Ballroom Dancing
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LEARNING TO DANCE BALLROOM
Rick Archer, written July 2006

I had two very disappointing experiences with Ballroom Dancing back in 1975. 

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 natural.  


 

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STORY ONE BEGINS: FIRST LESSON

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 the now-defunct
Arthur Murray Houston studio.  It was located at the time on West Gray over in the River Oaks shopping area.  (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 person.  

Maggie and I had been dating for a month.  Maggie
knew I had been taking Disco lessons 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 with her.

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The first half-hour lesson consisted of one move to 3 different 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 fast?

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 learned?  The 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. 

I frowned 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 meeting.

Before my very eyes, Henry actually got out two Report Cards 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 Tango.

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 lamp.

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 Genie.

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 cared less. 

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 entire time.

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. 

Meanwhile Maggie 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 being funny.

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 instructor or I would have given that jerk a piece of my mind.

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY - TIME FOR THE SHAKEDOWN

As if my Report Card wasn't enough 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 us.  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 was ridiculous.

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!!  

And because they desperately needed our help with the Novice phase of the competition due
to our 'unusual promise', they would give us a Large Discount 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 destiny. 

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 anyone?  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 death". 

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 money'
  • 'we are kind of busy'
  • 'we don't know much about dancing'
  • 'not sure if this is right for us, couldn't we think about it?'
  • 'how about if we let you know next week?'

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 nausea.   I 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 all that 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 very determined 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 thousand dollar 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 the door.  

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 wanted out!  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 Cha could even speak! 

Staring down at the seated men, I gave them a look that said I meant business.

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 herself!

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 did 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!  Despite 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 there.

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.

How 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. 


IN RETROSPECT


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, t
his 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 without manipulation.  I did my job the best I could and hoped that was enough. 


CONTRACTS UPDATED


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 SSQQ 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.

Our 'no contract
philosophy' 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.


BALLROOM REVISITED

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 (1975).  Sorry to say, this was no tale of redemption. 

At first, 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.  (BALLROOM PRACTICE NIGHT)

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 improve. 

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 to quit.  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 it.

STORY 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."

--John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American poet. From "Maud Muller."

My second 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.

One day I noticed that the University of Houston Sundry School, a 1970s precursor to Leisure Learning, was offering a 6-week course in Ballroom Dance. 

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 taking karate. 

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 spinning! 

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 First Sight. 

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 older. 

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 to succeed.

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 week!"

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 anticipation.  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, Rick!"

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 attitude.

Indeed, Katie's 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 Ballroom! 

Graduation Night was an event Katie and I had talked about several times.  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 away.  At 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 after. 

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 fantasy?

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 there.

 

GRADUATION NIGHT AT MELODY LANE BALLROOM

Back in the 1970s, Melody Lane was a major landmark on the Ballroom Dance Scene.  Every Friday night, Al Marks and his Band 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 as Todd's.  

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 another story.

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 souls from our Beginning Ballroom class of 25 had shown up.  We all banded together at the table for courage.

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 Step! 

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 prospect.

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 she meant. 

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 Ballroom Dance. 

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. 

As we 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 soul. 

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 question. 

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 thoroughly hammered.  

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 appear 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 consternation.

As I 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 and Jack!

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 know?"  

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 pattern.'

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 just fine.  

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 was disappointed. 

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 the building.  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 Katie had 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 element. 

On the way home I analyzed what had gone wrong.  How could a woman who didn't know any 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 Katie again goodbye.   

POST MORTEM

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 for 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 format. 

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.  He 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 wounded.

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. 

Intensely 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!' 

Our new instructor walked in, took one look at us, then started to laugh.  Someone had the temerity to ask what he was laughing about. 

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 back.  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 embarrassment.  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 BALLROOM PROGRAM

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 been.

The 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.

Urban Cowboy 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 western. 

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 to go!! 

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 com
plicated 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 the country. 

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 the same.

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.

1998

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 6 - JAN 27, 1998
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
BALLROOM WALTZ - JULIE $42/34
SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA C $42/34
CHA CHA - AMANDA $42/34
INT. TANGO - MICHAEL $42/34
INT. SALSA MAMBO - BETH B $42/34
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ - JUDY $36/26

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.

1999

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 5 - JAN 26, 1999
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING - YVONNE $42/34
INT SWING - JEFF $42/34
BEG SALSA (MAMBO) - MAUREEN $42/34
INT SALSA (MAMBO) - JUDY $42/34
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. This meant 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 SALSA

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.

2000

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 11 - FEB 1, 2000
7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - LINDA $44/36
INT SALSA MAMBO - AMANDA $44/36
ADV SALSA MAMBO 2 - MAUREEN $44/36
LATIN CARNIVAL - 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 classes. 

2001

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 09 - JAN 30, 2001

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - ANDREW C $44/36
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO $44/36
ADV SALSA MAMBO 4 - JUDY $44/36
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA $44/36
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 class. 

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. 

2002

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 08 - JAN 29, 2002

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - ANDREW C $44/36
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO $44/36
ADV SALSA MAMBO 3 - JUDY $44/36
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA $44/36
BEG TANGO - YJ $44/36
BEG BALLROOM - PAULA $44/36

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 life.

2003

4 TUESDAYS
JAN 07 - JAN 28, 2003

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SALSA MAMBO - JIM $44/36
INT SALSA MAMBO - MO $44/36
ADV SALSA MAMBO 7 - JUDY $44/36
INT SALSA MERENGUE - LINDA $44/36
BEG TANGO - YJ $44/36
BEG BALLROOM - PAULA $44/36
(FOX, 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 was amazing.  

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.

2004

4 MONDAYS
AUG 30 - SEP 20, 2004

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG - STEVE $46/36
INT SWING/JITTERBUG - MAUREEN $46/36
ADV SWING/JITTERBUG - PATTY OH $46/38
ZOOT SUIT RIOT 2 - LISE $36/26
BEG BALLROOM DANCE - JUDY $46/38
INT TANGO - CHARLENE $46/38
SLOW DANCE & ROMANCE -
RICK

In 2004, the demand for Salsa had grown so great that I had no choice but to remove 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 pretty sad.

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 history.  

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 leave.

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 BALLROOM PROGRAM

2005

4 MONDAYS
JAN 03 - JAN 26, 2005

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG - PATTY OH $46/36
INT SWING/JITTERBUG - STEVE $46/36
ADV SWING/JITTERBUG - MAUREEN $46/38
ZOOT SUIT RIOT 6 - LISE $36/26
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ - RICK $46/38
BEGINNING BALLROOM - CHARLENE $46/38
SLOW DANCE/ ROMANCE- BETHANY$46/38
 

4 SUNDAYS
SEP 04 - SEP 25, 2005

4:00 - 6:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG - KRISTA $46/38
INT SWING/JITTERBUG - PATTY OH $46/38
BEG BALLROOM - MARLA $46/38
BEG TANGO - AMANDA $46/38
BEG NIGHT CLUB - ANITA $46/38
ADV BALLROOM WALTZ - TRACY $46/38
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.  The 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" because everyone was scattered in different corners of the studio. 

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. 

The Sunday Night 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.

2006

4 SUNDAYS
JAN 08 - JAN 29, 2006

4:00 - 6:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG - KRISTA $46/38
INT SWING/JITTERBUG - PATTY OH $46/38
BEG BALLROOM - LINDA $46/38
BEG CHA CHA - DAKOTA $46/38
BEG TANGO - MARLA $46/38
ADV TANGO - RICK $46/38
BEG FOXTROT - JILL $46/38

4 SUNDAYS
APR 30 - MAY 21, 2006

7:00 - 9:00 PM
BEG SWING/JITTERBUG - KRISTA $46/38
INT SWING/JITTERBUG - PATTY OH $46/38
BEG BALLROOM I - LINDA $46/38
(SWING, FOXTROT, WALTZ)
RUMBA RHAPSODY - DAKOTA $46/38
ADV TANGO - RICK $46/38
BEG TANGO - MARLA $46/38
BEG FOXTROT - JILL $46/38

 

WILL BALLROOM DANCE EVER CATCH ON AT SSQQ?

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 sophistication, 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 crowd.

THE NEW SSQQ BALLROOM PROGRAM

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 time.

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 repetition.
  His program will cover two straight months of all six dances.

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.

xx

I LEAD, YOU FOLLOW: FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BALLROOM PROGRAM

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 "Follow".

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!
(Please read the story: The Love Boat & Bon Voyage

But why should we have to wait to go on a cruise to enjoy Ballroom Dancing?
 
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 completely! 

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 the end.

As it stands, we now have an 18 month Ballroom Program.  (2 months Beginning, 2 months Intermediate, 2 months Advanced, 12 months Accelerated Ballroom).

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 successful. 

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 Ballroom Dancing. 

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.

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