Big Break
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My Second Big Break as a Dance Teacher
January, 1978

As I wrote in Adventures 2, I taught a series of Disco lessons at Houston's Jewish Community Center  in the summer of 1977. I worked as a substitute for Rosalyn Lively, the regular teacher who took an extended summer vacation. I had so much fun that summer!  After the final class, the whole group went dancing at a club called "the Rubiyat", later to be renamed as the "Bullwhip" after Urban Cowboy. Everyone told me I had done a good job and wanted to know when my next class would be. I hoped beyond hope that Rosalyn would not want her class back, but accepted my fate when she did.

After Rosalyn returned from her summer break, I got a phone call one day from another JCC I had never heard of out in the Memorial area off Dairy Ashford and I-10. They had heard I had done a good job in the summer and asked if I would teach for them that fall. When do I start ? 

Unlike my class of 30 people at the JCC on Braeswood, this was a smaller class of 10 people. We had a lot of fun with the Disco line dances, but they also wanted to learn partner dancing. The truth was I did not know one step to partner dancing. A year or so earlier I had taken a Disco class at Stevens of Hollywood taught by the single worst dance instructor I have ever met, some lady named Bobby. One night Lance Stevens and his wife Cliann had put on a Whip demonstration for my class. As my students pestered me about partner dancing, that Whip demonstration was the only thing I could think of that might work.

I signed up immediately for Whip lessons at Stevens of Hollywood so I could learn some partner dancing to teach my Memorial JCC students. It was early in October, 1977. Lance Stevens, the owner, allowed me to join his Whip class 3 weeks late, but said he couldn't give me any extra attention. He did me one favor though by assigning me a partner who already knew the Whip. She was an unpaid assistant, a volunteer of sorts, but she seemed to enjoy helping me. Her name was Dorothy Piazzos who I believe owned a shoe store in the Galleria area at the time. She helped me catch up.

Dorothy was about 50 when I met her. Dorothy gave me one of the best pieces of advice in dancing I ever received. One night about a month after I met her, Dorothy gently took me aside . She told me how much she respected my concentration and desire to improve. However she said sometimes I squeezed her hand so badly she thought one day one of my fingers might actually poke through to the other side. I was incredulous. Do I really squeeze your hand that hard ?  Yes, was her definite answer. She wasn't mean, which was good since I was an angry kid who didn't handle criticism very well. Apparently whenever I got nervous in Whip class I would squeeze just like people clench their teeth. I replied that I had no idea that I was hurting her, but I certainly didn't do it on purpose. I add that since I wasn't aware when I was squeezing, I would need her help. We made a deal that whenever I started to squeeze tightly, she would shake her hand to let me know. About three times that night I felt her hand start to shake !  Sure enough, when I looked down, there was my finger doing another root canal on her hand. As I became more and more aware of the problem, I got better about feeling my hand start to squeeze, then relaxing. You might say Dorothy single-handedly helped me correct a terrible habit just shortly before she became single handed.

At my first night in Whip class Dorothy paid me a nice compliment when she said I picked up the steps quickly. I have never been accused of being a fast learner in dance, but the truth was I had taken one or two dance classes a week for the past three years. Despite my slow start, at this point I was a far better dancer than most men. I replied to Dorothy that I taught a Disco class elsewhere and I recognized the footwork. For some reason Dorothy got quiet and studied me a little. Without my knowledge she went over to Mr. Stevens and told him about my Disco class.

A bit later Mr. Stevens came over and said he heard I taught Disco. After I said yes, he hesitated for a second, then walked away. Later that night he came over again and asked me if I knew the Worm. Yes I did, I replied, then at his request demonstrated it for him. He rolled his eyes with disdain and replied that's how he did it too. Then he walked away.

The next week after class Mr. Stevens said he wanted to talk with me. He told me his Disco teacher had just quit and asked if I would teach for him. When do I start ?  He said the class averaged about 15 people and wouldn't begin again until January. He said he could teach it himself, but he hated Disco and would rather have someone else teach it for him. At the time it didn't seem like a big deal, but only one week after he asked me to work for him the movie "Saturday Night Fever" came to town.

Despite little advance publicity, I was curious to see the movie since I read in the paper it was a movie about Disco Dancing. I saw the 5 pm showing the first day it came out. I would suspect I was one of the first 100 people in Houston to see it. I was certainly alone at my showing, but barely noticed since I was mesmerized by the dancing. Not only did I thrill at John Travolta's famous solo dance scene, the one where he points his finger in the air, but I watched Disco Partner Dancing for the first time in my life. The dancing in New York was light years ahead of Houston, but this movie spread images of that dancing throughout the country. It would soon create a bonfire !

I was electrified by the movie, but I wasn't the only one who caught the spirit. The movie came out in November, 1977. Instead of 15 people in my first Disco class, there were 60 people. Instead of teaching one night a week, soon I was teaching three nights a week. In January, 1978, my first month of teaching, I taught 4 hours of classes a week. As the energy snowballed, in February I taught 10 hours of classes a week. By March, I was teaching 25 hours a week !  Disco was on fire and burning up Houston. By sheer luck I was absolutely in the right place at the right time. I also found that I was a good teacher, a huge boost of much-needed confidence to someone who had spent 4 years in social work accomplishing absolutely nothing. Unlike in my social work job, in dancing I actually saw people improve. Imagine that.

I also realized that teaching classes and escorting the groups to dance clubs was a form of social work as well. The big difference was my clients during the day argued with me and the dance people at night thanked me. You might say the difference was literally night and day... I could not wait for the evening to begin !   I loved teaching so much I taught seven nights a week for nearly the entire year.

I continued my day job investigating child abuse and child neglect throughout 1978, but I could tell my heart wasn't in it. Sadly I neglected that job to concentrate on my exciting dance job at night, but I was afraid to let go of my security blanket. But as it got harder and harder to do justice to both jobs. As my guilt about neglecting my day job increased, I finally had the guts by the end of 1978  to quit my job as a social worker for the uncharted waters as a full-time dance teacher.

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