HSDS-SSQQ Controversy 1998:
The Harvest Moon Ball Incident
Written by Rick Archer
(Last update: May, 2007)
Any student of chess or
military history will confirm the tremendous advantage of "getting there
first." For example, the battle of Gettysburg was
won by the North largely because the North got to the high ground
shortly before the South did. Despite superb tacticians and many
brave soldiers, the South could never seem to overcome the disadvantage
of fighting an "uphill struggle."
Back in 1998, SSQQ enjoyed a virtual monopoly as the place to go
to learn how to Swing Dance. All the credit goes to Judy Archer.
It was her pioneer work in bringing Lindy to Houston two years ahead of
anyone else in the city that established SSQQ's credibility (read
However, before the year was out, SSQQ would lose its
insurmountable position. This is the story.
SSQQ Wins the 1998 Houston Press
Award - "Best Place to Learn Swing Dance"
1998 was a year where HSDS and
SSQQ pretty much stayed out of each other's way until October rolled
around. There was a good reason for that - this was the year that Swing swept the nation.
Both organizations were swamped with people demanding
to learn how to Swing Dance. We were too busy to argue with each
We did our thing and they did theirs. Carnell trained for the American Lindy Hop Championships
and Judy formed a terrific new Swing team known as the "Swinging Skirts
In the Spring of 1998, the
Jump Jive and Wail
Commercial took Swing Dancing to unprecedented heights. Consequently both organizations enjoyed
Our classes here at SSQQ were full
to the brim.
The studio's successful Swing program initiated SSQQ's sharp climb to
become the city's largest dance studio.
1998 SSQQ won the Houston Press Best of Houston
award for being the Best
Place in Houston to learn to Swing Dance.
We were very proud of the honor, but we didn't even know about the
contest until someone brought the Press in one day and showed us we had
won. The award was much appreciated and the write-up was quite
flattering. Judy Archer
deserved complete credit for the award.
pointed out earlier, one
very effective way to become a leader is to get there first.
had a two year head
start on everyone else here
It was Judy's pioneer work with the Lindy in 1995 and 1996 that brought
this dance to Houston well ahead of the pack.
The Houston Press Award was a much-deserved reflection of the 1998
strength of the SSQQ Swing Program.
MARTIANS ARE COMING
Despite my public smile over the award,
I was aware of an ominous development.
Seemingly out of nowhere, we had acquired a serious
rival to our Swing Monopoly of 1997.
Thanks mostly to the 1997 defection of one-time SSQQ
Swing Instructor Carnell Pipkin to HSDS, seemingly
out of nowhere HSDS had become a business competitor
with alarming speed. With Carnell as their
leader, in only one year's time, the new kid on the
block had managed to break SSQQ's 1997 stranglehold
on the Houston Swing Dance market.
Now thanks to a studio full of Swing
students and the September Houston Press Award,
spirits were high at SSQQ in October 1998.
Nonetheless, in my private thoughts I could not shake my
dismay over losing SSQQ's Swing Monopoly.
At the time of the Houston Press
award in September 1998, SSQQ still clearly held the
upper hand, but HSDS had my full attention. Where
SSQQ once had 100% of
the Houston market, by my estimate we now only had
OCTOBER 1998 -
THE DEBUT OF THE NEW SWING TEAM
Despite the growing HSDS
threat, SSQQ was in great shape. Our cupboard was stock full.
had the area's top Swing Program at SSQQ including the best classes
and the most students.
Judy maintained her reputation intact as Houston's leading
authority on Swing and Lindy dancing.
After Carnell's defection, Judy regrouped by
finding strong new teachers to replace Carnell.
After HSDS more or less
confiscated her 1997 Swing Team, Judy had replaced them as
well by conducting tryouts in early 1998 for a new Swing Team.
October was the month Judy's
much-vaunted new Swing Team would debut at the studio.
Judy's new Swing Team was
something of a secret weapon. Very few people at the studio -
including me - had ever seen them perform.
Judy had spent the early part of the year training them. This
past summer the new SSQQ Swing Team had performed several times
around the city as a way to get their act down.
Judy was breathless with
excitement as she described them to me. This new team was good. They called
themselves the Swinging Skirts and Mugz.
Obviously you had to
speak Swing jargon to appreciate their name. Fortunately their
dancing was a lot better than their name.
The team's acrobatics were
phenomenal, their showmanship was excellent, and Judy's choreography
was scintillating and clever.
This group of dancers was so talented that they were going to
put Judy back in the game. This team was definitely good
enough to take on the Hepcats, Carnell's performing team over at
At some point, there were would be showdown - the Hepcats and the
Swinging Skirts and Mugz were on a collision course to meet at some
point. This would match the Mentor - Judy - against her former
protégé - Carnell - to see just who had the better dance team.
This showdown would the Harvest Moon Ball in November.
But first we had the
October SSQQ debut of the Swinging Skirts and Mugz to
look forward to. SSQQ Swing students were chomping
at the bit to see them perform. They had heard the
rumors of how good they were. They wanted to see
them with their own eyes!
Actually the Skirts and Mugz already had developed a
following. SSQQ students had figured a simple way
to catch their act ahead of time - show up early for
Swing class on Monday and go into Room One to see them
practice. As long as they kept quiet, Judy didn't
mind if they watched. If anything, it was good
energy for her dancers to have this kind of support.
daring acrobatics and clever formations were impressive!
The word spread. More and more people showed up at the studio early
just to see them practice. There might be 20 or 30 people who sat
and watched the team practice all the time here at the studio before
classes started at 7 pm.
As their reputation grew over the
the whole studio clamored for the chance to see the dance team in action!
It was definitely time for a studio debut!
Judy was very proud of her new group of dancers.
They were the apple of her eye! Her hours of
hand-picking new talent, pouring over videotape and agonizing
over choreography was finally paying off. Judy had a right
to be proud; these dancers trained hard and looked great together.
Judy and I scheduled the Zoot Suit Riot Swing Dance here at the studio for
Saturday, October 17, as the perfect time to feature the studio's first performance of
Judy's second Swing team, the Swingin' Skirts and Mugz.
Finally everyone at SSQQ would be able to see them in action!
Thanks to the Jump Jive and Wail Gap
Commercial, 1998 Houston was flooded with Swing Fever.
The Orchid Lounge become the place to go for the best Swing
dancers in the city. The Orchid played DJ Swing music during the
week and hosted live Swing bands on the weekends. It was the
destination Mecca every night of the week for Swing dancers. The
place was usually mobbed!
The Orchid had opened in the Village which was conveniently
located within walking distance of
Rice University. Consequently a lot of Rice students took up
near-permanent residence at the Orchid to the dismay of their
parents who would have preferred they study over Swing Dancing.
But you know how that is.
The excitement over the October SSQQ Swing Team debut was not
limited just to SSQQ students. Every night at the Orchid Lounge rumors were spread that the
new SSQQ team
was phenomenal. This became a much-anticipated event
throughout the Houston Swing Community as well.
WHAT WAS MY ROLE IN ALL OF THIS?
At my wife's insistence, I pretty much kept my nose out of her
Swing affairs. Why argue with success? When it came to
Swing, Judy waved the golden wand.
I was content to spend my time with the other side of the studio - Western classes
and Whip classes. I also helped by writing stories about the
Swing phenomenon. In 1998 I had developed an interesting new
hobby - writing stories for my new SSQQ web site. For example,
one of my first projects was the
in case you are curious.
That didn't mean I was oblivious. I taught some Swing
classes too and kept an open eye. And for good reason - I
could not help but notice that HSDS would not leave us alone!
One reason for their rapid rise as a business competitor was
their aggressive (and, in my opinion, unethical) business
tactics. The constant presence of HSDS
representatives at our Swing Practice Nights continued to get under
my skin. Watching them hand out HSDS flyers when they didn't
think I was looking, taking down email
addresses, and actually trying to recruit SSQQ Swing students right under our
noses was really getting on my nerves.
In all the years I have operated SSQQ, not once have I ever sent a
teacher or students to another organization to spread disinformation
or recruit students. I could not understand why HSDS couldn't
keep its hands off of our business.
I guess I should not have been so naive. When it came to
meddling, there was no one superior to Carnell Pipkin.
October 16, 1998 - THE NIGHT THE SKY BEGAN TO FALL
On Friday, October 16, a dark cloud from the past reemerged at
the worst possible time. That night Carnell Pipkin left a message on Judy's answering
machine announcing he was planning to attend the party the following
night. He had her private unlisted number because they had
worked hand in hand for over a year together. And Judy
hadn't seen any reason to change it.
In our house, the Pipkin name was
synonymous with Benedict Arnold, the infamous Revolutionary War
traitor. I was stunned at the sheer nerve of the man to think he
would be welcome at our studio! The Audacity of that man was
something to behold.
Surely the timing of this call was no coincidence. Don't you think he had his
own agenda? After all, in the past year and a half he had become
leader of the Houston Swing Scene and the main man at the SSQQ
spin-off organization HSDS.
Maybe he just wanted to check out the competition. Or perhaps he felt threatened by the
return of his former mentor.
Neither of us ever wanted to see this man again. I told Judy to get
on the phone and un-invite Carnell. I told her to tell him he was
not welcome at my studio. Fortunately Judy is more polite than I am.
Judy gave was that she would
not be comfortable with Carnell at the dance so she would much
rather that he not attend.
That was all that she said.
Since Carnell had a recording of Judy's
message, I think it is safe for you to assume I am telling the
If I told anything but the truth, his tape would have
contradicted me long ago.
October 17 - Zoot Suit Riot!!
One night later, the October 17 Zoot Suit Riot Swing Party turned out to be a tremendous
success. As advertised, Judy's Swing Team was just fabulous. Well
over 200 people screamed in appreciation at their performance.
The house was rockin'!
Sure enough, the Swingin' Skirts and Mugz
were the unquestioned stars of the evening.
Everyone at the
studio fell over each other trying to tell the various dancers
what a great job they had done. The Swing Team members were
instant studio heroes.
No one else knew about Carnell's threat to attend. But
believe me when I say I had an eye on the door all night. When
the party was over, both Judy and I breathed a huge sigh of relief
that Carnell had not
shown up with his entourage.
We did not mind at all avoiding an ugly scene.
Little did we know.
Next Up - The Harvest Moon Ball
Now that the Zoot Suit Riot dance was over, the next big event on the horizon was the prestigious Harvest Moon Ball Swing Dance in late November.
The Harvest Moon Ball was sponsored by Swing dancers over at
Judy's dance team was very excited about being asked to perform at
Rice. College campuses around the country were
embracing the Swing energy with enthusiasm and Rice was no
The Orchid Lounge was located just down the street from Rice in the
Village. This meant the Swing Mecca was within walking distance
of the campus. With this added incentive, Swing dancing became
huge at Rice University.
From what I gathered, the Rice students were heavily connected
to everybody on the Swing Scene. Over at the Orchid Lounge, they
spread the word about the HMB. Everybody who was anybody
in the Swing Community would definitely be there.
The Skirts and Mugz licked their lips with anticipation. Most of
the team members were academics themselves and consequently had many friends
over at Rice.
Adding to their
enthusiasm would be the presence of their main rivals - the HSDS
Hepcats - at the Harvest Moon Ball. Already the bets were
being made on a nightly basis at the Orchid Lounge on which team
was better. Bragging rights were on the line!
What better place to show their Rice buddies and the rest of the
Swing World what they could do! The Swing Team was pumped
and primed for action. Fresh off their heroics at the Zoot
Suit Riot Party, they could barely contain their excitement.
The Harvest Moon Ball would be their chance to show the entire
Houston Swing community what they were capable of.
TROUBLE COME LOOKING FOR JUDY
Four days after the Zoot Suit Riot Party, Judy received a bad surprise.
On Wednesday, October 21, she received a phone
call from Ann Pan, a Rice University graduate student who was on the
Harvest Moon Ball Organizing Committee.
Ann said she was calling to get
Judy's side of the story regarding a very serious allegation made by
It seems Carnell had filed a complaint by email with the HSDS Board
concerning our refusal to allow him to visit the studio for the
October 17 Party.
Carnell wasn't going to take this snub laying down!
He had decided to play hard ball.
Why was he allowed not to attend our party? After all,
everyone else in the city was there but him. Carnell had been
uninvited. This was the classic definition of
ACCUSATION OF DISCRIMINATION
Discrimination is a very powerful word, especially when the
word involves a person of color as it did in this situation.
I am at a bit of a disadvantage because I was never permitted to
read or hear exactly what Carnell's complaint to the HSDS Board
said. I do not know if Carnell played the race card or not.
I do know that later when the rumors began to fly, the race card was
used liberally and resulted in hurt feelings all around.
Carnell was definitely not welcome, but
it had nothing to do with the color of his skin.
That I can assure you.
Carnell had previously taken lessons at SSQQ and had been paid to
teach here for two years without any evidence of racial prejudice.
I would like to pose a question: How many people who are your direct
business competitor phone you at home on an unlisted private number
to ask if it is okay to come to your party? Carnell knew full
well in advance that he would not be welcome. Does anyone
smell a set-up? This entire affair seemed to be a page torn
from the Richard Nixon Cookbook of Dirty Tricks.
The real reason we asked Carnell to not attend the party was because
he was the most formidable opponent we had ever encountered.
We had not even begun to forgive Carnell for the events of 1997.
Judy and I could not have cared less about the color of his skin.
We 'un-invited' him for the reason that we considered Carnell to be
our most dangerous business enemy.
However, I can understand how people who are unfamiliar
with SSQQ's reputation might have inadvertently wondered
if race played a factor. And even if the HSDS
Board didn't consider the race issue, the fact remained
that their leader had presented them with indisputable
evidence that Judy and Rick Archer had deliberately
In order to
truly grasp what was going on, you have to understand that only
perhaps a half dozen people in the City of Houston had a clue about
the bad blood between Judy and Carnell from the year before.
In other words, the entire city was flying blind on this event.
about Carnell, I said I considered him "treacherous" and went into
great detail to explain why I said that. But that story did
not exist in 1998. All people had to go on was what Carnell
And based on what Carnell said, Who wouldn't be mad?
Angered by Carnell's statement, the HSDS Board rushed
to his defense. They in turn put
pressure on the Rice University organizers to "dis-invite" Judy's
Swing Team in retaliation for the snub.
At first glance, who can blame the Board members of HSDS? We were
almost a year removed from the date Carnell finally left
SSQQ in 1997 under a dark cloud. Judy told me she preferred to
keep the matters quiet at the time. What good
would it do?
This meant SSQQ had never publicly addressed the
problems we had in dealing with Carnell. Therefore,
on the surface, the members of the HSDS Board could not dream of a reason why their
Star Dancer, Top Teacher and Fearless Leader was not permitted to attend the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot Party!
I doubt these people had even the
slightest clue what the real story
To my knowledge, only one person
bothered to find out what the facts were. That was
Ann Pan. As a Rice University Graduate Student,
not only was she on the Harvest Moon Ball organizing
committee, she was also an HSDS member (although I do
not think she was a Board Member).
Since Ann was the person from Rice who had
originally invited the Skirts and Mugz to perform, she
had the wherewithal to ask for the SSQQ version of the
events before any action was taken.
That is when Ann Pan,
the woman from Rice who had originally invited the Skirts and Mugz to perform, decided to
get involved. She had the wherewithal to ask for the SSQQ
version of the events before any action was taken. Good for
Ms. Pan began her phone conversation with Judy by
explaining the alleged discourtesy towards Mr. Pipkin
was cited as the main reason that the SSQQ Swing team was no
longer welcome. (Nice move, HSDS!)
As Judy listened to Ann's account of what had happened, Judy was aghast.
Was this really happening?
Finally Judy took a deep breath and began to explain her side of the
story. Judy admitted there had been an
incident involving Carnell the past Friday, but there was a lot
more to the story that Ann Pan was unaware of.
Judy told Ann that while it was true that Carnell wasn't welcome at our studio, it
had nothing to do with race. It had everything to do with the way
had figuratively stabbed her in the back in 1997. Because it was a long and complicated
story, Judy and Ann Pan spent well over an hour on the phone discussing the
After the phone call
Judy broke down and cried. She knew from past experience with
Carnell that this meant real trouble. I recall that Judy was particularly upset at the thought that the
Board at HSDS was involved in an issue that should have been handled
by the Harvest Moon Ball Committee.
Judy had originally been told
that HSDS had "nothing to do" with the Harvest Moon Ball.
John Covey, one of the Skirts and Mugz Swing team members, had
specifically said that this
was a Rice event put on by Rice students. It was only after
receiving this assurance that Judy had given her approval to have her team participate.
But now Judy discovered the hard way that quite a few people held dual memberships with
the Rice Harvest Moon Ball Organizing Committee and HSDS including
learned she would now have to receive HSDS permission to perform. Take a guess
how Judy felt about that piece of information.
Judy offered to fall upon her sword. Judy knew how keenly the Skirts
and Mugz wanted to dance at the HMB. Judy said if it would remove
the obstacle, she had no objection to let them perform without her.
I got angry when I heard Judy say that. As I said earlier, it was Judy's preference
that I stay on the sidelines through these battles, but I still
cared a lot about the problems. As Judy related the events of
her phone conversation, I shook my head in disbelief.
In my opinion, Judy had done nothing wrong. Carnell had already
proven to be the most serious threat to our business we had ever
come across. Just because we didn't like him didn't mean we
didn't respect his talent. After all, without his charisma, it is very
unlikely that HSDS would ever have gotten off the ground.
Before Carnell's defection, SSQQ had a lock as the
Number One place to go to learn Swing dancing. Now
our market share had dwindled to 70%. We had lost a lot of students to HSDS
due to Carnell's great dance talent. It isn't easy
to replace a champion. HSDS was a serious competitor and a big thorn in our side to boot.
And I am sure that in addition to supporting their
champion, HSDS didn't mind a bit sticking a dagger to
SSQQ by preventing our celebrated new Swing Team from
performing at the prestigious Harvest Moon Ball.
What a golden opportunity!
It was our position that a business has the right to protect itself from a
known predator. That is the sole reason that we told Carnell
to take a hike. But now because Carnell was whining about his
mistreatment, politics had reared their ugly head. However, no
one seemed to know the story behind the story.
Judy could see
she was being
set up as the fall guy.
What a nasty game.
THE DIRT UNDER THE CARPET
I knew Judy was upset. So was
I. But I wondered if Carnell even remotely
understood the chance that he was taking.
This stunt of his could very easily backfire!
I thought he would be smarter than that.
Too late. Carnell had just opened himself
to complete public scrutiny.
Carnell had behaved unethically in the
previous year. Now he had handed us
an excuse to bring out all the dirty laundry.
I was bursting at the seams for the opportunity
to write a letter to my own students and to the
SSQQ Board! It was time to turn the
table on him.
I told Judy she didn't have to take that
treatment from anybody.
I explained to Judy that no one understood the problem. They
were all flying in the dark!
All Judy had to do was let me explain to her team
and to the world what was going on. I was certain when the
facts came out, everyone would be just as offended
as I was. They would spread the word and the whole mess would die
down. Judy replied by saying she preferred to write the letter
herself. She wasn't sure Ann had completely
understood her position, so she sat down and started to write a
lengthy letter to Ann.
Meanwhile, immediately after the phone call, Ann Pan did some writing
of her own. Ms. Pan did her best to chronicle Judy's version of the
events that had led to this awkward incident involving Carnell.
Ms. Pan typed up her notes from the conversation and forwarded them via
email to the HSDS Board.
In May 2005, Ann Pan shared her notes with me as well.
chance, in 2005, Ms. Pan had Googled her name on the Internet and was brought to
article on the Harvest Moon Ball. Surprised to see her name associated with
my story of this event,
Ann was upset that I had not gotten certain facts right.
If her name was going to be in the story, then I better get my story
Suddenly aware of a new source of information, I imagined her notes
had a great deal of relevance. That is when Ms. Pan offered to make
them available to me.
In an email to Rick Archer dated May 2005, Ms. Pan had this to say:
From: Ann Pan
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 8:32 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: hsds swing controversy.htm
Here is the timeline of events.
Saturday, September 26, 1998
* I personally invited the SSQQ performance group, which didn't have
a name at the time, to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball through John
Covey while at the Vapor Room.
Monday, September 28, 1998
* I once again invited the SSQQ group to perform at the Harvest Moon
Ball via an email to John.
Friday, October 16, 1998
* The SSQQ performance group accepted the invitation to perform at
the Harvest Moon Ball, via an email from John, and chose to call
themselves the SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz.
* Judy Archer left a message on Carnell Pipkin's CallNotes stating
that he was NOT welcome to attend the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot (SSQQ
swing party) the following day. The reason she gave was that she
would not be comfortable with Carnell at the dance so she would much
rather that he not attend.
Saturday, October 17, 1998
* The date for the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot, the swing party that Carnell
was uninvited to.
* Carnell notified the HSDS board via email about the uninvite.
Wednesday, October 21, 1998
* Ann called Judy on the phone and had a lengthy telephone
conversation with Judy (and Rick) on Wednesday, October 21, 1998.
The call was primarily prompted by Carnell being uninvited to the
SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot on Saturday, October 17. I wrote down what was
discussed in the phone conversation and forwarded it in a lengthy
email to the HSDS Board members. In the phone conversation, Judy
offered to not perform with the SSQQ group at the Harvest Moon Ball.
The opinion of the HSDS Board was that the SSQQ performance
group (including Judy) was still welcome to perform at the Harvest
Moon Ball despite the SSQQ incident with Carnell.
Wednesday, November 4, 1998
* I sent an email to John stating that the SSQQ group would perform
at 9pm, followed by Carnell & Tena.
Sunday, November 15, 1998
* The SSQQ group told me verbally through one of their members that
they would not be able to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball because a
couple of their members could not make the performance time.
Monday November 16, 1998
* I received an email via John stating how the SSQQ group had
decided to not perform at the Harvest Moon Ball. No reason was
Friday, November 20, 1998
* The date of the Harvest Moon Ball at Rice University.
* Judy's team was not prevented from
performing. The SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz chose not to perform.
The only reason I was given was because some of their members could
not make the performance time.
As you can see from the timeline above, the HSDS Board met the same night as the Judy-Ann phone
As the result of Ann
Pan's work, cooler heads prevailed. Ms. Pan stated that the HSDS Board
consented to sanction the SSQQ Swing Team's performance despite
actions towards Carnell.
Ms. Pan obviously went to a great amount of time and trouble to mediate
through the discord at Rice and HSDS. She is to be commended for her
efforts. She did everything she could to create peace despite the obvious anger of the HSDS
Board and the HMB Rice Organizing Committee.
Unfortunately, despite all the work Ms. Pan did, the damage was
Carnell was "The Face" of the Houston Swing Dance
Society. Not only was Carnell a co-founder of HSDS, he was their
number one teacher, he was the lead dancer and choreographer of the Hepcat Swing Team, and along
with Tena Morales he was the reigning 1998 American Lindy Hop
In short, Carnell was HSDS! And Carnell had officially told the HSDS Board that SSQQ had openly
Only a small handful of
people who had been there at the start of HSDS were still hanging around
the Swing Scene. It didn't matter anyway because most of them didn't
know what had gone on between Judy and Carnell in the first place.
Therefore the vast majority of people on the Swing Scene had absolutely no
idea what had gone on between SSQQ and Rowena/Carnell back in 1997.
Carnell's accusation had stirred up some powerful emotions. Just
like an Old West morality tale, the desire to punish someone - Judy
and by extension her Swing Team - was mighty powerful.
That is when Ann Pan
stood up and said let's get the facts first.
Unfortunately her voice of reason was too little and too
heads could prevail, someone leaked the news of what Carnell's email to the HSDS Board had said.
This initiated as they say a big brouhaha or should I say "a big
stink". Pandora's Box had been opened and the demons were
free to do their ugly work.
Word of Carnell's accusations spread like wild fire. The peace
was broken. The Feud was "On" again. The entire week the
Orchid Lounge buzzed with rumors of all the mean things that Judy had
said and done to Carnell.
Since no one outside of SSQQ had the slightest inkling of our
history with Carnell Pipkin, there was no voice of reason to keep
the rumors in check.
THE TIME HAS COME FOR AN
On the surface our actions had to seem blatant and uncalled for.
It looked like we had deliberately insulted Carnell, quite possibly
because he was black.
Do you blame them?
What else were people to think? They only had one side of
We found ourselves smack
dab in the middle of a perception battle, a battle in which SSQQ
and Judy were getting hammered because no one knew our side of
Judy's intense desire for privacy was coming back to haunt her.
I told Judy the best thing to do was explain the story on our web
site. By saying nothing, our very silence seemed to support
We had absolutely nothing to hide. Yes, our anger towards Carnell
had been kept in-house till now, but since he made it public, we had
no choice but to go public as well.
THIS INSANITY HAS TO
Confronted with these stories, I
went to discuss our next move with Judy.
This had gone far enough. Carnell had taken a
huge gamble. This entire affair could
boomerang on him badly just like the kid who calls "Wolf" in the
forest. I went to Judy and asked her if she was done with her
She replied yes. She had finished her letter to Ann Pan. In fact,
she handed me a copy to read.
After I finished reading it, I looked at her. I smiled and
told her it was a great letter. Judy had calmly laid out in
logical order every lousy thing Carnell had ever done to her.
That is when I told Judy I wanted to publish her letter on my web site.
Judy's face went white. She shook her head no.
said she had decided to let
Carnell off the hook. Judy insisted that we not say anything
I stared at her blankly.
Finally I said, "Are you out of your mind, Judy?"
There ensued the first of what would be many serious debates on
to Judy that Carnell had essentially stabbed her
with what she and I both knew was a lie.
After all, the pen is mightier than the sword!
Judy would not have any part of it.
I became very frustrated with Judy. I could not believe she had
just refused to let me publish her letter. Then I asked her if
she minded if I wrote a story of my own.
minded. Judy did not wish for me to say
one word in public.
I became apoplectic!
Now that my SSQQ web site was up and
running, it would take me all of 5 minutes to
put her letter to Ann Pan on the Internet for
the entire city to see at the click of a mouse.
That was how easy it would be to clear up this
ENTIRE STUPID MESS!
We could kill this publicity nightmare and stop
But Judy said no.
I knew Judy's usual reaction to problems was to retreat to a
safe place. She has an intense fear of
anger and controversy. But I I told her we were in the middle of
a nasty smear campaign. There was some serious mud-slinging going
on because no one else but her and I and Carnell knew what had
happened last year.
By not fighting back, we were making it look like Carnell
had told the truth!
If you do not respond, you give the appearance that you have
something to hide.
Judy would not give in. She told me I had no right to draw her
deeper into this pain by publishing a story on the Internet.
Judy and I went round
and round and round on this. I was dumbfounded by
her stubbornness. I told her we would pay dearly
if we let this pass. This was not the kind of
rumor to allow to stand to grow unchecked.
This story could really hurt us! I
implored Judy to let me handle this my way.
But Judy refused to give in.
Curiously, it was my first wife Pat who had taught me
lesson in dirty business. Too bad the victim had to be me.
Pat showed me that in nasty events like this both sides of the story
need to be heard.
Pat had struck me three times
in public with two dozen witnesses. What was my
offense? Pat was angry at me that I wouldn't take
pictures of her and me down from the wall at the studio. Even
though I never raised a hand in self-defense, Pat knocked me
senseless and left me bleeding.
I assumed that with 24 witnesses watching the blood stream down my
face, a situation this obvious did not require an explanation on my
part. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" and stuff like
that. Bad move on my part.
Left to manufacture her own version of what happened, I was
incredulous to discover Pat had managed to spin the
story to her own advantage! Pat's brilliant PR job had twisted the
truth against me.
That is how I learned first-hand that
Perception is Reality.
In Politics, it doesn't matter what the truth is. It
just matters what people believe the truth is.
I explained this to Judy.
But Judy wouldn't listen. Judy may have been a magnificent
dance coach, but her fear of public scrutiny was her Achilles
heel. Judy said "NO."
Finally I gave up. Judy was my wife. She was the
mother of our daughter. She was a major part of the
studio. Judy was the reason that Swing had become so big
at the studio in the first place. I could lash out against
Carnell on my own, but where would that leave my marriage as
well as the most important instructor on my Staff?
I was crest-fallen. It was time to
counter-attack, but her reluctance had completely muzzled me. I
had a bad feeling about this.
Afraid to stick out her neck, Judy retreated into her shell
while I fell into a deep
depression. I felt helpless rage at her unwillingness to
allow me come
to her defense.
There had always been a legend of bad blood between our
organizations. Carnell had his side of it and we had ours. But
since Carnell was the only one talking, his version was the one
that was widely believed.
What an incredible stroke of fortune for Carnell. He had left
himself very exposed, but had come out looking like a hero. I
just shook my head in disgust. I guess his nickname wasn't
"Lucky" by accident.
DAMAGE IS DONE
Now as a result of our silence, unchecked rumors flew everywhere
about what Judy had done to Carnell. Over at the Orchid Lounge,
the great watering hole of all Swing Dancers, a lot of mean comments
were directed at Judy by
individuals from HSDS rushing to Carnell's defense. SSQQ
had deliberately snubbed him!
and I listened as our students would relay some of the comments back
to us. I could see that Judy seethed inside, but she still refused to let me retaliate.
I am aware that a well-known Christian
virtue is the ability to turn the other cheek,
but I have to say the way this incident played
out does not appear to support that saying.
Maybe we should have tried the "soft answer that
turneth away wrath."
At least say something! Our silence was
For Every Action There is a Reaction - The Swing Team Fights
Nevertheless a backlash ensued. The unchecked bitterness directed at Judy provoked the members of the
SSQQ Swing Team to rush to Judy's defense. They didn't know the
whole story about Carnell, but people who had been around a year
earlier like Maureen Brunetti filled them in. Now that the
Team Members knew what happened in 1997, they were outraged.
As a result,
they in turn were deeply offended by what Carnell had done and
by many of the things said
about Judy. They knew first hand that Judy was not a monster and that
Judy was certainly no bigot.
Nor did they appreciate the irony of now that they now needed HSDS
permission to perform at Rice!
Although quite a few of the Swing
team dancers visited HSDS on occasion and had no particular axe of
their own to grind, they were all quite aware that Judy viewed HSDS
as her greatest enemy.
The SSQQ Swing Team members tried to tell the HSDS people what
Maureen had told them about Carnell's activities in 1997. The
HSDS people laughed at them derisively and shouted them down.
Before this incident the Swing Team members weren't quite sure why
Judy didn't like HSDS, but now the arrogance and
hostility of the HSDS people over at the Orchid had given them a
first-hand view. Furthermore, they didn't like the way they
were being treated either! No one likes to be told to shut up.
Now a loyalty to defend
their besieged leader developed.
In addition, the team members were also angry because they had experienced a lot of
ridicule themselves due to their association with Judy and SSQQ.
Some of the taunts had been directed at them too.
It was not a pretty scene... all because people remained ignorant of
The Swing Team felt disrespected
by people they once thought were their friends.
In fact, they were even more caught up
in the mess than Judy was because they were out on the front
lines taking all the heat. Now Judy's fight had become
their fight too.
Furthermore, what business did HSDS have telling
them what they could or could not do on supposedly neutral
territory over at Rice University?
Originally they had been "invited". Now they needed
"permission". It was a big difference.
The dancers were mad and wanted to lash back. Some of them
wanted to tell the HSDS Board and the HMB Organizers to go to
hell. The other half wanted to perform and hold their heads high
as they displayed their talent.
Nothing could appease the dance team after they watched Judy being
put through the wringer. Resentments festered as the team debated for a month whether they would perform or not.
Everyone felt like HSDS was rubbing their faces in mud. The
level of contempt and disrespect towards them was more bitter than
many of these young adults had ever experienced before. Most
of all, they were angry that HSDS was able to turn their friends
over at Rice against them. This had become personal for many
An US against THEM Mentality had spread throughout the Swing
There is no doubt that HSDS treated the Harvest Moon Ball as their own event.
Carnell even said so himself. Here
is an excerpt from an email Carnell Pipkin sent me (April 28, 2000)
"The Harvest Moon Ball is an HSDS sponsored
event. NO groups are allowed to perform without first
getting an okay from the board of directors and we
determine the performance line-up. That is the rule. Although
HSDS DID NOT extend an invitation to the
now defunct Mugs and Skirts, we graciously welcomed them to
perform. However, your group did not like the time slot that was
given and they chose NOT to perform. Despite the fact that the
Board of Directors were upset about Judy's nasty little phone call
to me, we still had planned on letting them dance. But, they
decided not to. It was their decision, not ours."
more power to Carnell. He clearly had his fun.
THE SKIRTS AND
MUGZ DECIDE NOT TO PERFORM
Fed up with the taunts, insults and
arrogance of HSDS members, five nights before the Harvest Moon Ball, the Skirts and Mugz
decided not to perform. The true reason was that they had
become furious at HSDS interference into their much-deserved
invitation to perform at this prestigious event. Now these
young people felt just as snubbed as Carnell had felt earlier.
Carnell's ploy had worked to perfection.
Unfortunately they didn't get up on their High Horse and tell the
world they weren't performing because HSDS had made them feel
unwelcome on what was supposed to be neutral ground at Rice
Here is what Ann Pan said about the reason given:
"Sunday, November 15, 1998
The SSQQ group told me verbally through one of their members that
they would not be able to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball because a
couple of their members could not make the performance time."
Was this move handled well by SSQQ? No, of course it wasn't!
At least not in my opinion.
This flimsy excuse did nothing to clear the honor of the Swing Team
or its leader. In fact, the decision was widely ridiculed. What moron thought that one
Is this the gang that
can't shoot straight? Who was making these
This absurd decision not to perform was the worst thing
they could have done. It lent even more credence
to Carnell's allegations! Furthermore it opened
the team members to more taunting. Sissies.
Wannabes. Afraid to perform? Come on over to
HSDS and learn to dance the right way.
It is my opinion that the team should either have performed or at least had the guts to
tell the world the real reason why they would not perform. Judy
should have simply told everyone the team refused to perform because they felt HSDS and Carnell had
no business interfering in a Rice University invitation.
Even better, go out there and perform like the gifted
performers that you are.
There is an
old show biz axiom: The show must go on.
These people made a commitment, you honor that
commitment, and you go out and perform to the best of
your ability with your head held high and a plastic
smile on your face if necessary.
But don't give some stupid excuse. Act like
professionals, not amateurs.
Judy and the SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz ended up looking like cowards
performing at the Harvest Moon Ball.
The weakness of the Team's excuse
opened up new doors for humiliation.
First, it gave further credence that
maybe Carnell had been right all along in his claims and that maybe Judy was
too ashamed to look him in the face. Second, it seemed to suggest that
maybe the Skirts and Mugz weren't quite as good as they said they
were or even worse that they were afraid to perform in front of an
audience that might be openly or at least partially hostile.
I was furious over the entire affair, but I was helpless to do a
thing. First I acceded to Judy's wishes not to counter-attack Carnell's
accusation. Then I was told by
Judy that she would handle the problem with the performance.
I had no choice but to respect her position; it was my studio but it wasn't my team.
The entire Harvest Moon Ball affair was handled poorly. In
fact, this entire month long incident was a Public Relations Fiasco.
The results reminded me
once again that Judy was a lot
better as a dance choreographer than she was as a political
This was easily the darkest single day in
A New Development in 2005: Judy Never Even Sent Her
As I mentioned
earlier, in May 2005 Ann Pan contacted
me to clear up some inaccuracies in a previous version that I
had written of the Harvest Moon story. As we exchanged
emails, Ann stunned me with this request:
"Judy never wrote a lengthy letter to Ann.
Ann called Judy on the phone
and had a lengthy telephone conversation with Judy (and
Rick) on Wednesday, October 21, 1998.
If such a letter existed,
then please send me a
copy as I have never received it nor seen it."
never even sent her letter to Ann Pan? I could not
fathom what this meant. I had watched Judy write that
letter! In fact, she had handed me a copy of the letter
and I had scanned it into my computer for future reference.
I had simply assumed that Judy had sent the letter. And I
had also assumed that Judy's letter had fallen on deaf ears.
But in truth Ann Pan had never even seen the letter.
All these years, I had assumed that Ann Pan had simply ignored
what Judy had said about Carnell.
actually cared quite a bit! Here is what she said:
words did NOT fall on deaf ears. Making such a statement
blatantly ignores the extensive amount of time that I
especially spent on this topic.
asked myself, did Judy let Carnell off the hook? Why
didn't she send the letter to Ann Pan as she had promised?
I would ask this question again many times. In fact, I
sometimes wondered if Carnell had something on Judy that I did
not know about.
in 2005, seven years too late to avoid the most embarrassing
episode in SSQQ history, I have published the letter that Judy
wrote, but never sent.
October 24, 1998
To: Ann Pan
c/o Rice University
From: Judy Archer
First of all I
want to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts to hear
our side of this story. I admit your October 21 phone call
caught me somewhat off-guard, although I enjoyed talking with
you, and I began to think back about how all this started,
remembering incidents I thought I had put aside. Because I,
too, want an end to all the animosity I have enclosed the
following letter with my explanation of what has happened over
the last couple of years regarding Lindy, performance teams,
etc. I hope you will take the time to read through this and
perhaps gain an even deeper understanding of how, and why, we
feel as we do.
Your efforts to
unite the swing community are to be commended; however, there
is one overwhelming factor of which you may not be aware.
SSQQ, as the largest social dance studio in Houston,
established 20 years, is the only dance studio recommended by
Leisure Learning Unlimited. This means that we enjoy a steady
stream of students who sign up through LLU. This, and word of
mouth, allows SSQQ to stand alone in the dance community. A
united community would indicate that we all “share” common
resources, that SSQQ would receive from HSDS as many students
as we give. This is simply untrue. (By the way, LLU receives
the lion’s share of revenue for each new student who signs up
at SSQQ; they don’t come to us free.) Promoting HSDS at SSQQ
would result in an obvious loss of revenue to this studio, and
as you know, we are a for-profit organization. My husband and
I are professional dance instructors, trained in our jobs just
as other professionals are trained. Because we love what we
do, we can achieve a comfortable, non-threatening, family
atmosphere. Because we make a serious effort to stay current
and continue our training, we can stay ahead of trends and
prepare for them. Thus, being first to teach Lindy Hop in
I have a enclosed
a copy of the original letter
I sent to Rowena Young, dated February 24, 1997,
which is an account of the incidents as I remember them. In
reference to the letter, please note that my pregnancy did not
prevent me from continuing to work with the team and provide
I received no
response to my letter from Rowena, and as far as I can tell
from reports from people who were there, she pretty much
ignored my requests to give credit where credit was due. She
continued to “exhibit” with SSQQ team members without
consulting me. My hard feelings toward HSDS began
My husband Rick
Archer was beginning to feel that I was getting the run-around
from Rowena and chose to call her himself. During the
conversation (I was in the room) he reminded Rowena that I had
worked very hard putting the team together and that I deserved
credit for my work. Her reply: “Do you own them?” Rowena
eventually hung up on Rick. He tried calling back but no one
picked up the phone.
I told you on the
phone about asking the team they were interested in forming a
swing society, as recommended by Chazz Young.
and Sarah McLean both thought it was a pretty good idea, I was
neutral and willing to go along with the team if that was what
they wanted. Carnell Pipkin was opposed to the idea: “I don’t
want a swing society. I just want to dance.” Since I could not
get enough people interested, I dropped the idea. Rowena Young
then formed the Houston Swing Dance Society (HSDS) using
members of my swing team to help get the swing society
started. She then began to exhibit Lindy around town (see my
letter to her, enclosed).
involvement with HSDS began to increase. When Rowena began to
teach classes, I was told Carnell was often there. When I
asked Carnell about this, he told me Rowena alone was teaching
the classes. Again, students who were there told me Carnell
was also teaching. This is in direct conflict with our studio
rules, which state that any teacher employed by SSQQ may
accept outside teaching jobs only with our knowledge and
approval; this is to protect us from providing extensive
material to another studio. Before I hired Carnell, I sat down
with him and discussed the possibility that Rowena would ask
him to teach for her and I asked him to weigh his decision
carefully before committing to the studio. He was given a
copy of studio rules to read at his leisure. He assured me
this would be “no problem”. We eventually promoted him to
teaching two classes a week for SSQQ.
Carnell has told
you that his reason for leaving SSQQ was that we
As I told you on the phone, in private (not public)
conversation I had little good to say after what had happened.
I wasn’t bothering anybody, Hurricane Rowena blows into town
and suddenly everything was my fault? Come on. Carnell told
Rick his reason for leaving was that he had increased his
family responsibilities and would no longer have time to teach
for SSQQ. Soon after, within a month or so, the HSDS
newsletter announced that Carnell was forming a new dance
team, the Houston Hepcats. He then began teaching for HSDS at
the Magnolia Ballroom.
often, and loudly, put down our western program. At that
time, western dancing produced the better part of our revenue.
No teachers are allowed to criticize the dance program to
also, after my repeated statements to the team that SSQQ
would not openly promote HSDS, wear HSDS t-shirts to class
while teaching (and receiving payment from SSQQ). I was forced
to ask him to stop.
A former team
member, Tony Catalano, although not an employee of SSQQ, was
found to be handing out HSDS flyers to our students. Rick had
to ask him to stop. Team members would come to practice and,
on my time, carry on HSDS business. I was forced to ask them
to stop. We feel we cannot trust HSDS officers to come to our
studio and respect our wishes, since so many infractions have
We do not
interfere with HSDS. We do not publicly criticize HSDS to our
students. We do not pass out flyers to HSDS students. Yet HSDS
has done all these things to SSQQ, and now claims to know
nothing about our “attitude”, our distrust?
You may ask, why
did SSQQ not release Carnell from responsibility at the
studio? There are a couple of reasons: trained dance teachers
come at a premium. We try to keep our teachers as long as
possible, working through problems as best we can. We have
several who have been teaching for SSQQ 10 years or more.
Another, perhaps more important reason, was Carnell would
occasionally assure Rick and me verbally that he was just about
ready to leave HSDS. His reasons were vague, but the
implication was quite strong that he was dissatisfied with the
direction HSDS was going. (He heatedly threatened to resign
when Rowena proposed HSDS include whip/west coast swing in the
program). In other words, we were led to believe that Carnell
considered SSQQ superior to HSDS and that he would soon
resign. (“I’ll marry you, darling, as soon as I get a
I finally admitted
defeat. I released the team and pretty much quit teaching
Lindy at the studio. I redirected my energies to my
certification process and my ballroom program. I swore I would
never again form a student team.
students began to come to me to ask about Lindy. Requests for
a regular Lindy program came more and more often. Students
began asking about forming another dance team, which I
initially and vociferously refused to consider. The Gap
commercial changed all that. I formed the current team by
hand-choosing the members from SSQQ students, and was quite
clear in my stand regarding HSDS: members may belong to HSDS,
they may attend any and all functions, dances, workshops,
classes, but they may not train with me (free of charge) and
dance on an HSDS team. Period.
Cut to 1998. I
have a splendid swing team, we’re having fun, I’m not
bothering anybody. John Covey brought the “Harvest Moon Ball”
to my attention, saying that we had been invited to
perform and assuring me that HSDS had nothing to do with the
ball. I accepted on those terms, meanwhile helping the team to
prepare for their first performance here at the SSQQ swing
In my wildest dreams, I never considered that
Carnell would even want to come to an SSQQ party. We have not
seen or heard from him in nearly a year. When he called, both
my husband and I were stunned. Before I called him, I
consulted an unbiased professional (Joe Lozano, in the dance
business over 25 years) on what my actions should be. He
advised me to call and ask Carnell not to come to the party
“for business reasons”. I am not attempting to shirk my
responsibility for making the call; I am wholly responsible. I
am only attempting to show that I did not make the call
without forethought. It was not meant to hurt Carnell’s
feelings; I was, and am, protecting the studio and myself.
Carnell wants an
apology? So do I. I want an apology from Rowena Young for
using her steam-roller tactics to appropriate credit for my
hard work, for continually going around me and behind my back,
never dealing with me face to face. I want an apology from
Carnell Pipkin for misleading us while using my talents and
resources to further his own means. I want an apology from
them both for interfering in my life in general, for
continuously causing chaos and disruption, for giving me even
one moment of discomfort in this, my place of work and my
So, Ann, please consider this: if you own a dance studio (or
work in sales, or as an agent, or a head-hunter or any
business where people are the primary resource) and this
business, whatever it may be, is how you earn your living, how
you pay your bills, how you save for your child’s education,
and how you eventually hope to be able to afford to retire,
and someone from the outside suddenly shows interest in
appropriating this primary resource, how would you react?
SSQQ is our lives, Ann. This is it for us. We live and
breathe this studio. We do a good, no, a great job here. All we
ask is to be left alone. HSDS has the entire outside world to
promote their program. They cannot do it here.
Thanks for your
time. I’m sorry you got in the middle, but there it is. We do,
truly, appreciate your efforts.
Post Script January 2000
statements are true:
- Carnell Pipkin
took his first formal partner dance classes here at SSQQ.
- Carnell took his
first Lindy classes at SSQQ.
- Carnell danced
on his first dance team at SSQQ.
- Carnell danced
his first performance (for Frankie Manning) at SSQQ.
- Carnell taught
his first dance classes for SSQQ and was paid standard
teacher’s salary for his efforts.
- Carnell enjoyed
referrals to teach classes outside SSQQ from SSQQ, thus
showing that we trusted him.
- SSQQ put Carnell
on the front of a Leisure Learning cover. Leisure Learning
Unlimited magazine is distributed throughout Houston. This
cover was eventually picked up by a national dance magazine
in a small article regarding Zydeco.
- Carnell was one
of two chosen models for the original SSQQ Lindy Hop
T-Shirt, an artwork commissioned and paid for by the studio.
Carnell Pipkin was
at SSQQ, as student and teacher, for over a year. He gained
invaluable knowledge during this time, not only in dance and
dance technique, but in how to teach and pace a dance class.
SSQQ has had an
enormous influence on the success of HSDS; yet, we have
received virtually no thanks or recognition for our efforts.
FINAL WORD ON THE HARVEST MOON
Based on the experience of the
events surrounding the Harvest Moon Ball, I reached
the unmistakable conclusion that you have to stand up for
yourself when you are unfairly accused of something and speak the
truth at the top of your lungs.
If you don't, then people will believe
the other guy.
Otherwise, your reputation will suffer irreparable damage.
something valuable to say that would have made a vast difference in
the eventual outcome.
letter to Ann Pan made it very clear "why" Carnell was not welcome at
the studio. Had she posted it, this story would have had a
believe Judy would have been cleared of all
I think the vicious rumors at the Orchid
would have subsided.
I believe the Skirts and Mugz would have felt comfortable
And I think Carnell's
reputation would have been badly wounded.
But that is not how the story wrote.
Judy was publicly humiliated while Carnell was treated by his HSDS buddies like a
hero for putting that arrogant woman in her place.
The incident did Judy's reputation enormous damage.
incident damaged Judy's relationship with her Swing Team
In street credibility, HSDS was now superior to SSQQ. This event was such a slap
in the face that HSDS
gained the upper hand in our business competition.
incident helped HSDS get an advantage that they never
all because Judy didn't send the letter or allow me to publish
THE CORRECT THING TO DO
1) At the very least you publish your
side of the story on the Internet.
2) You send your letter to Ann Pan as
you promised to do
3) Then you ask Ann Pan to arrange a
meeting with the HSDS Board of Directors and
demand - as is your right - the chance to
tell your side of the story to their faces.
3) You show up at the Harvest Moon
Ball and perform.
CHAPTER THREE - 1999