SSQQ Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the
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.
THE EXECUTIONER OF DANCE CLUBS
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
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
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
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.
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
So that's how Jim became known as the Dread Executioner of Clubs.
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
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
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
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
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.