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Rick's Gabfest with Gertrude
Written by Rick Archer, March 2006

Chapter Five:

THE COMEBACK KIDS

First Generation

1977 -1979

Saturday Night Fever Disco Era

Second Generation

1980 - 1984

Urban Cowboy Western Era, Winchester Club

Third Generation

1985 - 1987

201 Nights of Dancing, Tom Easley Look-a-Likes

Fourth Generation

1988 - 1997

Studebaker Group, Sharon Crawford, SSQQ Staff

Fifth Generation

1998 - 2000

Millennium - The Daryl Armstrong Experience,  Heartbeat, Swing Kids!

Sixth Generation

2001 -2007

Love Boat


LATE NINETIES - SSQQ GETS THE MOJO BACK

Gertrude frowned. "So how did you escape your rut?  Or did you escape?"

"Yes, we escaped, but I can't take much credit for it.  I wasn't getting it done because my days as Leader of the Pack were over.  I was married.  If there is one thing the reader of the Matchmaker Epic has learned from these stories, it is very difficult for a Married person to lead the way with a Singles group.  Singles and Doubles simply have different needs, different goals.  'One' is looking for love, 'Two' wants to enjoy the fruits of finding love.   One thinks Saturday Night is the perfect time to hit the clubs, Two thinks Saturday Night is dinner and a movie together.

The resurrection came from my Staff. Several people from the SSQQ Staff stepped up and came to the rescue. I suppose they just got tired of waiting for me to do something, so they did it themselves.  Among my veteran teachers,
Susie Allen and Ben Liles made huge contributions.  From my newly-hired set of instructors came wicked Gillian Tilbury, vivacious Rachel Seff, plus Chris O'Rourke.  They all had one huge advantage on me - they were single. 

Plus there was some other guy who helped a little. Hmm. Can't remember his name. Oh yeah. Him. 
Daryl Armstrong.

If I am the Matchmaker, then Daryl is the Troublemaker.  In a fun way, of course.  Daryl had the ability to bring out the insanity in people.  Take a quick look at Daryl's friends for instant proof.

Enter the Insanity Zone - The Daryl Armstrong Experience

Rocky as Wild and Crazy Guy

Rocky and Laura as Scarlet Women

Rocky as Chupacabra

Rachel Seff as Elvis

The Wicked Monicas - Gillian and Joanne

More Wicked Women - Leather and Lace!

 

"So who is Daryl Armstrong?"

"Daryl Armstrong is an SSQQ teacher who would give Tom Easley, the Look-a-Like ringleader from the Eighties, a serious run for the money in the inspired lunacy dept.

Starting around 1996, Daryl began to collect an entire band of crazies to help him cause trouble and raise hell wherever they went. I named the group The Daryl Armstrong Experience. 

Joanne White (Daryl's girlfriend and eventual wife), Gillian Tilbury, Rocky Kneten, Laura Wilde, Verladyne Arbaugh, and Rachel Seff were all just as nuts as Daryl.  Maybe worse.


For starters Daryl got his Margarita Tours going.  Daryl would rent a bus, then take a group of 50 or so hedonists to various bars and dives that he had discovered around town for a night of drinking and bonding.  Then he would drop them off at the doorstep of some Western Club - usually drunk out of their minds - and let them dance it off.  They could barely walk or stand up, but for some reason they could dance.  Go figure.

Masochists and fools from every walk of life would line up to take the drinking tour.  Please note in the pictures below, these idiots were dancing on top of the bar.  They could have fallen and gotten badly hurt.  I guess it didn't matter. They were so drunk they wouldn't have felt a thing.

What a bunch of morons!  Hmm. Is that me standing up there?


Pictures from Daryl and Joanne's Margarita Tour, 2001


Before I even met Daryl, I had been curious about him for a long time. You see, I had been listening to press releases about him for ten years before I met him.  Plus I drove his car for five years.  Here is how it started.

One day in 1986 I saw the picture of a hot-looking used car for sale on the bulletin board at my studio.  I called the number and found that Daryl's mother Betty was selling it. 

1998

2005

I knew Betty because she had been in several classes I had taught.  I asked her about the car during class.  Betty invited me to drive over to her house in Meyerland to check out the car.  I fell in love with the car at first sight!   So I asked why such a great car was available.

Betty said her son Daryl had just moved to Hawaii and didn't need it any more.  Hmm.  I figured she was dying to get rid of it so I offered to buy the car on the spot if she would just come down a few hundred dollars.  Betty didn't budge an inch. I bought the car anyway. 

I got over my defeat fast - I loved that car!  It is still my favorite car ever.

Even though Betty had handled me like putty, she and I became good friends after that. I respected her so much!  Every time I saw her, we would have a chat.  Over the next ten years, she would tell me about the clever things her son was doing in Hawaii like Margarita tours.

So when Daryl moved back to Houston ponytail, earring and all in the mid-90s (very avant garde for those days), I was already curious about him. Little did I know what a madman he was!!  Betty had not warned me that her son was not normal.  That was definitely a good move on her part.  It was better that I didn't know.

One day Betty brought Daryl over to the studio for classes.  The moment Daryl found out I liked his car, I was his amigo. He had loved that car too!  It broke his heart that he had to sell it when he moved to Hawaii.

Back in Hawaii, Daryl had been the toast of the Islands. Daryl quickly realized SSQQ was the perfect place to import the same chaos that he had been creating in Hawaii.  Once I saw him in action, I speculated that he was thrown off the island and told not to come back.  Other times I would worry he was simply released from prison somewhere.  Or more likely a mental institution.  I couldn't decide. 

Immediately Daryl went to work at causing trouble. 
He was so charismatic that his ideas became almost instant hits.  Once a year Daryl and Joanne with help from the "Experience Gang" would throw a huge, wildly popular 'Tattoo, Leather, and Lace' Party at  Rocky's photography studio or wherever they could find a good venue.  This group far out-sleazied my sleaziest Sleazy Bar Party. 

I was so jealous!  What did Daryl have that I didn't have?  He was turning the studio into a madhouse.

First I couldn't outwit his mother. Now her son threatened to steal my entire studio and Pied Piper my students off to a bar somewhere and drink them to death.  The moment I realized how much sharper he was than me, I made a quick move to hire him.  Good move!

Daryl swiftly proved to be just creative at teaching western classes.  He introduced name tags, Altoids, and Hawaiian shirts to his classes.  He had theme nights with ties, crazy hats, sunglasses, and red underwear. The red underwear nights were my favorite.  The size of his classes grew and grew.  I could not help but notice his classes were bigger than mine due to his marvelous sense of humor. 

But Daryl saved his cruelest joke for me.  I would hear his classes roaring with laughter and go see what the heck was going on.  His classes would bow to me and chant 'Om', the Hindu mantra of reverence for the Master.  It turned out the reason the classes were laughing is he would tell jokes about me.  The laughter would of course draw me to his room with curiosity. Then he would have his class start that 'Om' crap to get me to leave the room.  Daryl knew I couldn't stand listening to it.

So here was the picture. Daryl couldn't dance a lick, but his classes were bigger than mine.  He told jokes about me behind my back.  I could see for a fact that Daryl was more talented than I am.  It was a complete mystery to me why he worked for me when it seemed to me he had more ability than I did.  I am only half-teasing when I say I worried he would open his own studio and take all my students.  All I could say was Thank goodness he had a day job.

The fact was, Daryl was a genius at creating energy.   I have been in complete awe of the man for fourteen years.

One day in 1998 Daryl announced that he and Joanne had gotten engaged.  All the girls sighed - the Hawaiian Hunk was off the market for good.  But the girls were good sports about it - they liked Joanne so much that they were happy for her.

I asked Daryl for some details on the engagement.  He laughed.  He said he was really worried that Joanne would say no.  He had been a Party Boy for so long that she wondered if he could ever settle down. 

Daryl was so worried about rejection he devised a plan.  On a trip to Colorado, Daryl took Joanne on a hike deep into the woods.  Then when he figured she was more or less lost, he sat her on a rock, got down on one knee, and proposed. 

I smiled. "Gosh, Daryl, that was really romantic.  What helped you get your confidence up?"

"Well, as I expected, Joanne actually didn't say 'yes' right off the bat.  She smiled and said she was definitely interested, but had a few concerns to cover.  I felt like she needed encouragement to make up her mind faster.  So I told her if she wouldn't say yes, I was going to abandon her in the woods and let a bear eat her.  That's when he said she would love to marry me." 

Daryl and Joanne were married in October 1998.
Fortunately marriage didn't slow him down a bit.  He went right back to his shenanigans.

The Daryl Armstrong Experience saved their best efforts for the SSQQ Halloween Party.  Daryl's friends loved Halloween!  It was the perfect forum for their inspired madness.  Rocky Kneten would win Best Costume practically every year with some of the most creative outfits imaginable.  That 'Chupacabra' outfit was equal parts brilliant and bizarre.  The same year, Daryl and Joanne were hysterical as Austin Powers and Friend.  But for sheer audacity, nothing will ever top Gillian and Joanne's 1998 send-off on Monica Lewinsky.  I loved Joanne's kneepads. Such a clever accessory.

SSQQ finally had a new Leader of the Pack although 'Leader of the Asylum' might be more accurate.  Daryl's wild and crazy friends were totally nuts.

Another name needs mentioning - Ruth Ann Manison.  She was one of the first people to take advantage of a brand-new technology known as e-mail.  Ruth Ann worked endlessly collecting emails and used her list to promote Daryl's adventures. 

I smiled. I hadn't seen madness like The Daryl Armstrong Experience since the Tom Easley Look-a-Like years.  Ruth Ann's email list reminded me of Jann Fonteno and her SSQQ Hotline back in the Eighties.  It looked like a clear case of Reincarnation to me.

The technologies had changed, but the inspiration was the same.  One madman plans the activities and finds a clever crony to publicize them.  History seemed to be repeating itself at SSQQ, but in a very good way.

Thanks to Daryl and Friends, the place was hopping again."

 

DISCO INFERNO -
MORE HELP WITH THE COMEBACK

"The way you describe it, it sounds like Daryl got the studio going again all by himself."

You would think so, but Daryl didn't do it by himself.  Although Daryl was clearly the headliner, he was hardly alone in his contributions. 

As we began to approach the end of the Millennium, the studio was receiving help from many sources.  SSQQ was well on its way to a Millennium Comeback.

Chris O'Rourke

Ben and Diana Liles

Rachel Seff

1. An SSQQ instructor named Chris O'Rourke organized New Year's hot tub parties that were very well attended by the newly-created In-Crowd of the day.  Plus he enjoyed prancing out on the floor practically naked at the Halloween parties.

2. Ben Liles contributed by organizing weekly Tuesday visits to the Longhorn Saloon that became extremely popular.  For the first time in many years, a western event similar to the old Winchester Club became a weekly happening.  Western crowds flocked to the Longhorn as Ben promoted the event in his class.  This was the start to a tradition that is still with us today at the Wild West on Tuesdays.

3. Rachel Seff filled all sorts of roles.  She was best friends with Daryl and Joanne and constantly helped promote their latest adventures. Rachel became Matchmaker-extraordinaire at the Longhorn Saloon.  Rachel also loved the Margarita Trips. She spent the whole time matchmaking while everyone was too drunk to know any better.  The next morning two people would wake up and discover they were married.  Meanwhile Rachel, who had the sense not to drink, would have married off another couple.  By the way, I am only half-kidding.

The Story of Heartbeat, SSQQ's Performing Dance Team

Susie Allen Merrill is pictured at right with husband Bill).  Susie made an enormous contribution when she organized a western dance team known as 'Heartbeat'. 

Susie began her team in 1997. She recruited the people on this team primarily from the ranks of talented SSQQ Western dancers.  The whole adventure started off as fun.  They were going to do exhibitions.  

The team was good from the start.  For example, whenever they performed at the studio (see picture below), the SSQQ crowd absolutely adored watching them.  In turn, the dancers enjoyed the applause and became determined to get even better.

Bill Merrill and Susie Allen Merrill

Ben and Diana Liles, Jill Banta and Marty Shea, Tony and Karen Catalano, plus Janet Meyer and Martin Anderson

The members of the team became a very close knit group.  By staying together, their routines became more sophisticated and well-executed.  they realized how good they were getting.   They entered a few dance competitions and performed well.   That's when they decided to train hard and go for a World Championship.

I am to report the team won a World Dance Championship before disbanding in 2003. 

Not only did this group form a powerful 'In-Crowd' of their own, they provided leadership and energy to the studio that was absolutely invaluable. The studio would follow them everywhere to see them perform.  Heartbeat gave a huge shot in the arm to our Western program.

In addition, the Heartbeat team was quite a marriage factory.  There were six marriages that developed out of this group - Ben and Diana Liles, Janet and Ray Meyer, Tony and Karen Catalano, Ann and Brian White, Andrew and Candi Gordon, plus Victor and Christine Marquez. 

I am very certain Susie was just as proud of creating an entire family of friends as she was of her team's world championship!

 

The Swinging Skirts and Mugz

The late Nineties were marked by a revival of interest in Swing Dancing.  Judy Archer organized a marvelous dance team known as the 'Swingin' Skirts and Mugz'. 

These talented Swing dancers put on some fantastic dance exhibitions at our
Extravaganzas that thrilled everyone.  My goodness these people could dance!

Their leadership gave the emerging SSQQ Swing dancers a core group to bond around.  Several nights a week at the legendary Orchid Lounge, Maureen and the Swing Team held court to hundreds of SSQQ Swing students.  These modern-day Swing Kids had the best times of their lives dancing and breathing Swing 24/7.


So there you have it - there were all kinds of dramatic things happening here at SSQQ in the latter part of the Nineties -  the Daryl Armstrong Experience, Susie's Heartbeat, Judy's Swing Team, plus the contributions from instructors like Ben Liles, Chris O'Rourke, and Rachel Seff.  This was a very dynamic time for the studio."

1998 - The Swinging Skirts and Mugz
 

2003 - The World Champion Heartbeat
 

1999 - The Daryl Armstrong Experience
 


The First SSQQ Cruise Trip

"Heartbeat, Daryl Armstrong Experience, Swing Kids... I didn't see your name up there.  What did you do, Rick?  Did you contribute at all?"

"Believe it or not, I actually did help a little.  Mostly I just took credit for everything, but one contribution I made was to organize the very first studio cruise in 1998. 

I had learned back in the Eighties that Group Trips were a marvelous way to build deeper bonds within our community.  The best example of this was Sharon Crawford's terrific Bahamas trip in 1988. 

For my part, I organized several ski trips back in the Eighties.  But one year I lost a lot of money trying to organize a ski trip.  Back in those days, to make the ski trip work, I had to purchase all the airplane tickets in advance, then add in the names as people joined my trip.  One year (1987?) Rocky Mountains Airlines went bankrupt.  Poof!  There went my air space and my money too. 

The trip was ruined and I was out $3,000.  The stupid thing was I wasn't going to make a dime anyway.  I was just doing it as a favor to my ski friends at the studio.  I was so bitter I decided to let someone else do the ski trips from that point on.  Just as well; he did them better. 

I didn't like getting burned on that ski trip.  It soured me on doing trips.  As a result, for the next ten years, I didn't lift another finger to organize a trip.

In 1996, I met a guy at the studio named Steve Frolich who invited me to join some guys for Saturday morning basketball.  I had not played basketball seriously in fifteen years, but was thrilled to begin playing again. Saturday morning B-Ball quickly became the highlight of the week for me.

One of the players was a guy man named Alan Fox.  By coincidence, Alan was the owner of Vacations to Go, a Houston travel agency.  When we met, neither of us had any idea that his travel business would expand dramatically just around the corner.

I believe Alan originally worked for Continental Airlines.  Then Alan left Continental to form his own travel agency here in Houston.

Alan was a bright guy and a hard worker. He also saw an opening before anyone else - the Internet - and took complete advantage of it. 

The Internet played a big role in helping SSQQ expand, but Alan took things to a much greater level.  Alan got on board with the Internet and Online E-Commerce just as it broke open in 1998.  Now people could book cruises by going to Alan's travel web site. 

Alan was way way way ahead of the curve. He was offering cruise bookings on the Internet at least three or four years ahead of everyone else. Mind you, by investing so heavily in the software programming, Alan was taking a big gamble.  But the gamble paid off.  Internet transactions we take for granted today were pioneered by Alan.   He used the Internet to get an edge on more established travel agencies that were not as quick to take advantage of the new technology.  Vacations to Go caught the breaking E-Wave just right and surfed its way to become a mega-travel agency.  Today VTG has an enormous presence on the Internet.  It has become on the biggest travel agencies in the world.  Alan is so busy that he doesn't even do the day-to-day any more.  Instead he is constantly traveling the world to check out new places to visit and new cruise lines.  Tough job!

Fortunately back in 1998 Alan wasn't so busy that he ignored simple opportunities like recommending that my dance studio try a cruise trip.  Alan suggested SSQQ could benefit from taking a cruise.  He would let one of his agents organize it for me.  I wouldn't have to do much at all other than help publicize the event.  I thought it over.  Maybe it was time to try something new.  So I okayed the cruise trip. 

As you will soon see, I made a lot of discoveries on this trip.

The first thing I discovered was just how popular dancing is on cruise trips.  Nearly everyone came out for the dancing.

Another thing I discovered is how popular games are on the cruises.
We had some brutal Trivial Pursuits matches.

One thing I really enjoyed about this trip was how much fun it was
to make stuff up. Here Mr. Crocodile chases my daughter!

Did I tell you Marty saw mermaids on this trip?
It happened one day during Marty's all-day wino binge...

SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance followed us on this trip.
Here engaged couple Renee and BJ take a river boat tour.

Tony and Susan made a decision to get married on this trip.
They told me about it a few weeks after the trip was over.

Slow Dance and Romance was indeed with us.
Virginia and Gareld McEathron met at the studio one year earlier
and had recently gotten married.

I had a blast with the Lip Sync show on the trip.
Joanne Spuck turned out to be a fabulous actress.
I am serious about that!  Joanne stole the show.

Marty Shea was a big part of the studio until he had to leave us
to pursue his career in medicine in the DC area.

Another SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance couple was
Dave and Allison. They got married in 2000.

   

"What did you learn from the Cruise experience?"

"I came back to Houston very depressed.  I was absolutely appalled by the level of poverty I had seen in Jamaica and the rampant begging.  I also had a bizarre experience with a Jamaican stowaway that left me very shaken. 

Personally, I didn't have that great a time on the trip because a side of me ached for those days when I was closer to my students.  This trip made me realize just how far I had grown from my own dance students.  I barely even knew the names of the people on the trip.   I suppose this trip made me realize just how lonely I was.  In retrospect, I guess this trip was the moment when I realized just how shaky my marriage had become.

The trip wasn't all bad.  The 30 people on the trip became very close to one another.  They made close friends with people they previously had not known.  It was just like the good old days when our crazy adventures led to all kinds of friendships.

I saw the first inklings of how powerful the SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance Magic was at sea. 

One couple that had met at SSQQ and had married the year before, Virginia and Gerald McEathron, came with us.  Another couple that had met at SSQQ and were engaged at the time, Renee Risinger and BJ Downs, came aboard.  Shortly after the trip was over, another couple named Tony and Susan told me in class one night they had secretly gotten engaged on the trip.  Sorry to say, in another case of flying under the radar, I never wrote down their last names or went back and added their story to the original cruise writeup.  The only reason I remembered the incident at all is because I briefly revisited the pictures of the trip to help write this article.  It crushes me to realize just how many Romance stories I have missed out on!

During the trip a fourth couple, Dave Mammone and Alison Terzakis, grew much closer. They decided to get married in 2000.  Not long ago Alison sent me a picture of their children!!  

It seemed significant that four different couples became distinctly closer thanks to this trip. Was it coincidence or did it mean something?  Maybe there really was something to this Love Boat stuff.

I learned several other things from the trip. 

First, I learned how much I missed being closer to the people of my own dance studio.  It was the first time I had actually spent any time with anyone other than my wife and daughter in many years.

Second, I learned how crazy people get on cruises. Marty Shea and Marla Jennings were drunk from sun up to sun down one day. They would have fit right in with some of our modern cruise group.  Where's the hot tub?"

"Were there any other developments?"

"Interesting you should ask.  I consider this trip to be the start of my writing career.

I had not done any serious writing in years.  Mostly just publicity stuff for the studio.  Now that the SSQQ web site had just come on line, it made perfect sense to publish the pictures I had taken from the trip.  That was a good start, but it was obvious I should write stories about what had happened to go with the photographs.

So I started writing.  I quickly discovered how much fun it was to write about the trip. 

The problem was, I didn't know much about web design. This led to an interesting problem - I had more pictures than I had things to say. First I would insert a picture into a table, then I would try to write stuff next to the picture.  I realized there was a lot of empty space next to those pictures.  That really bugged me.

I had a lot more pictures than I did stories.  I was literally at a loss for words.  I stared at the computer trying to figure out what to do about all the empty space on the screen.

Since I was new to this web stuff, I didn't know how to redesign the tables so the text would fit the space created by the pictures.  As a result, there were huge gaping holes between where one story ended and the next story began.

One day I got so frustrated trying to match text to pictures, I decided to make stuff up.  That's right... I just made stuff up!  Now if I didn't have a good real story to fit my pictures, I would visit a fantasy world in order to fill up space.  That is how I discovered how much fun it was to make stuff up!  

I realized it was a lot more fun to write cruise stories when I didn't feel obligated to stick to the facts.  Now that I was free to imagine, I wrote fantasy stories about spotting mermaids, hurricanes, and pirate attacks. 

A couple people from the trip commented they didn't recall those mermaids or that hurricane or that attack by the pirates quite as vividly as I did, but they were very glad I had brought these curious events to their attention in the cruise write-up. Otherwise they would have had no idea what they had missed!! 

Oh, by the way, did you know our cruise ship crashed into the dock when we visited Cozumel?   It was horrible!  Gee whiz, we were almost killed!"

   

"So how would you sum up the Nineties, Rick?"

"The Nineties had not started well at SSQQ due to some serious burn-out on my part.  Starting in 1990, the energy had slowly but surely begun to fade.  By the middle of the decade, the studio had one year -1995 - where we lost a lot of money and we were in danger of going out of business.  That was the year we finished with $300 in the bank.

Thank goodness 1996 was a much better year.  That's when Daryl came along.  Susie and Judy started their respective dance teams in 1997.  Now the energy began to pick up again.  SSQQ had Heartbeat, the Daryl Armstrong Experience, and the Swing Kids operating parallel to one another at the same time.  These three groups got SSQQ rocking and rolling just as hard as it ever did back in the Eighties.  What a gifted bunch of people. 

And my positive experience with writing for the 1998 Cruise helped me discover how much I enjoyed writing.  I finished up the Nineties writing stories about the studio that published the activities of the studio and the three energy groups.  Without actually being conscious of what I was doing, I was learning how to use the Internet to promote my business.

The Millennium Comeback was complete.  SSQQ wasn't just back, SSQQ hit the Millennium on fire!! 
SSQQ finished up the Nineties with more energy and students than ever before in its history."


 

NEXT STORY - MILLENNIUM MADNESS!

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