me this simple trick was actually a major
I began shaking my
head in disbelief. This solution was so obvious! Let's face it; I
had a major blind spot. There is no other way to explain it.
As I said earlier, all dance principles can be learned intuitively
through practice, but it will take a long time. However if someone
can point out the important techniques in advance, the learning
curve can be greatly accelerated. That's why a good dance coach can
save you a lot of time. A good coach will make the difference
between learning things the hard way and the easy way.
And now you have my testimonial. In the flicker of a moment, Mario
solved a ten-year headache for me. That is why I say that Mario is
not only a master dancer, but he is also a master instructor. That
is a mighty rare combination.
It is obvious to me Mario has studied dancing so thoroughly that he
has developed the ability to make very complex subjects
comprehensible to the average dancer. Let me tell you - that is
quite a gift.
Although Mario and I have led parallel lives for the past twenty
years, our paths have only fleetingly crossed in that time.
Truthfully I knew very little about Mario the person until a couple
months ago. I now find it very easy to understand why Mario Robau
became the youngest person ever to be inducted in the Dance Hall of
Fame (2004). My only question is why they waited so long.
The next time Mario offers his Intensive, I highly recommend it to
each and every person who sincerely wants to improve as a Swing
dancer. Mario Robau is the best dance teacher I have ever met.
AND THAT'S A WRAP FOR THIS ISSUE! This issue was only 15 pages
Thank you for reading to the bottom.