Rick Archer, written July 2006
I had two very disappointing
experiences with Ballroom Dancing back in
I tell these stories today not to
discourage students, but more to explain why
I insist on a structured format here at
SSQQ. It is true that many women can
keep six different dances separate in their
brain, but I think it is easier for men to
learn one or two dances at a time.
The two stories you are about to read
should make this point very clear.
If I had one piece of advice to share
that will make all the difference in the
world, make a point to stay for Ballroom
Practice on Sundays after your class.
This is the only way the material you
learned in class will start to feel more
ONE BEGINS: FIRST
One of the most depressing experiences of my life
involved taking dance lessons at a franchised Ballroom Dance studio here in
Houston back in 1975.
I was 25 years old.
I was persuaded to try an
inexpensive Introductory Offer
for Ballroom lessons at
Houston studio. It was
located at the time on West Gray over in the River Oaks
(Incidentally, I do not know how the Arthur Murray Studios
conduct their business in modern times. Please
keep in mind this event occurred over 30 years ago.)
One afternoon Maggie, a
young lady I had met over
at Rice University, called me up.
Maggie said she
wanted me to take Ballroom dance lessons with her. She told
me about an ad that said we could take 4
half-hour Introductory lessons for $5 a
Maggie and I had been dating for a month. Maggie knew I had been taking
somewhere else (Learning to Dance).
As she put it, I was the only man she knew who had ever admitted to
an interest in dancing. In fact, we had gone out dancing on
our first date. Maggie was impressed and said I was a great
freestyle dancer. She assumed my Disco skills could be
transferred over to Ballroom dancing as well.
I wasn't so sure about that. I had only been dancing
for a year. All I knew was a bunch of Disco line
dances. I had never partner danced in my life.
As I listened to her pitch, I had serious misgivings.
Furthermore Ballroom dancing didn't
interest me at all. I was strictly into Disco music. But a persuasive beautiful woman is
difficult to resist. And she was right about my interest in
dancing. It took
Maggie twenty minutes
to persuade me,
but I finally gave in and agreed to go
The first half-hour lesson consisted of one move to
dances - Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, and Cha Cha. (4 dances, but we
skipped one dance each week).
We had a male
instructor. From the very start,
Henry was not even the slightest
bit interested in me. He took one
look at me dancing with Maggie and realized I possessed almost no natural
ability. My dancing was so bad I got the
feeling he was slightly disdainful. I
was embarrassed. He and I never
developed a rapport
On the other hand, Maggie thought
he was wonderful. They clicked
instantly. The rest
of the first lesson consisted of Henry telling me to watch
how he did it as he took Maggie in his arms and swept her
away. Maggie enjoyed
herself thoroughly. She seemed to
glide effortlessly across the floor in his arms while I watched in
consternation. How did Maggie learn those moves so
In 30 minutes - the length of the lesson - we did 10
minutes of Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, and Tango each.
How much do you suppose I
few times I was actually allowed to try, I struggled mightily. I
didn't understand the rhythm, I had no idea how to lead, and
the footwork was a complete mystery. Maggie's frown
didn't help either.
I did give it a try, but I was kind of hopeless.
Nevertheless, I am not a quitter by nature. I
dutifully showed up with Maggie for my second lesson.
THE SECOND LESSON
I was disappointed to find
the second visit was no better than the first. I had actually
nursed a secret hope that I could overcome my jitters and figure
this Ballroom stuff out.
This week Henry skipped Cha Cha and added Waltz. I could not
get the hang of this rise and fall business. Plodding along, I
moved with the grace of a three-legged elephant.
as my instructor basically gave up on me. He and I did not
click at all. Instead he spent most of the half
hour flirting with Maggie who was having the time of her life.
I stood still and fumed while Maggie danced the night away in
Henry's arms. At this point, I had pretty much had enough.
I left in a very bad mood. The advertisement had said dancing was fun.
Not in my opinion.
THE THIRD LESSON
As you might gather, it wasn't easy for Maggie to
get me to show up for the third lesson. I resisted mightily, but
I finally succumbed to the Magic Words, "You Promised."
The first 30 minutes of the third
week was an instant replay of the first two, except that Henry ignored me
even more as if that were even possible. I didn't care
anymore. Promise or no promise, I wasn't coming back. I
could not wait to get this over with.
However at the end of the lesson,
Henry surprised me with a twist so bizarre I could never
have imagined it. He called Maggie and me over for a
Before my very eyes, Henry
actually got out two Report
and proceeded to pencil in a
letter grade for each dance we had learned!
I stared at my Report Card in open-mouthed shock. I
could not believe for a moment that Henry had the
nerve to grade us! Whose ridiculous
idea was this? What planet had Henry beamed down from?
Finally I got hold of myself and actually looked at my
Report Card. I frowned.
To his credit, Henry was at least honest.
While Maggie got straight
A's, I got a C in Foxtrot, a C- in
Cha-Cha, a C in Waltz, and a D in
Gee, if I had only known, I would have
done more homework or brought him an apple. As I
stared at my C- dance average, I thought darkly to myself
that even these miserable grades were inflated. In my
opinion, I deserved a 4-F.
Let's have a little fun with this moment. Let's say
that Henry and Maggie decide to celebrate her Straight A
Report Card. They are Waltzing the Night Away.
Meanwhile I stare at my Ballroom Grades. Pretend I
lose my balance and accidentally bump against a magic
Poof! A Genie comes out and whispers to me not to
despair. The Genie predicts that from these humble
beginnings I would someday rise to create the largest dance
studio in Houston Texas and produce the most popular dance
studio website in the world.
Now if you had seen me dancing, you would absolutely gag at
this suggestion. C'mon, a story this improbable only
happens in the movies and fairy tales! I in no mood to be humored.
I would stare at the Genie like he was out of his mind and
tell him just how absurd that idea was. I would tell
him to go back in the Lamp and leave me alone. Dumb
I wasn't that bad of a dancer. Maggie had
been right - I was actually a pretty fair Disco dancer. I
definitely knew my right foot from my left. But
freestyle dancing and partner dancing were completely
different ballgames. At the time I knew absolutely
nothing about the inner workings of Frame, the Ballroom
technique where you use your shoulders to signal to the
woman where to step next. Nor did I like the music
very much. And I definitely didn't like my instructor.
It was his job to explain how to lead, but he could not have
I had been set up for failure from the get-go.
No one can
expect a Beginner male to learn to lead and dance nine
patterns (3 per week) to four dances in three 30 minute lessons simply by
watching some instructor dance with his girlfriend the
I was completely
lost in a sea of self-criticism. Since I was
clueless about the realities of partner dancing, I did not
realize I had never had a chance.
would not shut up about her straight A Report Card.
Not only was I disgusted with the stupid grading system, I
was ready to kill Maggie for rubbing it in how the
instructor had said she had danced much better than me.
Even though I agreed it was true, what exactly possessed Maggie to
put me down like that? I guess she thought she was
I said nothing, but I was upset.
Beneath my cold exterior, I was actually very embarrassed at
being exposed as a crummy dancer. This entire
experience was deeply humiliating. I can't remember
more than a couple other incidents in my life where I have
ever felt more ashamed of myself.
It is a good thing I did not realize
my pathetic performance was in truth mostly the fault of my
would have given that jerk a piece of my
ADDING INSULT TO
INJURY - TIME FOR THE SHAKEDOWN
As if my Report Card
humiliation, Henry had saved another little surprise for us.
Just as Maggie and I were getting ready to leave, some new guy came up to
Henry to say something to him. Henry turned to us and asked
us to follow him to the back. He
told us the Dance Director wanted to see us.
The Dance Director?
Although I did not understand what was going on,
the tone in Henry's insistence warned me this might not be pleasant.
What did Henry know that I didn't?
As you surely have guessed, we were about to be sold a package of
Ballroom Dance lessons. But I was so young, I really did not
know this myself as we walked down the hall.
I sensed a trap, but to be honest I had a morbid
curiosity just to see what this was all about. With
Henry leading and the new guy behind us, I got the feeling they
weren't taking any chances that we might slip away.
Maggie and I
were shown the way into a cramped room. We were given
two wooden chairs which faced a desk. The door was behind
the desk. In other words, if we wanted to leave, we would
have to walk around the desk.
The Dance Director was already in the room. He greeted
Escape was made even more difficult when the Dance
Director invited Henry to join the meeting. Now we
had a desk and two men blocking our exit. Henry would literally have to move his chair in order
for us to leave.
Then they strapped us both to a chair... well, just kidding.
However we were clearly cornered. To say I felt
intimidated would be an understatement. What kind of
racket were they running here?
The Dance Director began
by saying there was an important dance competition coming
up. He said he had been walking by and had noticed just
how well we were picking up the material. I frowned. He
obviously hadn't seen me.
Since we had shown unusual promise,
the studio wanted us to represent them in the Big
Contest! Maggie beamed with pride.
I stared at her and I stared at him in total disbelief. Had
Maggie taken some medication? This guy was so phony it
Then I turned my gaze to Henry. After that line about our "unusual promise",
Henry was deliberately avoiding eye contact.
He was busy doing goo-goo eyes with Maggie. I assumed he was
also making a mental note not to give
anyone a C- in the future just minutes before the big Sales Meeting no matter how bad they were.
Paying no attention to my existence, the Dance Director smiled at
Maggie and continued his happy talk.
He announced that his studio was counting on Maggie and me - Mr. C
Minus Gift to the World of Ballroom Dancing - to help them win the
big dance competition. "We can't do it without you!"
'However, in order for you to do
well, you would need a little more polish.'
They were ready, willing and able to
give us in-depth training!!
because they desperately needed our help with the Novice phase
of the competition due to our 'unusual
promise', they would give us a
if we would sign up Right This Minute.
He looked straight into Maggie's eyes and said how important it was
that people with our kind of potential should fulfill their dance
Have you ever heard a more ridiculous line of
bullshit in your entire life? These guys were not smooth at all.
In fact, the Dance Director was the first hard-sell person I
had ever met, but I imagined two guys selling me fake
watches in an alley couldn't be any clumsier than he was.
On cue, the Dance Director magically
produced a Contract for Dance Lessons. On the Contract
in bright red ink I could see the word DISCOUNT that reduced
a $2,000 sales price down to $1,000 ($979 to be exact).
I was amazed at
their audacity. Does this stuff actually work with
What person in their right mind would cooperate with an
approach this stupid?
MAGGIE TAKES CONTROL
At this point my morbid
curiosity was satisfied. I had guessed some sort of sales
pitch was awaiting us but I had wanted to see how it was delivered.
Okay, I got my show. I was ready to leave now.
Just as I was
about to say something, Maggie took control of the interview.
Putting her hand on my arm to calm me, Maggie whispered, "Let me handle this."
Surprised, I backed off and said nothing. I didn't really know
Maggie that well. She and I had only been dating for a few
weeks. But her behavior regarding this Ballroom stuff had left
me bewildered on more than one occasion. What was going on
between her and Henry? I thought Henry was gay, but maybe not.
Was she trying to make me jealous? And why rub it in that my
dancing was so mediocre compared to hers? Had the tables
been reversed, I certainly wouldn't have acted that way.
Now for the second time
that evening, my morbid curiosity had gotten the better of me.
I decided to stick around and see what Maggie had up her sleeve. So
I sat back and watched.
Maggie chose a negotiating style best described as "cute them to
Maggie laughed and joked and made one excuse after another
why we couldn't sign the contract. I did not like her style at all. In
my mind Maggie was prolonging the torture.
- 'We don't have enough
- 'we are kind of busy'
- 'we don't know much about dancing'
sure if this is right for us, couldn't we think
- 'how about if we let you know
As Maggie yapped away, I stared
at her incredulously. Why
don't you just say 'no' and let's get out of here?
I grew sick in
my stomach. This cute stuff was giving me
could not understand
why Maggie was prolonging
this conversation. What is the point of
toying with this guy?
He was practically drooling that Maggie was trying to match wits
with him. Doesn't
she realize he had absolutely nothing to lose by dragging this out?
At first I wasn't
mad at the Dance Director, just impatient. In fact, after
I figured out
that this was how he made a living, I felt sorry for him. I
could see he was
to close this deal. He did most of the talking, but
occasionally let Henry get a word in edgewise so he could catch his
breath. As far as I could
tell, he was just waiting till she tired out.
Between them, the two
salesmen pressured Maggie for an hour
- yes, an
hour - to sign the expensive
contract for dance lessons.
They literally would not take "no" for an answer.
Subtlety was clearly not their forte. I
did not appreciate being cornered in this small back room by two
con men who sat between us and
Despite their pressure, Maggie appeared totally un-phased. She
showed absolutely no sign of nervousness. Whatever Dance
Director said, Maggie parried it with the same broken record...
'too broke, too busy, not enough confidence,
blah blah blah'.
Maggie kept giving excuses and
the salesmen who had nothing else to do hung in there waiting for her
to give them an opening. I watched
the three of them bandy arguments back and forth like a tennis volley.
I could not figure out Maggie's strategy. Was she trying to
wear them out? I suppose erosion works when you are
talking eons, but I am not as patient as
the Grand Canyon...
We had been in here for nearly an hour. Finally I had had enough.
Life is too short for this charade. The shtick was growing old and
I resented the high pressure techniques of these con artists and I
was disgusted with Maggie's evasive negotiating style. So I got up and
said, "I am ready to go. Would you permit us to leave now?"
The two men were stunned. They didn't know Mr. C Minus Cha
Staring down at the seated men, I gave them a look that said I meant
What I was not prepared for was the look of disappointment that
crossed Maggie's face. On a night when one shock followed
another, I was incredulous to realize Maggie had been enjoying
Believe it or not, Maggie tried to calm me.
She wasn't ready to go! She asked me to sit back down. I was astonished that Maggie was
contradicting me for the second time. That was my last straw
with her. I snapped at Maggie, "Sit
down? What for? I have no intention of signing this
contract. I am sick and tired of watching you let these men waste our
time! We have been here for an hour and letting you handle this
has gotten us nowhere."
The room fell silent. My hostility had a chilling effect
indeed. However, thanks to Maggie's intervention, they
not yield. Seeing that the two men continued to block my exit,
Maggie started up again. I stood there incredulously as they
once again began treating me like the Invisible Man.
Through some sort of non-verbal communication, the three of them
had resurrected the debate!
the fact that I was standing up, despite my appalling rudeness
to these two men and despite my confrontation with Maggie,
they began chattering away again as if I wasn't
I was baffled by their determination. Not once
had I given the slightest hint I would cave in and sign their stupid
contract, but they hung on anyway. As far as they were
concerned, it wasn't over till it was over. Incredulous, I
just stood there
and silently watched them begin to dance again.
do I explain my behavior? Call it 'Fascination'. I could
not figure out how three people who were supposed to be on opposite
sides of the fence were in such tight collusion with each other.
Maggie kept saying she didn't want to sign the contract, but her
smiles and body language were encouraging. Furthermore, how on
earth did she manage to ignore my presence and my stated wishes so
effectively? As far as she was concerned, I didn't exist.
I was mystified.
Round Two lasted ten more minutes. Finally I couldn't take it any more. It
was time for a show of force.
I may have been the worst dancer in history and I may have
only been a 25 year old kid, but I was still 6 feet tall and 200 pounds.
If I was determined
to go, a couple of wimp dance instructors would have a serious time
stopping me. Considering my mood, I was ready to walk across
the desk if necessary. "Gentleman, I am leaving now.
Please get out of my way."
They took one look at my face.
That did it. With obvious resentment, Henry begrudgingly moved
to let me pass.
To my surprise,
Maggie followed me wordlessly which I might say was a departure for
her. It was the first time she had followed me in three weeks.
Heck, I was ready to leave her in the room. I didn't care.
It was very awkward moment for everyone. From the
look on their faces, I realized these two men had actually
believed they had a real chance at a kill. They were so close
until that stupid lug got up and ruined it...
Sorry to disappoint you, Guys. Too bad I wasn't the spineless
dork you assumed I was.
What an ordeal! As I walked to the car, I tried to
understand the motivations that created such a hostile showdown.
I laid the blame right at Maggie's doorstep. It occurred to me
that by leading them on, Maggie had actually gotten their hopes up.
I believe they thought they were on the verge of making a sale.
Why did Maggie tease them? What did she get out of it? I could not
fathom what reason Maggie had for leading them on, but I blamed her for the debacle
just as much as I blamed the salesmen - I may have only gotten a D,
but I understood the meaning of "It takes two to Tango".
Who knows, maybe she wanted to sign up for those lessons and was
hoping I would somehow be persuaded if I listened to her long
enough. But the pressure from the salesmen turned me cold from
the start. No way.
As you might suspect, I did not return for my fourth and final lesson. This
also wrapped things up for Maggie and me.
Watching her tease and
banter with these two men when she had no intention of signing a
contract disgusted me. Why give one excuse after another why we
couldn't sign the contract when in my mind a simple "No, thank you"
would have been sufficient? Maybe she was raised to be polite.
Not me, I am too direct by nature to understand her
tactics. Evasion is a pretty lousy way to negotiate.
MAYBE I DID LEARN SOMETHING AT THAT STUDIO AFTER ALL
I didn't do too well at learning the Tango, but I did learn a
valuable lesson nonetheless.
As you might gather, this Contract experience was so distasteful
that when I did go into the dance business for
myself four years later, I made sure that SSQQ
would never breathe a word about
contracts. I preferred to let people sign up
for ten weeks at a time (later shortened to one month).
At the time, my decision went completely against the accepted way
dance studios historically used to obtain customers. But as
far as I was concerned, my decision was a no-brainer.
This high-pressure sales job still ranks as one
of the most distasteful experiences of my entire life.
Who on earth invented this
business tactic, the Mob?
The behavior of the Dance Director made no sense
to me. While I watched in mounting anger, I could see the
reason these salesmen were so desperate was obvious - they were
selling an over-priced service that no one needed. Everyone
needs a car. Everyone needs a house. But no one "needs"
dance lessons and definitely not at that price!
People do not like being pushed around. Did it occur to the
Dance Director there might be an easier way to sell lessons?
Dance lessons are basically entertainment. Why not try making
the lessons fun and see if that worked?
After all, I had been returning to my Disco lessons faithfully every
week for nearly a year without the slightest bit of arm-twisting.
Not one person ever lifted a finger to ask I was going to continue. I wasn't particularly good at it, but somehow during that time,
Dancing had gotten under my skin. Why not give people a chance
to fall in love with dancing and see what might happen?
So when it was my turn to become a dance teacher,
my attitude from the start was to allow my students to make up their own minds
whether to continue or not
I did my job the best I could and hoped
that was enough.
In 2000, one of my dance students remarked that every dance program
he had ever been to in Houston operated pretty much the same way that
did. He asked why I made such a big deal out of 'no contracts'.
I was beating a dead horse.
His comment took me off guard. I thought about it for a while
and decided he had a point. As far as Houston was concerned,
the old contract system was practically dead.
Back when I started SSQQ, my decision to avoid using the contract
system was considered a
risky move. Since contracts were the accepted way to run a dance
studio at the time, SSQQ was clearly going against the grain. In
that sense, I was a pioneer going about things my own way.
Fortunately this new approach was effective. I have no idea
whether my studio's success played any part in making the contract
technique go bye-bye, but the non-pressure philosophy
definitely became the accepted way that most independent dance instructors
in Houston conducted their business. Although I do not pay
much attention, today I would guess only a few franchised Houston dance studios
still stick to the contract system.
SSQQ has proven you can run a
successful dance studio without strong-arming students.
Dance lessons are fun. When there is no pressure, people will take more lessons quite
willingly. In fact, they protest when another level isn't offered! Why other
dance studios still use the contract system is one of life's great mysteries.
may have been ahead of its time, but it
seems to have worked since we are going strong after
30 years while many of our high-pressure competitors have
quietly exited the scene.
Although I endured a deeply humiliating
experience with my first Ballroom lesson, you might be surprised to
know I decided to take Ballroom lessons again later that same year
Sorry to say, this was no tale of redemption.
I did better in my second attempt. I completed the entire
six-hour program which used a Group Class format similar to the SSQQ
system. A young lady
I met in the class gave me a lot of encouragement that I was doing
well. She said I was one of the best guys in the class.
I wanted to ask her out in the worst way, so I decided to make my
move at Graduation Night.
At the end
of the six weeks, the instructor invited the entire Ballroom class to join
him for a night of Ballroom Dancing. This evening would prove
to be my downfall. It turned out I had learned only enough to
get myself set up again. my inadequacy at Ballroom Dancing was
badly exposed that night.
Sorry to say, I ended up losing the girl again, although this time it hurt much
worse than Maggie because I had a huge crush on this girl.
The pain was intense, but I recovered.
After licking my wounds, I picked up the pieces and joined another
Disco dance class a month later. I kept plugging away.
Whenever one dance class ended, I took another. I was determined to
I am not a natural dancer. However, I am a determined person.
I got knocked down several times, but I got back up. I refused
With a nod to our friend Nietzsche, that which doesn't kill you
makes you stronger.
In all, it took me four years to become a very
good dancer which is probably twice the time it takes most men to
accomplish the same thing.
Amazingly, my hard work paid off in ways I could never have
anticipated. Beginning in late 1977, I parlayed a remarkable
series of lucky breaks into a dance career. Today SSQQ Dance
Studio stands as living proof that I am indeed a lucky man... the harder I work,
the luckier I get.
So think about it. If you want to learn to dance, then don't
fold every time something goes wrong. If I
can do it, you can definitely do it too. Just put your mind to
TWO: HOW A BALLROOM DANCE CLASS BROKE MY HEART
In Love, for all
the sad words of tongue and pen,
the saddest are these: "It might have been."
Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American poet. From "Maud
experience with Ballroom Dancing
came in 1975. I was all of 25
years old. Although I had done
poorly in my brief lessons at the
Ballroom Dance Studio six months
earlier, I wasn't the type of person
to quit. If nothing else, at
least I had discovered that I was
interested in learning how to dance
with a partner.
day I noticed that the University of
Houston Sundry School, a 1970s
precursor to Leisure Learning, was
offering a 6-week course in
I was a pretty lonely guy in those days. I
did not have a girlfriend nor did I
have any prospects either. Mostly I was a jock - almost every
evening was spent playing in some
volleyball or basketball league or
It had occurred to me I was having a hard time meeting
any girls at these sports venues.
I was dimly clever enough to sense
a Ballroom class might actually
have a few single girls in it.
That explains my sole motivation for signing up.
Our first night of dance class
covered Swing Dancing. The
instructor, a man named Jack, was
twice my age. He was a pleasant,
easy-going guy who was good at
demonstrating the patterns. He was easy to
understand and I liked him.
Jack's dance class
moved pretty fast. Our class was only
an hour long, but Jack knew his stuff.
We must have covered six different patterns
in just one hour! My head was
But I didn't mind because I was in love.
Contrary to my hopes, there were not very
many single girls my age in that class. In
fact, there was only one. But that
turned out just fine because the solo single
girl was unbelievably cute. Her
name was Katie. Katie wore some
sort of WW II -style dress that first night.
With her long, beautiful legs I was
mesmerized. I couldn't decide whether
she made the dress look good or vice versa,
but either way it was Crush at
Katie and I paired up
immediately because we were clearly the
"Kids" in the class. We were
both in our twenties. The other
25 students were at least ten years
Katie loved the class. And since I was
smitten with Katie, I paid better attention
than in any class I have ever taken before
or since. I was definitely motivated
At the end of the first night of class, Katie said her farewell
to me and added with a smile, "I
enjoyed meeting you. See you next
As you might guess, I spent the entire week
day dreaming about Katie. Loneliness
will do that to you. When it was
time for the next class, I was full of
In Week Two, Katie and I learned Cha Cha. What a
neat dance! Jack did
not worry too much about the Cha Cha hip motion.
Instead he taught six more patterns. I handled them
pretty well. I do remember being
curious why we didn't review Swing at all,
but I was so preoccupied with the fast pace
I quickly forgot about Swing.
This was the class where Katie became my
"confidante". Whenever I had a problem
with a move, she would explain it to me.
Or if something funny happened in class, we
would exchange smiles. In other words,
we were becoming friends. At the end
of class, Katie said, "See you next week,
The next three weeks were a blur. Week
Three of the class was Tango.
Week Four of the class was Waltz. Week
Five of the course was Foxtrot.
Sure enough, each week saw me learning six
more patterns to a new dance. And by the
end of the evening, I told myself I had
learned this dance just fine. I was no
master, but I handled the material
presented fairly well.
Truth be told, I did more than okay despite my lack of
experience. Katie whispered to me I
was the best guy in the class, a compliment
I took great pride in, especially
considering what a miserable failure I had
been in the class I took six months earlier.
It probably had a lot to do with a better
compliment was music to my ears. As I
looked around, it did seem
to me I was doing pretty well compared to
the other guys in the class. I was quiet
about it, but inside I
was very proud of myself.
Okay, so I was
becoming a hot Ballroom prospect, but
what about my Great Romance?
As far as
my Crush on Katie was concerned, I wasn't
doing very well on that front. I was
petrified of rejection. I liked her so much that I
was scared I would lose her as a friend if I
made the wrong move.
Instead of asking
her out after class like any normal guy, I
decided I would make my move at The Big
Event - our Graduation Night dance at Melody Lane
Graduation Night was
an event Katie and I had talked about
Each week at the end of our Tuesday class,
Jack would remind us that the week our sixth
and final class ended, he would
meet us at Melody Lane Ballroom for their
regular Friday Night Ballroom Dance.
He called the event "Graduation Night".
Katie asked me if I wanted to go. Are
you kidding? I was ready to go
over Niagara Falls for her.
My plan was to
meet Katie there, put my new-found
skills to use and dance the night
the end of a particularly exciting
dance, my fantasy had me sweeping
her into my arms. I would arch her
back into a dip, bring her back up
and kiss her right there on the
floor. From there we would
fall in love and live happily ever
As I daydreamed, for some reason it
never occurred to me I didn't even
know how to dip a woman. Oh
well. Why let reality
interfere with a good
At the end of the
sixth and final class (Rumba) after
we finished our six patterns, I made sure to
double-check with Katie if she was
still planning to come on Friday Night.
She smiled and assured me she would be
GRADUATION NIGHT AT MELODY LANE
Back in the 1970s, Melody Lane was a major landmark
on the Ballroom Dance Scene. Every
Friday night, Al Marks and his
held a Ballroom
Dance at Melody Lane open
to the Houston public.
Although most people know
Melody Lane by its current
location on Crossview, in the
Seventies, Melody Lane
Ballroom was located on Richmond
Avenue near the
Loop between the Windsor Theater and a
popular bar known
Jack had chosen Melody
Lane for Graduation Night because it was the only place in town
where you could go to dance Ballroom for the
fun of it. Otherwise you had to be a
member of a Ballroom Dance Studio if you
wanted to find a place to try out your Foxtrot
and Rumba. Sad to say, after Mr.
Marks retired in the late Nineties, his
popular Friday Night dance disappeared.
In the decade since, no weekly venue with
live music that I
know of has
appeared to fill this void. But that's
As for me, as I approached Melody
Lane that evening, my heart was thumping. This was
my big night. I was counting on this
evening a lot more than I had a right to,
but in my defense I was young and foolish.
Lead me not
into temptation. I can find it
all by myself.
Katie smiled as I entered. I gulped as
I saw her. She was wearing that dress
again! She was too darn pretty.
'Oh Gosh, Rick, stay under control,' I thought to
myself. I was
pretty nervous. As I sat down at my group's
table, I noticed that only ten brave
from our Beginning Ballroom class of 25 had
shown up. We all banded
together at the table for
A song came on. Katie looked at me
hopefully. I gulped. 'What the heck do
you dance to this song?', I wondered.
I would have asked Jack, but he was already
out on the floor. So I asked the guy
next to me. He said he didn't know, but if I
found out, would I be nice enough to tell
him? Hmm. The blind
leading the blind.
Katie guessed it was a Foxtrot. It
turned out she was right. We got out
there and I immediately froze up. I
realized I didn't remember a thing!
So Katie and I walked back to the table and
I reviewed the Foxtrot syllabus. Box
I ran back out on the floor with
Katie and danced the Box Step for the rest
of the song. Unfortunately, I
stumbled more than once and knocked
her off balance.
Other than that, I supposed we
survived the dance.
As we returned to the table, it bothered me
to discover I
couldn't remember any of the other
patterns. All in all, it was a pretty
shaky start for such a hot Ballroom
The next song came on. I didn't have a
clue what kind of dance the music called for. Jack
said it was a Waltz. I looked at my
syllabus. Box Step! I was about
to ask Katie to dance when I realized she
was already out on the floor with Jack. He
not only led her through all six patterns,
he was leading her into a lot of stuff I had never
seen before. I wondered where she had
learned all those moves.
I asked her that exact question upon her
return. Katie replied she didn't have a clue
what she doing, she just let him lead her.
'Lead her?' You might be
surprised to learn that I did not know what
Jack had spoken briefly about
leading, but he had never explained how it
worked. I was
so naive that I thought if the man did his
footwork and the woman did her footwork, the
move would work automatically. In
other words, I had absolutely no idea that
the man was largely responsible for the success of
each dance. I mean, after all,
didn't he show the women their footwork too?
When did it become my job? I didn't
get the memo.
In fact, one of the men
had asked Jack a question about a lead.
Jack replied there wasn't
enough time with just an hour lesson to
spend much time on 'leads'. He said
stuff like 'let go here' or 'reach your hand
through here', but he only said it once.
Looking back, obviously I did not understand
the importance of what he was saying.
How I missed
the chapter in the course on 'leads' may not
make sense, but my guess is there
was no chapter. The class was taught
using a style I call 'Simon Says'. Jack
and some woman he picked from
the class would demonstrate the move.
Then Jack would put on the music.
While he danced with his partner, we
would all copy them. In other words,
I would copy his footwork and Katie
would copy the woman.
Katie and I
would do our
footwork and try to mirror each other.
I could dance this memorized pattern
just fine, especially when I could
watch Jack in the process. This
meant for 6 weeks I had
foolishly assumed we were learning to
dance. Meanwhile I remained oblivious about
how 'lead and follow' worked in
As a result, I
was baffled how Katie had
done all those moves. It seemed
like Magic. Was it eye
contact? Was he telling her
what to do? Did she read his
mind? Had they secretly met
ahead of time and practiced?
The guy could have pulled a rabbit
out of a hat and I would not have
been more impressed. How did
he do it? I was bewildered.
Another song came on that sounded different.
What was I supposed to dance to this one? I
was angry that I
couldn't tell one song from the other.
Some woman said Cha-Cha. That had been one
of my favorite dances. I looked at my
syllabus and remembered the Basic went
forward and back. Rock Step Cha Cha
Cha. I asked Katie to practice
with me a couple times by the table. Yep, I
had it. We went out and danced the
Basic for the entire song.
returned to the table, Katie asked what had
happened to the other five patterns on the
list. I bit my lip at her
disappointment. I had been bothered
all night long by the fact that I could
remember the names of the patterns, but once
I was out on the floor I had trouble remembering what the footwork
was to save my
Maybe it was nerves, but I was drawing a
blank. Cha Cha had been taught over a month ago!
I mean, I could kind of remember how some of
the patterns went, but I couldn't figure out
how to get into them from anything other
than a dead stop. And the only way to
end the pattern was to simply stop dancing.
"Transitions" from one move to
another were completely out of the
She looked at me funny as I confessed I
didn't remember how to do them any more. I stared at
the syllabus. Yes, there were the
names of the patterns, but they didn't mean
anything to me. I asked Katie
if she remembered. Maybe she could
show me what the patterns were and I would
remember. Katie shook her head and
said, 'I just let the guy lead.'
I furled my brow in confusion. LEAD. There's
that Word again. What was going on
with this lead stuff? I was
starting to feel both overwhelmed and
discouraged. I secretly wished Jack would
demonstrate the patterns on the floor one
more time so I could mimic them again. This Ballroom
business was a lot more complicated than I
had been led to believe!
I ruefully thought
back to how proud I was that I was the best
guy in the class. What a joke! I
was in the process of getting my ego
Meanwhile Katie danced two songs in a row
with Jack while I sat at the table staring
in disbelief. Not only was she doing
even more patterns than before, she didn't
even remotely nervous. Instead Katie
was laughing her head off and having a great
time. How did she know how to do all
those moves? I shook my head in
watched, I bitterly began to realize that
the women clearly got all the breaks in this
game. Here I was stuck at the table
feeling like a moron while Katie was dancing
like Ginger Rogers out there.
I felt the heat rise. I
realized how jealous I was of Katie
Before I could dwell
on my insecurity any further, a woman from
our group asked me to dance. The woman
told me she was getting tired off sitting.
Truth be told, she had a point. It
seemed like Katie was getting three out of
every four dances with Jack. Nor were
the other guys dancing much either. I
guess they were in the same boat I was in.
Something warned me this wasn't a good idea. I didn't know
the woman at all and she was old enough to
be my mother. There was something
about her strong approach that intimidated me.
My instincts had me on guard. I was very
reluctant to accept her offer. However
I couldn't think of a graceful way to say
'no', so out on the floor we went.
I asked her what dance it was. She
frowned. "Aren't you supposed to
I suppose she was
right, but I honestly didn't have a clue.
The woman stared at me waiting to see if I
would figure it out.
Finally she rolled her eyes and said 'Tango'. The woman and I got
into dance position and she immediately
pressed her body to me
much closer than I was comfortable with.
She told me she had taken lessons before and
this was the 'correct' way to dance the
Tango. This night wasn't going very well, was it?
Forward Forward Tango Close. I
remembered this much from the notes.
We did it again. We did it a third
time. We did it a fourth time. The woman barked at me, 'What about
the Promenade?' I cringed.
I remembered the pattern being listed on the
syllabus, but I couldn't remember how to do the Promenade and told
her so. She jerked our bodies into the
Promenade position only to find I wasn't
sure what the footwork was. That started
an avalanche of criticism.
'Well, then try the Fan!' 'Do
the Flare!' I just
stared at her. She rolled her eyes and
began to lead the Fan herself.
Together we looked like fools out there.
At that point the woman began to insult me.
'I thought you took the class. Don't you remember anything?'
Yes, I was over-sensitive, but she was in a
bad mood about something and I provided an
easy target. Her words stung.
I was feeling too depressed to
stand up for myself, so
instead I got more depressed. I was
feeling so much pressure that whatever I did
remember earlier on was now long gone. I
admitted I didn't remember anything and said
we should give up. As the song ended,
Katie and Jack were returning from
another successful spin around the floor.
Just as they reached the table, the woman turned her back to me in disgust, grabbed
Jack and hauled him out on
the dance floor. Katie did a
double-take at the angry woman. I am
sure Katie wondered what that was all about.
I was feeling very shaky. Katie asked
me what was wrong. I told her I felt
like an idiot. I couldn't tell a Tango
from a Waltz. I couldn't remember more
than one step to any dance. These
notes were worthless. I slumped
in my chair in defeat. Katie was
sympathetic. She said I just needed
more practice and to cheer up. I
smiled wanly. I had wanted so much to
impress her and please her, but it was
obvious I had completely struck out.
But I couldn't tell her that's how I felt.
The next song came on. It was Swing, the
dance I had liked the best. Katie
looked at me hopefully. I looked at my
notes and screwed up my courage. We
got out there and danced the Basic.
Katie said, 'Swing me out like Jack does.'
I looked at her blankly.
'Katie, I don't
remember how to do that
So she lifted my arm
and swung herself out. Then she swung
herself back in. While I did the
Basic, Katie bounced in and out of
my arms doing her Swing Out and
Swing In. I felt humiliated.
A ladder with a short rubber hose to
use as an arm
probably would have stood in for me
It was no use. Sometimes when
I get too frustrated I just lock up
and go into
a shell. I was way past the
point of the good old college try,
even to please Katie. I
told her I would rather just go back to
the table. Katie wasn't mean to me
like the other woman, but I could see she
In dance class we
had been equals, but tonight Katie was the star
and I was the clown. This was not
working out like I hoped it would.
The next song came on and Jack asked Katie
to dance. My heart sank as I watched her face
immediately light up with excitement. She
couldn't wait to dance with him again!
Sure enough, pretty soon Jack and Katie
were doing another Fred and Ginger impersonation
to a Waltz. I still couldn't believe
how well she danced together with him.
How did she improve so fast?
My pride was deeply wounded. I wasn't
very brave around girls I liked in the first
place, so this horror story was way more
embarrassing than my weak self-esteem could
tolerate. Once Katie and Jack got
to the far side of the floor and I was
sure she couldn't see me, I got up and left
There was no point in sticking around. I was
way too embarrassed to have the
courage to ask Katie out after my performance
that night. No more risk-taking for me
on this evening. Shame permeated
every nook and cranny of my psyche. Too bad
never seen me on the basketball court.
There she would have seen an athletic guy
full of confidence. But
here at Melody Lane I was clearly out of my
On the way home I analyzed what had gone
wrong. How could a woman who didn't
more than I did dance so well? I
knew the answer had to do something with the
secrets of lead and follow, but I was angry
that my evening had depended so much on
something I didn't even know about.
I felt so helpless!
Regrettably, there was no second chance.
There was no follow-up to my Beginning Ballroom
class. Nor did I have Katie's phone
number. In other words, when I walked
out the door, I had kissed any chance of seeing
It wasn't until years
later that I gained enough knowledge of
frame and other concept of leading to
realize I never had a chance.
I had no way that night to know I had been totally set up
failure. I didn't know 'why' at the
time, but our lack of work on leads had
doomed me to this fate. No man
could ever acquire the skills needed to
succeed on a Ballroom Dance floor under that
Our instructor had chosen to entertain us
with new material each week rather than get
down to the hard work of explaining the
leads, practicing the leads with students
and a female instructor, and making us
review the patterns each week whether we
liked it or not. I liked Jack, but I
doubt he was a professional instructor.
was probably just teaching the class for the
fun of it. Instead of
giving us what we needed to learn, he fed us
Cocoa Puffs instead.
There had been no dance practice after
class. When the hour was up, we were
out of there. In other words, not once
had I ever danced on my own without the
crutch of watching Jack. This kept me
blind to the importance of leading.
Furthermore I had no chance to develop any
muscle memory. Practice would have
made a big difference. Instead each
week's patterns probably disappeared from my
feet about the moment I got to my car, but I
didn't know it since there was no review.
I stayed blissfully ignorant that I knew
practically nothing. Unaware, that is,
until the Fateful Night.
I never had a chance. It was more
futile than the Charge of the Light Brigade.
At least they had the chance of being
As a side note, about the same time I was
taking a karate class. One weekend we
all had to pass a tough test to earn the
right to wear a higher-level belt and
progress to the next class. The test
included a demonstration of blocking, kicking,
and punching skills, we had to break a board
with a kick and a chop, plus we had to spar
with someone in our class. The test
was an all-day ordeal. Nor was it a
whitewash - a quarter of the class didn't
pass. When I came to class the
following week after passing my test, I
noticed several people were still stuck in
the White Belt class.
proud of ourselves, my classmates and I
were ridiculously cocky. As we waited
for our new class to begin, we were all
punching each other and acting tough.
Our body language was pure
arrogance. 'C'mon, kick me,
just try it!'
new instructor walked in, took one
look at us, then started to laugh.
Someone had the temerity to ask what he was
He replied, "Last week
if someone had pulled a knife on you on the
street, you would have had the sense to run
for your lives. Today you think you
are so good you might actually be stupid
enough to stand there and get yourself cut
to ribbons. You are all in great danger and
fortunate to have me tell you so. I
just saved your life."
As the man spoke, you
could hear the hiss of a dozen egos
deflating. However his words had a
different meaning for me. Inside a light bulb went on.
My Ballroom instructor had taught me just enough
to get me cut into ribbons.
It took a while, but eventually I bounced
Fortunately I stuck with my dancing, which
is good since I was totally unaware I was on
a career path at the time. About a month later I found another dance
class to take. Humbled, but not
defeated, I started over.
I learned many lessons from the Nightmare
at Melody Lane.
Mostly I learned about the pain of
Katie faded from my thoughts, but the memory
of my shame did not. Three years later when
I went on to become a dance instructor myself, I vowed
never to set up a student like that.
This is a true story. I told this
story because it explains
once and for all why I am so fanatic about
the value of Practice Night.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SSQQ
Now I would
like to explain why SSQQ has only had a
Ballroom Program since September 2005. As
they say, it is easier to figure out where you
want to go if you can remember where you've
course curriculum at SSQQ has always been a
direct reflection of what our students are
interested in learning. The students ask for
the class and we offer it.
Saturday Night Fever was
the reason why the studio started as a Disco
program in 1978.
Urban Cowboy was the reason we made
a radical transition to Western dancing two
years later in 1980. Although I could
not have cared less about Western dancing at
the time, common sense dictated I teach what
our students were requesting. So I
traded in my Disco clothes for Blue Jeans
and changed hats.
proved to have a lot more staying power than Disco had.
The Western classes just kept growing. Not
only did new students constantly appear, as they
improved, their demand for more advanced Western
classes never ended.
The Western Era really never ended - C&W dancing
became a permanent part of the Houston dance
landscape. However as the skill level of our students increased through
constant practice in the early 80s, eventually a
little boredom did creep in. Now my advanced
dancers came to me with an interest in learning the Texas
Whip. I liked the Whip, so this was a pleasing
development. 1984-1988 saw the studio develop a
Whip program to match the Western program.
Thanks to a dance club called Studebakers, SSQQ students began to develop a strong
interest in Swing dancing. Always ready to
respond, 1988 we
developed an East Coast Swing/Jitterbug Program as well.
And that's how it stayed for most of the Nineties -
throughout these years SSQQ taught a steady diet of Western, Whip, and Swing.
But where was Ballroom?
Ballroom Dancing has always
faced an uphill struggle catching on in Houston,
Texas. To my way of thinking, the reason
has a lot to do with Western Dancing.
Most people don't realize that Western Dancing as we
know it today actually got its start here in
Houston. Yes, this is a true story. (History
of Western Swing)
Back in the days when Gilley's was big and
Urban Cowboy first brought Western Dancing
to popularity in the early 1980s, Western Dancing
was not very graceful. Men would wrap their right
arm around the woman's neck, the lady would grab the
man's belt loop, and the man would push the poor
woman backwards around the floor all night long.
But the whole idea behind the word "Urban"
was that things had changed. Now it was okay for
city girls, not just country girls, to dance
However once the sophisticated Houston women took
a good look at that neck lock, the city girls
quickly decided that arm-around-the-neck stuff had
Believe it or not, the style of Western Dancing
quickly changed here in Houston to Ballroom styling.
The change was almost instantaneous!
Practically overnight wherever you looked, the man's
arm was now wrapped around the lady's back.
For the first time, we had "Frame". The women
all smiled. Much better! Soon after
that, the women were doing Western Swing spins and
complicated disco-style patterns.
Again, much better!
Over the next few years, Western Dancing continued
to develop because Houston men and women liked the
music and now they liked the dancing just as much.
By the 1990s Western Dancing had grown so
sophisticated that there were now dance councils
that sponsored Western dance competitions throughout
I was intrigued to notice that these Western Dance
Competitions resembled Ballroom Dance
Competitions. Moves that were once associated
with Foxtrot suspiciously began to appear in Twostep
patterns. East Coast Swing was being danced to
"Born To Boogie" instead of the "In the Mood",
but it was still E.C.S.
Western Waltz in particular flourished. When I
first learned to Waltz to Western music, the woman
went backwards the whole song with maybe a couple
simple underarm turns thrown in for good measure.
But by the 90s, the only difference between Western
Waltz and Ballroom Waltz competitions was the
music and the costumes. The patterns were all
Even Cha Cha, the famous Latin dance, was adapted to
Western Polka music. And Bolero/Rumba patterns
appeared in a stylish new Western dance known as
"Night Club". During the
Nineties, of the six major Ballroom Dances, only
the Tango had not been appropriated by Western dancing.
Yes, Ballroom Dancing flourished in the 90s
disguised as Western Dancing. Our gifted Western
instructor Sharon Crawford would get 100 students
for her Western Waltz classes and 80 students for
her Western Cha Cha classes. Another
instructor named Susie Merrill had 60 people for her
Night Club classes.
But when we offered Ballroom Waltz or Latin Cha Cha
and Rumba danced to Ballroom music, we might get 20
students max. This phenomenon was
repeated time and time again. It became clear
to me that SSQQ students liked to Ballroom dancing
just fine as
long as they could dance it to Western music.
JAN 6 - JAN 27, 1998
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
BALLROOM WALTZ - JULIE $42/34
SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA
CHA CHA - AMANDA $42/34
INT. TANGO - MICHAEL $42/34
INT. SALSA MAMBO - BETH
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ -
A quick review of the past 8
years will help paint the picture. SSQQ did offer a few Ballroom
classes in 90s. For example, a quick peek at
the January 1998 schedule shows that Ballroom shared
Tuesdays with Salsa (then known as Mambo) and
Merengue. We called Tuesdays our "Latin
Ballroom Night". You might be
surprised to know that Salsa barely showed up on the
radar in those days.
As you see, there were four Latin Ballroom classes
and two Salsa classes. This meant that out of
50 group classes a week, SSQQ still only offered 4
Ballroom classes. Obviously the demand for
Ballroom was pretty low.
JAN 5 - JAN 26, 1999
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING - YVONNE $42/34
INT SWING - JEFF $42/34
BEG SALSA (MAMBO) -
INT SALSA (MAMBO) - JUDY
BEG CHA CHA
- LINDA C $42/34
BEG TANGO - AMANDA $42/34
By 1999, the 90s Retro Swing
movement was hitting its peak. A quick look at
Tuesdays in January shows two new Swing Classes
added on to help meet the surge of interest.
two Ballroom classes had to go on Tuesday which is
why this list shows two Swing, two Salsa, one Latin,
and one Ballroom classes.
Swing was huge in 1999. The demand was so
great, in March we expanded our dance program to
include Saturdays (4:30) for the first time.
And yes, to answer your question, all the new
Saturday classes were Swing.
THE DAWN OF
After we all let out a big sigh
of relief when the Millennium threat of Y2K turned
out to be total nonsense, I was in for a big surprise.
For the previous two years, all eyes had been on Swing
Dancing. Interest in Swing Dancing had been building
throughout the 90s. In 1998, the famous Gap "Jump,
Jive, and Wail" Jeans Commercial caught the eye of
every person in the country. Suddenly the whole world
was flooded with Swing Dancing!
I had been so distracted with Swing Dancing that I
had failed to noticed something was also going on
with Latin dancing. Flying under my
radar, interest in Salsa had been increasing for
sometime. Then out of nowhere, Ricky
Martin's "Living La Vida Loca" lit the same fire
under Salsa dancing in 2000 that the Gap
Commercial did for Swing in 1998. Salsa
dancers came out of the woodwork!
If Swing Dancing was a huge Pacific surf wave, Salsa Dancing was a Tidal Wave!
Our studio was packed to the brim. Thanks to
the simultaneous energies of Salsa and Swing, 2000 was the
biggest year in studio history.
By the end of 2000, a dance that had one class a
week in 1999 had grown so big that Salsa
enrollment was larger than
Western, Whip, and Swing combined! Even
more amazing, the energy never stopped growing. Today
Salsa has become the dominant form of dancing in the
United States. This could never have been
imagined back in the "Swinging 90s", believe me.
JAN 11 - FEB 1, 2000
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - LINDA
INT SALSA MAMBO - AMANDA
ADV SALSA MAMBO 2 -
- PAULA $44/36
BEG TANGO - JUDY $44/36
ADV TANGO - DON $44/36
Thanks to Salsa, the Tuesday
Swing classes were gone by January 2000. There were
two reasons. After we opened up Saturdays in March
1999 to provide
a third Swing night, now there was room for new
classes on Tuesday. We had a choice between
putting more Ballroom classes in this spot or maybe
add a Salsa class or two. Take a guess. Right!
Into this vacuum, we began to offer 3 Salsa classes.
This is how Tuesday got its start as our most
popular Salsa Night at SSQQ.
We were also back to 3 Latin/Ballroom classes -
"Latin Carnival" which was a little Cha Cha, a
little Rumba, a little Samba, etc, and two Tango
JAN 09 - JAN 30, 2001
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - ANDREW C
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO
ADV SALSA MAMBO 4 - JUDY
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA
PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ
- PAULA $44/36
BEG TANGO - YJ $44/36
Things didn't change very much on Tuesdays
by the start of 2001 except that we went from 3 to 4 Salsa
classes. Swing was still pretty
big, but Salsa was turning into a monster. We
had added Salsa classes on Thursday and Saturday.
Ballroom was down to two classes - a class called
"Putting on the Ritz" which included Foxtrot, Waltz,
and Slow Dancing - plus the ever-popular Tango
2000 had been our most crowded year in history and
2001 was almost as bad. Sad to say, the horror of
9/11 cured the SSQQ crowding problems very quickly. The
studio was practically a ghost town for the
remainder of 2001.
JAN 08 - JAN 29, 2002
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - ANDREW C
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO
ADV SALSA MAMBO 3 - JUDY
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA
BEG TANGO -
BEG BALLROOM - PAULA
The studio was still in
suspended animation from 9/11 as 2002 rolled around. As you can see, there was no
change on Tuesdays from the previous year. We still
had 4 Salsa classes and two Ballroom classes.
The only change I see is that we renamed "Putting on
the Ritz" to become Beginning Ballroom. Other
than this simple cosmetic switch, everything else
in Ballroom was the same in 2002.
9/11 guaranteed that 2002 was a very quiet year here at
the studio. Only Salsa showed any signs of
JAN 07 - JAN 28, 2003
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - JIM
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO
ADV SALSA MAMBO 7 - JUDY
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA
BEG TANGO -
BEG BALLROOM - PAULA
WALTZ, TANGO, SLOW)
By 2003, Salsa had grown to 7
Advanced levels. Salsa was such a phenomenon
in the 2000s! By comparison, the late 90s
surge in Swing lasted at most three years. Salsa was
now in its fourth year and showed no
signs of abating. Abating? Are you
kidding? It just kept growing!! The popularity of this dance style
On the other hand, Ballroom
was not popular.
Ballroom continued to limp along with two classes
on Tuesday. We also had a second Tango class
offered on Sundays. What is missing is the
fact that these classes averaged between 10 and 20
students. The interest level was so low it
barely had a pulse.
AUG 30 - SEP 20, 2004
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG -
INT SWING/JITTERBUG -
ADV SWING/JITTERBUG -
PATTY OH $46/38
ZOOT SUIT RIOT 2 -
BEG BALLROOM DANCE
- JUDY $46/38
INT TANGO -
SLOW DANCE &
In 2004, the demand for Salsa
had grown so great that I had no choice but to
Ballroom from Tuesday to make more room for Salsa.
Sad to say, Swing was now in decline. This
once mighty program was slowly receding back to its
pre-Gap level. This
made Mondays the logical night to move Ballroom to.
I had high hopes for this move. After all, Swing is a
Ballroom dance. Not only did Swing come along
in the Big Band Era of the 1930s, its counterpart
the Foxtrot was very
popular to the same music.
But the move to Monday provided no sparks at all. There was absolutely no
synergy - in fact the Swing people froze out the
Ballroom people. They couldn't stand Sinatra music
being played in their Big Room, so Ballroom Practice
Night was shuffled back to Room 4. Ballroom
Practice Night typically consisted of perhaps 10
people... most of whom were instructors. It was
I was so disappointed by the
initial results of moving Ballroom to Mondays that
in 2004 I decided to begin teaching Ballroom myself.
I was actually growing more and more curious why Ballroom Dancing was
such a tough sell. In September 2004 you can see my name next
to a Ballroom class for the first time in studio
Once I got involved, I was
pleased to see interest in Ballroom dancing begin to
pick up. The class sizes were improving.
But attendance at Practice Night continued to
fall way below my expectations. It was
maddening to see people come in, dance one song, not
know how to dance to the next song and decide to
On a personal level, I
found a good use for Monday Ballroom Practice Night.
Marla and I
practiced our Waltz every Monday night to prepare for our September
2004 Wedding aboard the Rhapsody. To my
surprise, I began to enjoy dancing Ballroom just as
much as the other styles of dancing. Again I
was reminded of the importance of Practice Night -
how can you learn to enjoy something you don't try?
BIRTH OF THE
JAN 03 - JAN 26, 2005
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG -
PATTY OH $46/36
INT SWING/JITTERBUG -
ADV SWING/JITTERBUG -
ZOOT SUIT RIOT 6 - LISE
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ
- RICK $46/38
BEGINNING BALLROOM -
SLOW DANCE/ ROMANCE-
SEP 04 - SEP 25, 2005
- 6:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG -
INT SWING/JITTERBUG -
PATTY OH $46/38
- MARLA $46/38
BEG TANGO - AMANDA $46/38
BEG NIGHT CLUB - ANITA
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ - TRACY
ADV TANGO - RICK $46/38
At the start of 2005, things
hadn't changed much in a year. Attendance was
up over the previous year, but Ballroom was still
the sad, neglected stepchild forced to share Monday
with Swing Dancing.
Then something interesting happened - the classes
began to grow by leaps and bounds!
Perhaps it was TV shows like "Dancing with the
Stars" or movies like "Shall We Dance" and "Take the Lead",
but something was clearly going on.
classes were beginning to get too big for the rooms
we had available.
That's when Maureen Brunetti suggested
moving the Ballroom classes over to Sunday
afternoons. Why hadn't I thought of that? I
decided to give it a try. Starting in September
2005, Ballroom classes were moved to Sundays at 4
pm. We started classes 30 minutes early to permit a "Ballroom Practice
Night" from 6 to 7 pm.
For the first time in studio, we now had something
resembling a "Program" rather than just offering a
Ballroom class here or a Latin class there. I
was pleased that the initial response to this move was positive. The class sizes
continued to increase. For example, Beginning
Ballroom had 30 people which was a very good sign.
On the down side, the Ballroom Practice Night
continued to under-perform.
I could not get the students to stay and practice! I was so frustrated!
January 2006 brought a very
pleasant surprise - Beginning Ballroom had 60
people! Holy Cow! The other Ballroom
classes were also big, including Beg Tango with 25
and Beg Foxtrot with 20.
The only class that didn't do well was my Adv Tango
class, but I felt better once I discovered the
reason why. Our talented new Ballroom instructor,
Dakota Wilhelm, had decided to offer a four-month
Latin Cha Cha class. 50 people had signed up
for it, including most of my former Tango students.
This was okay with me.
Obviously interest in Ballroom had improved
considerably, but I still wasn't satisfied.
The Ballroom Practice Night was still not where I
wanted it to be despite two years of tinkering on my
part. I had never been so puzzled about a
dance problem before.
The major obstacle as I saw it was that there was
absolutely no "Ballroom Community". Yes, our
students were staying to practice, but they all
stuck to their separate rooms. You might
have 20 people practicing Swing in Room 6, 15 people
practicing Cha Cha in Room 4, 15 people
practicing Tango in Room 2, and 10 people practicing
to all the Ballroom Dances in Room One.
In other words, there
were plenty of people staying to practice, but there
was absolutely no sense of "Community"
everyone was scattered in different corners of the
The other problem was that
no one practiced very long. Most people danced 3
songs and took off, leaving the studio
completely empty for half an hour till the 7 pm
Western crowd showed up. I would just sit
there for 30 minutes twiddling my thumbs. Finally I lost my
temper. In February 2006 I decided to move the Sunday Ballroom
classes from the 4 pm start time back to the
traditional 4:30 pm.
At least we weren't wasting half an hour every
Sunday! But this was not a very good
move. The more dedicated Ballroom students
immediately protested that Ballroom Practice was too
short. Sad to say, I could see that they were
right. If our Ballroom Program were ever to
succeed, our Ballroom students deserved a decent
chance to practice. How else would they improve? Back to the drawing board.
Interest in Ballroom Dancing had improved to the
point where I felt for the first time in studio
history, it deserved its own night. Sunday
evening was the logical choice, but C&W had
been successful on Sundays at 7 pm for 30 years.
Did I dare take the chance of jeopardizing Western
dancing on Sundays? Since Western
dancing had Practice Nights on Wednesdays & Fridays,
I figured it was worth the gamble.
Ballroom Dance Program made its official debut on
April 30. The Western students quickly
discovered they could go to Wild West immediately
from class, so they didn't mind the flip-flop at
all. This development alleviated
my conscience greatly. In fact, they praised
me for my good idea! As I basked in the credit
I didn't deserve, I thought to myself that if I were
so damn bright, then why couldn't I figure out the
secret of a successful Ballroom Practice Night?
The move to Sunday night did help our
Ballroom Practice improve,
but nowhere near to the extent I had hoped for. I was
not at all satisfied. Throughout that first
month, our students
were still practicing in 4 different rooms!
Then came June 11, the first night of the June dance
semester. That night, I played a nice set of the
different Ballroom music - Swing, Foxtrot, Waltz,
Tango, Rumba, Cha - in Room One. We had 10 people. Ten
people? This was ridiculous!
There were 20 dancing Swing in Room 6, 12
dancing Tango in Room 2, and 10
practicing Slow Dance in Room 5, but
my "Community Room" had all of
10 people. I was fuming.
What was it going to take to get a legitimate
Ballroom Practice Night at SSQQ? It was this
night - June 11 - when I decided stronger measures
were called for.
JAN 08 - JAN 29, 2006
4:00 - 6:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG -
INT SWING/JITTERBUG -
PATTY OH $46/38
- LINDA $46/38
BEG CHA CHA - DAKOTA
BEG TANGO - MARLA $46/38
ADV TANGO - RICK $46/38
BEG FOXTROT - JILL $46/38
APR 30 - MAY 21, 2006
7:00 - 9:00
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG -
INT SWING/JITTERBUG -
PATTY OH $46/38
BEG BALLROOM I
- LINDA $46/38
(SWING, FOXTROT, WALTZ)
RUMBA RHAPSODY - DAKOTA
ADV TANGO - RICK $46/38
BEG TANGO - MARLA $46/38
BEG FOXTROT - JILL $46/38
BALLROOM DANCE EVER CATCH ON AT
That is a good question.
There is no stigma to Ballroom Dancing, but rather a
lack of knowledge. Most people simply don't
know much about Ballroom Dancing. In the last
couple years, once they started to see it on TV,
they became interested.
What I like most about
Ballroom dance and Ballroom music is the 'Romance'.
Ballroom Dancing is all about expressing 'Love' in
dance form. Swing is energy, Cha Cha is sexy, Rumba
is sensual, Waltz is graceful, Foxtrot is
and Tango is passion. Women love to Ballroom
Dance because each song brings out a different
emotion. The man whose careful lead allows
them to feel the spirit of the music that
accompanies these different dances
becomes very special to them.
The dancing is
wonderful. We have already
discovered our students love to
Waltz, but their only experience is
to Western music. Ballroom
Dancing is not about "choice".
You can have them both!
Once people discover like I did that
Ballroom Waltz has very beautiful
music and even more patterns than
Western Waltz, I suspect our Waltz
dancers will gladly embrace both
forms of dancing.
The main obstacle is developing a
'Core Group'. In the movie
Take the Lead, the
biggest problem was selling the high
school kids on the 'cool factor' of
Ballroom Dancing. If I can
persuade my students who are already
interested in Ballroom Dancing to
help me make our Sunday Ballroom
Practice Night popular, then the
people who don't know much about
Ballroom Dancing will be more likely
to invest their time in it.
In other words, a crowd generates a
THE NEW SSQQ BALLROOM
Change 1. SSQQ Ballroom Practice Night will
be held strictly in Room One.
A Crowd generates a crowd.
As long as our
six Ballroom classes a semester see themselves as
separate groups, we will never develop a Ballroom
Community here at SSQQ. Therefore all our
resources must go to establishing one room where
people are willing to practice all six dances each week.
Change 2. Our
Ballroom Classes will no longer cover one dance at a
Our students have no objection to dancing in
Room One. What they complain about is the fact
that they only know ONE DANCE. They have a
legitimate point. Our students who learn Tango
first only want to dance Tango. Our students
who learn Swing only want to hear Swing music.
In their mind, dancing in Room One is a waste of
time because they have to sit out five songs to get
to their song.
Therefore our new Beginning Ballroom classes will
cover three dances at a time in Month One and the
other three dances in Month Two. Our
Intermediate classes and Advanced Ballroom classes
will be structured the same way. After
two months, the students will be prepared to dance
the night away to all six dances.
In other words, the days of highlighting one dance
to the exclusion of others are over. From now
on, we will teach all six dances as equally
important. Since Foxtrot, Waltz, and Rumba
share many of the same patterns, these three dances
will be grouped together. Tango and Cha
Cha will be in the second group. The most
popular Ballroom Dance - Swing - will be the only
exception. It will still be taught separately.
However Swing will have a special feature -
sometimes it will be taught on Sundays at 4:30 to
permit our Ballroom students the chance to take
Ballroom and Swing back to back on the same night.
Change 3. Dakota's
Accelerated Ballroom Program.
Dakota Wilhelm is an
excellent Ballroom Dance teacher. His
Ballroom classes have huge throughout his first year
at the studio.
Starting in January 2007, Dakota will teach an
entire year of Advanced Ballroom material without
His program will cover two straight months of all
The Accelerated class will have an important restriction: You
must know all six Ballroom dances ahead of time to
get into the class. You must ask for Dakota's
permission to enter this program.
That said, we are well aware that many of our
students are already Advanced Waltz dancers or
Advanced Cha Cha dancers from our Western program.
Dakota is prepared to take that into account.
You do not have to take all six of our Beginning,
Intermediate, and Advanced Ballroom levels to
participate. But you do have to demonstrate a
certain proficiency in all six dances.
In other words, the Accelerated Program will only be
able to move rapidly if all students attain a certain
standard ahead of time. Dakota is more
than willing to help each student fill in the gaps
with one or two private lessons if necessary.
I LEAD, YOU FOLLOW: FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE
For the first 30 years of this studio, my
students asked me for courses and as soon as I could
find a teacher, I offered them. In other
words, I reacted like any intelligent businessman to
the requests of my customers.
Now for the first time in studio history, I have put
together a dance program before my students are
completely ready and I am asking you to try it.
In other words, now I am "Leading" and asking you to
I am suggesting the time is right for many of our
students to check out "Ballroom Dancing". I
suspect you will be very pleased.
Am I looking for increased profits?
No. Not even hardly. Money has
absolutely nothing to do with it. 2006
is one of the most successful years in
studio history. Thank you all very
much by the way. I am pushing Ballroom
Dance because as the studio 'matures', I
need to show leadership and organize
something that will be fun for all of us.
Six years ago,
I decided to give Dance Cruises a
try. Since then, many of you
have discovered what a great idea
studio cruises are.
These cruises led to another big
discovery - Thanks to the Captain's
Reception, the Crown and Anchor
Reception, and Ballroom Dancing in
the Centrum, many of us learned for
the first time just how much fun
Ballroom Dancing can be!
Many of you had an absolute blast
showing off your dance skills!
read the story:
The Love Boat
But why should we have to wait to go
on a cruise to enjoy Ballroom
Why not dance it on land at our own
studio? I am telling you we
need to get a different kind of
dance party started. Just like
I organized the studio, just like I
organized the cruises, now I am
convinced it is time to persuade all
of you to help me get Ballroom
Dancing established here at SSQQ.
Are you on board yet?
Many SSQQ students are
reaching the same stage of life as me - a time when
words like "Romance", "Sophistication", "Style", and
"Beauty" begin to acquire an increased appreciation.
I have already discovered that Ballroom Dancing
embraces each of these words and allows people to
express them through dance.
It starts with Ballroom Practice Night. I need
all of you to participate!
As I have stated, my original concept of having 3 satellite Practice Nights combined with
"General Ballroom Dancing" in Room One continually
failed because we were not developing a core group of
students interested in "Ballroom Dance"
per se. Everyone saw the trees, but not
the forest. Some wanted to learn Tango, some wanted to learn Cha
Cha, but they all skipped the big picture.
I developed a love for
each of the Ballroom dances, but it didn't happen
until I had a reason to practice. In my case, it was
my upcoming wedding that got me out on the Ballroom
Dance floor. That is when I developed an
appreciation for all the other dances as well.
However our old system didn't showcase the other
dances to our students at all - most of them skipped Room One
This is why I decided to change gears and try a
different approach. With the exception of
Swing, from now on, we will give equal value to the
five remaining dances.
Interestingly enough, it all works out the same in
As it stands, we now have an
Ballroom Program. (2 months Beginning, 2
months Intermediate, 2 months Advanced, 12 months
For example, take Tango. Under our previous
system you would have had 4 months of "nothing but
Tango" which would add up to 32 hours. Our new
system adds up to 27 hours of Tango. My guess
is you will cover the same amount of material.
I understand the new system will take some getting
used to since all of our students have been trained
to take "one dance at a time". Instead I am
asking you to learn to take "Ballroom Dancing", not
just Tango, not just Waltz.
In addition, I
ask all of you to help me make Ballroom Practice Night
Don't do it for me, do it for yourselves.
Anyone who read my Intro story can see the only way a man is
going to learn 3 dances at a time is to practice after
each class. Otherwise he will never get any feel for
any of the dances. Practice is the key to improvement.
Practice is also the key to the pleasures of
Furthermore, if you stick around and encourage the
other members of your class to do the same, you will
be rewarded with the chance to dancing with your
friends to some of the most beautiful music you have
ever heard every Sunday evening.
Then when we have a Saturday night Ballroom Dance or
we take a Dance Cruise on the Rhapsody, we can fill
the Ballroom floor and have the time of our lives.