Grumpy Old Rick
Archer, aka the Arrogant Bastard.
1. Making or disposed to make claims to unwarranted importance or
consideration out of overbearing pride.
2. Marked by or arising from arrogance: an arrogant contempt
for the weak or unimportant.
1. An illegitimate child.
2. Something that is of irregular, inferior, or dubious origin.
3. Vulgar. Slang. A person, especially one who is held to
be mean or disagreeable.
I had the unpleasant experience of being labeled an
"Arrogant Bastard" by one of my dance students last week. This
was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. So I have
decided to go
public with what has been on my mind these past few days.
Early in my dance career, a man named Lance Stevens hired me as a
dance teacher at his studio known as "Stevens of Hollywood".
He had white hair, a stern visage, and a strong penchant for sarcasm. I
always used to marvel that someone as mean as this guy could stay in
business as long as he did.
So now we fast-forward 20 years and here I see myself with the white
hair, a strong penchant for sarcasm, and an increasing tendency towards
loss of patience. Hmm. Sounds like Scrooge from the Dickens novel. How
fitting as we head into the Christmas Season.
As we wrap up our 22nd year of business, I can only say the times are
I feel overwhelmed running my dance studio. The studio has gotten
more complex while my skills have become less sharp. For example, my
memory – once razor sharp – has begun to desert me. This is why when
people ask me to do something I often turn around and ask them to email me.
And I also get teased for writing stuff on my hand.
Another thing that starts to go with age is Patience. For example,
one time this year in May I lost my temper with some students who
decided to bully me into giving them a refund in the middle of Practice
Night 30 minutes after their class ended. The main reason I lost my
temper was that I had a couple sitting on the couch waiting for me to
teach them to Slow Dance at their wedding that weekend. This couple had
been stood up by another instructor for their Private Lesson. I was the only person in the
studio who could help them at the last minute. In other words, one couple was tying me up
with a request I felt was unreasonable while another couple
waited nervously for me to disengage to help them get married! Still, this did not
excuse my loss of temper. I am still upset with myself over that
incident. I also made sure to apologize to the couple I yelled at.
Marla Jennings made me smile the other night when I was collecting
money at a Practice Night. I was collecting the money myself in order to
free up a staff member so he could go and practice for the Lip Sync
Show. I looked up and there were 10 people milling around in Room 6. I
asked Marla what all the people were doing hanging around and her
response was they were so excited to see me out of the DJ booth they
didn't know how to behave. Her answer made me laugh, but it also set me
to thinking. I hadn't realized I had become that distant.
I suppose I often hide in the DJ booth for the specific reason that I
get pestered to do stuff every time I come out of there. When I walk
around the studio, at times it feels like running a gauntlet as I get
besieged from all directions. You would not believe the number of things
I get hit with. On any given night for example, the range of requests
would sound something like this:
· You have to dance with me/there aren't
enough men here tonight.
· Will you show me how to do that
move again from Ghost Town 3 I learned last month?
· Will you explain this syllabus
pattern to me?
· My girlfriend doesn't know how
to Twostep/will you show her how?
· We are out of red wine/beer/diet
coke/toilet paper/paper towels.
· Why don't you stock bottled
· The music is lousy
tonight/please play this or that.
· Why don't you have that song?
It is a number one hit right now.
· Why isn't there someone in the
DJ booth at all times to take requests?
· Why can't I make more than one
song request per night?
· Why aren't there more cute guys
here at practice night tonight?
· Why aren't there more cute girls
here at practice night tonight?
· Why isn't the floor
· Why doesn't the floor have more
· Can I have a syllabus in the
second week instead of the fourth?
· Can I have a syllabus from last
month/I lost mine/I wasn't here the last week of class…
· Will you make some more popcorn
even though there are only 15 minutes left?
· Please show something else on
· Why isn't such and such class
scheduled next month?
· Will you make me a copy of a CD?
· Will you make me a copy of one
of your Videotapes?
· More Altoids/Different Altoids/Something
like Altoids but containing no animal products.
· More air-conditioning./ Less
· Don't take that beer! I
don't care if you are cleaning up. Come back later.
· Why can't I dance with my own
partner during the John-Paul-Jones?
· Music louder/Music less loud/faster
· What do you mean, I can't ask
for everyone's email address?
· There is a buckle in my dance
floor. Why don't you make some other class be in here instead?
· I was late to class and didn't
feel like showing the hall monitor my receipt. That's why I just
walked past them.
· I don't have my receipt. I don't
know why my name isn't on the clipboard.
· Will you find someone to come to
my house to teach my Brownies to Swing Dance?
· How about sending some teachers
to a retirement home to teach line dancing?
· My parents are here. Why can't I
bring them in? What do you mean "no guests"?
· What do you mean some students
don't like to be watched? I don't mind if someone watches me!
· Why can't I sign up for a class
in the third or fourth week? I don't care if adding me slows the rest
of the class down.
· Why can't I have a beer at Break
· I want to dance with my wife and
no one else. We don't want to switch partners in class/why do we have
· I only want to dance with my
same-sex lover. I don't want to dance with the opposite sex. And
why won't you allow same-sex
dancing at practice night?
· This wine is too cheap. Why not
buy a different brand of wine?
· Less crowded classes. More
· Why can't you give the syllabus
out anytime I want one?
· Why isn't Break longer? Shorter?
· Why do you mind if I go to the
restroom and walk through the middle of your class before Break time?
· Why do you care if I go to the
restroom after Break is over? I was too busy dancing in the Big Room
· Why do you mind if my cell phone
goes off in the middle of class?
· Why can't I get a refund the
week after classes have started?
· Why do I have to pay the same
price even though I started a week late?
· Why doesn't my class have a
makeup on another night?
· Can I come next month to make up
· Why can't I switch my tuition
from Group Classes to Private Lessons?
· What can you do about those men
who have bad breath and sweaty palms?
· What's wrong with these women
who can't follow?
· Why can't I bring my children to
SSQQ? Why can't my kids just sit and watch?
· Why can't my kid go sit in the
your kid while she does her homework?
· Why don't you hire a babysitter?
What do you mean this place is for "adults"?
· I don't think anyone would mind
if the children of 10 different parents all sat and watched in the
same room… I am sure they would all be perfectly quiet.
· Why don't you dedicate one of
your dance rooms to be a place for children?
· Why can't I videotape the dance
class? No one in the room will mind, I am sure.
· Why can't I dance the man's part
in class even though I am a woman?
The truth of the matter is that every statement up there has been
made at one time or another. Some of these requests are off the wall,
but many of these requests or concerns taken individually are legitimate
areas to address. Furthermore, as you surely have already thought to
yourself, answering questions and dealing with customers comes with the
territory. For me to complain about being asked questions is sort of
like a Rock Star complaining about photographers. Boo Hoo.
But on the other hand put yourself in my shoes. When you add up all
the various requests made over the course of every night for twenty
years, there are going to be times when my patience runs out and I snap
at people. I don't like this side of me, but sometimes I admit the well
of human patience runs dry.
You may also wonder what brought this on. Well, I am frustrated
because I am constantly asked to do more things than I have the time to
handle. And then people get angry when I don't grant an exception or do
things the way they want me to. (Hmm. Welcome to the real world.)
I doubt that my problems with feeling overwhelmed are any different
from that of many of you who are busy with their work. It is simply that
before you judge my studio's policies or me too harshly, you need to
understand the pressures I deal with on a daily basis and where I am
coming from with some of my remarks.
It is true I am increasingly giving shorter and curter responses to
people's questions. It is also true I am sometimes blunt with people and
that I don't always give their concerns as much attention as they would
like. I would like to explain the reasons why.
Part of the problem is that at age 51 I don't have as much energy as
I used to, yet I put in twelve hour days on a pretty regular basis.
Although I view the Computer Age and the emergence of the Internet as a
real blessing for my business, there is no doubt that it has made my
life far more complex. I spend hours every day working on the SSQQ web
site. In addition, I get an enormous volume of email. I have already
answered 15 emails by noon today and read 20 more emails in addition to
that. Yesterday on Monday I replied to 20 emails out of 36 sent to me.
If I walk away from the email box for three days, the unread messages
quickly pile up to over 100 messages. On Friday last week I received
over 100 emails in one day alone from people responding to the latest
Newsletter. In addition I handle much of the SSQQ phone duties
throughout the day.
Besides my writing for the web site, my Internet graphics work, and
answering emails all day, I do video editing as well. You may have seen
the first generation of SSQQ movie clips ranging from the Halloween
Party to the Lip Sync Show to the Beach Ball, a Salsa Rueda clip, a
couple of Whip Jack and Jill tapes, the Sock Hop, the Sadie Hawkins
Manhunt, and perhaps the recent Al Gore spoof from Saturday Night Live.
A fifteen-minute clip can easily take 2 or 3 days to create if I want to
do an excellent job. Video editing is very time-consuming work. However
on the flip side, attendance at the parties this year far exceeded
attendance at the same parties last year simply because these clips are
effective at promoting events. So I consider it time well spent. However
it is also exhausting.
So by the time I get to work at night, I am already just as tired as
anyone else who has worked a full-time job during the day, yet my job is
just beginning. In other words, I put in very long hours.
This is not what I am complaining about. This only explains why I am
not always "perky" as the evening progresses. The stuff that
really gets under my skin are the constant complaints and bickering about
why isn't it this way or why can't we make an exception, etc. Do you
realize there are nights when we have well over 100 people at the
studio? How are we supposed to run smoothly if we don't have rules? I am
like a principal with 100 kids – we have to set rules and we have to
follow them. Otherwise if people begin to disrespect the rules and go in
whatever direction they damn well please, soon the place will become
impossible to enjoy. You all have the right to make suggestions, but you
also have to accept that sometimes my answer is "for the good of
the group, not the individual". Furthermore you should understand
that sometimes I don't have the time to explain "why" we do
things the way we do. It may be time for me to start teaching or start
the music in the DJ booth. Or a teacher needs me to show them a move
before class. Or maybe a light needs to be replaced before class starts.
There are many times when I simply don't have the time to explain things
calmly... when I am at the studio I always have many things to do and
not always enough time to do them! Some things have to be cut
The other thing that bothers me is no one seems to grasp the inherent
consequence of making "exceptions". Of course it doesn't
matter if we let one guest watch. But what about the other five people
who wanted to bring a guest, but DIDN'T because they showed respect for
the rule? And where are we supposed to put all these guests? And yes,
some people really DON'T enjoy being watched while they stumble around
trying to get the hang of it. The only reason they tolerate their own various
mis-steps is they think everyone is in the same boat as they
are. Then they look over and see someone staring at them while they
struggle. How do you think this person feels?
And of course it doesn't matter if we let one single solitary couple
dance with each other. But if you do it for one, you have to do it for
everyone. Pretty soon you will have couples in one corner and singles in
the other. The group will splinter into two groups. The class will cease
to operate as a group. You don't believe me? Well, guess
what, I saw this exact scenario happen with my own eyes. The capper came
when a wife said her husband wasn't leading properly and would I leave
what was left of the Circle to come help her husband. This incident
occurred thirteen years ago. http://ssqq.com/information/ssqq2.htm
No one finished that course in a good mood. The singles were
disgusted, the couples were disgusted, and I was disgusted. So much for
the Group concept. I was so disgusted at the outcome of this particular
class that I vowed then and there that everyone would switch partners or
be asked to leave the premises. If you sign up for a group, you do as
the group does. Otherwise take a private lesson. I might add that all of
our policies have developed as a reaction to disasters such as the
story above. But I don't always have the time to explain the reasons behind
And of course letting one kid watch is not going to make a bit of
difference. But look around - over half the people in the room is a
parent!! If every parent in the room brought their child to the
studio, then the nature of our business would change. SSQQ is meant to
be a place where parents get to be "kids" themselves having good,
clean fun with other "kids" their own age for a while. If we
allow real kids in the place, then the adults have to behave more like parents. In other words,
SSQQ is meant to be a playground for adults, not kids. Besides, Kids have their own
places to hang out.
And what about cell phones? Sure, one phone doesn't matter. However I
remember the night when one person's phone or another person's beeper
went off about 5 times in a ten minute span. What is our world coming
I would now like to share some of the behind-the-scenes moments of
running a dance studio. The following emails are from a 10-day period in
Hey there - Quick request: can we have a Monday Swing night of just
songs from the 30s and 40s?
No, you cannot have an entire night of 30s and 40s Swing music unless
you talk the entire crowd into it. Personally I wouldn't mind at all,
but you would have to build a consensus. I am too busy to fool with it
so it is up to you to do the talking.
I apologize for not getting back to you sooner on this. The truth is
the moment the Halloween Party ended the stupid election snafu kicked in.
I was so depressed I didn't do any work for four days. By the time I
cheered up I had lots of work to catch up on. I am just now catching up on
email correspondence from earlier in the month.
I am currently in the Beginning Lindy Hop class that takes place on
Mondays with Maureen and am just writing to request that if possible I
would love to continue the class at an Intermediate Level in December on
Mondays. However, I saw that the class is not being offered on the
December schedule. Therefore, I am writing to request that you consider
offering the class on Mondays in December for those of us who would like
to LH on a more advanced level. As it is, the classes are not offered that
often and even at the beginner's level are only offered once a week
compared to the 2 and 3 times a week that beginning and intermediate swing
and salsa are offered. So it would be great if one more slot could be
created for us, Lindy lovers, to continue to improve our craft without
having to go elsewhere to gain the experience and practice.
I am sorry, but the decision was made a week ago. There are 1,000
schedules printed. I had not one single request for Intermediate Lindy at
the time I put the December schedule together.
I have two suggestions I would like to make.
1. How about putting up a suggestion box!
2. I would really enjoy having bottled water in the kitchen as a
choice on practice nights over soda and alcohol. Sam's club sells a 24
case of Deja Blue for around $5.00.
We sold water once before.
To go deeper into the problem - the water is much more expensive than
the soft drinks. It is also much heavier and takes up much more room in
the truck as well, meaning we can fit less soft drinks and beer in there.
Despite all the logistic problems, an even bigger headache was listening
to the people who complained about the higher cost ($0.75 a bottle) versus
fifty cents for the cokes. I got tired of explaining why water cost more
than cokes. Actually I am not even sure why it cost more, but it did.
Then what happened was people wanted the water at practice night for
free. Some people would drink half a bottle, forget where they put it,
then abandon their water and go get another one later, a big waste
considering how hard I worked to get that water there in the first place.
Others took several bottles home with them at the end of practice night, a
big source of irritation for me.
Suddenly I was going to Sam's once a week instead of once a month just
keeping up with the water. All the while we had a perfectly good water
fountain just sitting there laughing at me.
The end of the bottled water era was one of the best moves I made all
year. People are welcome to bring their own bottled water. Unlike soft
drinks, water "keeps" very well due to the special container. I
should know since I carry them in the car myself.
Regarding suggestions, the easiest way is to email them to me.
While I have your attention, a guy friend of mine was talking about
SSQQ the other night and said that he'd be interested in taking some
C&W classes except that the only times they're offered is on Fridays,
Sundays, and Wednesdays. Now that sounds like a generous schedule, but he
said that in today's world of divorced dads, most guys have their kids
every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings. The only way he can make it
to class those times is to drop off his kids early. Just a thought, but
perhaps you should consider offering one C&W class per week on Tuesday
Re changing the schedule, you have to be kidding. I would have to shift
two entire teams of 8 instructors from one night to another. I would have
to contact Leisure Learning and change classes that are already listed for
2001. Then all the students who are used to coming on one night would be
asked to switch to another night.
All for some guy who doesn't want to drop his kids off early??
A number of us taking Beginning Lindy Hop (Monday nights) were lamenting
that there will be no Intermediate Lindy next month.
Maureen suggested that if enough of us were to ask for it, there might
be a chance that could change. So, figured it couldn't hurt to ask...
Would a list of interested people affect our odds?
The early December schedule (November/December) had no Intermediate
Lindy class listed. Not one person said a word.
Now that I have printed the final December schedule (December/January),
suddenly three people want a class after the fact. As I have already said
to the other two people who have written, the time to ask is before the
schedule is made.
Maureen can very easily teach an Intermediate Lindy class on Sunday
afternoons if this is agreeable with her. But I do not wish to divide Mondays
into 7 classes during the slowest month of the year.
Rick, Here is my vote to
have Maureen teach Intermediate Lindy Hop next month.
By the way, last Monday
night there seemed to be a change in the musical selection at the
practice. Although I like most of the songs that are usually played, it
was refreshing to have a change!
B, I am not sure if I ever responded to you – I was swamped trying to
get my Newsletter out last Thursday.
I would have more than willingly offered the Intermediate Lindy class
except that everyone asked for it after the schedule was printed. The
biggest problem running a special class like this is getting enough people
in the first place, but in this case it would be harder after all the
advertising has been published.
In addition, we have severe logistical problems in December in that one
of our Monday staff has to have surgery and therefore we don't have enough
teachers to offer 7 classes.
Thank you for the nice words on the music.
We would like to hear some different music on Monday practice nights. It
seems that we hear the same songs every week and there are a bunch of them
that we just don't care for. Instead of the set that includes Dire
Straits, Billy Joel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc., etc., would you
play some current swing from bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry
Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Review, 5 In Love With Mary, etc. There is
sooooo much good new swing out there - let's mix it up on practice night!
We would also like to request that you offer Intermediate Lindy Hop on
Monday nights with Maureen in December. We have really enjoyed the
beginning Lindy class and have progressed very quickly. Of the 10 couples
in our class, all of them were enthusiastic tonight about continuing on
When making a schedule request, don't wait till the schedule is already
published and printed.
You can make music requests at the practice night if you wish. I had a
person ask for strictly 30s and 40s music as well. It is impossible to
EMAIL EIGHT: (This is the student's answer to my response in EMAIL
Kiss my ass you arrogant bastard. This is not the first time we have
been subjected to your attitude and we are tired of it. I don't know
whether you can really dance or not but I do know that you have no clue
about how to treat your customers. Not only have we been paying customers
for the last seven months and we were looking forward to many more, we
have taken every opportunity to praise your school and recommend it to
other people. Even though I really like your instructors, I could not in
good conscience ever recommend your school to anyone again. Every request
we have ever made, be it via email or in person, has been met with what
appears to be contempt. We realize that you cannot please everyone. What
we failed to realize is that you were not interested in our opinion.
You are way out of line.
I intend to visit the Beginning Lindy class on Monday. I will give you
the opportunity to say these same words to my face.
EMAIL NINE (from the sender of Email 8 eleven
days further down the road):
I followed that link to your web page and read what you had to say. When I
first read those definitions I was truly surprised at how well they
conveyed the feeling that I had at the time. I did give this whole
situation some more thought though and I realized that there is a
possibility that I misread you. It is not always possible to separate the
actions from the person and in most cases it is probably not the right
thing to do. I still take exception to the events that lead up to my email
but I realize that what I was seeing may not be an accurate portrait of
who you are and I might have seen something different had I taken a
different approach. If this is the case I offer an apology for the words I
To summarize matters, I love my dance studio very much. Other than my
family, it is the most important thing in the world to me. I am deeply
grateful to the many students and staff who contribute to help me have a
very nice life. But at the same time I have found I increasingly have
little choice but to wrap a shell around myself in self-defense and stay
guarded. Running this studio has become a daily exercise in politics and
diplomacy that seems to increasingly out-strip the inherent social skills I
was given at birth.
In life, everybody wants things just the way they want it. This is
okay. It doesn't hurt to ask. Some wishes I can grant, some I can't, and
some I won't. For every exception I make for someone, you would be
surprised at the number of people who object to the change. The simplest
example is air-conditioning. Turn it up, someone complains. Turn it down,
Or music. Email #1 asked for strictly 30s/40s swing music. Email #8
asked for just the opposite music: 90s Swing. Email #6 praised the exact same
music that Email #8 slammed. As I said, I cannot please everybody. Simply
make a request.
Nor do I always have the patience to explain at length the reasons why a
request is a bit too much. Last night I walked through the studio only to
have my arm grabbed. A man looked deep into my eyes, then whispered
fiercely in a husky voice, "I know a way you could make a lot of
money! Bottled Water!!" I felt myself bristle for the
anticipated discussion, but fortunately he kept right on going. This time
I was spared, but usually it is a no-win situation.
If I brush someone off, I take the chance of being labeled
"arrogant". If I tell a white lie that I am busy, then I have to
go back and hide in the DJ booth for the rest of the night. If I allow
myself to get into a discussion on a topic I have already been over a
dozen times in the past six months, then I feel cornered. Where is Miss
Manners when I need her?
I don't always have 20 minutes to discuss and
explain the reason why we don't serve bottled water. Nor do I have 20 minutes to
explain that many students do not particularly appreciate having their
class watched by an outsider. Or why we switch partners. Or why
I don't have the time to look for animal-substance free Altoids
alternatives. Nor do I always have the patience to explain that Sam's was
out of their favorite Altoids flavors the last time I went. Sometimes I
just don't have the time or energy to give the Slow-Slow answer, but rather just
a Quick-Quick answer and turn my attention to the next
But the true character of people shows when you turn them down. Some
people are polite when you say no, and then other people turn around and
tell you to kiss their ass.
I met with the man and his wife before class earlier this week and
listened to their grievances. I gave them my side of the story and said I
was sorry for their perceived wrongs. I left with the impression they were
not as angry with my actions as they were with my tone. I imagine they had
the right to feel I was short with them, but this still does not excuse
this man's highly inappropriate choice of words. I must admit though that
I felt much better after I received Email #9.
I will now apologize to all the others of you who believe "the shoe
fits". I am sorry to all of you who think I am arrogant. Forgive me if sometimes I give that impression. Maybe you should try to
deal with the complicated needs of 60 instructors, 20 volunteers, and the
demands of 1,000 students a week. Then after you succeed for a week, try
it over a period of twenty years.
Rather than be called an "Arrogant Bastard", I think I would
prefer to be known as Mr. Porcupine. Or maybe "Mr. Porcupine,
Sir". The truth is I do not believe I am arrogant. However I will
admit there are times when I am short with people. I am either trying to
avoid being tied up by a long talk on an ancient subject or I may
simply be in a hurry to handle other problems.
I am well aware that the majority of the people I come into contact
with treat me with great courtesy and respect. And for this I am grateful.
But when you deal with as many people as I do, even the smallest requests
start to add up. I am not Atlas and I am not Prometheus – I need to have
air to breathe just like any other flesh and blood human being.
In closing, I would like to say one final thing: Mr. Lance Stevens,
wherever you are these days, if I had known then what I know now, I would
not have judged you so harshly. Please forgive me.