Jim Smith
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Jim Smith
SSQQ Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the Community
1986 - 1988

Just after the New Year on January 7, 1989, Jim Smith married Pat Wilkins. Immediately after the wedding they moved to Dallas. This event was a bittersweet time for all of us at SSQQ. Jim worked for Marathon Oil, but he had been forced to move due to a transfer.

This couple's departure created a huge sadness at the studio. Not only was Pat much liked, but Jim Smith was easily the most popular man to ever be a part of SSQQ.

Jim Smith was a gigantic bear of a man at 6' 5", 250 lbs. However he was more teddy bear than grizzly bear.

He was very gentle and the ladies just loved to dance with him. His only problem was that he needed lots of roooooom to dance!  More than one person got bumped off the floor by an inadvertent Jim Smith hip check.

Jim was a born people person. He absolutely loved to organize social events at SSQQ. No one paid him to do it.  It was just something he enjoyed. One night he would invite us all for Jitterbug dancing at Juicy Lucy's. Another night he would host Western dancing at Eddie's Ballroom in Manvel. Or Whip dancing at Cooter's. No lady dancer was safe from Jim; he never ran out of energy and he made it a point to ask every one of the ladies who came to his social event to dance before the night was over. He especially looked out for the first-timers and he always went far out of his way to make them feel welcome.

Jim Smith had the biggest heart in the world.

SSQQ moved to its Bissonnet location in 1980.  Back in Jim Smith's heyday of 1986 through 1988, SSQQ shared its space with a jazz studio. Or should I say they shared it with us ?  Dance Arts was the landlord and we subleased. This meant we couldn't stay after class at the studio to practice since the Jazz dancers used to big room to rehearse every night.  If we wanted to practice, we had to go somewhere else. Jim Smith was someone we could count on to make it happen.


Jim Smith had one huge problem that we loved to tease him about. Like the man in the old Lil Abner comic strip who walked around with a cloud over his head, Jim carried a strange curse!  Any club that Jim liked was almost certainly doomed to go out of business!

Jim loved to organize his events.  In those days, he especially loved Jitterbug oldies music. His problem was that anywhere he selected for us to go would be bombarded for the night.  Or maybe 'swamped' would be a better word.  SSQQ would always bring at least 50 people to the place. Making things tougher, all of them would want to dance at the same time. We would take up the entire floor all night long!   

If the floor was crowded at a place like at Studebaker's, people would complain to Jim there wasn't enough dance floor.

Jim always wanted to please, so he developed a peculiar habit of driving around Houston to scout for clubs that had dance floors but no dancers!   Up and down Richmond, up and down Westheimer, up and down Hillcroft, up and down Gessner. Jim would drive any place his curiosity took him until he would notice some little club in an "off the beaten path" strip center. 

Jim would go in to see what kind of music they played. Often the owner would play whatever music Jim asked for after he promised to bring in a huge crowd of dancers. As a result Jim took us to some of the strangest, most deserted places in creation. We had to have maps because no one had ever heard of these joints! 

Nevertheless his strategy worked.  Jim had an uncanny knack for finding clubs that had plenty of room to dance. These clubs were perfect for our needs since the group needed so much room to dance !  Often when we showed the dance floor was completely empty.  Our people were thrilled because our crowd of 50 plus now had the whole floor to themselves.

Then a very curious thing happened.

One night we all showed up for Jitterbug Night at a place called Nickoletti's.  We had been here a couple times before, but this time the joint was boarded up!  Without any warning it had closed!  Jim was fit to be tied.  Here were 50 people staring at a club that was no longer open.  Crestfallen, he apologized to everyone and said he would find another place soon.  I heard he stayed there for two hours to make sure that any SSQQ who drove up would still be greeted.  Bless his heart!

After this happened, we teased Jim a little, but all in good fun.  We really didn't give it another thought.  But Jim was spooked when it happened a second time at another club.  Fortunately this time he happened to drive by the place on his way home one night and noticed the lights weren't on.  This time he was able to warn us and avoid another 'Nickolettis' as we termed the experience.

In other words, if we said a club was 'Going Nickolettis', that meant it was going out of business.

Soon after the second time which had been a near-miss, Jim and I sat down for coffee before class.  Jim said this second closing had to be more than a coincidence. Two times the places had closed out of the blue!  

As we analyzed what had been going on, it dawned on us that it really wasn't a curse, but rather Jim's unique criteria for choosing each club.  By choosing a place that had an empty dance floor, he was overlooking the fact that these clubs were barely staying in business!  Although in retrospect this reason seems obvious, oddly enough this thought had not occurred to us before.  Now it made complete sense.

So that's how Jim became known as the Dread Executioner of Clubs.  Just the fact that Jim was interested in a place became a bad omen!   During his three year career as de facto SSQQ social chairman, Jim managed to close down 10 different clubs!  

Nickoletti's, The Safari Bar,  Paradise Beach, Juicy Lucy's, Bev Wren's twice (it reopened, but Jim's curse caused it to fold yet again), Texas, Midtown Live, Paul Berlin's, and Chasers all bit the dust during his reign of terror.  Even Cooter's closed not long after Jim moved to Dallas. My memory tells me it might have been even more, but I lost the list so this is the best I could do.  In addition I honestly don't remember where 5 of those clubs were even located.

Fortunately Jim had developed two new habits. One, he made a point of driving by the club a day or two before each event to make sure it was still open. In addition, he started to list a backup club on his flyers. This was a good idea. We would put a club on the social schedule two months in advance. By the time the event rolled around, the club would would already be closed. On three different occasions Jim had to put signs on the door of the dead club telling people where to go instead just in case they didn't have their flyer with them.

For the 1988 Halloween Party Jim came dressed as an Executioner, hood and all. He had the names of all the clubs he closed listed on a gigantic Executioner's Axe. It is with great sadness I reveal that axe is no longer with us today. We kept it in memory of Jim and we used it to paddle people on their birthday. On my 40th Birthday in 1989 I am proud to say I was spanked 41 times with the Gigantic Axe!!

Despite the teasing he took about closing all the clubs, Jim was exceptional at giving encouragement and creating opportunities for people to learn to dance through practice.

Like Tom Easley, Jim met his wife Pat Wilkins through one of the activities he organized, another example of good deeds being rewarded.

When Jim and Pat left for Dallas, we were all heart-broken. The only people glad to see them leave were Houston's club owners. Plus there's no one left to terrify the beginners. As for me, no matter how long Jim & Pat are gone, they will always be a big part of my studio. When it comes to an example of how to encourage people to dance, Jim set the original standard. 

And let me add that even as I review this article in 2007, since Jim left I can only think of one other person who has gone out of their way to the extent that Jim did to help get people involved in dancing
(Jack Benard).

I will always miss Jim and his wonderful contributions to my studio.  I deeply regret that he never came back to visit us after moving to Dallas.  Hopefully someday he will drop by so I can add another chapter to his story.


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