The Toughest Dance
Assignment of My Career
By Rick Archer
During the 2000-2001 School Year,
my daughter Samantha was a 4th grader at Duchesne
Academy here in Houston. Including Pre-K, this was her 6th
year at Duchesne.
Her mother Judy and I both love
this school. We have the highest regard for the education Sam has
received. In fact, Sam loves her school so much she even looks
forward to their summer program as well. She is practically a
year-round kid at this “home away from home”.
Another thing I like about Duchesne
is the warmth of the school. They have many events that allow time
for fun as well as education. When they educate, the school is
very serious, but they take having fun seriously too. Duchesne is
a great school and I would recommend it to anyone with a smart
Nevertheless, in February 2001, my
daughter’s school handed me the most difficult teaching
assignment of my dance career.
Here is the story.
The Phone Call
In January 2001, Sister Dunn, the
Headmistress of Duchesne Academy, called me at home to ask me to
develop a one-hour all-school dance program themed around “Go
I was thrilled to be asked. For one
thing, I was the perfect person to be asked.
To begin with, I have taught the
social dance program to the 7th Grade students at Saint
Johns, Kinkaid, Second Baptist, and River Oaks Baptist for the
past 5 years. As a result, I doubt anyone in Houston is more
experienced at teaching social dance to teenagers.
Second, last summer I taught a line
dance workshop at Duchesne to high school students visiting from
around the country. This workshop was very well received and the
girls had a ball. So did I!!
I was pretty sure we could duplicate that success with the
entire student body.
Finally, I was the right person to
be asked because I very much wanted to contribute in some way to
my daughter’s school.
Duchesne has done so many good things for
her; I was definitely grateful for the opportunity to give back in
a way I was perfectly suited for. I accepted the assignment
One of the reasons I love Duchesne
so much is the place has a “Heart”. For example, Sister Dunn
carefully explained that the school is divided into
“Families”. Each Family has a child from practically every
grade plus faculty supervisors. There are 38 families consisting
of 22 people each.
Sister Dunn’s idea was to have the younger
girls and the older girls dance together. The “Family” concept
gave us the framework we needed for everyone to be able to dance
together. I completely agreed. What a sweet idea!
However, I knew from the start this
event would be tricky to pull off. The idea was to involve the
entire student body in dancing at once.
The whole school would
meet in the gym from 2-3 pm on Friday, February 23. This had never
been done before. As they say, you can identify the “pioneers”
on the trail easily enough. They are the ones with the arrows in
So it became my job to figure out
how to involve the entire school in an hour of dancing. Was I
Worried? You Bet!
The logistics seemed a nightmare.
This had never been tried before. Would the gym be large enough
for 600 students plus 150 staff to dance in? How were the students
supposed to learn the dances?
No one was able to give me an answer.
Furthermore I knew it would be much
too crowded to teach the girls in the gym on the day of the event.
The learning had to take place ahead of time. And furthermore, how
were we going to involve the Pre-K and Kindergarten kids who
barely knew their right foot from their left?
My initial idea was to use the
Upper School girls to carry the show. As you might gather, at
Duchesne the High School girls are looked up to as Teen
Celebrities. They are the “Big Kids”, full of confidence and
almost ready to leave the nest for college. Dancing with a High
School girl in the group would be a big deal, especially to the
Lower School girls. I knew my own daughter very much wanted to
dance with the High School girls. Her eyes grew big when I
explained the idea of the event to her.
Developing my idea to use the
High School girls to carry the day, I would first teach them very
sophisticated line dances like the Tush Push and Boot Scoot
Boogie. I was hoping they would enjoy learning these challenging
dances. Then I planned to put the Upper School on the floor first
to show off. I was hoping their leadership would inspire the whole
Then I was going to bring the
Middle School (5th– 8th) down out of the
bleachers to join the Upper School for easier line dances like the
Four Corners and Slap Leather. I expected to use the confidence of
the Upper School girls to encourage the Middle School girls to
During Phase Two we would bring 13
of the 38 Families on the floor to dance the Cotton Eyed Joe, the
San Antonio Stroll, and the Beer Barrel Polka. Then I would bring
the next 13 Families, then the final 12. I hoped to save time by
getting half the Families on the floor at once, but again I still
didn’t know how many people would fit. There was a lot of
mystery to keep track of!
Finally deep in my heart I hoped we
could have an all-school Beer Barrel Polka for Phase Three. This
clever group dance is simple, but powerful. Similar to a form of
Square Dancing, I have seen the Beer Barrel Polka create a lot of
smiles in my time. However I wouldn’t know if the gym could
accommodate the whole school until I actually watched how the
earlier part of the show developed.
This plan made sense. Now for the
next problem: how were the girls supposed to know how to do these
dances? To learn all
this material would be the equivalent of a two-hour crash course
at my studio.
I decided the simplest thing to do
was spend an entire day at the school a week before the event. I
would visit with all the students during their PE class and train
them in their specific dances. Afterwards I would let the PE
teachers review the dance steps with their various PE classes each
day for the following week. Everyone thought this made sense.
Click Here for
Part Two of our Story: Teaching the Line Dances.