Patsy Swayze
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So Long, Patsy Swayze

Written by Rick Archer
September 2013

(Note: my story is further below)

Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze, dies at 86

Los Angeles Times / September 18, 2013
By Devin Kelly

Dancer-choreographer Patsy Swayze,  the mother of late actor Patrick Swayze, died Monday at age 86.

Choreographer and dance instructor Patsy Swayze, who trained her late actor son Patrick Swayze on his way to "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" fame, has died. She was 86.

Swayze died Monday evening at her home in Simi Valley, said publicist Annett Wolf. A cause of death was not given, though the Houston Chronicle reported Swayze suffered a stroke on Sept. 8.

The Houston native choreographed the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” for which she coached John Travolta on the movements of the two-step. Her other cinematic choreography credits include “Liar’s Moon” and “Hope Floats.”

For the 2003 film “One Last Dance,” Swayze worked with Patrick Swayze and daughter-in-law Lisa Niemi Swayze, who also directed the film. Lisa was a teenage student at Patsy Swayze's dance studio when she met Patrick; the couple married in 1975.

Broadway star Tommy Tune, “Fame” director Debbie Allen and actors Randy Quaid and Jaclyn Smith are among Patsy Swayze's other former pupils. Her five children became actors and dancers.

Her interest in dance was sparked after a childhood car accident. Her mother enrolled her in dance classes to help her recover from the accident and rebuild her strength, which ignited a love that eventually led to a career, Swayze told a Simi Valley newspaper in 2007.

Swayze founded and directed the Houston Jazz Ballet Company and also ran her own studio. She was a resident choreographer at a number of local institutions and for 18 years taught dance at the University of Houston.

Hollywood came knocking after the success of “Urban Cowboy,” and in 1980 Swayze moved her family to California. She directed a dance studio in Simi Valley for more than two decades, instructing in styles that ranged from classical ballet to American jazz.

She died just two days after the fourth anniversary of Patrick Swayze's 2009 death from pancreatic cancer.


So Long, Patsy Swayze

Written by Rick Archer
September 2013

I just got word that my friend Patsy Swayze passed away on Monday.  Patsy, as you might have guessed, was Patrick Swayze’s mother. 

I knew Patsy very well.  Back in the mid-Seventies, probably 1976, I saw her dance company perform at a Houston festival of some sort.  I was instantly hooked. I wanted to learn to dance jazz like they did!  So I asked one of the pretty dancers who they were.  The young lady said this was the Houston Jazz Ballet Company and they were taught by Patsy Swayze.

The following week I called for a schedule.  I learned there was an “adult” beginning jazz class that I could join, so there I was. 

I took lessons from Patsy for at least two years.  I soon learned to my eternal sadness that I did not have the dance talent to ever be a member of her dance company.  But that didn’t stop me from wishing and hoping.  Always the persistent one, I never missed a class.

Patsy took a shine to me.  She admired my stubborn work ethic.  Like many great teachers, her heart always went out to the ones like me who may not have the most talent, but tried the hardest anyway. 

I had one very bad habit.  Due to a small curvature of the spine, I lacked good posture. I can still remember Patsy reminding me at least once a class to suck my tummy in. 

“Suck it in, Rick!”  Oh, how I got mad at myself!  Unfortunately, I never quite mastered that secret.  To this day, I still forget and catch my tummy pooching out at random moments during class.  And every time it happens, I always think of Patsy. 

Although Patsy was about 20 years older than me, that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.  About twice a month I would take off work early and show up at her studio so we could go have coffee before class.  We had wonderful conversations about Patrick, her son who was now appearing in “Grease” on Broadway.  Alas, I never met him.  However, I learned quite a bit about him just from listening.

Patsy’s son Patrick was nicknamed Buddy or "Little Buddy" after his dad, Big Buddy.

According to Patsy, Patrick was a serious high school heart throb. She called him her “Big Hunk”.  Going to school at Waltrip just a few blocks from Patsy’s studio in Northwest Houston, Patrick had a busy schedule.

After strenuous football practices, he'd show up at dance practice and go through another grueling practice under his mom.  Patsy taught serious technique and saved her strongest criticism for her son.  As she liked to say, from the best, she demanded the best.

Patsy made sure that her son stayed humble.  She admitted she would sometimes chew him in out in front of everyone.  To her secret delight, Patrick always accepted the criticism in stride.  It was always “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.”   Patsy smiled broadly when she shared that story.

As for me, Patsy never once chewed me out.  Never.  I was the type who thrived on encouragement, not criticism.  But Patsy's choleric personality was in full display when it came to her talented son.  She drove him to be the best.

Patsy’s oldest daughter Vicky was already performing in New York.  Patsy dreamed that Patrick would join his sister there someday.  She was giving him the kind of training that would prepare him for the real world of stage and screen.  

Patsy often talked of Patrick’s knee injury sustained playing football at Waltrip High School here in Houston.  She said Patrick was a terrific broad jumper.  He was also a heck of a football player.  He was well on his way to becoming an all-state running back when he got hurt.  Patsy was aghast.  It was very serious injury.  Patsy would cry when she spoke of it.

Here Patsy had been training this young man his entire life for a dance career in the theater and now his entire future was in jeopardy… thanks to football no less!  Patsy would roll her eyes.  I gathered she wasn’t a football fan.

Patsy said Patrick worked hard to rehabilitate the knee, but in her opinion he never again was the dancer he was before getting hurt. She would watch him and he always favored his bad knee.  I actually tried to spot what she was talking about when I saw Dirty Dancing, but I never saw him do anything odd with his dancing.  Obviously you would have to be Patsy Swayze to see the defect.

A couple years years ago, I bought a copy of Dirty Dancing and watched it again at home.  This time I noticed something.  Patrick was dancing the final scene with Jennifer Grey up on the stage when he suddenly jumped off the stage and landed down among the audience.  Except that we didn't see him actually land because the camera had cut away mid-leap.

I became suspicious.  Why did the camera cut away at the start of the leap and pick the action up once Swayze was already safely down on the floor?   Why would the camera avoid capturing such a dramatic leap?  It shouldn't be that difficult for a big, athletic guy like Swayze to jump from the stage unless....

.... unless of course his weak knee threatened to collapse upon full impact.  

I had my answer.  That's what Patsy had been talking about.

One of the things Patsy demanded of her son was that he “dance like a man”.  I don’t know how she did it, but there was nothing effeminate about the way Patrick Swayze moved.  This was an era when any man who danced was assumed to be gay (not that it mattered), but somehow no one ever bothered to stick that label on Patrick. 

He had a virile style of dancing that captivated audiences in “Dirty Dancing”.  The women absolutely swooned at his masculinity.  I admit to being very jealous when my date would start screaming in the movie theater!

When Patsy wasn’t talking about Patrick, she liked to talk about her dance school and her dance company.  She took so much pride in her role as a teacher.  These were the days before HSPVA (High School for Performing and Visual Arts) here in Houston.  As a result, practically every aspiring teenage dancer in Houston was taking classes from her. 

Patsy felt a huge responsibility and took her job seriously.  She knew some of these kids hoped to be professional dancers someday. 

One of the girls Patsy taught was Lisa Niemi, the woman Patrick would marry.  Patrick met Lisa at his mother’s studio.

Patsy would talk to me about dance and how to teach dance and how she got started.  Patsy worried about everything.  She would talk about how hard it was to pay her rent and how her classes didn’t seem to be growing.  Meanwhile, I soaked up every single word.  Maybe I knew my turn would come one day.

Disco hit big here in Houston in late 1977.  I stopped taking lessons not too long after that.  Thanks to a series of wonderful coincidences, I suddenly found myself teaching Disco dancing several nights a week.  Then I got a request to teach on Friday, the same night as my Jazz class. 

I knew there was a destiny in this path I was on.  Don’t ask me how I knew, but I knew I had entered a new phase of my life.  I had never expected that I might be a dance teacher someday, but those two years of jazz training had made a difference. I had become a far more graceful dancer.  I knew Patsy had come into my life for this reason.  I was sure of it.

With great sadness, I told Patsy I would be leaving her.  She completely understood.  In fact, she was happy for me.  We both had tears in our eyes as we hugged goodbye.  This was a special moment I will not forget.

I never saw Patsy again.  Soon I was teaching dance six nights a week and sometimes seven if there was a special event.  Working two jobs…. Full-time day job and part-time at night… I was far too busy to make time for our friendship.  So we lost track of each other. 

About two years later, I saw in the paper that Patsy had been hired to be the choreographer for Urban Cowboy being filmed here in Houston and Pasadena.  My first thought was that Patsy would be mad they didn’t select Patrick for the lead role instead of Travolta, but that wasn’t realistic.  Travolta was an established star while Patrick’s 1987 breakout role in Dirty Dancing was much further down the road.

Then I laughed out loud. What amused me greatly was remembering that I had once heard Patsy say kicker dancing was the most boring thing she had ever seen in her life.  Funny how a paycheck can change one’s attitude in a hurry!

Sure enough, Patsy was right about kicker dancing.  The dancing in the movie was pretty tame.  After being inspired by Saturday Night Fever, I was depressed after watching the lame dancing at Gilley’s in the movie.  However, there was one sequence where a couple in a dance contest did some Western Swing-style turns. 

I suppose a lot of people here in Houston besides me also took note because within a few months, those same double turns began to show up in the Houston nightclubs.  Overnight Western dancing started to get much more interesting... and complicated too.

That’s about the time I hung up my Disco clothes and put on blue jeans each night.  I guess I have to thank Patsy for helping my career along by adding those double turns to the movie.

From what I gather, after the movie Patsy closed her studio and moved out to Hollywood.  I think she wanted to be closer to her son.  I can imagine how it broke her heart to see her talented son Patrick die of cancer last year. 

Sadly, both Vicky and Patrick have passed away, but her two younger sons Donald and Sean still perform or participate in the Hollywood industry.

As for Patsy, she was 86.  Patsy Swayze was a heck of a woman.  I feel very fortunate to have shared time with her.  She taught me a lot.  And even some dancing too.

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