SSQQ Lifetime Achievement Award for Iconoclasm
(A Big Word that means 'Weirdness')
Written by Rick Archer
First published in 1999
Mike Fagan is one of my best friends.
During the Eighties, Mike was a huge part of SSQQ.
Although his role at the studio has diminished with time, I am
fortunate that he continues to remain in my
Mike Fagan is pretty hard on me as a rule. One time on a
grand slam in Bridge, I led with the Jack instead of the Ace. Mike told me I played Bridge
like a girl. I got so distracted I lost my transportation to the board (a major Bridge
mistake) and lost a certain Slam. The guy has a
memory like an elephant; whenever he needs to distract me again,
all he has to do is bring up that story and I immediately turn
crimson. That explains why I can't play Bridge with him
any more. Did I mention that Mike is a former Texas State
Champion in Bridge?
Like our mutual good friend Tom Easley, Mike Fagan was born with a strong sense of
individuality. Mike also possesses a touch of the rebel. He is amazingly talented. Mike
received his PhD in Computer Science from Rice in 1990. In addition, Mike is a former
state Whip Champion, he is the best bridge player I have ever met, the best Foosball
player I have ever seen, and he's also an amazing break dancer. In fact he is better than
most people at anything.
He is certainly better than me at most things. Not that I am
competitive or anything, but if it weren't for water volleyball I wouldn't be better than
Mike at anything. He accuses me of inviting him to Tom Easley's Water Volleyball games
simply so I will be better than somebody. He's right. That's practically
my only chance to beat him at something.
Despite the fact that he is always teasing me about my
stupidity, on the other hand Mike marvels at my dance career. He calls me the "Dancing
Idiot Savant", you know, someone who is basically stupid, but is a genius at one
thing. He marvels
I told him once I was saving up for my daughter's college
education. Mike stared at me and said, "Why waste your
money like that? Everyone knows you don't need an
education to be a dance teacher! And you don't need to be
smart either. You are the perfect example of that!"
Few people give out insults better than Mike.
Oddly enough, Mike marvels at the
goofy Halloween Line Dance I
made up called the "Monster Mash".
I will tell the story in more detail later on, but
briefly, at the 1992 Halloween Party, Mike showed up early for
that night's H-Party.
When he entered our biggest room, he gasped when he saw 100 people
busy learning the Monster Mash.
After the class was over, Mike was curious if I
had charged money for this event. I grinned and said sure, I had
charged each person ten bucks.
Mike turned white! He was stunned. You see,
Mike tries to make money the old-fashioned way. He
tries to earn it. Gimmickry
is against his nature. That explains why Mike couldn't believe grown men and women would pay $10 a person to
a charlatan like me to learn how to
dance like a spastic. Pay money to dance badly?
Mike could show people how to do that for free! His exact words were something like,
"You mean you can get people to pay $10 to learn how to look bad
Mike still believes my Monster Mash
is the most amazing scam of
my career. I know that deep down Mike is
trying to pay me a back-handed compliment, but mostly he delights in
finding new ways to insult me.
Like Tom Easley, Mike possesses a unique sense of humor.
These two men have opposite styles. Tom picks on
himself a lot, but Mike picks on everyone else. In particular, he likes to needle me.
If Tom is Rodney Dangerfield, then Mike is Don Rickles.
He torments everybody!
In particular Mike likes to tease his girlfriends.
For example, Mike claims
that any time he
wants his girlfriend to go home, all he has to do is turn the stations on his TV until he
finds a basketball game. He praises the dawn of cable.
No matter what time of year, he can always find a basketball game.
According to him you can count the minutes till the
women leave on one
hand. I honestly believe Mike would have no social life if he wasn't a dancer.
Mike has some interesting views on global warming.
He believes the Earth should be defoliated and paved with streets and
parking lots. He thinks we would all get where we are going a lot faster plus we wouldn't
go anywhere since every place would look the same. He believes this would help traffic
Mike has always felt sorry for my daughter Samantha because there is a
chance she might turn out to be stupid like me. Fortunately, he
reminds me she can
always teach dance for a living. Back in 1994 when
Sam was 3 years old, Mike was nice enough to teach
her many new words. Mike and I like to watch Basketball together. During the
Rockets-Knicks World Championship Playoff series back in 1994, Mike and I watched every
game glued to edge of our seats. Mike gets excited sometimes and
like to say things to express
Sam couldn't have cared less about basketball (I think Mike's theory re
women hating B-Ball is probably correct), but she enjoyed our company.
Sam would usually find a corner of the room and go to sleep while we
were watching. But obviously she stayed awake long enough to
increase her vocabulary. One night when Mike and I were watching the game, Samantha climbed into my
lap and asked, "Daddy, is that scumbag Patrick Ewing playing tonight ?"
When Sam's mother heard that, she nearly threw Mike
out of the house!
THE STORY OF MARTIAN WHIP
Mike Fagan is responsible for the name of our
infamous Martian Whip class.
I first met Mike at the 1984 Halloween Party when he did an impromptu
Break Dance routine. Here is his picture from
that night. Break Dancing wasn't something I was
interested in learning, but I could see he was quite a dancer.
Two months later Mike started Whip lessons
here at SSQQ in January 1985.
By the summer of 1985 he was already excellent. The only problem
was that he had a unique style of dancing. Due to his break dance background, he was able
to move his body in very unusual ways when the mood struck (which was often).
I have already pointed out that Mike possessed excellent dance ability. He
music and loved the dancing. He picked up material quickly. Not only did Mike have good
leads, he had one particular strength that lady Whip dancers love: he had perfect timing!
Mike should have been the Man in Demand, but oddly
enough a lot of women did not want to dance with him. Have you ever seen
anyone Moonwalk a Whip Basic?
That's right - Mike would throw in these bizarre
Break Dance motions without any warning. The women would either be
freaked out or embarrassed in some way. Mike was just too weird
for their tastes!
a few women with a sense of humor so Mike wasn't entirely lacking for
dance partners. As he improved, Mike was asked to enter
some low-key Whip contests.
Every Sunday at a dive called the Four Palms, there was Whip dancing to a live band
called the "Soul Brothers". The joint was off of Telephone Road. It actually had
a sign on the door that said, "Check your guns and knives at the door" (compare
that to SSQQ's "please turn off your cell phone"). The Four Palms had a low-key
"sign up and enter" Whip contest every week. One night on the spur of the moment
Mike decided he would give it a try.
Well, Mike did fine by his standards, but
in the eyes of the old-timers he didn't do very well at all.
As usual, Mike preferred to dance the
Whip his way. This included anything from his background from Break Dancing: head rolls,
jerks, twitches, body waves, Robotic arm movements. The get-down-and-dirty old
timers had to look away in horror and disdain.
was a Rebel. Mike was your basic
Non-Conformist. Mike would hear what people were saying about him, but
dream of changing. Mike continued
to dance the Whip his way. His partner Pat was encouraged to dump him. "Too
weird", she was told. "You have what it takes, but first get a different dance
partner, someone who dances the Whip the right way."
After a few months of
this, Mike decided to ask Mario Robau Jr, considered Houston's finest male Whip dancer, for
his opinion. Mario replied without hesitation, "Mike, you have great leads, great
footwork, perfect timing, but your
style is strictly from the Planet Mars.
Are you sure your parents are not aliens?"
Undaunted, Mike had the nerve to continue to compete. Let's face it,
was and is a great dancer, but his style was simply too different to win acceptance from
the old guard.
Mike continued to develop his dancing. Mike found a new partner named
Debbie Anglin who meshed a little better with his style.
Debbie toned Mike down a little, but had the sense to
copy a few of his pet moves as well. Not only was Debbie smart
enough to match wits and insults with Mike, she was a pretty darn good
dancer herself. Debbie was the best dance partner Mike could have
In 1987, two years after Mike
had started learning the Whip, he caught a break. Due to the Dallas
influence, a new competition dance category was created called "Contemporary Whip".
Mike smiled like the cat who sees the canary
join the household. Yum!
This new format was a perfect fit for
natural style. To heck with the less forgiving Traditional Whip. Mike and Debbie developed
a routine based on acrobatics, break dancing, and jazz dancing, plus spectacular moves
that only Mike had the natural ability to lead. Their hard work paid off!
despite receiving more criticism than probably any dancer in history, Mike Fagan won a
Texas State Whip Championship in Contemporary Whip.
Mike was weird as usual, but now at least he was 'fascinating
weird'. This new category was practically designed for
him! This victory was no mean feat for an Earthling,
much less someone accused of having the footwork of an Alien.
I was really proud of Mike. In
his honor I named my SSQQ Martian Whip class after him.
Mike got such a kick out of having my
course named after him, he
and Debbie wore a Halloween Costume the
following year with "Martian Whip Club" written on their
MIKEY AND ME
This story is of course about Mike, but I might as
well admit I am a bit of a rebel too. How else could we have
become such good friends? We did some pretty goofy things
together. For example, back in the Eighties we liked to dance
together. I would dance the 'follow' and Mike would dance 'lead'.
I can't honestly say I was poetry in motion, but I enjoyed the
compliments I received for dancing a credible 'follow' at this difficult
dance. Although we did it strictly for laughs, I found the
experience very helpful in understanding how to follow.
The experience of 'following' actually made me
a better teacher.
We probably danced together once or twice a month.
As I improved at dancing the girl's part, Mike
and I developed quite an act. We thoroughly enjoyed shocking
people at our studio parties. When we danced
together, I would occasionally pretend to be sexy and
move my hips. Mike would of course play along. The new
people would gape in horror. They had heard the rumors about
'dance teachers' and their worst fears were being confirmed.
Fortunately when they saw the old-timers laughing and screaming, they
realized it was all in fun. We really
did make complete fools of ourselves. Fortunately, I think I own
all the copies of pictures where we danced together. Thank
goodness for that.
One night in 1987,
Mike and I had the unusual experience of getting thrown out of
Cooter's, a local hot spot. On Tuesday
Nights, SSQQ used to
head over to a club on Richmond named Cooter's for Whip practice after class. One night a couple people dared us to dance the
Whip at Cooter's. There weren't any signs posted, but I knew we were crossing a line.
Nevertheless Mike and
I decided to give it a try. We attracted quite a crowd. People thought we
were a riot including many who were not with SSQQ at all.
Practically the entire club came over to watch.
Curious, the Bouncer came over to see
what was going on. He was not amused. Maybe he was envious of how cute we looked together.
Without a great deal of discussion he gave us an unceremonious heave-ho. If I remember, he
got our attention and just pointed to the door. About 20 of our friends left in protest
laughing hysterically. The people who stayed clapped
for us on the way out. This remains the only time in my life I was ever thrown out of a
club. Mike gets me into more trouble!
DON'T WATCH MY FEET!!
Once in a while Mike would develop some
bizarre new footwork. Brilliant,
different, and easily bored, Mike was always looking for some way to
amuse himself out on the floor. Mike
loved to change how he danced
the Whip. He could care less that his footwork discoveries managed to irritate or offend some Whip purist. I
have little doubt he did it deliberately although I have never gotten him to admit it.
night my girlfriend Janet was bragging how good she was getting. Half in humor and half in
spite I dragged her over to Mike at the Safari Bar Club.
Intimidated out of her wits,
Janet was scared she had bitten off more than
she could chew. What
Janet didn't know is that Mike never danced above someone's level.
He would not lead a difficult pattern
she had no chance of following. Instead
Mike would usually
dance easy patterns and amuse
himself by trying out his new footwork. I watched
with a grin as Mike led the Basic Step
several times doing the weirdest steps I have ever seen.
Mike had started to dance the
Charleston during his Whip Basic.
He kept the beat perfectly, but
his weird footwork blew her concentration. Sure enough, 30
seconds later I heard Janet scream, "What are you doing! I can't watch your
feet!" Janet stopped dancing and
stomped her feet in frustration.
Mike laughed and said, "Oh no, Janet, you
should never watch my feet!"
You know that old saying about 'don't
criticize till you've walked in someone else's shoes'?
Two weeks later Mike and I were fooling around dancing the Whip together
at the Halloween Party. Suddenly I realized I can't dance with Mike anymore! Something
didn't feel right. All these people were laughing at us, but I
felt lost. Something Mike was doing felt weird.
That is when I made the big mistake of looking at his feet. There he
was doing the Charleston
again. I was too rattled to keep my feet going, so I had to ask
him to stop and start over. I was so rattled!
Another one bites the dust.
The crowd roared. They loved watching me screw up more than
anything else I did. Well, they got their money's worth that
night. I was destroyed.
October and November are favorite times for the
State Whip contests. Just a couple weeks
after the Halloween Party, I was dancing next to Mike during
intermission at the State Whip contest when I heard
some familiar words.
Mike was dancing with some woman who had just
had a panic attack. "What are you doing; I can't watch your feet!"
I looked at the woman more closely. Oh my gosh,
that when I realized Mike was dancing with a
lady from Dallas who was a two-time
State Whip champion!
Even someone with her
vast experience had managed to lose her concentration.
A lady Whip dancer losing her Basic is like
a Priest forgetting the Lord's Prayer.
That should give you an idea how weird Mike is to dance with. But what can I say? I have little doubt if
Mike danced with the Priest, the Priest would mess up
too. Mike has that kind of effect on
MIKE AND THE MONSTER MASH
I suppose one of my fondest memories of Mike comes from the
Halloween Party (scroll to the story of
the Monster Mash). Although you can read the
full story on that
page in much more detail, I will
tell Mike's part of the story here as well.
By the way, that's me in the picture.
Sometimes you wonder what your epitaph might be. If my friend Mike has anything to do with it, I will have a very unusual epitaph,
something like 'Here lies Rick who got rich
teaching people how to dance badly'.
As someone who is accustomed to being around very bright people, Mike loves to tease me that I found the one profession - dance teaching - where intelligence may not be necessary
for success. Thanks a lot.
may be one of my best friends, but he does have the irritating ability to tease me
more effectively than anyone I know. Over the years he has had way too much fun at my expense.
Mike likes to say I am not entirely stupid.
He readily admits I am just smart enough to understand when I
have been insulted, but not smart enough to come up with a fast
Despite all the teasing, there was once a moment in time when Mike
was in total awe of me.
has a hard time accepting the night when I
managed to swindle my students out of a
thousand dollars. He could not believe I actually had the nerve to charge
people big bucks for the privilege of learning how to
look terrible when they dance. Nor
could he believe all the people who willingly forked over the
dough! Did I give them some funny Kool Aid?
Did I hypnotize them?
Mike was baffled. And Mike doesn't like being
baffled. I think Mike was a little offended that someone as dumb
as me could pull off a scam this good.
How did I do it!!? As smart as Mike is, this
incident perplexed him. He has never been able to figure
out how I pulled this off. In
fact, it still bugs him to this day. When Mike and I sit down to
watch some Rockets Basketball, the conversation invariably returns to
this strange incident at some point.
On that strange night in 1992,
how did Rick manage to get ONE HUNDRED people to pay
him $10 to teach them how to look ridiculous while they danced?
Have you ever heard the saying, "If you're so
damn smart, then why aren't you rich?" I think that
was a factor here too. As I have mentioned, Mike happens to be a real-life
genius. Have I mentioned that Dr. Fagan is
the Head of the
University Computer Science Department?
You don't reach a position like that without
some serious smarts. But
like many people in academics, Mike doesn't always get paid well. Mike
admits he regularly slaves long hours for little pay investigating the secrets of computer engineering.
Mike is advancing the frontiers of science while I am getting rich
teaching people to look like spastics.
After all, Mike may be a highly-educated genius, but he doesn't always get paid very well despite his incredibly difficult work. On the other hand compared to Mike, I am a moron.
But while Mike with all his education is poor, Rick is raking in the
dough. Somehow in the grand tradition of PT Barnum
("there's a another sucker born every day"), Rick Archer managed to separate hard-earned cash from seemingly bright people with amazing ease.
$10 to take a Halloween Line Dance Course
to look ugly - how did Rick do it?
So how did I do it? Mostly it was
curiosity. 1992 was year I first unveiled the Monster Mash.
promoted the dance very heavily. I had announced in every class for weeks that we would teach the Monster Mash and all the other line dances in a Crash Course that began just before the party. It sounded like fun and a bunch of people decided to take it as a group.
In other words, the herding instinct
kicked in - "this" was the "thing" to do that night.
In addition, lots of people had heard the
rumors I had been working on a pretty cute dance. However
no one knew what the dance looked like.
Plus I said we would film them dancing at the party. Now
that I think about it, I guess I do feel a little sheepish.
I have no doubt these people expected some sort of sophisticated
dance like "Thriller". They wanted to look
good on camera! So I guess in a sense I did pull their leg
Sure enough, on the night of the 1992 Halloween Party, 100 people showed up at 7 pm the night of the party to be the Very First to learn the amazing 'Monster Mash'. That's right: 100 people!!
Like Mike, I am sure
everyone else will have a hard time believing this,
but it's true: 100 people!
Shortly after we started, Mike Fagan came to the studio early to help us set up for the party.
He was already
suspicious. Mike wondered why the parking lot was so full of cars.
Those people had to be somewhere! Eventually Mike wandered into Room 1. He stopped at the door and watched in amazement as 100 students practiced the precise footwork of the
Monster Mash such as the Monster Stomp, the
Igor Shuffle, and the Frankenstein Twist.
It was all Mike could do to restrain himself. For one thing, the students looked pretty silly dancing the Monster Mash. But it was harder to hold back the belly laugh when he
noticed how seriously the students were taking the instruction.
They were living and breathing on my every word. One man asked me how far to turn his toe in on the Frankenstein Twist.
From the corner of my eye, I thought Mike would rupture.
But at break time Mike discovered I had made $1,000 for teaching the Crash Course. He hadn't realized I charged MONEY to learn this dance. Now he nearly went into shock. His mouth fell open in astonishment. His eyes became glassy.
Those were the days when he was a lowly, under-paid
junior faculty member. Based on the pay scale of the Eighties,
$1,000 was nearly two weeks of work for Mike.
He was fit to be tied!
Mike looked at me and said, "How do you do it?" in the classic 'I am not worthy' tone of reverence.
Mike shook his head for the rest of the night.
He could not get it out of his system.
It was probably the only time in the 30 years I have known him where he
legitimately showed me any respect.
I savored this moment!
In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had an evil idea. With a smile I told Mike I usually got even more people and that this was a slow night. It took him several years before he realized I had been pulling his leg.
Mike has never recovered. Each year at Halloween Time, Mike gets that haunted look.
The thought of that dance moron pulling off this same scam over
and over again keeps him up at night!
If you don't believe me, just ask the guy.
Mike will automatically go into his rant
and tell anyone who will listen how amazed he is that I continue to persuade people year-in year-out to part with hard-earned cash for the privilege of looking awful.
What Mike didn't know was that the huge numbers were a one-time aberration.
Mostly it was just curiosity and the chance to get in the mood early. I am sure if most of them had a clue how goofy the dance was, the numbers would have been
And to be honest, I was pretty surprised myself at the number of people who came. I hadn't expected to have anywhere near this many people show up, but Mike Fagan had no way of knowing this. I fooled him into thinking I got 100 people on a regular basis.
One more thing - we haven't charged people to learn the Monster Mash in years. I started teaching all the Line Dances for free during the week before the party long ago. But I have never told this to Mike.
I let him continue to believe I make $1,000 every year for teaching the Monster Mash.
Do me a favor - Let's leave it that
way. Please don't tell him. It is the only thing Mike
respects me for.