Men Don't Know Their Own Strength!
Written by Rick Archer
the story of the night I received the Most Valuable Lesson
I ever learned in my career as
a Dance Instructor.
Everybody is always surprised to hear there was a time when we did not
switch partners at SSQQ. You have to realize I didn't copy SSQQ from anybody. I invented
the studio each step of the way using good old trial and error.
Each time I saw a
problem, I would try to find a way to solve it. One
night in the Fall of 1984 I faced one of the biggest
headaches of my career - the monster who was destroying
On a chilly October night I showed up for my fourth week of Advanced Western Swing.
In those days our classes were only an hour long, so
this meant we had met three previous times for an
hour apiece. That evening I was late getting there, so when I opened the door
most of the students were already there ahead of me.
When I saw that the men outnumbered the women by more than 2 to 1,
I was stunned.
You see, in the first week of class there
had been a perfectly balanced class of 16 men
and 16 women. Things were different in those days because
I shared the studio
with Dance Arts Unlimited. Since the studio only had three rooms,
the Dance Arts jazz dancers had the big
room while I used the two smaller rooms. This
limited area meant our space was at a premium.
There was simply no way we could handle all comers so instead we had a
pre-registration system where people would call in advance to reserve spots.
worked pretty well at the time. Not only did the
classes fit the room space, it allowed us to balance our classes evenly.
But something had gone wrong.
It was now Week 4. I counted carefully.
We still had all the original 16 men,
but only 7 women had shown up. Where were the
missing 9 women? Perplexed,
I asked if a noted tearjerker such as Gone With the Wind or
The Way We Were was showing on
TV that night. Nope,
apparently not. That didn't explain it.
Left without an explanation, I scratched my head.
I had a real problem here.
Back in those
days I made no effort to rotate partners. Since the class was even, I would split up the
class with boys on one side, girls on the other. I would demonstrate a pattern, then say
guys get a partner. Once you had a partner, you stayed with him
or her for 30 minutes or so.
Since class was only an hour long, you might dance with two,
maybe three different people a night. If
you came with a partner, then you stayed with that person the entire
Using my usual system, this imbalance caused a big problem. Trying to make
the best of it, I suggested each woman pair up with two men and change back and forth.
This didn't work. If a man and a woman had come
together, he wasn't in any mood to share. So he would monopolize
his lady partner while the other
man stood around and watched
with a frown on his face. Although I
understood the dynamics, I was frustrated that obviously my
men could not be trusted to share equally.
Then an idea came to me. I decided to try another trick: make a
Circle, do the move, and rotate.
Since the Circle tradition has been a studio
fixture for over twenty-five years, my new
idea might seem obvious to the reader, but at the time I had never seen this done before.
It was simply one of those 'Necessity is the
Mother of Invention' kind of moments. The Circle seemed like the only way each guy was going to have his fair share of dancing 43%
of the time with a woman given the circumstances.
Once we got the Circle going, it seemed to work. The men with
partners weren't happy about it, but realized the class had no chance of
working otherwise. However I did not join the Circle, preferring
to stand out and watch. If I had joined the Circle, that would
mean even less time dancing with the women for each man. No point in making a bad
Maybe it was the way the numbers worked, but I kept wishing
at least one more lady
would show up to make it 16 to 8. Didn't happen. I was very upset at the number of men
standing out. Finally I decided to take a risk.
For the very first time in
my six years of teaching
social dance, I decided to offer to dance the girl's part.
I didn't know the girl's part very well, but I
figured I knew it better than my female students did. Besides,
this class needed another woman desperately, even if she was Six Feet
I did not force my will on the men. Instead I
asked permission. Not surprisingly, this was definitely an unpopular
move with the men. They were desperate,
but not that desperate! As I studied their faces, they each had a serious frown.
Fortunately the women supported the move, so eventually the men accepted it
as well because the
circumstances called for it. I said candidly that if they didn't want to dance with me, they didn't have
to. This statement seemed to help.
No one turned me down,
but each man gave me the
obligatory look of disgust before touching me.
Then something happened I didn't expect.
This really was a night of
fourth dance partner nearly killed me!!
The move was called 'Twisted Hands'.
Basically if a man puts both of the
woman's hands in his hands and sends her under both arms to her
right or left, the hands become all tangled up. Ergo the
name 'Twisted Hands'. From this position, the man could lead a reverse double turn.
Twisted Hands turn, the man's hands stay
slightly above the woman's head
while she spins under them.
During the turn, the woman's hands and arms untangle.
So my class did
the move, rotated partners, did the move, rotated, etc.
with three guys, then along came a big guy named Glen. While I turned, this guy stunned me by actually pushing downwards
as I tried to turn! I nearly fell.
Shaken, I told the next man to rotate
through and tried again with the strongman.
time I decided to fight force with force by pushing
my hands back up.
Although I am a big
strong guy myself,
this move didn't help
at all. In fact it made things much worse.
further shock, while I pushed my hands up,
Glen simply pushed down even harder.
The second try hurt much worse
than the first try. Again
I almost fell down.
I stepped back and took a good look Glen. He
was indeed a big guy.
As we prepared to dance for the third time, I realized I was now afraid
to dance with him again. It had never dawned on me that a woman
could be afraid of dancing with a man, but sure enough he had me
thoroughly intimidated. If someone as big as me can be
afraid, what about a small woman? Who wants to risk being hurt
while they are dancing? Dancing is supposed to be fun, not
That's when the lightning bolt hit. In a flash everything became crystal clear.
realized that each week this guy had picked some poor girl to be his partner for a
routine. At this point Glen would systematically
proceed to beat the woman senseless. At various breaks
in the class his current victim would
realize her life was at stake
and decide to make a run for it. She would pretend to go to the bathroom, leave the studio,
and never come back. This guy would then find another lady to repeat the scenario.
quickly did some math: 3 women maimed per 3 weeks = 9 women
in the hospital.
16 - 9 left 7 women still
The numbers made perfect
sense - Muscle Boy was eliminating my
female students at the rate of 3 women per week. This hapless guy had already eliminated over half the women
in my class! I took a good look at
this real-life Bluto.
Glen had the shoulders of a
linebacker. He was obviously a weight lifter or
body builder of some sort.
I steeled myself for the next dance.
When I danced with him yet a third time,
something new. First I tried to keep my arms as limp as possible.
In addition I did not wait for him to turn
me, but turned myself
His power still hurt and knocked me off balance, but
this was a clear
This is how I learned for the first time that relaxing the arms
while turning works better than resistance. I
put that useful information into my dance teacher file cabinet.
Now if I could only survive a little longer, maybe I would learn
some more secrets. That which does not kill you makes you
stronger. Ha ha ha.
Next I decided to
try 'communication'. I explained
to Glen what he was doing wrong and
told him how much
it hurt. A look of guilt and alarm crossed his face.
I could see what I had told him really hurt his feelings.
In that moment, I forgave Glen immediately. I realized
that Glen was not an ogre
as I first assumed. Instead he was simply a big guy who
didn't realize what his strength was doing to the women.
believe I was the first person
who had ever tried to explain to him what he was doing wrong.
The other women had simply taken flight
and never returned.
From that point on, Glen began to
improve. I won't lie to you and say that
Glen went on to give John
Travolta a run for his money. Far from it.
This guy was clearly not a natural dancer by any stretch of
the imagination. For each improvement he made,
Glen had to practice three times more
than the next guy. He would still knock women off balance from time to time
with his clumsiness and the
speed of the music
did not appear to have any effect on the speed of his feet. To his credit though,
hurting people. In fact, he would ask his
partners to tell him if he was getting too strong. He simply did
not know his own strength.
Like other people who have come in and out of my life, I wish I would run
across this man one more time. I would thank him from the bottom of my heart.
the single most profound effect on the development of SSQQ's
method of teaching group classes of any student or
instructor. My experiences with
Glen literally revolutionized my studio.
- By eliminating 9 women, Glen had given me
the idea to try using the Circle to teach with
switching partners. Thanks to the terrible
boy-girl ratio, I discovered a way to share our limited number
of women evenly.
- Thanks to Glen, rotating partners became
a mainstay of our teaching curriculum from that point on.
- Glen made me realize that it is okay for male teachers to dance with
male students and female teachers to dance with female students.
- I discovered that
it was not enough to just demonstrate a lead and talk about it.
In addition someone has to dance with the men as well to see if
they correctly understood the instructions.
- This was the night I
realized for the first time that when I teach leads, the men need constant supervision and polishing.
Glen made me realize the need to have
a female assistant.
From this night on, I began to dance the lady's part
occasionally when the
situation called for it. In the following weeks and months, I learned many valuable
lessons about leading and following that made me a far better teacher.
Unfortunately, in the process I got hurt a bunch more times!
For example, one night in a Whip class I was
explaining how the woman's hip motion works and how the man should lead
it. As I worked with the men on their leads, right in the middle
of my hip motion, my male student jerked my arms terribly. He
assumed a 'big girl' needed extra power.
Wrong. I was stretched out in my vulnerable hip motion position
with my back arched when the guy pulled hard. I immediately felt
something pop in my lower back. It didn't hurt too much at first,
but by the end of class I was in so much pain from the back injury that
I had to be helped to my car.
I went home and crawled to bed. It took three days of bed rest
before the swelling subsided enough for me to walk again. That
entire time I was very scared I had suffered some sort of permanent
damage, but thank goodness I recovered completely.
A couple months months later I was dancing the woman's part in another
Whip class. After a Walkaround Turn to the Hammerlock position, a
man pulled me hard to the Bump Step. Bam! My chest hit
his chest and knocked the wind out of me. That hurt!
As I struggled to get my breath back, I secretly wondered how much it
would have hurt if I had a woman's breasts!
I asked the same man to lead the move again. Each time it hurt.
Because my arms were pinned behind me in the Hammerlock, I was
defenseless to protect my chest from being slammed into the man.
That night after class ended,
I went to the other room to find Judy Price (white shorts). Judy was
teaching a western class in that other room. I asked Judy
to dance and led the same move. Bam. Sure enough,
Judy slammed up against me.
I saw her wince. I asked if the move hurt.
Judy's eyes got big. "Are you kidding me? I HATE
THAT MOVE!! It always hurts!"
I looked at her in confusion. Finally I figured out
what was bothering me. "Well, if that move hurts so damn
bad, why don't you ever complain?"
Judy replied, "Because I figured that's the way the move
is supposed to work!"
In other words, Judy accepted the pain because she
assumed that was the price she had to pay to dance the Whip.
I really appreciated Judy's candor. Even though it upset
me to know that a move I led all the time had been hurting
women, Judy made me understand that a woman often accepts pain
and never says a word.
But if the women don't say 'ouch', then how would men
learn to become a better dancer? As far as I was
concerned, that was the wrong approach. It was better to
speak up and find a better way to lead the pattern.
You will be pleased to note that I changed the move on the spot.
Now that I was aware how much that move hurt, I redesigned the
move. The following week I explained to the men why we
were making the change and they immediately were anxious to make
the needed changes. No woman was ever hurt on that move
From that time on, I made a habit of dancing the woman's part
whenever we were short of women in our class. Each time I
got hurt, I either figured out what the man was doing wrong or I
went back and resigned the pattern.
As a result of all the
pain I suffered from dancing with men, I
reviewed every pattern in the book to find a less painful way to
lead it. I would ask women to let me experiment. I might
lead the same move in two different ways and ask her opinion
which lead worked the best. From that point, if
something hurt or didn't feel right, I would investigate a lead until I found a better way to
do it. My negative experience with the body
builder had made me so aware of the unnecessary pain that women
experience that I cleaned all the moves up.
Not only did my teaching improve, but quickly my own leads improved as well.
Now that I
realized how much a bad lead can hurt
a woman, I made more of an effort to
learn the right way to lead each move.
Now that I had danced so to speak in the
women's shoes, I gained all sorts of insights. Some men
think women complain about their leads far too much, but I
realized that women don't complain anywhere near as often as
they have a right to complain. I also realized that most
men have no idea they are hurting the women. Most men are
mortified to discover that whatever they are doing can hurt the
person they are actually trying to please.
I suppose you could call my
experience a silver lining in the dark cloud. Thanks to
Glen, I gained all sorts of insights about leading and
following, about how to better structure a group class, and the
need to have more than one instructor.
Imagine how our studio's
popularity improved when women discovered dancing did have to
hurt anymore! I had finally begun to understand the
meaning of the ancient adage:
"In social dance, whenever something goes wrong, it is always
the man's fault."
So, Glen, wherever you may be today, thank you!
Using both hands, you single-handedly
changed the course of SSQQ History!
Rick Archer's Note:
After Glen had taught
me the importance of testing men's leads, I became more
open-minded about dancing with men when the situation called for it.
As a result, I learned other valuable lessons as well.
next story took place one year later and further illustrates my
point that some men don't know their own strength.
This story also appears
in my article known as Secrets of
Following. As you will see from this story, my
experience with Glen in 1984 paved the way for other valuable
lessons as well further down the road.
Man, Not the Music
danced the womans part in dance class many times over the years, I have learned about
"Following" the hard way just like all women do. Although
clearly I am not a championship dancer as a "girl", I have at
least learned enough lessons to feel confident about what I write.
The best lesson I ever learned came courtesy of the
Houston Police Department. I had a Jitterbug lesson in 1985 with a
police officer named Charles.
I might add Charles and I became friends and I don't think he would mind
if I shared this story.
This was driving
me nuts. Dancing off the beat made me crazy!
It's the same thing as wearing clothes that don't match to dinner with a
fashion expert. Being forced to dance off the beat was actually
Charles wanted to learn to dance in the worst way.
However he couldn't take group classes because his police work forced
him to work at nights. So he asked me about private lessons.
Back in those days, there were two instructors - Judy Price and me.
Judy Price worked a day job, so she wasn't available to help Charles
during the day. That left one person - me. I said I would be
happy to help him if he didn't mind dancing with a guy. To his
credit, Charles didn't even blink.
During those private lessons, I got to know Charles well enough to call
him my friend. I discovered that Charles was supremely
talented at aikido, marksmanship, and detective work.
He was also one of the most outgoing, genuinely warm human beings I have
ever met. However, despite all these other talents, dancing
was the one thing that did not come easily to
Specifically Charles had trouble keeping the
beat. Not only was he nowhere near the
beat, even worse his tempo would change. First he would speed up, then
he would slow down. It was maddening.
I played a Swing song called 65 Love Affair,
but Charles seemed to hear La Cucaracha instead.
As we danced something similar to a Mexican Hat
Dance, I doubt seriously that Charles even hit a beat by accident.
Is it a talent to be able to miss every beat of a song? If
so, Charles had that ability.
Surely it was psychosomatic, but
my muscles ached terribly as Charles
and I danced to the tune of a distant drummer.
Throughout the song
"off-the-beat" messages screamed like a police siren in my brain.
It is a cruel
form of torture to make a dance teacher violate
his or her sacred oath of rhythm, but it was
happening before my very ears! Finally I
couldn't take it any more. I decided I had to
do something. Not exactly your typical
petite woman at 200 lbs, I tightened my arms and got "heavy on my feet" to slow
him back to the beat.
To my utter astonishment, I suddenly encountered more power than I
had ever experienced in my life!
Sensing I was having trouble keeping up with his rhythm,
Charles got stronger with his leads.
Damn he was strong! He physically overpowered me
without breaking a sweat. My muscles had ached before, but now they hurt!
I thought my
arms would come out of their sockets. This
was not working. I decided to stop being heavy.
Immediately I realized it was a lot easier
to dance to his rhythm than to my rhythm. Whatever speed you wish, Officer!
Now that the crisis was over, those annoying
"off-the-beat" messages began popping up again
in my brain. I decided to try a new idea :
the music completely!
So that's what
I did. I pretended the song wasn't playing and I stopped
listening to it.
That did the trick. By tuning out the music, I was able to
concentrate better on the speed of his footwork and leads. My ability to react improved
immediately. Even better, my muscles stopped hurting.
I had made a valuable discovery - this tuning
out the music stuff works!
I had made another discovery too - I
realized that resistance was absolutely the worst option!
After we finished out the song, I had a moment to reflect on how afraid a woman
might be of a mans power. I knew Charles
had no idea that he was hurting me. I imagined some men literally
did not understand the extent of their own strength. However, if
the man is going to be strong, the woman should do every thing possible
to lessen the tension. Instead of
should try to move in the direction that would release the tension
quickly. I found the faster
I reacted to his leads, the more the strain on my arms disappeared.
Curiously, at the end of the lesson, Charles smiled
and complimented me, "Rick, you are really improving as a woman!"
Sad but true, Charles was correct.
No truer words have ever been spoken.
I rolled my
eyes, shook his hand, and thanked him for his kind words.
Today Charles had taught me an
invaluable lesson -
When the man and the music dont agree, Follow
the man, not the music.