So Long, Patsy Swayze
Written by Rick Archer
(Note: my story is further below)
Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick
Swayze, dies at 86
Los Angeles Times / September
By Devin Kelly
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.