Hot Stuff
Home Up The Odyssey

   

The Dance Curse!!

Part Four - Hot Stuff

Story written by Rick Archer

First Published: January 2001
Last update: February 2010


Judy Price


My tragic love affair with Victoria was tragic in more ways than one.  After three dance accidents in three months back in 1979, Victoria was convinced we were cursed as exhibition dance partners.  She refused to perform again.  "It wasn't meant to be!"  Sad to say, I was so shaken by the three accidents, I wasn't in any mood to argue with her.  I was just as sick of the accidents as she was.  As it stood, I had now attempted five dance performances in my life and I had five accidents to show for it.  I was in no hurry to tempt fate again.

Oddly enough, just after our performing angle ended, my affair began.  It would last two and a half years, ending in May 1982.  I won't say it ended badly.  In fact, I think it ended well - Victoria reconciled with her husband and revived her marriage.  Victoria had been moving in this direction for practically the entire duration of our affair, but insisted on keeping me around as her fall-back option.  It's a long story and I know how to make it short - Risky Business.

In late 1982, I began to date again for the first time in four years.  I was really excited about Judy Price, my new girlfriend.  Judy was pretty, sexy and a great dancer. Best of all, she made me laugh, something I needed after the four years of constant turmoil during my time with Victoria. And Judy was single too, a welcome change.  Judy and I got along very well. 


There had been a lot of changes since the Karate Chop incident.  Disco was now long gone.  As you can see, so was my beard.  And so was my ever-present guilt over the ill-fated affair. 
 

There were other changes too.  In October 1980, I transferred my dance program from Stevens of Hollywood to Dance Arts Unlimited, 4803 Bissonnet.  This was Glen Hunsucker's new dance studio.  Glen, as you remember, was my dance teacher.  By chance, he had just moved here from his Westbury location and had extra space on his hands.  I was thrilled to rent that extra space from him.

Another change was that I was now running the entire show by myself.  I had of course started the dance program.  Victoria had joined forces with me about ten months later.  I did the dancing full-time, Victoria did it part-time.  Victoria brought a lot of talent to the table.  Not only was Victoria a good teacher, she far surpassed me in her attention to the 'social side' of the program.  Victoria had come into my life at a time when I did not have anywhere near the social skills that she possessed.  Although she only visited the studio on a part-time basis, she was a whirlwind whenever she was there.  Victoria generated energy like no person, man or woman, I have ever met before or after.  Victoria's charisma and popularity helped build my business to exciting new heights.  One problem, though, came the day she decided it was her business too. 

By the time Urban Cowboy came along, Victoria's interest in the business had begun to wane.  One, she was distracted by her constant marital woes.  Two, she didn't really like Western dancing very much.  It was okay, but it wasn't Disco.  Slowly but surely, Victoria loosened her grip on the business. 

In the meantime, I had watched Victoria in action long enough to learn from her.  I had served my apprenticeship under her and was ready to resume full control of the business.  When Victoria said goodbye, for the first time in four years, it really was MY BUSINESS again.  Now I was the one organizing the trips to the Western clubs.  Now I was the one saying hello to everyone at the parties. I was growing into my role.

Thanks to Urban Cowboy and my new-found social skills, business was stronger than it had ever been. 
In 1982 my dance program was almost totally Western.  In fact, thanks to Western dancing at our favorite hangout, the Winchester Club, my dance program had finally acquired a name: SSQQ


Phase Three - What Comes After the Winchester Era?

It was now late 1982.  The Winchester Club had recently closed. I was worried because it seemed like a bad omen. Was Western dying?  Phase One was the Disco Era that gave me my start.  Phase Two was the Western Era.

I was now in Phase Three of my dance career.  My dance program now had a name - SSQQ - and it was growing.  I was no longer a one-man show.  Since I couldn't be in three rooms at once, I had people teaching for me (Judy was one of them).  SSQQ was not only well-established, it had developed a good reputation as a place to learn Western dancing quickly and inexpensively.  We were fast becoming one of the biggest dance studios in the city. 

However, my program was still a one-note wonder in a critical area - most of our classes were Western.  This fact bothered me a lot.  SSQQ was totally dependent on Western dancing.  What would I do if Western crumbled?  This was a real possibility.  For example, Disco had completely vanished practically overnight.  Would lightning strike twice?  I felt a need to protect my business in case the closing of the Winchester Club really was the beginning of the end.

Phase Three was a wonderful time for SSQQ.  There have been many great times here at the studio, but this was the start of a Golden Age for SSQQ.  The studio was truly hitting its stride.  With Judy's help, I was able to dramatically expand our social program. These were the times when we developed many of our traditions like the Sock Hop, the Halloween Party, and the Beach Ball.  Besides our weekly get-togethers at the Western clubs, we made side trips to Fifties Clubs, Melody Lane Ballroom for Ballroom dancing, Mark's Supper Club for more Ballroom dancing, sleazy bar whip clubs for Whip Dancing, visits to the Renaissance Festival, ski trips, volleyball parties, charades, you name it. 

I can honestly say the studio was never more close-knit than it was in 1982.  The bonds of friendship were very powerful.  These were the days when many of these friendships were slowly blossoming into Romance.  During the next several years, the studio would witness an explosion of marriages thanks to the positive energy that Judy and I helped create.  This part of the story is chronicled in the Matchmaker - The Eighties.  Let the good times roll!

Back when I started, every new development seemed to catch me off guard. Consequently I often made a fool of myself scrambling to catch up. You may remember that I never saw Saturday Night Fever coming.  One day it just showed up in the theaters surprise surprise.  When the Tidal Wave of Disco interest hit, I was ill-prepared to handle it.  As a result, I spent an entire year scrambling to learn dance material.  I was always in a panic trying to stay ahead of my students.

My motto was to accept every opportunity that came along. This aggressive approach expanded my business, but it also put me out on a dangerous limb on many occasions.  I had a lot of advanced students who enjoyed my classes.  When one course would end, they would ask me to offer another class.  Even though I knew there was nothing left in the cupboard, I would always say yes.  Then I would scramble to find something.  That's how I kept growing my program.  However my main problem was that I had no reliable source of new material.  "I have nothing left to teach!" was my recurring nightmare all year long.

I would go out to the Disco in search of new moves. Or maybe I would tape Dance Fever on TV and get an idea there.  Then the next evening I would meet with a lady before class and try to teach her the move.  Sometimes I couldn't figure out how it worked.  All I had to go on was my fleeting memory.  This created a frightening situation where I was just minutes from class starting and I still didn't know what I was doing.  A couple times I got left holding the bag.  That would lead to a situation where I had nothing new to teach and I just had to bluff my way through class that night. 

Once I taught an acrobatic move wrong that a student already knew from somewhere else.  He didn't say anything, but he sure looked at me funny.  I was worried about the meaning behind his frown.  After class, he stayed to teach me the correct way to do it.  I blanched with terror.  He could just as easily have exposed me in front of all my students for what I was - an unprepared amateur who could have gotten someone hurt teaching an acrobatic step wrong.

This same story repeated itself that first year more times than I care to admit.  My other motto, Fake it till you Make It, meant I was winging it much of the time.  The fear of being exposed made me sick in my stomach.  I would vow to myself that I would never get caught unprepared like that again... only to see the same thing happen a month later.  Until my teacher Glen came along, I was a nervous wreck for an entire year trying to stay ahead of my own students.

Lessons that you fail to heed the first time may come back to haunt you.  You would have thought I had learned my lesson.  Nope. The exact same Disco situation was repeated when Urban Cowboy came along.

Okay, I will cut myself some slack for being blind-sided by Saturday Night Fever.  However I knew full well that Urban Cowboy was coming.  After all, the movie was filmed in Houston!  That means I had warning one full year ahead of time, but I still did nothing to get ready. 

Of course I sensed that Urban Cowboy might have an effect on my life, but I didn't like Western music and refused to have a thing to do with the dancing.  Yuck.  Disco was my love. I would just stick to Disco. I assumed that Disco would last forever!   So I stuck my head in the ground and ignored the storm clouds.  Stupid me. My bad attitude changed in a hurry when all the Disco clubs started closing.  I was astonished to see the Discos completely vanish here in Houston practically overnight and reopen a week later as a Western club.  That got my attention, but now it was too late.

The phone started ringing off the hook. "Rick, do you know how to teach the Texas Twostep?"  Uh, no.

I was caught completely flat-footed by the sudden demand for Western dance lessons.  Like an idiot, I accepted an opportunity to teach a Western class at the Meyerland Club.  I had only two weeks to get ready. My world was upside down! I went to Lance Stevens to ask him to help me learn Western dancing.  He had never liked me, but at this point he openly disliked me.  He refused to help.  I went to Glen for help.  He frowned and said he hated Western music nor did he have the slightest idea how to teach it.  Did Glen know anyone who taught?  No.  Neither did anyone else.  Other than Mr. Stevens, no one seemed to know a thing about Western dancing.  I was in so much trouble!

This was a pathetic Ants and the Grasshopper situation straight out of Aesop's Fables.  I had ample opportunity to prepare ahead of time, but I had squandered it all.  Furthermore, I had even been given the perfect life lesson in the dangers of being unprepared during my first year of teaching Disco.  You would think I would have learned something, yes?  Obviously I didn't!  Now I scrambled desperately to learn how to Western dance (Return of the Outcast), but it was touch and go. There were several occasions when I was committed to teach a class, but I wasn't sure how I would learn the material in time.  I was teaching Western before I had ever been Western dancing in my life.  I didn't even know the difference between a Twostep and a Polka, but I was out there teaching anyway. Not surprisingly, I suffered gut-wrenching nausea from being unprepared.  Some people never learn.

Amazingly, I always escaped being exposed.  Thanks to my lucky gambles, I learned how to teach the Twostep just in the Rick of time to take advantage of the huge surge of interest in Western dancing.  In fact, I discovered to my shock that I was practically the only Western teacher anyone seemed to know.  Now I knew why I had had so much trouble finding someone to teach me Western... there were no Western teachers!  No one in the entire city had anticipated the interest in the dancing! 

Suddenly I realized that I had accidentally become the best known Western teacher in Houston.  My business sky-rocketed.  Fake it till you Make it.  Accept every opportunity.  It was the most uncanny stroke of luck imaginable. I was practically the only game in town and there was a stampede of interest headed my way... all because my wild gamble to accept jobs before I knew what I was doing had paid off. 
 

Phase Three - Storm Clouds are Coming

Phase Three lacked the fireworks of the previous two eras.  We had made it through the roaring rapids and now we sailed the calm seas.  The studio was finally established on solid ground.  Thanks to an adult education program named Leisure Learning and a powerful word of mouth system, the studio had a steady supply of new dancers coming in each month.  Since there was a low turnover of existing students as well, the studio numbers grew by leaps and bounds.

Now that I wasn't scrambling to handle the latest emergency, I was able to scan the horizon for threats.  I vowed never to let another dance trend take me by surprise. 
One of the things that had always troubled me was how fast the Disco Era had vaporized here in Houston.  Losing my beloved Disco to Western dancing had been quite a blow. I still missed Disco.  I liked the dancing and the music a lot.  It had been the most fun I had ever had in my life. If given the chance, I would have turned the beat around and returned to Disco in a flash. 

Of course I didn't tell anyone that.  I did want to stay in business, didn't I?
 Fortunately I had grown fond of Western dancing. Thanks to the development of Western Swing, a dance I played a major part in popularizing here in Houston, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Twostep and Polka.  Business throughout the Winchester Era had been phenomenal. 

Now, however, the 1982 closing of the nearby Winchester Club, the studio's longtime favorite Western hangout, had upset me greatly.  It reminded me of the scary time in 1979 when all my favorite Disco Clubs suddenly went out of business.   The writing on the wall seemed ominous - was the Western energy starting to fade?  Would Western go the same way as Disco and vanish completely?  If so, would there be anything to take its place?  I was deeply worried. 

Compounding my problem, Grease, the third Travolta dance movie, did nothing to stir up dust in the Dance World.  I frowned as I realized there was no movie out there that would be capable of stirring up any new interest in dancing.  Grease was a popular movie, but it didn't get the phones ringing at the studio.  I decided that America was tapped out on dance movies.  I would have to find a way to stir up any new interest in dance all by myself.

Fortunately, I wasn't the new kid on the block any longer.  At the time of the Winchester Club closing in 1982, I had been involved in dance for five full years.  I realized now that dancing was cyclical.  Like anything else, interest in certain types of dances come and go.  A lot of it has to do with changes in the music industry.  Fortunately, the interest in social dancing itself generally sticks around... when the music changes, people just jump to another type of dancing.  Unsure what would be the next development, I decided the time had come for the studio to diversify its classes. 

I guessed correctly on on Whip Dancing.  Thanks to some guy named Michael Jackson, a new sound emerged that was part Disco, part Rhythm and Blues.  This music helped spur local interest in a difficult but eye-catching dance known as the Texas Whip.  The Whip had floundered during the Disco Era.  The dance was meant for Blues Music, not the electronic all-the-beats-sound-the-same Disco. This new R&B sound was much closer to the musical roots of the Whip.

Furthermore, all those awesome Western dancers were getting bored after four years of the Western Swing. They had begun to look for a new challenge.  Well, they got what they asked for.  Whip Dancing was definitely a challenge.   Thanks to the back to back Disco and Western Eras, Houston had a deep supply of talented dancers who were able to take on the Whip challenge and conquer it.  Suddenly the Whip was back in again. The mid-Eighties witnessed the Golden Era of the Texas Whip.  Although I had my share of ups and downs, I was thrilled to go along for the ride.

The Whip is an intricate dance complete with sexy hip motion, tricky footwork, complicated patterns and lightning spins.  That hip motion depends on a tension between the man and woman's arms known as double resistance.  When I started teaching Whip in 1982, I quickly discovered that teaching double resistance was the hardest obstacle I had ever come up against in teaching dance.  I made a nasty discovery - I had a lot to learn as a dance teacher! 

I could teach the turns, the patterns and the footwork just fine, but teaching the hip motion and the double resistance was another story.  There was a mysterious feel to the arm tension that seemed to defy all my attempts to describe it.  Try as I might, there was no single explanation that made sense to the bulk of the class.  Each explanation seemed to help one person, but confuse the next person in the process.  There were a lot of mixed up people in my first few Whip classes.

We weren't talking footwork here, we were talking  about a physical interplay between a man and a woman that defied easy explanation.  You had to feel it to understand it.  But how do you teach a feeling?  I was an analytical teacher trying to teach a feeling.  It didn't work.  I had never been so frustrated in my life.  But that's another story.  Let's just say I refused to back down from my failure.  I put every moment of my day trying to solve the mysteries of the Whip.  Along the way, I fell in love. There's something to be said for the girl who plays hard to get and makes you chase her.  The Whip became my favorite dance of all time. 

Another development at the studio was the emergence of East Coast Swing.  Our students discovered a neat little dance club called Blueberry Hill.  Every couple months or so we went over to Blueberry Hill to practice our Swing Dancing and our Hand Jive.  We had so much fun there! 

When Blueberry Hill closed, we discovered another Fifties club called At the Hop over in Spring Branch.  I had an embarrassing experience with a Little Richard impersonator that left the entire gang rolling in the aisles.  As I blushed from head to toe, I thought they would never stop laughing at me.  Let me add this episode serves as yet another lesson why people should not mix drinking and business entertaining.  You might do something you will regret.

This was one of those nights when I was the life of the party.  Seriously lit, I was putting on quite a show.  Dance Dance Dance.  Little Richard noticed I was more than slightly out of control.  He brought me up on stage all by myself for what seemed like an impromptu interview with Mr. Center of Attention.  I was more than happy to play along.

 In that trademark falsetto voice, Little Richard told me he had his eye on me all night long because I was such a great dancer.  I beamed and said Gee thank you.  He asked if I was having fun.  Definitely!  Did I like to dance?  I loved to dance!  Was this a great place?  It was a wonderful place!  Did I come here often?  All the time!  Was I having a good time tonight?  Yes, I was!  Louder, please, I can't hear you... YES!  I AM HAVING A GOOD TIME!

Little Richard was playing me.  Each time he asked a question, Little Richard raised his voice.  Caught in his rhythm, I did the same thing.  I wasn't even aware of it, but my voice kept getting louder.  Are you having a great time?  YES!  Are you having fun?  YES!   Are you happy?  YES!   Are you Gay?  YES!   I screamed I was gay at the very top of my lungs.  I gasped as the words escaped my lips.  I literally grabbed my throat with my hands.  Too late.

Boy, did he set me up!  Hahaha, he got me good. As I turned crimson, the crowd went wild.  My group laughed so hard they nearly but a gut.  For the rest of the night I had to endure jokes about Little Richard and Big Richard.  Will this never end?   Oddly, this exercise in public ridicule was nothing compared to what was down the road. Little did I know that soon something totally bizarre would happen to give me another dose of the same treatment... only much worse.

When the movie Grease came out, I got my idea for the SSQQ Sock Hop. Good idea!  This party has proven to be a real studio favorite over the years.  Thanks to talented Swing instructors like Judy, Swing Dancing had become a popular new class at my studio.  Whip Dancing was big.  Swing dancing was big.  My diversification program was working.  It was working, that is, except for one thing - Ballroom.  I was determined to make it work too.

Halloween

More Halloween

Is that a pool cue I feel or are you the
first real man I've met tonight?

The Beach Ball

More Beach Ball.  Nice

Sleazy Bar Whip Party

Balloon Party

Swing Dancing at Blueberry Hill

The Sock Hop Party. 
That big guy with Judy is Jim Smith,
one of the studio's all-time favorite
Swing teachers.


The Waltz Kings


In addition to our new Swing program and our new Whip program, I wondered if Ballroom Dancing might hold the key to the studio's future.  I had learned that in other parts of the United States, Ballroom Dancing was the backbone of most dance studios.  For that matter, Houston had a Fred Astaire studio, an Arthur Murray studio and several others.  I assumed that SSQQ would eventually find its way to Ballroom Dancing just like the entire rest of the world.

Testing the waters, Judy Price and I organized a trip to Al Marks Melody Lane Ballroom one Friday evening in 1982.  Al Marks had a band that played lots of Swing and Foxtrot standards every Friday night.  We talked up the event in all of our classes.  There was only one problem - no one at SSQQ seemed very interested. 

Sure enough, when our trip took place, we were only joined by a dozen or so students.  I was disappointed to say the least.  Now that I see that photograph of me, they probably took one look at my glasses and left to be on the safe side. 

Occasionally I would offer a Ballroom course at SSQQ, but attendance was terrible.  Except for East Coast Swing, my students ignored the other Ballroom Dances like the plague.  Cha Cha, Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Waltz.  Not interested.  Ballroom was non-existent at SSQQ.  Just the word "Ballroom" was enough to send people running out of the room in terror.  With choice comments like "I hate schmaltz", "the music bores me to tears" and "dancing for dead people" ringing in my ears, I could see that introducing Ballroom to SSQQ was going to be an uphill struggle.

Jim and Bill at the Winchester Club

I was undeterred by the initial rebuff.  I assumed I had the ability to create interest in Ballroom Dancing.  I took it as a personal challenge to figure out how to accomplish this worthy goal.  That is about the time I made an interesting observation. 

There were two guys - Jim Garrison and Bill Stumph - who had women begging to Waltz with them.  When I say "begging", trust me that when I say "begging", I mean begging!   Pleading.  Beseeching.  Imploring. I am not exaggerating in the slightest. These were grown women, but they acted like pitiful, forlorn teenagers.  At one party, I witnessed an a unruly mob of five women arguing with each other over who was next in line to dance the upcoming Waltz with Jim or Bill.  These women wanted to Waltz so badly that they had begun to fight amongst themselves for the privilege.  I kid you not.  "I'm next!"  "No you aren't, I am!"  "Bill asked me first!"  "No he didn't, he asked me!"  "No way, I got here long before you did!"  I thought these women were ladies, but maybe not.  This catfight was definitely unbecoming to their dignity. 

I was incredulous. My gosh, these two guys were hotter than Elvis!  Now they had women fighting over them!  What kind of pixie dust had Bill and Jim sprinkled on these ladies to turn grown women into children?  Jim and Bill had discovered and harnessed The Amazing Power of the Waltz.  Apparently only the atom itself was mightier when it came to women.


When they weren't on the dance floor, Jim and Bill were just two normal guys.  In a crowd, they would not be the first man a single girl would notice.  Or the second or the third.  In my opinion, when it came to women, they needed an edge.  Well, they found one.  Back in the early days of the studio, these two men discovered a magic potion to become the life of every dance party.  Bill and Jim had become the Waltz Kings!

Women would literally flock to their side whenever a Waltz came on.  Each man had his choice of 10 ladies. And donít think for a moment they werenít aware of their power.  They played their ace card well.   I would notice one man or the other talking animatedly to some lady. I always knew what was coming next.  Sure enough, once Bill or Jim felt that he was making progress with the new lady, he would come over ask me to play a Waltz.  Spinach for Popeye, Waltz for Jim and Bill.  They were suddenly transformed into a dynamic God of Dance.

Moments after I would put on a lovely song like "The Last Waltz" (... the last Waltz will last Forever...), I would see Bill or Jim parading around the floor with a beautiful woman smiling and laughing in his arms.  Seeing my careful scrutiny, they would wink at me as they sailed past. After all, as DJ, I played a key part in their racket. They wanted to stay on my good side. I would roll my eyes and smile back.  I figured since these were big girls and the men were playing by the rules, why should I interfere?  After all, it wasn't illegal to Waltz.  But it should have been!  These guys had way too much power. Jim and Bill were practically the only men on the floor who knew what they were doing.

Then I would turn my gaze to the crowd.  I would notice all other men "sitting this one out".  They watched these Supermen with awe and wonder.  Who are those guys?  What is their secret?  What do they have that I don't?

You would think the other guys would catch on, but they were unbelievably retarded in this regard.  They continued to avoid the Waltz like the plague.  Must have been a macho thing... the Waltz was too graceful, too prissy, not manly enough. Their attitude was ridiculous.  Meanwhile these two nerds were cleaning up right under their noses!  Women became totally helpless in their arms.  Waltz was their license to seduce women. 

Yes, Jim and Bill used their Waltzing ability to create virtual harems. Both men understood that all women are transformed into Cinderella at the Ball whenever a Waltz comes on.  Women absolutely love to Waltz and they are helpless to resist the Mythology!  The beautiful music and the flowing movements make them feel like a princess when they are out on the floor.  That is when they become vulnerable.  The woman can't help but fall in love with the man who makes them feel this good. Jim and Bill knew this secret, but they were smart enough not to brag.  

Actually, I knew the secret too.  I was a pretty good Waltz dancer in my own right, but I already had a girlfriend that I was very happy with so I didn't need to press my own advantage.  Besides, since I danced so much anyway, I would rest during the Waltzes.  Consequently the women didn't know that I too possessed the skill prized by so many.

Besides, watching Jim and Bill in action amused me.  I was fascinated by their success.  Sitting out the Waltzes allowed me to keep tabs on Jim and Bill's Waltz racket.  However my amusement vanished quickly when the quarrelling women turned their wrath towards me.  They started bugging me to play an extra Waltz so they could dance with Bill or Jim!  Play another Waltz, Rick!  Hurry up! 

These women could have cared less that each Waltz forced thirty men to sit on their hands while two men had the floor all to themselves. When I pointed out I had just played a Waltz, their attitude was 'so what?'.  At first, they asked politely, but as the evening wore on, the women needed their Waltz fix so badly they would get pushy.  They would demand a Waltz or else.  Gosh, lady, I just played one!  Well, then play another one! 

One night I made a huge mistake.  A lady caught me off guard.  She said that Bill and Jim were busy... did I know how to Waltz?  Like a moron, I said yes.  I instantly regretted what I said, but it was too late.  What was I thinking?  Sure enough, she had set me up.  "Rick, will you Waltz with me?  Please?  Pretty please with sugar on it?"

Well, it was my own fault. I had opened my mouth, so now I had to pay the price.  Something amusing happened. When I got out there on the floor with this lady, each time Jim or Bill would pass me, both men gave me dirty looks.  They acted like I was poaching on their private property.  Don't you dare steal my women, Rick!  Too funny.

Meanwhile, no good deed goes unpunished.  My little secret was out.  The next thing I knew, the other women descended on me like locusts for the rest of the night.  Play a Waltz.  Dance with me.  Play a Waltz.  Dance with me.  Now Jim and Bill's Waltz racket wasn't amusing anymore.  It had turned into a first class headache.

Once the women started to pester me, I was forced to take another look at the situation.  This was obviously a problem of supply and demand.  There were only two men who knew how to Waltz and there were dozens of women who wanted to Waltz with them.  What I needed to do was increase the supply of male Waltz dancers.  Brilliant!

That is how I decided the time had come to offer a class in Ballroom Waltz.  However, to my absolute astonishment, the men at the studio completely rejected the idea.  I was stunned.  I was doing them the favor of the lifetime and they couldn't figure it out.  How stupid could men be?

Sheer magic.
T
he Last Waltz will last Forever

 

Every girl becomes a Cinderella
when the Waltz is played


The History of Western Waltz

(Note: My story about the events of 1982 will now take a bit of a detour so I can write about my memories of the Waltz and Western dancing. 
If you prefer to go straight to the conclusion of the "Hot Stuff" story, please
click here.)

My Stupid Mistake

The Magic of the Waltz gave the men at my studio a direct line to Romance, but they turned a blind eye to this golden opportunity. Their attitude made no sense!

Let me point out I wasn't so smart myself when it came to the Waltz.  Looking back, I can't believe I completely overlooked that the place where Jim and Bill had first developed their successful Waltz racket was the Winchester Club, a Western dance club.  I had a blind eye of my own in this regard.

Western clubs were obviously the most likely source of Waltz music for my students to dance to.  Yet it never dawned on me that the easiest way to popularize the Waltz would be to link it to the Western Waltz music.  It was right under my nose and I didn't see it.  When it came time to drum up business for the Waltz (1982), my mistake was to demonstrate the Waltz using schmaltzy Ballroom music.  I should have used Western music instead. 

Thanks to my mistake, it would take eighteen more years for Waltz to hit it big at SSQQ!


Back in those days, none of the Western dancers knew anything but the most basic Waltz moves.  99% of the men danced one lousy move - The Travel Step.  That meant the women went backwards for an entire song!  That was the accepted way to dance a Western Waltz in 1982. 

The emphasis was always on Twostep and Polka.  Most people ignored the Waltz because Waltz music was played so infrequently in the clubs.  You might go a whole night and hear just one.  As a result, no one paid much attention to the dance.  This created a classic snafu - since no one danced the Waltz, the DJs didn't play very many.  Since the DJs didn't play many Waltzes, there wasn't much reason to learn how.

Planting the Seeds of the Western Waltz

Unlike the rest of the world, Jim and Bill had taken a Ballroom Waltz class.  One night when our group was at the Winchester Club, the band played a Waltz.  Bill and Jim decided to try their Ballroom Waltz moves like the Box Step.  To their shock, the other dancers ran them down.  Good grief. 

This was a pure example of the old joke - how do you tell who are the pioneers?  They are they ones with the arrows in their backs.

Fortunately, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  After Bill and Jim got back up and dusted themselves off, they stopped to figure out another angle.  By chance, the band took its break.  The floor was completely empty.  This was prime beer drinking time for everyone!   Their two lady Waltz partners were still smarting from getting knocked down as well.  Trying to atone for the mishap, Jim went over to the DJ and asked if he would play a Waltz.  Sure, why not? 

So now Bill and Jim had the enormous two thousand foot floor all to themselves.  They asked their two ladies to try again.  So the four of them got back out there to practice their Ballroom Waltz moves. 

It was the perfect use of time during the Band Break.  From that point on, whenever the Band stop playing, Bill or Jim would go over and request a Waltz.  Soon enough, it became two Waltzes.  I later learned that they tipped the DJ.  Hmm.  I never got any tips when they asked me to play a Waltz. 

It was money well-spent.  Bill and Jim were on their way to becoming legends.  These early days at the Winchester was where they got their edge.

If you were a girl and you had a choice between going backwards for an entire song or dancing twelve different Waltz patterns with Jim or Bill, what would you choose?   This was the secret of their success. 

Eventually Jim and Bill took their act back on the floor when the Band played Waltzes as well.  At least now they were aware of the danger.  There were a lot of rednecks at the Winchester.  Bill or Jim knew if they got in their way, these jerks would just run them over.  To avoid getting knocked over dancing their stationary Box Step, Jim and Bill learned to go to the middle of the giant dance floor at the Winchester and hope that no one would knock them over.  This solution was only partially satisfying.  Sure enough, some guys would veer away from the crowd circling at the perimeter of the floor to plow right into the Waltz Kings... probably out of sheer spite.

This was the moment where Bill and Jim made a unique adaptation.  In 1982, the concept of making Ballroom Waltz moves TRAVEL around the floor like our modern Western Waltz had not yet come along.  Or had it?  I remember distinctly it was about this time that both Bill and Jim developed the same signature move - Waltz Crossovers.  At the time, I assumed they liked this move because it was so pretty.  Now that I look back with a 2010 perspective, I think they used that move all the time because it traveled so nicely.  After all, when I learned my Waltz Crossover, my teacher had me dance it in one spot on the floor.  Bill and Jim made it move.  Interesting.

In other words, I think Bill and Jim were already tinkering with the Waltz.  Wouldn't it be nice if they could avoid getting run over?  Necessity is Mother of Invention.  Trying to avoid collisions, Bill and Jim were learning ways to make their moves travel around the dance floor.  In this regard, both men were way ahead of their time.  They were among the very first Western Waltz dancers.

Unfortunately, until now, neither guy ever got any credit for their adaptations.  I doubt that they care.  The Waltz Kings had women everywhere to distract them.  I consider that to be reward enough for their innovation.  It's pure Darwin, now isn't it?  The first caveman to invent the wheel gets all the babes.

I really don't know who, when or where the idea for altering most of the basic Ballroom Waltz moves to make them Travel came along.  Jim and Bill were amateur dancers who made a clever discovery.  But they were certainly not the ones who created what I consider to be the Western Waltz.

My guess is the idea came from someone familiar with competitive Ballroom dancing who took an interest in Western dancing as well.  When I began to watch major Ballroom competitions on TV, I noticed that the competitors tended to travel their Ballroom Waltz around the floor.  I have a hunch that the technique for traveling Waltz moves already existed in the rarified atmosphere of elite Ballroom dancing. 

At some point, I assume a competition Ballroom dancer who also liked Western music helped the bring the traveling features of Ballroom Waltz over to the Western dance floors.  After all, a Waltz tempo is still a Waltz tempo whether it is Johann Strauss or George Strait.
 

Western Dancing Cleans Up its Act

Hey, Girls, how would you like to have some guy's nasty hand around your neck while you dance?  The picture captures the image nicely.  However, the true look was actually much worse.  Before Urban Cowboy came along, the men danced much closer. They would stick their entire forearm around the back of the woman's neck. 

Pretty sexy having some big sweaty guy with bad breath holding you close with your neck in a vice grip, huh?   Yup, the arm around the neck was The Look for Western Dancing in the Seventies.  Yee haw!

So what ever happened to those exciting days of yesteryear?  You might be surprised to know that all the fancy Western dancing we do here in Houston and at SSQQ owes a debt to the world of Ballroom Dancing.  I have a hunch that Houston's national leadership in Western dancing can be traced back to various Houston Ballroom professionals who applied their Ballroom training to Western dancing during the Urban Cowboy era.

When I first learned to Western Dance (1979), the man was supposed to crook his arm around the woman's neck and the woman grabbed his belt loop.  That's how Mr. Stevens taught it.  That's how my friend Joanne Wilson taught me too. (The Outcast).

There was only one move... woman goes backwards, man goes forward. Side-touch, Side-touch, walk, walk.  It was simple stuff, pretty tame.   In those days, Mr. Stevens' Western program consisted of a two hour crash course.  Made sense to me... there wasn't much to learn.  The way he taught the Twostep took about twenty minutes to learn. 

The first time I ever danced Western in a club, I was unbelievably bored out of my wits.  At the time, I thought to myself, "Is this all there is?"  After all, I was a boy raised on Disco.  This backwards and forwards stuff wasn't going to cut it. There was no way I could do this for an entire night!  I left after ten minutes. 

That experience was the beginning of my bad attitude towards Western dancing.

The Introduction of Frame: Ballroom Dancing to the Rescue

The situation changed considerably after Urban Cowboy created a buffalo stampede of interest in Western dancing here in Houston.  Once Urban Cowboy hit and the dance pros discovered there was serious money to be made teaching Western dancing, they changed a lot of things. 

For starters, there was no way a female Ballroom teacher was going to let some guy put his sweaty muscle bound arm around her neck.  She taught him to put his arm around her back where it belonged and develop Frame (see picture). 

Suddenly both people could stand up straight!  What a relief.  Once Frame was introduced, the man and woman not only looked more graceful, the man was now able to lead a wide array of new patterns.  It was no coincidence that overnight the Texas Twostep began to suspiciously resemble a Ballroom Foxtrot. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Do you see an arm around that woman's neck?  No.  Thanks to the Ballroom influence, Western Dancing was fast becoming classy.  Now a lady could wear a lovely dress and feel pretty out on the dance floor.  Her belt loop grabbing days were over.

I will take a little credit for the changes.  I hated that arm around the neck look with a purple passion.

I refused to teach Twostep or Polka with the old look.  Not only was the woman uncomfortable, how do you lead a woman with your arm around her neck?  

Early on, I occasionally had men in my classes who insisted I do it "The Right Way", women too for that matter.  However I stood my ground.  My class, my way.  Since most people didn't have a clue what the old style was in the first place, the old school people were outnumbered.  It was pretty easy for me to win.  Eventually people stopped arguing with me.  The Frame technique became the studio's Twostep standard.  It also became the accepted look throughout the city. 

Don't forget to thank the Ballroom instructors.

Western Swing Comes to Town

My major contribution to the Western World of Dance was the Western Swing.  

My first experience with Western Dancing was a disaster.  The dancing was so simple that I wanted to throw up.  Side-Touch, Side-Touch, Walk Walk.  This was supposed to replace Disco Dancing?  There had to be more to it than this.  Well, there wasn't.  I was completely and totally appalled.

There's an old saying, "If you don't like it, then do something about it."  So I did... I helped invent a new style of dancing.

Overcome by the stultifying boredom of the basic Twostep, the moment I saw guys trying to double turn their partners on the dance floor, I immediately signed on.  Turning girls was something I liked to do.  I figured the dizzier they got, the cuter I looked. 

I wasn't alone.  Lots of people were interested in this new style of Western Dancing.  I discovered a lot of the other Disco Refugees were thinking the same thing - let's start turning the girls again!  We were all silently in agreement.  If Urban Cowboy was going to take Disco Dancing away from us, then we needed to make Western Dancing a lot more interesting. 

In the very beginning, I was practically the only dance teacher with any sort of reputation.  Truth be told, I developed competition faster than you can whistle Dixie.  Other Western Studios like Exclusive sprang out of the woodwork. 

Fortunately, my fledgling western dance program was able to stay at the head of the class thanks to these new double turn moves.  People heard that I was the only person teaching the complicated double turns to the Twostep and the Polka.  I called it "The Western Swing".    

Nor did I stop there.
I incorporated my memories of all those tricky Disco patterns like the Pretzel, the Lariat, and the Rope and found a way to make them TRAVEL to Twostep and Polka rhythm.  In other words, I was doing the same thing with the Twostep that Bill and Jim eventually did a couple years later with the Waltz.

Referring to my patterns as Disco on the Run, the Western Swing now made the Twostep considerably more interesting to dance.  Thank goodness!  This in turn increased the popularity of Western dancing here in Houston.  It was also good for business.  My classes swelled with people who couldn't figure out how those tricky double turns worked.

Mind you, I didn't invent the Western Swing. However I will take at least some credit for its development.  I made up a lot of moves on my own.  I was practically the first person in the city to start teaching those patterns. Furthermore my classes were instrumental in popularizing this new style of Western Dancing.

Back in the days when Urban Cowboy came to town, old-timers might recall there was a lot of tension between the authentic kickers and the Disco Frauds dressed in Western attire. "I was Country before Country was Cool" was a pretty accurate slogan for the day.  However, the kickers didn't put up much of a fight on the western dance floor.  Thanks to the advent of Western Swing, the ex Disco dancers with their superior dance skills quickly outflanked them.  In addition, the newcomers greatly preferred the Ballroom Frame; consequently, the change in the look of the Twostep took place swiftly.  The arm lock on the neck was a thing of the past.  Plus the women had better learn to double turn if they were going to have any fun.

However, not every change in Western dancing happened overnight.  For example, the old style of Western Waltz stayed unaffected by the developments in the Twostep.  Throughout the Eighties most women still danced the Waltz backwards for an entire song.

I definitely contributed with the Western Swing, but I am filled with regret that I completely missed the ball when it came to Western Waltz.  This could have been my chance to be a pioneer a second time.  You would think my experience with the Western Swing would have transferred over to the Western Waltz, but it didn't.  In retrospect, I fell into the same trap as everyone else - no one plays Waltzes; why bother?

Whatever the reason, it never occurred to me to tinker with the Waltz and create adaptations to allow more patterns to travel.  I was just as locked into the "one spot on the floor" concept for Ballroom Waltz moves as the next guy.  I simply took it for granted that God meant for a Box Step to stay in one spot and a Twinkle was supposed to stay in one spot and so forth. 

I guess you could say I had trouble thinking outside the Box.

Western Waltz Comes to SSQQ

From the Days of the Waltz Kings, it would take eighteen years before the modern style of Western Waltz finally took hold here at SSQQ.  If I had been on the ball, it should have arrived at least eight years sooner.

In the early Nineties, Western dance competitions were growing in popularity thanks to Garth Brooks, Brooks and Dunn, etc.  Waltz was added to the list of dances.  That gave the competitors the incentive they needed to upgrade their Waltz.  Soon everyone learned how to make Ballroom Waltz patterns travel around the dance floor. 

Oddly enough, the modern form of Western Waltz existed right here at SSQQ throughout the Nineties.  Unfortunately only a couple people paid much attention.  Sharon Crawford, SSQQ's wonderful dance instructor, and her dance partner Patrick Steerman loved to dance the Western Waltz.  Frequent participants at Western Competitions in the Nineties, together Sharon and Patrick won many Western Waltz awards. 

However, for reasons I still don't completely understand, it took forever for the modern style of Western Waltz to catch on at SSQQ.  My memory can be challenged on this, but the way I recall it, the look of the Western Waltz here at the studio didn't change much during the Nineties.  Maybe a couple of underarm turns were added and quite possibly the Traveling Twinkle, but sophisticated moves like Triple Twinkle, Same Foot Sweetheart patterns and Waltz Syncopations were only danced by the competition elite.  The masses remained uneducated. 

In other words, the knowledge was here at SSQQ throughout the Nineties, but the interest wasn't.  No one complained to me.  No one was bugging me for a class to teach them how to dance the sophisticated patterns.  The utter lack of interest still remains a mystery to me, but I should add I didn't know the patterns either!

It took three people - John Jones, Sharon Crawford, and myself - to break through the barrier.  Of the three, my contribution was negligible.  All I did was come up with the idea.  John and Sharon did all the heavy lifting.  They are the ones who deserve all the credit for bringing Western Waltz to SSQQ. 


John Jones had a lifelong love of the Western Waltz.  John was a wonderful Waltz dancer who was a close friend of Sharon Crawford (now Sharon Shaw, 2005).  Early in the Nineties, John began helping Sharon with her Western Swing classes on Wednesday nights.  John would help demonstrate moves, dance with the extra ladies, and share advanced moves with Sharon whenever her bag of tricks ran dry.

I was grateful to John for his constant help here at the studio.  John was a grumpy Gus kind of a guy.  He was ALWAYS frowning about something.  The photo on the right with Mary is the only known picture in existence where John is smiling.  That said, his gruff exterior was a total act. This guy had a heart of gold under his stern look.  John was one of the most giving people I have ever met. 

One day John asked if I would mind if he practiced his Waltz here at the studio.  Of course not. I knew John was the Master.  After all the kind things he had done for Sharon and for the studio, I was more than happy to lend him a room so he could pursue his hobby. 

That's how it started.  Throughout the mid-Nineties, John spent countless evenings in back rooms here at the studio practicing his Waltz with his best friend (and former wife) Mary Jones.  Every Wednesday night around 9 pm, John would get together with the graceful, lovely Mary and dance the night away just for the sheer joy of practicing this beautiful dance.

Whenever John got bored with what he knew, he tried to learn something new.  To improve his repertoire, John ordered every videotape ever made on the subject.  He did his best to add each new pattern on the tape (some of which were unbelievably complicated) to his vast knowledge of the Waltz.

Since I was at the studio every Wednesday night, I made it a point to drop by at least once a night to watch Mary and John dance for a couple minutes.  I thought the man's dancing was phenomenal.  I asked John if he would like to perform a Waltz for us, but he declined.  John was extremely reserved.  Always the grump, John had no interest in the limelight.  Despite his great skill, he was extremely reluctant to show off.  Now that I understood.  Thanks to my experiences with the Dance Curse, I had long ago lost any interest in performing either.  Since I felt the same way he did, I didn't press him on it. 

John was so shy that he would often stop dancing if someone at SSQQ watched him for too long.  Fortunately, he allowed me to watch because he knew how much I respected his dancing.  John's Waltz moves were incredible!  And all that practice had paid off - John and Mary were sheer poetry.

Finally I couldn't take it any more.  Something this good deserved to be shared.  One night in 1999, I suggested that John consider sharing his vast knowledge of patterns in a Waltz class here at the studio.  If he wouldn't perform, why not at least teach it?  

I could see that John took my suggestion seriously.  He didn't answer, but I could see he was thinking.

John told me he would enjoy sharing his knowledge with anyone who was interested.  Did I think anyone would be interested? 

I told him my gut said yes.  He frowned and thought about it some more.  He was clearly intrigued by my suggestion that he share his love of Waltz, but something was still bothering him.  Finally he admitted his reservation.  Teaching wasn't his strength. John told me he was too quiet for this.  He wouldn't know where to begin to explain these complicated moves.  I reminded him he didn't have to do it by himself. 

John nodded.  He was thinking the same thing I was.  We both just happened to know someone who was a born teacher.  So John walked down the hallway to find his best friend Sharon.  He asked her if she was game.  Sharon smiled.  Absolutely!  Right there on the spot she agreed to do it. 

For the next few months, John collaborated with Sharon to put together a program.  The result was pure magic - their very first class in early 2000 attracted over a hundred people!  I couldn't help but smile.  That's when I realized people had been interested in the Waltz all along.  The real question was why they hadn't spoken up!  One man confided to me he was thrilled to take this class.  He said he had been watching John practice on Wednesdays for five years hoping he would teach Waltz some day.  However John was so unapproachable, he didn't dare say a word.  Good grief.

From the very start in 2000, John and Sharon's Western Waltz program was an instant hit.  It quickly became the finest GROUP training program for the Waltz that this city has ever seen.  Today the Western Waltz continues to be very popular at SSQQ.  Our studio's Western Waltz classes are jam packed, especially when Sharon teaches them.  

The Trick Works!

John and Sharon were proud of their successful Western Waltz class and rightfully so.  They now had an entire dance studio practicing extremely sophisticated Ballroom Waltz patterns that previously had been the strictly the domain of competition Western dancers.  Cloaked in the guise of "Western Dancing", our students were unwittingly becoming pretty good Ballroom dancers in their own right.

 About the same time, a gifted SSQQ instructor named Susie Merrill popularized Night Club here at the studio. Night Club was a stylish Western dance that suspiciously resembled Ballroom dances like the Rumba and Bolero.  As long as they were dancing to Faith Hill ("Breathe") or Alan Jackson ("Remember When"), the students didn't care.  They loved this new dance! 

Not to be outdone by Susie, a year later Sharon and John went on to introduce yet another a favorite SSQQ class, Western Cha Cha.  Now the same people were being tricked again into learning competition Cha Cha patterns complete with Latin hip motion. 

No problem.  As long as they were dancing to a Polka, they didn't seem to mind at all.   One Two Cha Cha Cha.

Amazingly enough, Western Dancing... a dance style that had once been regarded as rough, unsophisticated, slovenly and definitely stiff... now had men moving their hips and concerned about their posture.  What was the world coming to?


Did the Ballroom Influence Backfire?


Let's face it - there exists a prejudice against ballroom dancing.  Maybe it comes from some awful experience in a 7th grade etiquette class or maybe it comes from images of overgroomed men and fake-looking women loaded down with gaudy costumes and jewelry.  Or maybe it is just those pasty iron-on smiles that turn people off.  Whatever the reason, I think we all have to admit the word "Ballroom" seems to conjure up all sorts of negative stereotypes.

Mothers have long known the easiest way to get a kid to swallow a bitter pill is to wrap it up in candy.  You get the analogy.  By avoiding the terrifying word "BALLROOM", Sharon, John, and Susie helped SSQQ students overcome their prejudice.  By substituting the word "WESTERN" they were able to finally help their students appreciate the satisfaction that comes from advanced Ballroom dancing.

Ironically, I believe the heavy Ballroom influence that has permeated Western Dancing has prevented actual Ballroom Dancing from catching on more deeply here in Houston.  There are no active Ballroom Dance Clubs that play Ballroom music.  As long as people here in Houston continue to prefer Western music over Ballroom music, I think the number of people who take Ballroom classes will continue to stay suppressed. 

That's a shame.  Most people don't realize that along the way modern Ballroom music has improved dramatically just like the quality of Western music got so much better. But the stigma of snooty, uppity old people and schmaltzy, boring music seems permanently etched in many people's mind.  As long as people have Western dancing, there is little incentive to investigate Ballroom dancing more deeply. 

One of these days we need to change that.  There's some great Ballroom dance music out there that people are missing.  It may take a while though.  After all, Texas has enjoyed a long love affair with the Western lifestyle and Western music.  If given a choice between a Sinatra Foxtrot or a George Strait Twostep, my money is on George.  If given a choice between an Englebert Humperdinck Waltz or a Reba McEntire Waltz, my money is on Reba. 

Count the number of Western clubs here in Houston... a half-dozen or so.  Now count the number of Ballroom dance clubs.  Zero.  It is kind of silly in a way. In my opinion, Western dancing here in Houston is really just Ballroom Dancing in disguise.   The SSQQ Western crowd loves to Ballroom Dance.  All they ask is to let them wear blue jeans and play Western music. 


1982 - Rick Has a Plan to bring Waltz to SSQQ


Now we continue the story of the 1982 Waltz Kings

I had to do something to increase the supply of male Waltz dancers here at the studio.  The Magic of the Waltz would have given the men at my studio the same chance to become professional lady killers as Jim and Bill, but for some reason, these guys just didn't get it.  Instead they just stared in confusion as the Waltz Kings monopolized all the women.  Since Bill and Jim carefully guarded their secret, none of these guys seemed to be able to figure it out for themselves.

I should have spelled it out for them - Waltz leads to Whoopee - but my professional ethics made me look for a classier way to popularize the dance.  I began to discuss my idea about a Ballroom Waltz class to several students.  The women were on board immediately, but the men still didn't get it.  When I said the word Ballroom, the men cringed in terror and disdain.  I could have just as easily said Dracula and gotten the same result - no, stay back, please don't hurt me!

I groaned.  Why did this have to be so difficult?

Still, I wasn't ready to give up.  I was convinced I was on to something.  Anything that can make attractive grown women behave like pitiful school girls with giant crushes on two average looking guys should not be ignored.  These other men just had to be educated.  How do I promote a Waltz class?  An unusual idea crossed my mind.  But the very thought of it sent a chill through my body.

I had actually considered performing a Waltz.  I shuddered again.  Dare I open this door?   If I were to perform a lovely Waltz in front of my students at a dance party, surely this would go a long way towards promoting my pet project.  After all, we didn't have Newsletters.  We didn't have the Internet.  If I was going to get this Ballroom Waltz project off the ground, I needed some way to promote the dance.  Maybe a dance performance would do the trick. I shuddered again.

What was I thinking?  It had been four years since I had last tried to perform.  That's when a brutal karate chop had put an innocent bystander down to the floor writhing in agony.  That memory was still fresh in my mind.  The next memory to surface was that in the past I had performed five times and five times something terrible had gone wrong.  I didn't like admitting that I was superstitious, but how could I not be?   What if Rick's Dance Curse was still there?  I was surprised at how fast the old doubts started to pour in.  All that uncertainty and pain returned as if it had just happened yesterday.

One reason I had not performed in four years is that Victoria had refused to perform with me ever again.  Nor would she consider letting me dance with anyone else.  Another reason I had not performed in four years was there was no reason or need to.  There were no requests pouring in for me to perform.  There were some Western dance contests out there, but they didn't interest me at all.  My Western business was doing just fine, thank you.  I had no desire to perform.  I occasionally turned it on for the fun of it at dance parties, but I didn't seek any special attention.  Furthermore, I had no incentive to perform.  No incentive, that is, until now.  I gave it some more thought.  What could go wrong this time?

Dance Competitions are a useful way for Dance Clubs promote their business.  In a similar fashion, Dance Exhibitions are the traditional way that dance studios promote their business.  A lovely dance exhibition inspires the students.  They see the instructor perform and assume that if he (or she) can dance this well, he (or she) can probably teach them to look almost as good.  In this way, the dance instructor advertises his or her skills to the perfect audience... a group of people who are already interested in dancing see them show off and are inspired to improve.  

I was five years into my career.  Dance Exhibitions were a part of the business I had completely avoided so far.  Despite some intense misgivings based on my troubled past, to me it seemed like the time had finally come to take this important next step.  Business was good, but this one particular area definitely needed a shot in the arm.  I gave it some more thought.  What were my chances of success?  I decided my chances were actually pretty good.  Glen Hunsucker had trained me thoroughly in Ballroom Dancing.  With the notable exception of Samba which I hated with a passion, I had done well at all the other dances. 

However, all my training had gone towards learning the footwork and leads for the most important social patterns of each dance.  I had received no training on the theater arts side of Ballroom Dancing.  This would be a problem.

Before I made up my mind, I decided to talk to Glen about it first.  He said he would be delighted to help.  Glen thought my idea made perfect sense.  Next I spoke with Judy Price about it.  She was vaguely aware of my supposed dance curse, but told me I was being silly.  Nothing would go wrong.  It was a Waltz, for crying out loud.  Who gets hurt dancing a Waltz?

That covered all the bases.  Judy was game, Glen was game, and I wanted to promote my Waltz class.  Let's do it.

So I went into training. 
Well aware of my dance curse, I was absolutely determined not to mess up.  The surest way to avoid problems is to develop muscle memory.  So I scheduled our upcoming studio Ballroom Party for early 1983.  That would give Judy and I five months to practice our Waltz routine.  I wasn't taking any chances!  I had a Curse to overcome.

I was
a good Waltz dancer, but not an excellent one.  Spending most of my time dancing Whip and Western, back in those days I didn't get many chances to practice my Waltz.  That was about to change.  For the next five months, whenever possible, Judy and I would take a lesson from Glen Hunsucker to polish our upcoming performance.  Then whenever Judy and I were alone at the studio, we would practice.  We put a lot of time into getting our routine just right.  We owned it!

Ballroom is all about elegance and grace. 
I was determined to look good on the dance floor in front of all my students. Therefore I approached everything the right way.  I found a good partner.  I had a great coach.  I got in lots of practice.  Most important, I had given myself plenty of time to develop a sense of muscle memory.  It was my intention that no matter what unexpected thing happened, I would be able to overcome the distraction and recover the routine.

On the surface, I said I wanted to dance well to help promote Waltz at the studio.  That is what I told my students.  However, deep down I was sick and tired of being embarrassed in situations like this.  Let's face it, I was still in desperate need of some self-respect when it came to dancing.  All I had to show for five years in the world of dance was one improbable accident after another.  I knew I was a much better dancer than my results showed.  Wouldn't it be nice to prove it for a change?   As you might guess, I had considerable energy on this issue.  I needed to show the world that I was a top-flight professional dancer capable of performing well when people were watching.  

It
became my mission to succeed.  No more screw ups.  Nothing would stop me, not even a Dance Curse. 

 

 

 


Rick and Judy's Waltz Performance

The time leading up to the SSQQ Ballroom Party went quickly.  It was time to put my reputation on the line.

No one knew about my inner drama.  This was a whole new crowd.  The studio has a way of changing faces every couple years.  Other than my girlfriend Judy, I doubt there were more than a half-dozen people in the audience who knew about my past misfortunes.  Since it wasn't my habit to talk about the Curse, this was my own private matter.

It was time to perform.  Judy smiled at me and told me not to worry.  I smiled back.  To my surprise,
I wasn't nervous at all.  I was positive I knew my moves.  Nor were we doing anything dangerous.  Nothing could go wrong.  Maybe Judy would slip or maybe I would lose my balance, but big deal, the dance would surely go well.  I felt very confident.

Our performance got off to a good start. Thanks to all my preparation, I felt very comfortable out on the floor.  It was my moment to shine and I intended to enjoy myself.  Although Ballroom dancing was hardly my forte, all that practice had paid off.  I am proud to say that Judy and I danced beautifully together.  I smiled broadly to our friends as we danced our Twinkles and Turns, Parallels and Promenades.  Completely relaxed, Judy and I performed all of these sophisticated patterns with ease.  If you will permit some immodesty, we looked pretty darn good out there.

Our audience agreed.  As we danced, we received many smiles and much applause. I could tell from people's expressions that they were impressed.  No sign of the Curse either.  I was already patting myself on my back. 

The ending move of the routine called for a very lovely combination.  First Judy would slide her leg under mine and hit a Lunge Position (see picture on left).  Once we were set, I would then turn my body and hit a hip-to-hip Twist Dip.  I had danced this combination many times, so I had no fear.

Judy carefully slide her right leg into position.  Once she was set, I twisted my body sharply and Judy moved from the Lunge Position to the Twist Dip Position (the picture on the right is not exact, but fairly close to what we did).

We executed both moves fluidly.  And that was it.  Our performance was finished.  We had performed beautifully without even the slightest slip.  It was time to raise from this contorted position and take our bows.

As Judy and I rose out our Twist Dip position, we were already receiving a great deal of warm applause.  I was all smiles.  I remember thinking to myself that The Dance Curse was finally over.

Some explanation is necessary here. 

After we were done, we still had to get out of our Twist Dip position.  As the move called for, Judy and I were locked at the hips (see picture).  Our legs were still all tangled up.  The most graceful way to exit this position called for Judy and I to first "untwist", then stand up together slowly, then disengage. 

In other words, we had to rise up as "one", i.e. hip to hip. Once we stood up, our legs would be free and we could separate.


Something Goes Wrong

Since we had practiced this exit maneuver many times, I didn't give it a second thought.  I certainly wasn't worriedWe held the Twist Dip with perfect control for several seconds.  Then I "untwisted" our bodies and slowly rose out of the Dip.

As we stood up, Judy and I
still locked hip-to-hip.  Once we were on our feet, I took Judy's hand and tried to turn her to hit our finishing pose...but Judy wouldn't budge!   She stuck to me!

'That's weird!', I thought. 
So I tried again.  Again Judy wouldn't leave my hips!  Confused, I didn't know what was wrong other than Judy and I seemed to be stuck together at the hips like the proverbial impassioned lovers wrestling as one.  That is exactly how we appeared. 

I wasn't the only one who was confused.  Judy couldn't figure out what was wrong, but she wasn't happy about it.  Judy panicked a little.  She started to thrash in a vain attempt to get free.  For a moment seemed to get free, but whatever held us together snapped her pelvis right back into my pelvis. 

Confused, Judy thrashed again.  Again she snapped back to me.  Each time Judy tried to wrench her body free, her pelvis would snap right back into mine.  Finally I couldn't stand it any more.  I grabbed Judy's shoulders with both hands and clenched her still so she would stop these humiliating thrusting motions.


The illusion was as devastating as you can possibly imagine - those pelvic thrusts looked exactly like two lovers banging away with gusto. 

At this point, the applause had changed from warm appreciation to raucous laughter.  No one could figure out what we were doing or what was wrong, but something very bizarre was going on out there.  Seeing our hips jerking back and forth was a sight so hysterical you would assume it could never occur anywhere else but the movies.  And yet, as preposterous as it seemed, here were two adults doing the vertical cha cha right there in front of one hundred spectators.

Hearing the laughter, I can't begin to explain the waves of shame and embarrassment that washed over me.  Just when I thought I had endured all the humiliation that was humanly possible after my five previous misadventures, this remarkable farce topped even the Ritz Fiasco.  Who would have thought this simple little Waltz number would become so awful that it would surpass the previous most embarrassing moment in my life?  At least at the Ritz I was anonymous, but these were my friends, my students, people who knew me... and they were all laughing their heads off at me.

I had been trying so hard to impress them and now look what happened.  Their peels of hysterical laughter cut me to shreds.  I couldn't blame them for laughing.  Were the situation reversed, I would have laughed too.  We were simply the victims of a freak mishap that happened to create a very nasty - and very funny - illusion.

Maybe a seasoned professional could have made a joke out of it, but not me.  Thanks to my previous mishaps, I was far too sensitive to laugh it off.  I just stood there helplessly and burned inside.  I was furious at my utter helplessness.  I had done everything in my power to prevent something this from happening and it happened anyway. 

Why do these things keep happening to me?  

This ordeal was not over.  Even when I finally got Judy to stop thrashing, try as we might, Judy and I still could not seem to separate our hips.  If anything, Judy's thrashing seemed to have made the problem worse.  Our hips were intimately stuck together like two dogs in heat.  We couldn't get apart. 

I gave up trying.  Stuck to Judy like I was, I couldn't see what was wrong and I certainly didn't want to stick my hand down there with everyone hooting and hollering.  I didn't have any idea how to get un-stuck by ourselves.  As Judy and I stood there helplessly in our face to face position, I called to the audience for someone to please come out and help us figure out what was wrong. 

Two ladies came out on the floor to rescue us.  While we stood there in humiliated resignation, they got down on their knees to inspect our private areas.  Could this possibly be any more embarrassing?  As we tried to keep it together, Judy gave me The Look.  Yes, I had seen that look before.  It was the infamous "How could you do this to me?" expression.  I had seen this same Look on Suzie at the Ritz, the other Susie in Clear Lake, and Victoria at Foley's. 

Meanwhile we had no choice but stand there in this highly intimate position on the floor as 100 students continued to roar with amusement.  The two ladies were feeling a little embarrassed themselves.  They were poking their noses in places that aren't polite.  This went on forever because they couldn't figure out what was wrong.  One of them said, "It's pretty dark in there".  For a moment I thought they were going to bring out a flashlight and shine it down there.  Please don't. 

Finally one of them said she had found the problem.  The culprit was a wardrobe malfunction.  It seems
Judy had bought a beautiful new gown for the occasion.  Judy's cord-like belt had miraculously gotten intertwined around my metal belt buckle sometime during the Lunge or the Twist Dip.  When Judy thrashed, like a Chinese finger trap, the motion had made the connection even tighter.  Now it was all knotted up... they would have to untie us or cut us loose. 

Judy didn't really want to damage her beautiful new dress.  Unfortunately we were so intimately joined at the hip, it was difficult to untie us out on the floor.  Maybe we should leave the floor first.  So like a pair of klutzes in a three-legged race, Judy and I hopped off the floor with our groins locked together.  Can you even begin to imagine how ridiculous we looked?

Over in the corner, we now had a little more privacy, but not much.  The woman with the sharpest fingernails slowly untied Judy and me to the accompaniment of barely suppressed giggles.  We were definitely entertaining our audience, that's for sure.  Finally we were free.  To the sounds of thunderous applause, we stepped apart. 

The lady who untied us beamed with pride.  Like a great surgeon, she had successfully separated the Siamese Twins.  Free at last, Judy and I thanked our gallant rescuers, bowed to the audience, then left in search of some place to hide.

Something ugly happened.  As Judy and I were headed for the door, some jerk hollered, "Hey Rick, I liked your Hot Stuff out on the floor!  Did you and Judy practice that too?"

That crossed the line. 
All I could see was red. I immediately coiled to go after the guy, but Judy stopped me.  Fortunately she was between me and the guy.  She was able to step in front of me.  Judy said, "Please don't."  Well, her words stopped me.  But I seethed and burned nonetheless.  That was uncalled for.

I was pretty frustrated. I had been determined not to let anything go wrong, but it did anyway.  I had gone out there seeking respect, but had left the floor as a comedy act.  The immediate pain had been intense.  I was so disappointed to fail at yet another dance performance.  However, Judy helped considerably.  She was taking this mishap a lot better than I was.  Although she had been embarrassed too, Judy was able to shrug it off.

Judy pointed out that we didn't fail at the performance and that no one got hurt.  We danced beautifully, but we just had some bad luck getting off the floor, that's all.  It was the same thing as a beauty queen slipping on the way to get her tiara.  That didn't mean we weren't winners.

It wasn't the end of the world, now was it?  
Why not laugh about it? 

Easy for you to say.  I still had a Curse hanging over me.

V-Ann and Judy wearing her infamous dress.  If you look carefully, you can see the cord.  Based on Judy's smile, my guess is this picture was taken before the ill-fated performance/

 

In
Retrospect

One sad consequence of the bizarre wardrobe malfunction is that my 1983 Ballroom Waltz class never made it off the ground.  My fizzled Waltz performance completely failed to ignite any interest.  If anything, people were more terrified of the word "Ballroom" than ever before.  Look what to Ballroom Dancers!  Hahaha. 

Somewhere I am sure that Jim and Bill, the studio's Waltz Kings, were secretly relieved.  This threat to their kingdom had been averted. 

As you have read, it wasn't until until 2000 that Waltz finally made it big at SSQQ.  That, my friends, is a eighteen year gap.  What a shame.  All I can say is thank goodness that John Jones and Sharon Crawford Shaw finally got us past the barrier.  Today the studio is filled with dozens of highly accomplished Waltz dancers. 

Sad to say, my friend John passed away in 2007 after a lengthy illness.  Sharon and I were very touched by his bravery.

I was also kind of envious.  John Jones was able to do something I was never able to accomplish - John brought championship-caliber Ballroom Waltz to SSQQ.  He had every right to be proud of his accomplishment.  I certainly feel very grateful to him as should the entire SSQQ Community.
 

As for me, obviously I had been wrong when I assumed the Dance Curse had ended.  Indeed, the Curse was alive and well.  For the record, this made six consecutive failures at six consecutive dance performances.  And just like all the others, I did not feel even slightly responsible for what had just happened.  It was a bad break, but I didn't do anything to cause it.  I just happened to be hanging around when Rick's Dance Curse struck again. 

Judy was right.  It wasn't the end of the world.  The pain didn't last nearly as long as in previous situations.  For one thing, I had a clear
conscience I had done the absolute best I could to prepare.  And I was successful - Judy Price and I danced well.  We made absolutely no mistakes.  We were flawless.  I had danced to the best of my ability.  What more could I ask of myself or Judy?  

You do your best to prepare, you execute to the best of your abilities, then your take your chances.  And yes, I struck out, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying.


That said, no one would remember how well we had danced, now would they?  That was tough luck, but I could live with it.

Maybe I really was a Jinx.  After giving it some serious thought, I decided the Universe was sending me a message that I should listen to  carefully.  I concluded my remarkable string of mishaps was sufficient evidence that I was not put on this Earth to be a dance performer. 

Instead, I believed I was meant to stick to teaching dance.  Leave the glory of performing to others.

NEXT CHAPTER: ODYSSEY, THE CONCLUSION TO THE DANCE CURSE SAGA

 

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