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

Chapter Eight:
BON VOYAGE!

 


"So what do you think the future holds?"

"As of early 2006, SSQQ has taken eight cruises.  These cruises have had a profound effect on SSQQ. 

Our cruises have thrilled our guests out at sea and they have totally energized the studio back at home.  I have to come to realize that our Slow Dance and Romance activities at home have a perfect synergy with the elegant ocean cruises.

A careful analysis of my business and their business reveals an interesting fact - we are both in the same business, but we don't compete!  SSQQ promotes Romance.  The cruise industry promotes Romance.  SSQQ offers dance lessons.  A cruise trip offers dance lessons.  But we don't compete because they are at sea and we are on land. 

Sometimes in my idle moments I see a cruise ship as a giant floating dance studio.  Where our businesses differ is they offer vacations and my clients take vacations.

Thus the synergy - we not only do not compete, we help each other.  The vacation energizes my studio.  My wonderful dancers energize their ship.  It is a very unique and powerful relationship where everyone wins.  Yes, Slow Dance leads to Romance, but the Love Boat Era has shown that Slow Dance on a Cruise Trip leads to Romance much more swiftly.

Before I continue about the SSQQ-Cruise connection, I would like to point out there is an energy in the wind that may bode positive consequences for all of us.

The potential dawn of a new era of Ballroom Dance seems like it is just around the corner.   When 'Dancesport' finally makes it debut as a Summer Olympic event, people will watch in awe as the finest dancers will become Olympic heroes in the same way their winter counterpart - the figure skate pairs - have been capturing the hearts of millions for years.

At the purest level, social dance has become 'sport', a joy in movement set to music.  Any enthusiast of basketball highlights set to music marvels at the poetry of the athletes in motion.  But when you see a top-flight dance competition, you witness the same artistry in higher-level dance.  With intricate movements set to thrilling music, a Waltz, a Rumba, a Cha Cha all have the power to inspire.

Although 'Dance Sport' barely missed making the cut as an official sport at the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics, its inclusion in the 2012 Olympics is considered quite likely. 

The quickness, the style, the power, and the grace of 'Dance Sport' will prove that the kind of dance I am talking about will prove these artists are just as much 'athletes' as the gymnasts and the hurdlers.   Dance Sport will thrill the audiences!

Best of all, the competitors will add one element the other sports cannot touch - the elegance and glamour of the dancers and their unbelievable sex appeal!   People will soon realize these dancers are not only well-conditioned and highly trained athletes, they can take their place among the most physically beautiful human beings in the world. 

'Dance Sport' is the only major sport besides Figure Skating that allows men and women to not only compete together, but encourages the athletes to flirt at the same time!

And there you have it - the highest levels of dance combine glamour, artistry, and sex appeal."

The mural and statue above can be seen at the entrance of Rhapsody's 'Shall We Dance' Lounge.  Lorraine Cull, a member of our 2004 Rhapsody Cruise, wrote about this mural in her letter to me after the trip:

“Dancing aboard the ship made the pictures along the wall become a reality for those that danced. 

What a tremendous opportunity to be able to dance in an environment that was so luxurious as the 'Shall We Dance Lounge'! 

Dancing invites people to mingle unlike any other activity.  Dancing offers an expression for the young and the old that were aboard the ship.  Your dance lessons were fun and offered the participants the opportunity to dance later in the trip that they may have never tried to dance before.

The lounge was perfect for lessons and dancing in the evening.   "Shall we dance?"  

Yes, a most enjoyable evening.  When you dance you can only be happy.   Thank you, Rick.


"What is the importance of the Rhapsody Mural to SSQQ?"

"The final piece of the dance puzzle is Glamour.  For women to look their best in their gorgeous dance dresses, you must have a glamorous setting.  'Glamour' demands a backdrop, an atmosphere, and an audience.  When it comes to Dance and Glamour, a cruise ship like the Rhapsody, our home away from home, delivers this setting perfectly."

The name of the Rhapsody's Ballroom is 'Shall We Dance?'  The name is a reference to a 1937 Astaire-Rogers dance movie with the same name. The plot has Fred meeting his future wife Ginger on the dance floor of a cruise liner known as the Queen Anne. 

Hmm.  That sounds familiar.  Isn't that how I met my wife? 

You absolutely cannot enter this room on the ship and see the beautiful murals without feeling nostalgic for this lost era.  You don't need me to describe it.  Just take a look at the panorama above and savor the images of a time when you could dance the night away in the arms of your sweetheart or perhaps capture the attention of a new lover with the simple invitation to dance.  It was a time when you could mix dinner, conversation, romance, friendship, and dancing into one complete evening.

It is my observation that people are beginning to miss the elegance of this earlier era. 

When people talk about the potent combination of Orchestras, beautiful dance floors, tuxes and gowns, elegant surroundings, sophisticated people, and best of all, graceful Ballroom dancing, they certainly don't think our modern times. 

Invariably our minds wander to the movies of the past when scenes of Ballroom Dancing were a constant backdrop to every plot.  Where on earth did these days go?  I am not sure why they disappeared, but I miss them.  I have a hunch that our society is ready to try again.

I say it is high time for us to discover the modern-day equivalent of Fred and Ginger to help us recapture the beauty of the Jazz Age and the Big Band Era. 

Wouldn't it be nice if our Icons of Sophistication - Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Kathryn Hepburn - could be joined by Millennium counterparts? 

Fortunately at SSQQ we don't need to wait for this to happen.  We can do it ourselves."

Scenes of an Era Passed
Scenes of an SSQQ Night at Sea - "Aboard the Rhapsody or any ship we sail on,
SSQQ has the opportunity to recapture these magic days of yesteryear whenever we wish."


"Of course it would be fun to recreate the glory days of the past.  How do you propose to do this?"

"I don't think I am alone in my dreams about the days when Ballroom Dancing was center stage in American culture.  I am willing to bet that a lot of people are beginning to miss the glory of this earlier era. Judging from the excitement of my fellow passengers on Formal Night, they look forward to these evenings just as much as I do.  Fortunately we don't have to wait for it to happen.  Aboard the Rhapsody or any ship we sail on, SSQQ actually has the opportunity to recapture these magic days of yesteryear whenever we wish.

The Captain's Reception and the Crown and Anchor Dance are two Ballroom dance opportunities that are offered on every trip. These dances coincide with Formal Night.  As a result, every person in the room is beautifully dressed.  We all look like extras in a Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr scene aboard the cruise ship in An Affair to Remember.

Indeed,  our group is marvelous as we dance the night away to the ship's orchestra.  For an extra flourish, every seat in the elegant ballroom is filled to the brim with people who deeply appreciate our dancing.  We are the show.

In fact, our group is often mistaken for 'entertainment' thoughtfully provided by the cruise line to complete the ambience of the evening.  We always grin at that suggestion.  It is indeed a very high compliment.

These evenings are the ultimate reward for hours of dance practice back home.  People take a great deal of time over the course of a year to acquire their dance skills and practice them after class.  Performing to smiles and eye contact of the Rhapsody's guests is a marvelous compliment to their skill and hard work. 

These moments of dancing to classic Ballroom standards liked Sinatra's Foxtrot 'Witchcraft' or Benny Goodman's Swing 'Let's Dance' is a huge thrill for the SSQQ dancers.  None of us are accustomed to this kind of attention.  (But we like it!)

We don't actually realize how good we have it at SSQQ.  Sure, there are dance studios everywhere, but their system of instruction mostly consists of extremely expensive private lessons.  Here at SSQQ people learn the same amount of material at a fraction of the cost they might have to pay elsewhere.  We didn't become the biggest dance studio in the country by accident, you know.  Our group classes will never produce a dance champion - at the highest levels you do need private lessons - but they are very effective for creating a veritable host of quality social dancers.  That is of course our strength and it shows on these trips.

However surrounded here at home by all the terrific veteran dancers, most of our people have no idea how good they are because they lack perspective.  You can never really appreciate how good our dancers are until you see our program through different eyes. 

A funny anecdote also carries a strong point.  When Marla and I got married aboard the Rhapsody in 2004, I was pretty exhausted from all the frenzy of last-minute preparations and details.  Plus our 'oops' wedding left both Marla and me drained of all energy.   As a result, neither of us was in the mood to dance very hard on that trip. 
O
n several occasions I would take a back seat in the Shall We Dance Lounge so I could rest.  I thoroughly enjoyed observing how much fun my friends were having and how impressive their dancing was. 

Thursday evening on the fifth night of the trip, 40 SSQQ dancers filled the dance floor during the Crown and Anchor Party.  Marla was asked to dance so I sat in a corner.  By chance I overheard a curious conversation from a couple sitting nearby.  They were dressed attractively in tux and gown.  They were indeed a handsome couple both in their 40s.  I had the feeling they were relatively new to their relationship and this was their first cruise together.

The lady said, “Frank, let’s get out there and dance like everyone else!” 

The man said, “I don’t know how to dance like that!  There’s no way I’m getting out there.”

The lady replied, “Well, there have to be at least twenty men out there dancing. Why are you the only man in this room who isn’t dancing?”

The man looked very uncomfortable.  He said, “I wish I knew the answer to that. This is my third cruise and I’ve never seen dancing like that before.”

“Well, how did those guys learn?  It can’t be that hard if everyone in the room knows how!”

Not every man in the room is out there.  Look around.  There are a lot of guys sitting still."

"Well, it can't hurt to try!
Just get up there and copy them!"

"
There is no way I am going to figure out what they are doing. I'm not going to make a fool of myself.  If you want to dance, go ask one of them!”

“Thanks. I think I will do just that.”  

At that point she got up and asked one of the men in our group to dance the next song.  As they danced, her Left-Behind friend just shook his head in consternation the entire time. 

Watching the perplexed expression on his face, I had to laugh at his plight.  As his new girlfriend 'oohed' and 'aahed' over the Swing moves of her SSQQ dance partner, this guy frowned the entire song at being upstaged so badly.

'Who are these guys?' he thought to himself.

Then I started to think about his situation. It is true that Social Dancing as a part of American life been in serious decline. The Art of Formal Dance has indeed become 'a Lost Art' for the majority of our population.

We are the lucky ones.  We are at the crest of the wave.  As I write this story, Ballroom Dancing is trying very hard to make its way back to regain its former popularity in America.  I hope it succeeds because we could all use a little more glamour in our lives.

But we are not dependent on the world-wide success of Ballroom Dancing.  Rhapsody, our 'home away from home' cruise ship, has marvelous dance floors.  Now that SSQQ has taken four trips aboard the ship, each time we return, they get more comfortable with our antics and more cooperative with our requests to use their floors as much as we wish. 

Subject: Dancing aboard the Rhapsody

We played cards with several folks during the cruise and also met quite a few people during the Art auctions. When we mentioned that we were with a dancing group the majority seemed extremely interested.  They said they had noticed us and thought we were wonderful.  They asked so many questions!

Several single ladies said that they love to dance and that they wish they could find someone to dance with during the cruise. They begged me to help them crash our next class although I think it was as much as to meet our men as it was to learn more about dance.

Nevertheless
I think offering some social dance classes aboard the ship for all the passengers - not just us - and the opportunity to dance afterwards or in the evenings would be a phenomenal idea.

I guarantee you and the Captain that it would get a great response.

Thank you, so much, for the wonderful cruise.

Stella Moore, 2004

One of these days we will reach critical mass and perhaps the Rhapsody will actually ask us to participate more frequently than our current 'once a year' trip.  But every pretty girl knows it is more effective if she lets the guy do the asking.  We shall see."


"Can you summarize the effect of the SSQQ Cruises on SSQQ?"

"Over all the many years of the SSQQ Social Program that has led to so many marriages and relationships, I have never seen another activity that enhances my studio better than our cruises. The effect on SSQQ has been pure joy. 

SSQQ is all about Social Dancing... dancing with members of a Group.  A cruise turns out to be one of the finest 'group activities' known to mankind.  For OUR GROUP, a cruise is better than a ski trip and it is better than flying to some destination vacation by plane. For us, a cruise is perfect.  

I cannot imagine an activity that rewards our group more than a Cruise.  It is almost like 'Senior Prom' each year for a job well done. 

People learn to dance for a variety of reasons - as an art form, as a way to express oneself to music, as a way to get attention, as a way to socialize in group settings, as a way to exercise, and as a way to meet people.

A cruise trip allows a man and a woman the chance to be use dance for every single one of those reasons. 

But 'Dance' is just the start to any number of reasons why our SSQQ community is so drawn to the cruise experience.

One of the unique aspects to our cruises is that 'Singles' and 'Doubles' both appreciate the cruises. Singles can chase romance while Doubles can enhance romance. 

'Marriage is the Death of Dance' may be a problem ashore with busy careers and kids, but once a married couple is on board, it gives them a wonderful chance to reconnect with many of their friends they knew back when they were single.  Suddenly they are thrilled to be part of the gang again.  Plus they begin to see how much they miss their dancing!

What is odd about the trip is the lines that are often drawn between Singles and Couples start to disappear on a cruise trip.  I have never seen more cohesive groups than our dancers vacationing together on a cruise. 

Sharing the cruise together actually serves to bond the Singles and the Doubles into one group.  For starters, when it comes to 'travel' problems, it is one for and all for one.  People offer to help with transportation, with luggage, with snafus, you name it.  What a wonderful advantage it is to travel with a group!

The vacation puts so many people together in different situations like the morning dance lessons, the dinners, the Cocktail parties, and the Captain's Reception or Crown and Anchor Reception that the distinctions between couples and singles start to blur.   We become one big happy family at sea and that positive energy carries over onto shore. 

Then there is the funny crossover effect.  People who meet at sea often cross over in the middle of the trip from the Singles team to the Doubles team.  They are still close enough to their single friends to thoroughly enjoy the shenanigans of the Singles while enjoying an increasing bond with the couples on the trip.  Like I said, the lines begin to blur.

Another positive aspect is the amazing number of people who sign up for repeat trips.  If there is one thing the Doubles and the Singles completely agree on, it is that going as a group is a lot more fun than taking a cruise alone or even as a couple.  Our group activities are so much fun that everyone appreciates a crowd.  And in the classic 'have your cake and eat it too', if a particular cruise activity sounds like fun, you can always split off from the group to go explore. But if the activity is a dud, you always have our group to come back to.  Our people have the best of two worlds - SSQQ activities and cruise activities.  If you are bored, it means you aren't trying very hard.

Single women in particular are very grateful for our cruises. They say to me constantly how safe they feel traveling as part of a large group.  There are always men around to protect them from a creep.

The best example of 'safety in numbers' was our 2004 Mardi Gras Trip.   Several women said they had always wanted to go to Mardi Gras, but never felt safe enough.  Knowing they would be with our group gave them exactly the security they needed to give this bizarre event a try.  Now they knew they would have people to keep an eye on them in a rough place like the Mardi Gras.  Nor were the single women alone.  Everyone in our group appreciated the fact they were one holler from having 40 people come to their rescue or support in a bind.

We carry strength and clout in numbers, no question about it, and we often parlay this strength into benefits no one would ever receive traveling as individuals.

On a cruise, no one in our group will ever lack for a friend. No matter what they do on board or off shore, our group is so large they will always find company if they look hard enough.

Even better, after the cruise is over, each person will take a hundred new friends back to Houston with them. They are part of a 'community' now.  From that point on, no matter what SSQQ activity they participate in, there will ALWAYS be at least one fellow cruiser hanging around.  Even better, as you remember from how people in the Tom Easley era bonded so closely, you may have SSQQ friends for life.

These people have a shared experience that will always bind them when they are back on land.  They will see a fellow member of last year's cruise trip and go over to say hello.  After all, they may have sat with the person at dinner on several occasions or been in a snorkel dive together or gone on the submarine tour with them. 

Because we know each other on land, because we know each other through previous adventures at sea, because we have veteran cruisers on every trip, and because our numbers are huge, we cavort and carry on like we own the ship. 

Even when we scare the crew to death by stuffing twenty-five people into a hot tub meant for six or seven people, they stay as far away from us as possible!   Who wants to mess with a group as nuts as we are?"


"How has the Love Boat Era affected the 'In-Crowd'?"

"Now that is an interesting question, Gertrude.  The current SSQQ notables are the people whose names and pictures are part of the most recent cruises.  As people go to check out the stories and the pictures, each individual member of the trip gains recognition. 

Someone like George 'Mr. Handsome' Sargent walks through the studio and people actually point him out.  Even better, if introduced, they will say, 'I know you!  You're that guy who always stirs up trouble on the cruise trip!'   The same thing happens to Gary 'Mr. Hat' Schweinle when he comes to the studio.  Or Don 'Don Juan' Schmidt, Abbie 'Abba Dabbo Do' Barbley and Robert 'Frisky Business'. 

And goodness gracious, Phyllis Porter, the Center of Attention, is recognized wherever she goes inside or outside the studio.  Along with the ssqq staff, the cruise members are the new ssqq celebrities.  Some of these people are so image-conscious they actually take their own camera with them in case they cause trouble or get into trouble and need their picture taken.  Some of these 'Usual Suspects' are so shameless that any publicity is good publicity. 

One development that surprises me is these days there are almost as many 'couples' in the In-Crowd as there are 'Singles'.  Gary and Betty Richardson, Jess and Pat Carnes, Gerald and Virginia McEathron, Larry and Cathy Leising, Bob and Jan Milz, Patty Harrison and Joe Lachner, CA and Cathy Riser are couples that people recognize immediately.

The Love Boat Era has helped me solve my ancient dilemma. In the old days, the studio did best when I was single.  Today with Marla's help, it looks like the studio is doing just fine with me married.  Together Marla and I organize the cruises that give the studio its identity in the 2000s.  

The cruises allow me to contribute in many ways.  For example, although my days of becoming one of the 'Usual Suspects' is way behind me, I certainly don't mind writing about our modern heroes. 

Furthermore I don't have to shoulder all the load anymore. Because Marla is the travel agent for the cruises as well as the Head Registrar at the studio, she has become just as important to the studio as me.  These days people rely on her leadership just as much as they do me.   

Our two cruise adventures each year make it pretty easy for Marla and I to get to know everyone whether they are married, coupled, or single.  It is very satisfying to be married and still see the social side of the studio thrive.
 

"Why do you suppose the Cruise Trips are so conducive to Romance?"

"There are several obvious reasons. 

For starters, where else do you have an entire week of free time to devote to Romance - chasing it, finding it, enjoying it?   Club Med comes to mind, but if you find it, you probably have to leave it behind.  On our cruise, you can keep it forever if you want to. 

Second, there are so many opportunities to meet people if you are on one of our Rhapsody Trips.  As the years go by, our crowds are just going to grow and grow because the word of our success will be passed throughout the Houston dance community. 

And if you don't find the person you are looking for within our group, then why not look outside?   On the 2002 Trip, Marian Schoppe met her future husband on the trip even though he was from outside the group.  Since we depart from Galveston, it wasn't much of a coincidence that he lived in Houston.  On the same trip, Robby Thompson met his girl friend Lisa outside the group.  Although she was from San Antonio, they dated for quite a while until business forced him to relocate to California.

It turns out when 'outsiders' see our people on the dance floor, they are drawn to the energy of our group.  The dance floor becomes powerful 'Turf' and rewards all the members of our group tremendous visibility.  We are the Rock Stars of the trip.

Best of all though, that SSQQ Slow Dance magic is unbelievably potent at sea.  Put an SSQQ couple in tux and gown, strike up the orchestra, put them on the floor with glamorous, sophisticated people in the audience smiling with appreciation, then watch our dancers put on a show to light up the place!   We are the stars of the evening.  Our sheer numbers put people in awe.  Even the staff line up to watch.  What a thrill!

Or a simple evening in the Centrum with a little three-piece orchestra playing 'Besame Mucho' can become special... a couple can relax in each other's arms, have a drink, get up and dance, go back and snuggle together in a quiet corner, look out on the sea, get up and dance some more, and chat with friends who stop by.  All the tension of fast-paced city life start to melt away. People relax and start to open to each other.  It is pure magic.

Every stage of relationship can be touched by a cruise.  People can connect for the first time, people can develop a relationship already in progress, and people in established relationships can regain touch with one another.

Yes, a cruise can be Cupid's Paradise indeed."

 

 

"So what are your plans from here on out?"

"Marla has had a lifelong love of travel.  She and I are both reaching the time of life where 'Travel' sounds like a lot of fun.  It turns out there a lot of people our age who feel exactly the same way.  They have already said how much more fun it is to travel with a group of their friends. 

The Alaska Trip proved our studio can support at least one high-end trip a year.  Since we have taken two cruises a year for 2004 and 2005, we see the studio can support at least two trips a year as well.

Our hope is that as we increase the size of our group, we will be able to sail to farther locations each year.   Hawaii, Europe North, Europe South, Africa, the Far East... it's a big world out there.  Lots to see, lots to do.  Some places exotic, some places luxurious.

As SSQQ matures and new people step up to help run the studio, Marla and I plan to sail off into the sunset.  And we hope our friends will join us.   Let's put on our tuxes and gowns and dance our way right across the Seven Seas.

We will take this group just as far as it wants to go!"


"If you retire, what about the future of SSQQ?"

"I am very curious what the future holds for SSQQ.  If you asked me today, I could not tell you where the studio will be located in 2011 or who the owner will be. 

Our lease at the Bissonnet location expires in the middle of 2010.  The current owners of the location are the medical people who are building the hospital next door.  They have made it very clear to me they think my space is more valuable to them being carved up for doctor's offices than continuing as a dance studio.  So I am pessimistic that SSQQ will call 4803 Bissonnet home after our lease expires. 

That means we will have to move.  Let me be frank.  The thought of moving that floor, those mirrors, that sound system, and all those Halloween and Christmas decorations is not very appealing.  Plus who wants to sign a five or ten year lease at age 60? 

It is pretty obvious I am going to have to hand the studio off to someone.  Give it to my daughter Sam?  Maybe.  Hire someone to run the studio while Marla and I sail the Seven Seas?  Maybe.  Take on a partner?  Maybe.  Sell the studio and stick around as a consultant?  Maybe.  

We have four complete years till the lease expires.  A lot can happen in four years.  When the right person comes along, I imagine it won't be too hard to hand him or her the reins.  After all, the legacy of thirty years of hard work has built up a lot of good will.  Just the kids alone from all these marriages should guarantee us a steady new supply of customers!

In the meantime, I think I will end this article with a preview of some of our upcoming cruise trips!!

As my friend Daryl Armstrong would say, 'Aloha!'


Thank you for reading.
Rick Archer
dance@ssqq.com

SSQQ has two cruises in 2006 - Rhapsody Reloaded in late August, the other is New England in late September.

We are taking an "Autumn Leaves are Falling" New England Cruise from Boston to Acadia National Park in Maine, plus
Halifax and New Brunswick in Canada.  Here are some pictures to tempt you.


The Nation's Capital

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