Stiff Arm
Home Up Superstition


The Dance Curse!!

Part Two - The Curious Stiff Arm

Story written by Rick Archer

First Published: January 2001
Last update: February 2010

Dance Contests

I hate dance contests.  Most of them aren't fair.

Subjectivity is a huge problem when it comes to judging dance contests.  In general, all sports where the contestants are "judged" lend themselves to controversy.  Besides competitive dancing,  figure skating, diving and gymnastics are good examples of important sports that are vulnerable to poor judging.  I much prefer sports where you keep score.  The team that puts the ball in the net the most often deserves to win.  That kind of result is easier for my mind to accept

It helps if the judges are dancer or ex-dancers themselves, but the TV dance contests are often judged by celebrities.  These people who know less about dancing than the contestants. Some of the decisions made by the celebrity judges drive me crazy.  They love to be cute and show how clever they are.  As a result, the winner isn't necessarily the couple who danced the best, but rather the one that got the biggest laugh.  

A major problem with dance contests is the unlevel
playing field.  I can't begin to tell you how many contests I have seen where you have people who have danced for years go up against people who have been dancing for a few months.  This situation is especially rankling when it is labeled 'novice' and you have a couple in there who have been around forever.

Another common problem in dance contests is that the flashiest couple often doesn't win.  The crowd favorite is usually the couple who tries the toughest moves.  However, the "best couple" frequently comes in second.  Even though this couple may please the audience, they often lose to a couple that makes fewer mistakes. 

In dance contests, the rules aren't always understood by the audience.  They can't understand why the judges seem to reward the boring but efficient couple with victory over the exciting couple who dares to take chances.  Since the "mistakes" are usually too subtle for the average observer to notice, the crowd is often disgusted with decisions that make no sense to them.

Politics constantly rear their ugly head.  Don't get me started. Usually the most popular couple wins the close contests. 

Good looks are important too.  Beauty beats skill far more often than it should.  People who look good dancing often just turn out to look good period and who cares if they can dance.  After all,
dance contests are all about flash and glamour.  As in many other walks of life, an extremely sexy woman with breasts barely contained in her costume may end up with the prize whether she can dance or not.  The male judges never even looked at her feet.

These are just some of my objections.  Enough
said.  You get the picture. 

That said, I don't hate all dance competitions.  I thoroughly enjoy watching professional Ballroom competitions.  These people put on quite a show.  Plus they are all pros.  They know the ropes, they know the rules, and they enjoy a level playing field.  They are judged by their peers who are usually professional dancers in their own right.  I suppose politics and subjectivity still play a role, but at least it isn't obvious.  Best of all, every one of the women are knockout good looking and so are the men.  Since everyone is totally beautiful and amazingly sexy, the judges end up watching their feet.  May the best dancers win.

However, when it comes to local dance contests, I admit I have a bad attitude.  In the early of my dance career, I went to quite a few.  That is how I made up my mind that I didn't like them very much.  For the past twenty years or so I have avoided them like the plague.  I don't like to watch dance contests and I don't want to enter them either. 

Maybe if I was a gifted dancer, I might feel differently.  Actually, thanks to all my years of practice, my dancing is pretty good.  If I put my mind to it and practiced hard enough, I might do okay.  However, my biggest obstacle is that as I age, my interest in being out in front of an audience has diminished.   In other words, I could care less.

I didn't always feel this way.  In my early days, oh how I yearned to win a dance contest to prove I belonged in the same league as my idols.  During 1978, my first year of teaching, my overall self-esteem wasn't very high and the same can be said of my dance self-esteem.  During my visits to the Disco, I could see my dance skills were no match for the best dancers in the club.  I was so envious of their ability! 

Without telling anyone, deep down inside I wanted to win a dance contest.  In 1979, a game-changing event entered my life.  Once I began my relationship with Glen Hunsucker, my partner dance skills improved so dramatically that I was now roughly on par with the people I saw out dancing in the clubs.  I would occasionally say to myself, "Rick, why don't you enter a dance contest and get it out of your system?"

So that's what I did.  Over the years, I actually entered a few dance contests.  Four in fact.  I didn't win any of them. 

One was a couples Twist contest in some club where my partner and I finished second.  Big deal.

Another was a dance contest at the old Wild West on Gessner.  My friend and fellow dance instructor Sharon Crawford were there dancing for the fun of it when they announced a dance contest.  Sharon talked me into entering it.  I am guessing it was 1988 or so.  Right before the contest, Sharon and I practiced a hotshot new acrobatic move over on the carpet.  The move was awesome!  However, when it was time to try our ill-fated new acrobatic step in the contest, Sharon jumped too early and knocked me off balance. I ended up falling on top of her.  The crowd roared.  They thought it was wonderful.  I didn't think it was wonderful, but shrugged it off.  Since we had entered the contest at the last moment, I didn't take our defeat too seriously.  

However I should have won the other two dance contests.  But I didn't.  As you will read, both stories serve as compelling additional evidence that I clearly have a Dance Curse hanging over my head.

This is the story of the first defeat, an incident forever blazoned in my mind as The Stiff Arm


The Clear Lake Dance Connection

How I Got Started Down in Clear Lake

Let's return yet again to those Disco Days of yesteryear1978 was the year Saturday Night Fever got the whole country dancing to Disco Inferno, Macho Man, and Donna Summer's Last Dance. It was now June 1979, one entire year after the infamous Ritz Fiasco

When I was growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  The problem is, I didn't have anything to teach!   After I was thrown out of graduate school in 1974, a life-changing event if there ever was one, I developed my interest in Disco Dancing.

For four straight years, I took every dance class I could find here in the Houston area.  I noticed that I often studied how my teachers presented their material.  I would analyze why one teacher was more effective than another.  I found myself daydreaming how I would teach the material if I were in their shoes.  One day it dawned on me I would like to teach a dance class!  Just as a hobby, of course, sort of a fun thing to do.  I have chronicled this era of my life in a story titled Learning to Dance.

What is pertinent to our current story is that when
Saturday Night Fever came along, I was way ahead of the curve here. I already knew all sorts of Disco Line Dances and I had already taught classes at three different places (1. Jewish Community Center on Braeswood, 2. Jewish Community on Memorial, 3. Stevens of Hollywood).  Once the movie began to generate interest in Disco Dancing, the phone at Stevens of Hollywood began to ring off the hook. I was hardly a master teacher at that point, but I definitely knew more than most people.

I was in the right place at the right time.

Mr. Stevens was besieged with all sorts of requests to teach Disco here there and everywhere.  Except that he hated Disco.  So, like the master cook who throws his crumbs to the worshipful puppy dog on the floor, Mr. Stevens handed everything he wasn't interested in to me.  Like a hungry puppy dog, I gobbled up every opportunity I could.  Since I already had a resume of sorts plus experience, I was hired for one teaching gig after another.  And let me tell you, there were some weird ones!  I taught at old folks homes, boy scout meetings, bar mitvahs, country club events, birthday parties, and seventh grade dance classes.

I taught at a Belly Dance Academy, I taught in night clubs, I taught at a law convention, I taught at a medical convention, I taught a b'nai b'rith youth group, I taught church groups, I taught at a Hispanic community center, a black community center and I taught at gay and lesbian meetings on several occasions.  You name it, I taught there. 

Of course the weirdest of all my gigs had to be the year I spent teaching Disco at a local wife swapper's club.  That opened me up to a world I had no idea even existed.  I was definitely a stranger in a strange land.

So now you know how I got my dance career started - I accepted EVERY OPPORTUNITY that came along. 

Dancing Under a Killing Moon

Sometimes I took that 'accept every opportunity' motto a bit too far. One night I even taught a Disco class for some redneck drug gangsters. I wish I could remember more details, but the whole night is just a blur. Give me a break, it was thirty years ago!

I should have turned back before I even got there.  It was the longest drive of my life, but I do remember ending up in some part of Magnolia near the Renaissance Festival location.  The place was hard to spot because it was surrounded by thick pine woods and a perimeter fence.  I entered a huge walled estate complete with security guards at the gate who inspected me. They didn't frisk me, but they did look me over. I assumed they were looking for weapons.  Was I apprehensive?  Take a guess.  Yes, I was convinced they would kill me if I didn't do well.

As I entered, I was kicking myself upside and down for accepting this in the first place.  How do I get myself into these things?  The guards led me to an intimidating drug lord who was wearing a sports coat in the summer and gold chains worth a fortune.  I whispered to myself I really was going to die. 

However, to my absolute astonishment, this gig turned out to be completely on the level.  The wife of the leader had asked to have a Disco Party for her birthday.  They really did want to learn how to Disco Dance!  I guess it's tough for gangsters to find a good dance class out here in the boondocks. 

The dance lesson would take place on the patio next to a lavish swimming pool.  The loudspeakers were already blaring Donna Summer tunes like Hot Stuff and Bad Girls. This whole scene was Dukes of Hazzard revisited. I don't know how to describe the people other than they were 'rough'.  The men wore their hair long with lots of facial hair, their language was coarse with lots of casual profanity, and they all wore jewelry of some sort.  The women had teased hair. They wore hot pants and mini skirts, low-cut blouses, and high heels.  Think Daisy Duke.

The men stared at me with suspicion and the women stared at me with inviting smiles that scared me out of my wits. Some of these women were real knock-outs, but I didn't dare look closely.  Since I had no idea who belonged to whom, I decided they were all dangerous women.  Please don't get me killed or beat up, lady. 

As I waited, a constant stream of pickup trucks arrived.  That night, I taught Disco Line Dances at the birthday party with about 30 people in attendance.  The birthday girl was the wife of the Don.  Amazingly, it was fun!All these gangster people really got into the dancing.  There was booze everywhere, cocaine, marijuana, you name it, but everyone kept it under control.  They apparently knew their limits.  They all danced and laughed their heads off.  Complete with birthday cake, presents and the 'Happy Birthday' song, it was a scene that was both normal and surreal at the same time.

I kept pinching myself to make sure this wasn't a dream.  I didn't quite know how to behave around these people, but the one thing I was sure to do was avoid flirting with the women.  That seemed to be a surefire recipe for disaster.  If a woman smiled at me, I smiled back and then looked away.  As for me, I didn't need any chemical help to loosen up.  I had a beer to be polite, but that was my limit.  I was so nervous I just rattled off anything that came into my mind.  It is amazing how funny you can be when you think your life depends on it.  Whatever I said, it worked.  It was probably the alcohol, but the crowd laughed at everything I said. They loved me.  They thought I was the funniest person they had ever met.  Good.  I didn't mind slaying them with my jokes as long as they promised not to shoot me when it was over.

At the end of the night, the Don came up to me, pressed five hundred dollars into one hand, shook my other hand, looked me square in the eyes and said I did a great job.  He'd be calling again soon.  My jaw dropped wide open for two reasons. First, this was the most money I had ever made in my life.  Second, I saw his holstered gun when he reached inside his coat to pull out the money.  What a night.  You know, they really should make a movie about my experiences. 

Clear Lake Recreation Center

Besides the bizarre opportunities, some really solid leads also dropped into my lap.  Out of the blue, an unexpected opportunity early in my dance career developed into my favorite weekly event.  Mr. Stevens received a request from the Clear Lake Recreation Center for someone to teach Disco.  They were having a hard time finding anyone down in Clear Lake who could help.  As usual, Mr. Stevens handed it over to me.  I talked to the man on the phone and said I was already teaching five nights a week here in Houston.  He said what about Saturday?  I thought about it for a moment and said sure, I can do Saturday afternoons.  I started in early 1979.

For my first class, I was greeted by a very large group full of enthusiasm.  There were apparently no other dance teachers in the area, so my class was indeed huge.  There are advantages to being the only game in town.  The class treated me like a rock star and hung on my every word.  I had a lot of fun teaching down there.  They were so appreciative!  When a class goes well, your students become your friends.  You tease them, they tease you, jokes are made, friendships are made, and the dancing is too much fun.  If someone asks me why I teach, I promise it isn't the money.  It is teaching people like this group that has made my dance career so special.

Two months later, I was pretty sad that my special class had to end.  At the end of the last class I promised that I would start another class in a couple months.  I told my group how much I would miss them all and maybe they could sign up for the next series of classes I would be offering soon through Clear Lake Rec. 

The Seven Couples

While I was standing around accepting thanks and answering questions, several couples led by Dennis and Linda Case came up to me to ask if I would consider teaching them as a private group on Saturdays. 

At first I hesitated. Clear Lake was a pretty long drive plus I could use the day off.  After all, I taught private lessons all morning and afternoon at Stevens of Hollywood on Saturdays, so I was usually pretty pooped by the time the Clear Lake gig rolled around.  But they were so generous in their praise I couldn't help myself.  I was very flattered.  So I told them of course I would do the lesson.  That's how I met my Clear Lake couples.

The following week I drove down to Clear Lake.  Our classes were held in the community center of a gated community known as Bal Harbor.  I surprised to find the group had grown to seven couples.   Apparently they had recruited three other couples to join them. 

I quickly discovered these people were serious!  They immediately told me they wanted to ditch the Disco Line Dances that I had taught over at the Rec Center and switch to partner dancing instead.  I was game.  Not only did I teach them the Hustle, they wanted to learn acrobatics too.

This group became very tight knit.  They wrapped their Saturdays around my class.  First they met for my class, then whole group would go out to dinner, and then they would finish the evening by driving to a nearby Disco for some Saturday Night dancing afterwards. 

This became my favorite teaching assignment of the week.  Not only were all seven couples warm, friendly people who were fun to be around, they were a pleasure to teach because they concentrated so hard.  Of course after the class they always invited me to join them. 
Usually I would join them for dinner and cut out afterwards because I had a date back in Houston, but occasionally I would take them up on their offer to go dancing too. 

Part of the problem was that I was always solo... it was a little weird going dancing with seven couples.  Plus I was younger than all of them.  Two of the couples were in their fifties and treated me like a son.  Others in the group like Tommy and Hazel and Bruce and Margaret were closer in age.  They became my friends.  All of these people were so kind to me.  I felt very welcome in their presence.

Those were fun days for me. 
Each couple tried so hard to keep up.  There were no lollygaggers or dropouts. My heart swelled with pride as I watched each couple make steady progress.   All seven stayed with it and were rewarded for their efforts.  They were pretty good out on that dance floor.  I should know because I watched them in action many times.  

Back at Stevens of Hollywood I worked with such large groups that I didn't get to focus on individuals very much.  But with this small group, I was able to hone in on each person's progress.  I loved watching them improve. They made me feel good to be their teacher.  I owed them a great deal - they helped me learn to be a better teacher.  They learned so much material that I had to teach them moves I had never taught before and figure out ways to explain the patterns.  They forced me to grow as a teacher.

I worked them hard!  I could see their habit of dancing in the clubs every Saturday Night was paying off.  Each couple was getting very good.  They had a friendly competition among themselves to see who could learn the new move the fastest or who could demonstrate the best what we did the previous week.  That energy produced good results.  They were my star pupils, even better than my most advanced couples back at Stevens of Hollywood.  These couples were certainly the finest "Group" of dancers I ever taught. 

This picture was taken in 1982.

Three of my favorite couples from the Clear Lake Group are pictured here.

I am on the outside. Tommy is next to me.  Hazel is on top wearing blue next to her two daughters.

Bruce is closest to the fireplace. His wife Margaret is in red right above him. 

That's Judy in purple and Dick in the upper middle.

Dave is wearing the vest and his pregnant wife Mona is out in front. 

They were a transplant couple.  They started in Houston, but I talked them into joining the Clear Lake group because they were a gifted pair of dancers.  I thought they would fit right in.  I was right.

Ah, that's me in the picture on the bottom farthest away from the fireplace.

That's odd.  I wonder who took the picture?  Maybe one of Hazel's children.  I have no idea.  Oh well.

As you can gather, Clear Lake was a special place for me.  Every visit was magic, every visit that is except one...

The Giant Teddy Bear

I had been working with the Clear Lake group for five months when something odd happened.  One Saturday I arrived for my lesson to be greeted by an enormous 4 1/2 foot tall teddy bear.  The Teddy Bear was so big, it stood on upright on two legs!  What is this all about?  I learned that my best dance couple, Tommy and Hazel, had won this bear in a dance contest the previous Saturday with all the other couples watching and cheering.

I couldn't take my eyes off
that bear!  I was impressed.  I had never seen a teddy bear this big before.  The bear was so big that it was almost as tall as one of the women in the class.  We joked that if one of the ladies got dizzy, maybe the bear could take her place.  Or we could use it to demonstrate the dangerous acrobatics.  Ha ha ha.

I wasn't surprised at who won though.  Tommy and Hazel were my best dancers.  They were so good, they won a trip to Cancun six months later by entering a contest at a nearby Disco known as the Lighthouse.  You will hear more about the Lighthouse in another story.

The other couples were as proud of Tommy and Hazel as they could possibly be.  On the surface, so was I.  Of course Tommy and Hazel deserved their victory.  They were great dancers!  They certainly had my respect. 

However, unbeknownst to the group, I harbored deep dark thoughts of envy.  That bear was quite a trophy.  I wanted one of my own.

The next week I got to see Bear Number 2.   After Tommy and Hazel had showed me their bear in the afternoon, the same night the seven couples made another trip to the same Disco.  I believe the name of the Disco was Spats, but don't hold me to that. 

Apparently last week's contest was successful, so the club did it again this week too.  This time another couple from the group, Bruce and Margaret Baird, entered and won. 

Now the group had two trophy bears to brag about.  Again the group oohed and aahed at the beauty of the bear and the success of their friends.  

Well, let's cut right to the heart of the matter. When I saw Bear Number 2, I decided that I WANTED ONE OF THOSE BEARS FOR MYSELF.  In fact, I wanted one of those bears with an intensity I didn't dare reveal to my seven couples.   

I didn't think winning the bear would be difficult. I knew my couples were good, but I was better.  For crying out loud, I was their teacher! 

I knew more than they did and I practiced six times as often.  They were amateur dancers, I was a professional.   Thanks to my work with Glen Hunsucker, in the past six months he had helped me become a seasoned, polished dancer.  I knew lots of tricks that were too difficult or dangerous to teach that could be used to win a contest.  I couldn't think of any
earthly reason why I couldn't win my own damn teddy bear! 

So I politely asked if any of the couples would mind if I entered the following week.   Thank goodness, they were so nice about it!  I was worried my desire to enter the contest might backfire.  Fortunately, they thought this was a great idea!  One lady spoke up and said, "Of course, Rick, we actually talked about you entering!  We would all love to see you perform.

My friends were so excited for me!  That's all I needed to hear.  I had permission.  The coast was clear.  The game was on.   So why did I feel like such a jerk?

A Glimpse into the Dark Side of My Mind

back to Houston that night, all I could do was think about winning that bear.
 I was obsessed. 

On the ride home, all kinds of evil thoughts surfaced in my mind.  I realized I had some serious misgivings about what I was about to do.  Several issues emerged.

I felt guilty for stooping so low.  This dance contest at Spats was not a fair fight. They had told me that any one of the seven couples could win that contest... there was no other real competition in the club!  This was like shooting ducks in a barrel... no challenge.  With that thought in mind, I felt ashamed of myself for wanting to win this thing.  This wasn't right. 

Okay, so I win a dance contest against a bunch of nobodies.  What exactly was this going to prove?

In fact, the more I thought about it, this upcoming dance contest was burning a hole into my brain.  All kinds of insecurity and feelings of failure seemed to be rising up to haunt me.  I was entering a very dark place.

As I made my long, lonely trip home to Houston in the dark, it was June 1979. 

One year earlier I had been humiliated at the Ritz.  As I drove my car, the memory of that ordeal still burned as if it was yesterday.  It was time to take stock of my life. I was almost 30 years old.  I was now a year and a half into my magical Disco tour.  I knew was hiding something from everyone. 

On the outside, I was a polite, decent, hard-working, sincere young man.  I had a good sense of humor and a knack for explaining dance moves in a way that was easy to understand.  I was smart and I had one major asset, my wonderful education. 

However, on inside, I was an incredibly angry young man full of insecurity and bitterness.  If you dug just a little bit under the surface, you would discover I wasn't the most confident person in the world.  I was riddled with scars in my psyche.  I had so much to prove!

To this point, my life had been very rough going.  I had endured many hardships as a kid.  Thanks to my broken home and my neglectful mother, I had grown up a lonely kid who wasn't very good at making friends. 

Due to my lack of parenting, I was socially awkward.  An only child, in some ways I was forced to raise myself.  I had no one to prop me up when I was down. 
I never dated in high school because I felt so inferior.  Not only was I the poorest kid at a rich kid's school, a terrible bout with acne in my sophomore destroyed what little confidence I had in my attractiveness (my high school years).

College didn't help my confidence around girls either.  Since I went to college at a men's school, it wasn't that easy to date in the first place.  Plus I made a fool of myself in my Freshman year.  After that, I didn't date much after that

Graduate school nearly finished me off.  My weak social skills caused me to fail in two different ways.  In 1974 I suffered
the humiliation of being told to
leave graduate school.  They said I did not have the right personality to become a counselor.  Maybe they were right, but the rejection tore my heart out.  It hurt terribly to fail in something I had tried so hard to succeed at. I was devastated.

That wasn't all that went wrong in graduate school.  That same year, I got my heart torn apart in another way by a two-timing liar of a girlfriend.  Thanks to my total lack of experience with women,
I gave my feelings to a woman who burned me through her deception.  While she was seeing me, she had another boyfriend whom she concealed from me.  Me and Sue, that guy too.  When I found out the truth, I was devastated by the experience.  What little trust I had towards women was annihilated. 

After my double disappointment in graduate school, I came back to Houston in shambles.  It took a lot of time to pick up the pieces.  I was at Ground Zero.  I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  For lack of anything better to do, for the next four years (1974 - 1978) I allowed myself to stay
in a depressing, no-win position investigating child abuse and child neglect.  I never felt like I accomplished anything of significance.  Talk about a dead end job.

So now my situation should be coming into focus.  Ever since I had been thrown out of graduate school, I had been drifting through life trying to find myself.  My late Twenties were lonely, angry years.  Of all my problems, my acute loneliness stood front and center. 

Since I never had much confidence with women to begin with, it was slow going any time a pretty girl came near. I knew I had to do something to break through my crushing fear of women.  I turned to dance.  I would use dancing to meet women.  That was my plan.  Unfortunately, I had a setback there too - I discovered I wasn't much of a dancer!

I was a failure in love.  I was a failure in my career.  I was even a failure in my hobby.  However, if nothing else, I am persistent.  I stayed with the dancing.

My first big break in life was the education I received.  When Saturday Night Fever came along, it was the second big break of my life. This was the best thing to happen to me in a long time.  Although I wasn't a great dancer, I finally discovered something I was definitely good at - teaching.  At last I was finally contributing something good to the world. I was so encouraged by the compliments I got from my students, I felt like crying sometimes from gratitude.  I was that desperate for compliments. 

To my amazement, the women came too.  To my surprise, I realized I was in a glamorous job.  I wasn't the best dancer in Houston, but I was better than anyone else in the dance classes I taught.  There were a lot of single women who took my classes.  They got to see me do something I was pretty good at - teach - and liked what they saw.  I actually began to break through some of my confidence barriers.  I began to feel attractive for the first time in ages.

But when it came to my dancing, painful memories of the
Ritz Fiasco from the previous year still burned deep in my psyche. That failure served as a constant reminder that until proven otherwise, I was a mediocre dancer.  A little redemption would go a long way towards easing those scars.  I had a real axe to grind.  I wanted proof that I was good dancer.  For that matter, I needed proof.

No matter how much my conscience bothered me, I was going to enter that contest and win it.  Then for the rest of my life, I could say I won a dance contest. 


Besides my battered self-esteem, I had one other powerful motivation.  For the first time in five years, I had a girlfriend.  I had been dating a very pretty girl named
Suzanne (
the brunette in the light pink shirt. She was not the same Suzie who had danced with me at the Ritz a year earlier)

Susie and I had been seeing each other for eight months.  At this point our relationship was on very shaky ground.  You can read the entire miserable story if you wish in
Risky Business.

I thought perhaps if Susie and I were to win this dance contest, it might go a long way towards restoring the rapidly fading Magic in our relationship.

So I talked Susie
into coming down with me to Clear Lake the following week.  She was very skeptical, but eventually agreed to help. To prepare, we practiced all week long. 

We looked good together.  I felt confident.  Bring it on.


Another Chance at the Plate

My Ritz disaster was in June 1978. By coincidence, the Clear Lake contest at Spats was in June 1979.  The symbolism was very apparent to me.  Two Susies, two major challenges spaced one year apart. 

This was a chance for Mighty Casey to make a comeback.  One year ago I had suffered the worst humiliation of my life on a dance floor.  Now one year later I was spoiling for revenge.  I had gone down in flames with Suzie a year ago.  My new Susie would see me succeed.  She would be proud of me and our relationship would be back on solid ground.  And I would prove to the world that I was a good dancer.

I was probably taking this event a little too seriously.  Oh, let's tell the truth... a lot too seriously.  You know the saying 'trying too hard'.  I had a lot more emotion invested in this event than the situation called for.  I felt very intense.

Susie accompanied me on the drive down to Clear Lake on the day of the contest.  She was in a very negative mood.  In her mind, this was stupid.  Who cared whether we beat a bunch of people we didn't even know in a backwoods dance competition?  These people had never had a dance lesson in their life.  What exactly was I proving if I kicked their ass? 

Since I was pretty touchy about this subject to begin, Susie's needling was getting deep under my skin.  I bristled at practically everything she said.  I grew more tense by the mile.

Then, to my surprise, Susie lightened up a little.  As
Susie and I walked in the door at the clubhouse to start our lesson, we were greeted by a new bear.  Meet Bear Number 3.  Staring eye to eye with the giant standing bear, Susie did a double take.  Susie laughed and said, "I didn't realize the Bear was as tall as I was!"  I was so relieved.  That was the first time she had smiled the whole day.

After I got through introducing Susie to the seven couples, they gave me the lowdown. Sure enough, after
I had left the previous Saturday, the group had gone dancing again.  Same Disco, same result.  This time a third couple, Dave and Mona, had entered and won! 

I teased the group that they kept trotting out the same stupid bear every week, but they swore up and down there were three bears now.  So I quipped that Goldilocks had to be somewhere nearby.  Better check their beds when they got home.  Ha ha ha.  Then I said that pretty soon there would be a fourth bear in the family.  Everyone smiled.  Even Susie looked like she was finally getting on board with the idea.  She obviously liked the bear too.

Eventually we settled down and got to work.  With Susie helping, our lesson was sharper than usual.  Part of every lesson involved dance acrobatics.  Normally I would have to figure out a way to explain the woman's part to women who had no idea what it looked like.  However Susie already knew the move so she saved us a lot of time.  The women could see what the move looked like ahead of time and were able to copy Susie's moves.

Ordinarily Susie wasn't the warmest of people.  Her father was a retired Admiral in the Navy.  I think she had grown up in an environment that did not tolerate silliness.  However, these people were complimentary of how pretty she looked and lavish in their praise at what a good dancer she was.  Amazing what praise does to people.  Even my Ice Queen girlfriend started to thaw.

After the lesson, we joined the seven couples at a restaurant for dinner.  Bless their hearts, they were so excited for us!   The contest was all they could talk about.  I could see they were really looking forward to the contest.  They couldn't wait to see Susie and me dance together!  Seeing that this was a real treat for them helped soothe my conscience somewhat.

Susie kept staring at me throughout dinner in regards to their unabashed enthusiasm.  Why were they so excited?   As we drove to the Disco after dinner, Susie said she could not figure out what the big deal was.  She had watched them dance in class.   They weren't even remotely a match for what she and I could do, so how tough could winning this contest be?  Tell me again why we are doing this?

Personally I wished she would be quiet.  To myself, I had to admit I agreed with her.  It seemed like a slam dunk to me as well.  Her words forced me to wrestle with my own guilt some more.

Susie may have been convinced this was a waste of time, but I was determined to follow this through. 

I had some serious demons left to conquer.

Please forgive me for my lack of modesty, but once we entered Spats, I felt ashamed.  I immediately realized that our dancing was on a totally different level from the people here at the club.  In fact, I was embarrassed at how much better Susie and I were than the other dancers in the club.  Susie noticed the same thing.  She immediately gave that 'I told you so' look.  What was the point?

Clear Lake wasn't exactly a foreign country, but compared to the dancing I saw each night back in Houston, there was no competition to speak of.  It was readily apparent why three of my seven couples had won.  No one else in this crowded club had much of a clue when it came to partner dancing.  After all, there weren't any dance studios out here.  The nearest studio was twenty miles away in Houston, not exactly nearby.  The only people who remotely had a shot at us were my own students, but they said they preferred to sit this one out and give us an open field.

This contest was a Sure Thing.  A major part of me wanted to just go home and blow it off. Susie's negativity and my guilty conscience had killed any remaining enthusiasm.  If it hadn't been for my seven couples, that's exactly what I would have done. 
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But I wasn't going to let down my friends.  They didn't care if we won the contest.  What they really wanted was to see us dance!  Considering the kind of support they had given me, they deserved my best.  I had no choice but to stick around.

I took note at how crowded the club was.  I marveled again at the amazing energy that had been created by Saturday Night Fever.  The movie had changed the landscape of American Nightlife from coast to coast.  Just because these people weren't great dancers didn't mean they weren't having fun.  This little dance club was packed.  Furthermore, I discovered a lot of these people had come because the club's Saturday Night dance contest was so popular.  They didn't mind if one of my couples won - these people enjoyed watching a good show!

and I danced all night long.  When we didn't dance with each other, we danced with our friends from the group.  It was Saturday night at the Disco.  Now that I saw what we didn't have any competition, I didn't see any point keeping my cards to my chest.  This event clearly did not call for any gamesmanship whatsoever.  It was in the bag.  Why not dance with  my beautiful girlfriend and show off a little?  Why not dance with the seven ladies in my group and give them a chance to show off too?  Why not let their husbands be proud at how great their wives looked out on the dance floor?  So I danced and I danced and I danced some more.

Meanwhile, to her complete surprise, Susie was having a great time.  Every one of the men in our group asked her to dance.  Susie quickly established herself as the best female dancer in the club.  She was also the most beautiful woman in the room.  Susie was clearly the star of the night.  She began to enjoy her sudden popularity.  This was kind of fun.  It was therapeutic as well.

You see, Susie had been wrestling with demons of her own.  Susie was very self-conscious about her dancing.  For the world to see, Susie was a beautiful woman and a good dancer.  But in her private thoughts, Susie felt insecure because back in Houston there were several women at my studio who were clearly better dancers than she.  Susie had always resented being in the back of the line when it came to dancing. 

Tonight however, here at Spats Susie had become the Dance Diva, the Supreme Queen.  It was good for her ego.  In addition to our seven couples, the other patrons had been admiring her dancing all night long.  Wherever she went, there were people smiling at her.  Normally a reserved woman, Susie responded to the affection.  She was grinning from head to toe. 

She had been a grouch earlier in the evening, but now Susie was enjoying herself thoroughly.  I had never seen her laugh like this before.  This evening was exactly the tonic I had hoped for.  Together w
e kept the whole place entertained.  We both loved the attention.

Now for a confession.  I had a huge crush on Susie.  It hurt me that our relationship was so up and down.  The problem was that Susie wasn't quite sold on me.  Although we hadn't gotten to the stage of discussing marriage, I could tell she was definitely sizing me up.  For example, she had taken me up to Austin to meet her parents. 

The thorny subject was my job as a dance teacher.  In the eight months we had been dating, Susie had made it clear she had serious reservations about my job as a dance teacher.  This was not an appropriate long-term profession.   Why was I wasting my incredible John Hopkins education on something so frivolous?   Susie let it be known she had more of a doctor or lawyer in mind for a husband.  She even sent away for graduate school brochures for me to look at.  In fact, she had even scheduled for me to take a law school exam at Rice.  That date was coming up soon. To shut her up, I had promised to take the exam.  It was no sweat off my back, I had been taking tests my entire life.

However, for my part, I had no intention to give up the dancing, at least not for the moment.  I really wanted to see where this road was going to take me. Tonight was important because I wanted Susie to see how much fun and how satisfying my unusual lifestyle could really be.  I was thrilled she was having such a good time.  This might be the break I was hoping for.

I hoped this night could help me break through the impasse in our relationship over the dancing issue. 
I really didn't want to go to Law School.  I had had enough of school.  Why not enjoy my life instead?  I was counting on tonight to change her mind.

Bring it On!!

During the evening, our eventual victory seemed to have become a forgone conclusion throughout the club.  All night long, people came up to our table to ask if Susie and I were going to enter the big contest.  When we said yes, they got excited. They told us they loved watching us out on the floor and couldn't wait to see us perform.  Then they would point to huge Teddy Bear over in the corner and tell us we were their favorite couple tonight and they hoped we would win that bear!  I have to say, every person I ever met down in Clear Lake was nice to me.  It was uncanny the kind of warmth I received from these total strangers. 

As a result of all the positive vibes, my earlier tension was gone.  I was about as relaxed as humanly possible.  I felt absolutely no pressure.  My downfall at the Ritz had been caused by weak dance skills.  That was certainly no longer a problem.  I knew a wide assortment of complicated patterns and could lead them like the back of my hand.  I felt supremely confident in my dance ability.

Always a worrier, try as I could, I could not conceive of the slightest threat to my eventual victory.  Even the lighting problems of the Ritz couldn't stop me this time.  You could blindfold me and I bet we would still win.  Just put me in the middle of the floor and give me Susie's hand.  I'll do the rest.

However, I was starting to get impatient.  As the night wore on, all this dancing had worn me out.  I had been teaching dance from 10 am this morning.  This was a long day.  We had been here at Spats since 10 pm.  Now it was well past midnight.  Gee whiz.  I wished they would start the contest and let's get it over with.  My Seven Couples said the contest had started at 11 pm in the past.  However, thanks to the energy Susie and I had created along with our friends, tonight's floor was still crowded and lots of drinks were being soldI suppose the management saw no reason to hurry.  

Finally the Big Contest was announced. There would be two rounds. The Preliminaries would have all contestants dancing at once.  While you danced, someone would tap you to let you know you were in the Finals

In the Finals, each of the
three couples would dance solo to 'showcase' their skills.

As the Preliminary Round began, I was surprised at how crowded it was on the floor.  I had expected people would be intimidated about entering, but exactly the opposite had occurred.  That was weird.  Our night of dancing actually had stirred every one up.  There was no shame losing to us, so why not get out there and fight it out for second place? 

As we danced,
Susie and I heard our seven couples cheering for us plus most of the audience. We were "tapped" about 10 seconds into the song.  I turned it on.  Why not?  I spun Susie this way and I spun her that way.  At this point I could lead whatever I chose to in order to make Susie look wonderful.  With her long hair and flowing Disco dress, all eyes were on Susie as one spin after another built up the momentum.  We danced on the edge of the floor so people could see us.

People were clapping and shouting encouragement.  This was pure fun! Susie was beaming!  She loved the applause.  I could not have been happier for her.

I led Susie into a pattern I called the Pistachio Step.  This was my favorite move.  Named after my beloved dance club, this was a lightning-quick pattern where the man raises his right hand and passes it over his head as he turns.

Just as I raised my right hand to bring it over my head, a man dancing behind me lost control of his partner.  The woman was about to fall.  It was a crowded floor and she was right behind me.  The woman put her left hand up against my back to try to break her fall.  This hard shove in my back made me stagger. 

Knocked off balance by the stiff arm, I lurched towards Susie.  My right elbow jammed sharply into Susie's bottom lip, crushing it into her front teeth.  I didn't just bump Susie's lip, I smashed it hard!  My elbow hit her bottom lip so hard that it caused her teeth to cut it open.

Susie screamed in pain and grabbed her mouth.  That gash had to hurt terribly.  The entire audience froze in disbelief.  It happened so fast, no one could figure out what happened, but there was the beautiful girl with blood all over her face!

To understand more clearly what happened, make a fist with your right hand and put it against your forehead.  Now watch as your elbow juts out.  When the woman behind me lost her balance and clumsily stiff-armed me in the back, she had turned my elbow into a lethal weapon.

My blow left a very nasty cut. 
Blood was spurting!  Suddenly the front of her mouth was covered with blood.  Susie covered her mouth with her hands to keep the blood from falling on the dance floor, but it was dripping everywhere nonetheless.  It was a pretty gruesome sight.  However not everyone could see.  Everyone knew something was wrong, but they weren't sure what had happened.  People from the back of the room came forward to figure it out.  When they saw the blood, now the second wave of people gasped too!

I wasted no time. 
I immediately rushed Susie off the floor.  We made a beeline for the Ladies Room.  Yes, I went in with her.  Susie washed her mouth but we couldn't stop the bleeding.  There was a big cut right in the middle of her lower lip.  The only way to stop the bleeding was to keep a wet paper towel pressed firmly against the cut.

I was desperate to continue. That is when I blurted out one of the stupidest things I have ever said.  I knew better, but I just couldn't help myself.  I wanted to win that damn contest so bad that I lost my self-control.  "Susie, will you be able to dance in the Finals?

At first Susie just glared at me in amazement.  Then she screamed through the tissue, "Rick, are you out of your F____G  mind?  Do you have eyes?  I'm bleeding!  What do you want me to do, hold a towel to my mouth while we dance?  Wouldn't that be just great?  You and your stupid G__D__ stupid dance contest!

My shoulders sagged as the reality of the moment set in.  Nothing like a big fat lip oozing pints of blood to capture the ugly side of glamorous Disco Dancing.

At this point two
of the ladies from the group came in the room to relieve me of duty.  I left and went back to slump down in despair at the table.  About ten minutes later just as the Finals began, Susie came out of the ladies room with a fresh paper towel pressed to her lip.  She asked me to take her home right now.  She kept on walking.  I nodded to the group and followed her out.

About half the way home the bleeding stopped.  Fortunately Susie didn't need stitches.  But she wasn't in a talking mood, that's for sure.  Her mouth was throbbing, her head hurt, and her drop dead look precluded any conversation.  The embarrassment was tough enough for her to handle, but her anger at me knew no bounds.

Susie's silence meant I had plenty of time to reflect on the long drive home.  I had the strange feeling that in life some things just aren't meant to be.  I could not get that thought out of my head.  I hadn't felt good about entering this contest in the first place.  Maybe I should have listened more to my conscience, but I sure did like that bear.  I had intended to give it to Susie after our victory. That bear might just win me back my girlfriend.

That is when I realized  my passion to win was stoked more by my desire to impress Susie than it was to gain any redemption from the Ritz failure.  I had gambled this evening would make a difference in our crumbling relationship.  For a moment, my gamble was on the verge on paying off just like I hoped it would.  Then fate decided to step with an inadvertent Stiff Arm that caused to lose my gamble.

By the time we made it back to Houston, I was in a very dark mood.  I had a foreboding that unfortunately came true.  When we got to her door, Susie said she preferred to be alone.  I didn't argue.

We never recovered from this blow.  We broke up a few weeks later.  I never saw Susie again or heard what path she took after I was gone. 

Sorry to say, we did not part as friends.  She never forgave me for setting her up for the split lip.  As for me, I skipped that law exam.  I had my own road to follow.


Do you believe in Voodoo?  I definitely seemed to have some sort of curse on me.  As you might expect, I was pretty upset about this experience.  The coincidence was uncanny - two dance events spaced one year apart, two Susies, and two massive failures caused by bizarre accidents that seemed totally out of my control. 

No matter how hard I had tried, I had failed both times.  What I should have done was chalk it up to bad luck and forget about it.  Not me.  I had to find the hidden meaning.  Unfortunately this was a time in my life where I was investigating a pop psychology movement known as "est".  It was an important est principle that you are responsible for everything that happens to you. 

Responsibility begins with the willingness to be cause in the matter of one's life. Ultimately, it is a context from which one chooses to live. Being responsible starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. - Werner Erhard

I took this to mean that some deep part of my soul had 'sourced' this to happen.  I must have caused this awful accident to happen somehow.  As a result, I felt a crushing surge of guilt. 

In addition, I was also a student of Eastern Religion.  Were these terrible accidents the result of some sort of Karma?  Did I have some debts to pay from a previous lifetime?  If so, what could I do to escape this run of bad luck?

As it stood, a seed of doubt had been planted in my mind after the Ritz Fiasco.  This seed had stayed with me an entire year.  The Spats dance contest was supposed to exorcise my demon curse, but in fact had served to reinforce the thought instead.

Thanks to the curious case of an inadvertent stiff arm, in the back of my mind, I was actually starting to give credence to the possibility there really was a Voodoo Curse on my soul related to dance performances. 

Little did I know it at the time, but guess what? 

We were just getting started.  


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