SSQQ At a Glance gives a quick
overview on the many facets of the studio.
covers the events that led to the
development of Houston's largest dance studio.
explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group
Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important
to our dance program.
covers the events that explain
how we developed our Group Class Dance program.
This section is actually something of a meditation on the nature
of the Rights of an Individual Versus the rights of the Group. It
covers in great detail the incidents that led to our policies and
the reasoning behind the policies.
Why do we insist everyone switch partners?
Why can't people watch classes?
Why are children banned from the studio?
How SSQQ Got Its Start...
by Rick Archer in First Person
First written June 2003
Last Updated February 2007
It is, of course, a cosmic absurdity that a guy who openly admits he is not a natural
dancer, has never won a
dance contest, does not perform, choreograph, or put on shows, has never received
any teaching awards or professional recognition whatsoever, somehow
managed to create the
largest dance studio in Houston, Texas (and quite possibly in the
entire United States).
This article - which is basically
an abbreviated autobiography of my dance career - answers the
"How did I do that?"
rule out some of the obvious possibilities.
Did I study
dance from an early age? Nah. I took my first line dance
class at age 24. I began to teach dance part-time at age 27.
I began to teach full-time at age 29.
Did I inherit a dance studio? Nah. Dad was an engineer. Mom
was a secretary. They divorced when I was nine. My father never
danced and my mother laughed at me the one (and ONLY) time I showed
her what I had learned in dance class. Neither parent ever had a
thing to do with my dance career.
Was it family money? Nah. My mother was broke and my father
gave me $400 for college.
Did I enter a strong
training program at a major dance studio? Nah. I took Leisure
Learning-style dance classes for three years.
apprentice at a dance studio that taught you the ropes? A
tentative "Yes" to this question, although I hardly "apprenticed" or
was given any training.
SSQQ is 99% the result of me stumbling
around and figuring it out one step at a time for 4 years of the
wildest rollercoaster ride imaginable. For those four years, I
winged it one step ahead of the posse. And several times I almost
Social Dancing started as my hobby.
Then as the result of several remarkable twists of fate,
it also became my career. I
never expected to become a dance teacher.
However in 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980 a unique
rat-a-tat series of opportunities launched
me on the adventure of a lifetime. During this time I led a
charmed life that culminated in the creation of SSQQ.
Each time a golden opportunity presented itself,
I had enough
sense to take advantage of it. But
I must add I usually staggered
through each new DOOR
with the same confusion as a befuddled
Alice in Wonderland. Most of the time I went
But once I fell through each door, at least I had the sense to start
Nor did I have much "vision". I kept my eye
squarely fixed on each rung of the ladder
without looking up. I rarely thought much beyond the next day
or next week. As a result, I never
imagined that someday I would become the
owner of Houston's largest dance studio.
contains FOUR just-in-the-nick-of-time rescues where people came out
of nowhere to save my skin.
Twice a teacher showed up out of nowhere when I was on the brink of
Twice I got evicted and both times I unexpectedly found the perfect
dance studio the very next day to solve my problem. It was
almost as if both times my next location was already awaiting me.
The story contains FOUR different instances where people who had
never met me before in my life offered me important jobs on the
goes into detail about a strange conflict-of-interest agreement that
changed the entire direction of my career.
In my opinion,
my luck was so phenomenal I sometimes speculate about divine
guidance. Although I do not
practice formal religion, I obviously had a "Guardian Angel".
In truth, the story of my dance career and my dance studio is the
result of at least a half-dozen lucky breaks including two amazing
"Right Place at the Right Time" miracles that read like sheer folly.
In 1977, I was a mediocre, barely-qualified line dance instructor
with 15 students learning the "Bus Stop" and the "Four Corners".
Then, out of nowhere came Saturday Night Fever. Three months
later I was teaching classes of 70-100 people seven nights a week.
In 1980, I accepted an offer to teach a Western class before I knew
how to Twostep or Polka. Nor could I hear a C&W song and tell you
what to dance to it. Two months later I became the best-known
Western dance instructor in Houston, Texas... even though I had
never danced in a Western club in my life.
story contains the inside information on the gamble of a lifetime.
As you will see, there were many times when I flat-out had to bluff
my way through a tight spot to somehow make it to the next level.
was perhaps a little skill and hard work along the way, but make no
mistake about it...
I was in the right place at the right
time or the recipient of uncanny cosmic help so often that the story
of SSQQ Dance Studio begins to sound "predestined".
(1974 - 1977)
worn-out $1 Paperback Book Got the Ball Rolling...
FOR STARTERS, I Get Thrown out
of Graduate School!!
Back in 1974 I was thrown out of my graduate program at Colorado State.
This was, without a doubt, the most bitter
experience with failure I have ever experienced.
I was in the Clinical Psychology
Department on my way to becoming
a therapist. The truth was that I was a good student, but I had no grasp of graduate school politics.
For one thing, I have always had problems with authority. I bristle
too easily at criticism and I have a tendency to speak up when maybe
I would be better off if I shut up.
For starters, I made a poor impression on
the wrong person: the Chairman of the Department.
Suinn was my instructor for a course called Interviewing.
I would do things like ask him to explain something further, disagree with him on an interpretation,
vigorously defend my position, and bristle at all criticism.
Bad career moves. Very bad. While everyone else had the sense to keep their mouths
shut, there I was actually discussing the course material trying to
understand things better. Silly me. By the
time I realized Dr.
Suinn did not appreciate my outspoken ways one bit, it was too late.
A simple trick was used to get rid of me: Dr. Suinn gave me a "D" in his Interviewing class. There were no exams; grades were based
solely on his opinion. Despite an A- average in 8 other courses, due to an F in
graduate school politics, I was sent packing.
returned to Houston not knowing a soul and feeling very beaten.
I was also very lonely. One day as I browsed through a
used book store on
Weslayan at Bissonnet,
noticed a worn-out book on how to meet girls.
Since this was a subject I clearly needed help
with, I picked it up. As I casually leafed through it, this one-dollar paperback said the 3 easiest ways to
meet girls were:
1) the Art of Conversation
2) the Art of Cooking
3) the Art of Dance.
I still have that book by the way. It changed my
THE FIRST STEP
My idea of cooking was to make a peanut
butter sandwich or heat a hot dog.
I was big on milk and cereal and milk.
Cooking was out.
This was not my strength. Nor was I interested in learning.
Reeling from my failure in Graduate School, my self-esteem
was far too low to even dream of mastering the "Art of
Conversation" with the Fair Sex. "Talking to women" was a deeply
threatening idea at the time.
However I had actually always
nurtured a secret interest in dancing.
I wouldn't mind putting my arms around a woman as long as I didn't
have to think of something clever to say.
I had never danced in high school. Too shy. But I watched
carefully from the sidelines and WANTED to dance. I
certainly envied the guys who could dance. As I said,
the interest had always been there.
There was very little dancing at my college, Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore. Being a "men's school" at the time had something
to do with that problem.
And I certainly didn't dance in Graduate School.
So here I was, a grown adult man
of 24 years of age, with absolutely no dance experience at
all. Now you begin to see how preposterous this story
is beginning to sound.
Taking the advice of my little paperback book, one Saturday
morning in July 1974 I began taking dance lessons
at Dance City USA over on Richmond
The initial results were
not encouraging. Not only did I move with the grace
of a dump truck, I got propositioned by my dance teacher to
boot. I was staggered by the immensity of my challenge.
But I was too stubborn to quit.
Several times a week after work I
went to dance class. After one class ended, the
next month I always took the
follow-up class, or repeated the one I just finished, or found
a new class at another
location. Sometimes I did all three at the
Due to my unfortunate need to analyze everything I was a slow learner,
but my persistence was phenomenal. For three straight years I
continued my dance
classes. I was determined to get better. Plus I was having fun and
starting to come out of my shell.
may have flunked Grad School, I had learned enough to
recognize this dance stuff was pretty good self-therapy for me.
(LEARNING TO DANCE)
One day in early 1977 it occurred
to me I had finally reached the point where I was a fairly good dancer. In my years since I have seen
almost every one of my own students develop at a far faster clip than I did, but
like the proverbial tortoise I had slowly-but-surely reached my
original goals. I had finished the first rung
of the ladder.
Now I began to dream of new goals.
I had always made a habit of studying how my teachers
explained the material. In fact, I studied my teachers
like a hawk. All along I knew that I would absolutely love
teaching my own class someday. I hatched a simple
LEADS TO ANOTHER - THE FIRST DOOR OPENS
One night in the spring of 1977 I got up the nerve to ask Roz Lively, my dance teacher,
if I could teach a
new line dance to her class at the Jewish Community Center on Braeswood. She smiled and said sure.
She could have simply let me teach a line dance
pattern for about ten minutes, but
instead she offered to let me teach her next class
for the entire night. She said she
would simply watch from the
background and only help if I asked for
So I practiced endlessly that week to prepare
FIRST DANCE CLASS! I was so nervous!! The night started well, but unfortunately
10 minutes into class someone
opened the door to say there was a bomb threat.
turned around to tell my class maybe we should leave. I was
shocked to see the room was
already empty. Even as early as the 70s no one at the JCC
needed to be told twice.
Fortunately there was nothing to the threat, but I
suppose you could say I "bombed out" on my first try.
It turned out my
request to teach the class paid an unexpected dividend. Two months later, my teacher
Roz stopped me after class and said she was going to take the summer off to travel.
Would I be
interested in substitute teaching her Disco line dance course for a couple months?
By an odd coincidence, I had spent the previous week typing up a syllabus while
I daydreamed about being a dance teacher.
I couldn't wait to start! I didn't
know it at the time, but my first door had just opened.
So in the summer of 1977, I
took over the weekly
Disco class at
the Braeswood JCC. My first class had about 20 people.
I did a good job and secretly hoped this assignment would become
permanent. I was crushed when Roz returned to resume her class
in the fall.
Fortunately however another door quickly opened. My experience
that summer had led
someone at the Braeswood JCC to pass along my name to someone at the
Memorial JCC. One day I got a phone call request to teach at
the Memorial JCC.
Sure! Why not? I started with a class of 5 people in September 1977. Although the class was small I didn't
care because I liked what I was doing. I
enjoyed teaching dance a lot!
On the third night a lady
came up to me after class and asked
if I knew how to teach Disco partner dancing.
No, I didn't. And I wasn't happy about this
answer either because I was becoming curious about partner dancing
I had been taking dance lessons for four years at
this point. I really had not set out on the objective of
becoming a dance teacher so there was canyon-size gaps in my
knowledge of dance.
- MY FIRST BIG BREAK
Only in the fourth year - 1977 - had it dawned on me it would be fun
to teach a class. All I knew how to do was teach were line dances and
some "freestyle" moves. But I had been already
thinking about how I could continue to improve as a dancer. Her question was all the incentive I needed.
The next day I signed up for a Whip class at Stevens of
Hollywood to learn how to "touch dance" with a
Earlier that year I had taken a Disco Line Dance class at
Stevens of Hollywood which was located at the corner of Shepherd and
Westheimer. Whenever I came early, I would watch the owner,
Lance Stevens, give private lessons in the Whip. I was always
mesmerized because this dance was used to the same Disco music I did
my line dances to. I wanted to learn it all!
So this explains how I chose Stevens of Hollywood for my first
partner dance class.
For my first class I was l assigned a partner. She was a nice lady named Dorothy
Piazzos who was there as a Volunteer because she
already knew how to Whip.
Although learning to dance had never come
easily to me, I wasn't actually all that bad
in my first night. Dorothy told me that other than squeezing her hand too hard
was very nervous!), she thought I picked everything up very fast. I replied that I taught a
Disco class somewhere else and my previous dance experience had helped me pick up the footwork.
Dorothy's eyes did a double-take although I didn't know why at the
The explanation was that she knew the owner of the studio
- Lance Stevens - had been looking for a
new Disco teacher. So without telling me, Dorothy mentioned
this tidbit to Lance Stevens who was also my
instructor that night.
little whisper changed my life.
At the end of the class Mr. Stevens walked
up me. He said he had just heard I taught Disco.
He added he hated Disco with a passion. Then he asked me to show him the Worm,
the hot new move of the day.
I obliged. After several hmmmphs,
he commented it was a stupid move and walked away. I thought
nothing more of it. I was not even aware I
was being interviewed.
However, the following week Mr. Stevens came up to me
again and said his Disco teacher had just quit. Would I like to take her place?
Are you kidding? Of course I would. I loved teaching dance!!
This was my first "Big
Break" without a doubt.
October 1977, I began teaching a Disco class at Stevens of Hollywood
of 15 students. I was now teaching two nights a week part-time in
addition to my full-time job investigating child abuse for Harris
I had landed
three small teaching opportunities in a row as the result of my simple
request to substitute teach back in the spring, but none of this
prepared me for my fourth break, the one that changed my life
I was in the right place at the right time to
begin the biggest ride of my life.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
THE FOURTH DOOR
OPENS - SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
I was in the
proverbial right place at the right time when Saturday Night Fever quietly opened in the theaters in November
No one could
have ever predicted the impact this unheralded movie would
have upon the American psyche, but it became an overnight
At Stevens of Hollywood, the phone would not stop ringing off the hook. Everyone wanted
lessons. Since Mr. Stevens hated Disco, he would just hand each
new opportunity to me and tell me to run with it.
And RUN I DID!! In the space of just three short months I
went from teaching Disco Dancing
one night a week to teaching dance every single night of the week!!
Surge hit Houston like a tidal wave. I was one busy boy! From
two one-hour classes in October, by February 1978 I was teaching 18
group classes a week (three classes, six nights a week), 20
private lessons a week, plus I went out dancing after
practically every class to boot.
However I was faced with a huge problem. I didn't
really know very much about dancing when I started in
October 1977. I lived in constant fear that a student
would show up who knew more about dancing than I did.
With the pace Disco was developing here in Houston, there
were nights when I was learning a move at 6 pm that I was
going to teach at 7... and there weren't any other patterns
in the cookie jar in case I got stuck.
Night Fever hit, all I knew how to teach were line
dances. I didn't have a clue how to partner dance. But
my students insisted on learning how to Partner Dance. How
was I supposed to teach them something I didn't know how to
do myself? I had to make stuff up from what I saw out
on the dance floor. For several months,
I stayed barely one step ahead of my students. It was so bad that I
turned to a recent invention - the VCR. Each Thursday, a new
show called "Dance Fever" came on. After class, I would race
home to see if there were any new moves I could steal to use in
my next Advanced Disco class!!
In the middle of 1978 when Disco Partner Dancing became the
rage, my weaknesses were in great danger of being exposed. I was constantly worried that
my inexperience would prove fatal some night. No, let's
change that. I was scared out of my wits!!
Stevens was no help at all. He had hired me for a specific
reason - to teach Disco. Mr. Stevens hated Disco with a purple
passion; he hated the music and he wasn't interested in the
lines dances or the freestyle moves. As far as he was concerned,
I was on my own.
Plus, I was too stupid to ask around for a teacher myself. I
don't know why I wasn't out there seeking help.
Looking back, I know an Angel was protecting me. I have proof: One night my Teacher magically landed in my lap to save me!
I had not even lifted a finger.
That was when the Universe came to my rescue. In
Hindu philosophy, there is a saying for those seeking a guide to
help them down the Path to Enlightenment: "The Teacher will
Appear when the Student is Ready." That was EXACTLY how it
happened for me.
DOOR FIVE - I MEET MY TEACHER
One night in August 1978 I was hanging
out at the
Houston's favorite Disco of the the moment.
A tall, handsome man entered the
floor with his pretty blonde teenage dance partner.
They began dancing the most sophisticated
version of the Latin Hustle I had ever seen.
Together they were poetry in motion.
What a pleasure it was to watch them dance!! Their dancing
easily eclipsed anything I had seen in Saturday Night
Fever. They were incredible!!
Judging by the faces of the people around,
I wasn't the only person who felt this way. Out of respect
for their excellence, all the other dancers had cleared the
floor. I don't think anyone in
that building felt they had the right to be on the floor at
the same time as these two. Instead everyone in the building
lined the floor and clapped with enthusiasm to show their
They were unbelievable dancers! They
danced three songs in a row, then sat down and did not dance
again for the rest of the night. Their impromptu performance
electrified the crowd. Everyone in the building was in awe.
I was mesmerized. That was the only time in my life I had
ever seen a dance floor cleared like
that. Nor have I ever seen it happened since. Such a
I began to wonder who this
man was. I thought to myself,
"Rick, why don't you find out who he is? Maybe he is
a dance teacher!"
So I approached the man before he could sit down and
asked if he taught dance. He said yes,
smiled and handed me his business card. This
is how I met
Glen Hunsucker, the man who would teach
me practically everything I know about dancing over
the next eight years.
At the time Glen was
probably the finest jazz dancer and instructor in
Houston, but I had never heard of him.
My coincidental meeting with him
that night meant that I now began to receive the
training I needed to advance my
In addition learning advanced Disco partner dancing,
he taught me the Whip and Ballroom training as well.
Mr. Hunsucker was a phenomenal teacher and I will
always be grateful to him for his help. What a
break it was meeting him!
SIX - THE CLASS FACTORY (the Gremlin
the summer of 1978, the Class Factory was an adult education
program that was just getting off the ground.
Owned by Donna Gordon (not her real name), she was
assisted by Ted Weisgal,
the man who would later help SSQQ develop into the
largest dance studio in the country (that's a story
At this point in the time, Donna was the person who came out of
nowhere to hand me an incredible lucky break that
would propel my dance career to startling new
At this point
in time, my
business relationship with Mr. Stevens was always on shaky
Quite frankly, Mr. Stevens was in his Been
There, Done That phase of his dance career. He liked the
Whip and he liked Ballroom, but he hated Disco music. This
is how I got my start in the first place - he didn't want to
fool with it!
point, Mr. Stevens had developed a reputation as
something of a curmudgeon. He was grouchy
and sarcastic a lot of the time. Meanwhile, I was a
puppy dog - eager to please, enthusiastic, cheerful,
flexible, cooperative, energetic - plus 'ambitious and hungry'.
The difference between our attitudes was night and day.
Let me say something here. I am writing this story
twenty-five years later. In other words, I am now in the
same stage of my career today that Mr. Stevens was back
then. And you know something? Sometimes I get accused of the
same sarcasm, the same brusqueness, the same arrogance, and
the same grouchiness that Mr. Stevens was accused of 25
years earlier. I am not happy to admit it, but it is
You see that picture of the Bear on the right? I chose
that Bear picture as the perfect symbolic representation of Mr. Stevens for
this chapter. Then I thought to myself, "Hmm, maybe I
should tell the reader how grouchy I get sometimes." So I
clicked on a story I had written about a time I lost my temper (GRUMPY
Lo and behold the same picture of the bear popped up. I
had to laugh at
the irony -
Twenty-five years later, I had become as grouchy as my
mentor. Makes you wonder.
Want to play
a practical joke on me? Walk up to me at
the studio and tell me how you want a Refund for something
ridiculous. Keep a straight face. Watch me go
from zero to near-ballistic in seconds. Watch as I
puff up, then laugh and say "Gotcha, April Fool!" Then
run for your life. Years of arguments have made me
very touchy on this subject.
Hopefully you get my point - don't be too quick to criticize
until you take a walk in someone else's dance shoes. Maybe
Mr. Stevens was worn out then just like sometimes I get worn
That said, Mr. Stevens' sarcasm and shortness definitely used to get
him in trouble. For one thing, it cost him students. It cost
him in other ways as well. One day in 1978, two "Doors" in a
row opened for me. Both doors were big steps in my career.
Sad to say, this time Mr. Stevens unwittingly opened both
doors for me himself. First, he opened the Door Six
inadvertently with his legendary
DONNA GORDON AND THE START
OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
afternoon in the summer of 1978, I had just finished a
private lesson. While waiting for my next lesson, I went out
to the large dance floor to observe Mr. Stevens teach a
small Country-Western dance class. I realized I didn't even
know Country-Western dancing even existed! I
definitely didn't like the music.
A guy was
frowning because he was having trouble figuring out how do
some goofy dance called Put Your Little Foot. His
wife was upset because he wasn't paying attention.
Stevens commented, "Maybe you should listen to your wife
A woman who
was standing next to me visibly flinched at
this remark. She turned to me
and asked, "Is Mr. Stevens always this rude?" I shrugged
my shoulders and nodded.
I wasn't trying to put a dagger in
his back. I had told the truth - he was gruff and
sarcastic. That was his personality. Some people
didn't like it, but others brushed it off.
By her expression, I could see the woman appreciated my candor.
The two of us continued to watch the class. I had no idea
who she was.
Then a lady
stumbled during the Cotton Eye Joe. Standing on one
leg trying to 'hook-kick', she lost her balance and nearly
fell. The smart move was to ignore the mistake or offer
sympathy, but instead Mr. Stevens embarrassed her. He said,
"Did someone trip you? Or do you need someone to hold
you up?" So he grabbed a guy and told him to put his
arm around her. "There, that should make you happy." Then he walked away.
This comment infuriated the woman next to me. She
said, "I can't believe this guy stays in business talking to
his students like that!" I said nothing, but I knew
she was right.
I guess the woman sensed that I agreed with her. She began a
running conversation with me while we watched Mr. Stevens
teach his class. Finally she introduced herself, "I am Donna
Gordon. I own a new business called The Class Factory."
She went on to explain that she had contacted Mr. Stevens by
phone to teach this class and this was the first chance she
had to evaluate him. This explained what she was doing
there and why she was watching so carefully.
I was curious about her business. I
told her about dance classes I had taken from two similar
organizations, the University of Houston Sundry School and
Saint Thomas Courses a la Carte. Donna was surprised I
knew so much. She explained that she had gotten Mr.
Stevens' name out of the Courses a la Carte catalogue in the
We discussed Mr. Stevens for a while longer. She must have
liked what I said. Without warning, Donna
asked, "Do you teach classes too?" I told her I was
Disco teacher here.
Donna smiled and said, "We don't offer any Disco
classes. Would you like to teach
Disco classes for the Class Factory?" My eyes
grew wide. I did not know I was being interviewed, but it
didn't take long for me to answer.
You bet I would like to teach for you!! Out of the blue, I
had just been handed a source of dance students I could call
"my own". It was an incredible break.
(Editor's Note: Donna's
last name is NOT Gordon. In 2006, Donna emailed from
another city to demand her name not be used in this story.
Since I owed her a huge favor, I acceded to her request.)
DOOR SEVEN: I GET PERMISSION TO
TEACH MY OWN CLASSES
After Donna Gordon and I
finalized our agreement, I had an idea - Why not ask Mr.
Stevens permission to teach the Class Factory students in
one of his side rooms and pay him rent? In other
words, the Class Factory would pay me directly and I would
rent a room from him. After Donna left, I mentioned it to him. Mr. Stevens
okayed my idea on the spot. Then he walked away. I don't
believe he even gave it a second thought.
This was an enormous opening for me. It
basically meant I had the right to seek out my own
students and work for myself in addition to working for Mr.
Stevens. If words like "conflict of interest" or
"have your cake and eat it too" cross your mind, I
would have to agree your with in your conclusion. This
was Lucky Door Seven. What a break!
You will never understand why Mr. Stevens would
agree to this favor unless I add important background information.
At this point in my career, I was a real klutz when it came
to partner dancing. Right from the start in the Whip Class I had
begun nine months earlier in September 1977, he could see I
was hardly a natural dancer.
I suppose he hired me mainly because his other teacher quit
and he was too lazy to bother looking any further.
After Mr. Stevens hired me, he soon
discovered I was particularly slow in learning from him
whenever he tried to train me. He was not the warmest
person in the world and probably did not realize how poorly
I do when someone uses criticism. I did not possess a
thick skin. Realizing we didn't
click as teacher-student, he lost interest in helping me. He assumed I was a slow learner which lowered his opinion of
my dancing potential significantly.
One negative experience in particular - the infamous
Ritz Breakdown - plus other
dance follies led Mr. Stevens to the unmistakable conclusion that I was
not much of a dancer and definitely not meant to be a performer.
I will never forget the sight
of him leaving the Ritz with his head shaking in disdain at
my breakdown. It
was the same look a father gives his son when he is
convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that his offspring
will never ever possibly amount to much.
Since Mr. Stevens was a dance champion many times over, his
attitude towards me after the Ritz incident was that I was
in way over my head. He never asked me to perform
again. That should tell you something.
I imagine his
decision to let me teach my own classes was largely
influenced by the fact that he didn't take my dancing
ability seriously. And I guess I can't say as I blame him.
In addition to my weak dancing skills, I lacked experience
as a dance teacher. My knowledge of dancing was meager at best
because I had never received any dance training in my life
other than Line Dance classes. Nevertheless, here I was
trying to teach classes of 50-100 students. This was
the point in my career where I was barely one step ahead of
my own advanced Disco students and struggling mightily to
keep it all together.
Mr. Stevens was
completely aware of my teaching problems as well. He
constantly shook his head at me. "Rick, you never teach any
Obviously Mr. Stevens never once considered me a threat. This alone explains his generosity - he agreed
to let me teach my own classes because he was simply trying
to help me make a living. It was no sweat off his
Maybe he should have thought it through a little more.
In retrospect, our agreement was so tilted in my favor that
it soon created a rift between us the size of a canyon.
Stevens might have begun regret his decision in August 1978
when my new Class Factory Disco students started flooding
the place. Things would never be the same.
From this point on, the tension continued to mount,
eventually leading to his decision to send me packing a year
the boost his favor gave to my career, I will always be in
great debt to Mr. Stevens.
That said, I am sorry that Mr. Stevens later said he felt
that I took advantage of him. These were words I heard
through the Grapevine via students who took classes both
from him and me during the 1980s.
In one sense he would be correct - I aggressively took
advantage of every opportunity that presented itself while I
worked for him (including the many teaching opportunities that
he gave to me because he didn't want them).
But I do so right under his watchful eye. Whatever I
did, I did with his permission.
My only regret was that Mr. Stevens saw me
as a thorn in his side rather than an asset. This
point of view I will never understand. I brought
energy to his studio. You would think that would count
COWBOY CREATES MY EXODUS
1979 - 1980
This is a great story. If you would you like to read
it in far greater detail:
History of Western Swing
RECAP OF EVENTS TO THIS POINT
1978 had been a phenomenal year
for me. At this point, Four important "Doors" had opened.
First I was a nobody Disco teacher with little training, little
natural ability, and a following of 15 students. Suddenly thanks to
Saturday Night Fever, I was sky-rocketed into the stratosphere at
lightning speed to become one of the busiest dance teachers in all
of Houston, Texas.
Second I discovered I was just barely experienced enough to stay
about an inch ahead of my new army of dance students. Classes
of 50-100 students seven nights a week were appearing out of
nowhere, including dancers asking for training above my ability. I
lived in constant fear that a student would arrive in my class who
knew more than I did and expose me for a fraud. That's when
the Cosmos dropped Glen Hunsucker, the finest Disco Dance Teacher in the entire city,
right in my lap.
Third I was standing still when
out of nowhere the owner of a new adult
education business basically hired me on the spot. She didn't even
bother to see me dance or ask for my credentials. I had
acquired a source to obtain dance students of my own without even
having to ask.
Fourth Most absurd of
all, my boss had unwittingly given me permission to create a second dance studio right under his own nose.
I was minding my own business and one huge Break after
another landed on my doorstep. This story begins to
read like an argument for Destiny.
1978 - WORKING TWO FULL-TIME JOBS AT ONCE
Miracle Disco Days of
1978 I also worked a day job.
For four years (74-78) I had been working for Harris County Child
Welfare as a social worker. It was my job to investigate claims of
child neglect and child abuse. Quite frankly, I had tried as
hard as I possibly could to make the world a better place.
However, I had reached the point where all my youthful idealism had
been replaced by the bitter conclusion that no matter how hard I
tried, I was basically powerless to make any significant improvement
in these people's lives. This was a dead end job.
Now you know
why I spent most of my time daydreaming about teaching dance while I drove around the city
looking for the address of another beat-up, underfed, unloved kid in
the worst parts of towns. It was my equivalent of thinking of
Christmas back home while the Germans bombed Bastogne in the Battle
of the Bulge. I didn't hate my job, but I didn't like it either. Dreaming of Disco was my way of
Then came my big break in 1977 where I got three Disco jobs in a row
without even asking for them. These cute little opportunities
paid off big-time when Saturday Night Fever hit in late 1977.
Taking full advantage of every opportunity that came along, in 1978
I worked both jobs. I put in eight-to-five as a social worker, came
to the dance studio for a private lesson at 6, taught group classes
from 7-10, and frequently went out dancing afterwards.
I was YOUNG
and I actually did have a lot energy back in those days.
However the nightly Disco Lifestyle combined with a full-time
day job had to stop. I had been burning the candle at both
ends for too long. As you can imagine, after a year of
this I had become a very tired young man.
POKER TERMS, I GO "ALL IN"
By the end of 1978, I was worn out. I had worked two full-time
jobs for an entire year. I may have been young, but I was also human.
Something had to give. I took a hard look.
In one job, I accomplished
absolutely nothing and I was depressed all the
time. In the
other job, I made people happy and received compliments all the
In addition, I discovered a talent I had not known
about before - I was an excellent teacher. In fact, I
appeared to a have a gift for it.
I had survived on only one salary before the dancing came
along. Since I was
making the same salary teaching dance as I
made as a
social worker, I knew the dance money was sufficient to take a gamble.
I wasn't particularly
good at dancing, but "Teaching Dance" to beginners seem to
come naturally to me. Yeah, I knew about the joke - if you can't do
it, then teach it. Ha Ha Ha. So what? I didn't
care that I wasn't a great dancer.
funny, I was patient, I was easy going, I explained things well, and
I kept each class moving at a pace that unerringly fit the middle of
the pack. People complimented on my teaching skill all the time.
was also good at taking my students out dancing with me after class.
Here friendships were made and energy was created. In other words, despite Mr. Stevens' poor opinion of me, not all of my new-found success was a total
But I couldn't keep up this pace
much longer. I knew it was time to see
what I could accomplish if I taught dance full-time. I had
Glen to help me learn more material, Class Factory was a source of new students,
I had permission to
work for myself, and I had talent as a teacher. What else did I
In the movie Seabiscuit there is a scene where an underachieving
jockey engages a championship jockey in a conversation as they ride
side by side at the back of the pack. Suddenly,
the champion jockey says, "Sorry, kid, there's the hole; gotta go!"
Like a lightning bolt he is off to the races.
I decided to screw up my courage and quit my day job.
It was time for me to hit
the hole and GO!
CAREER BEGINS WITH A VERY NASTY SURPRISE!
In January 1979 I began to teach dance for
a living. No more social work to fall
At the time, this
was a very big move for me. My mother would ask me, "What will you do if Disco fades?"
My reply was always a smug, "Oh, Mom, Disco is too popular to disappear!"
Ah, such is the ignorance of youth...
Little did I know Disco would be gone in seven months.
was in for a BIG SURPRISE (and it wasn't a pleasant one either!)
I spent nearly all of 1979 wondering about the implications
of a looming dark cloud known as Urban Cowboy.
If you lived in Houston, you may remember
Urban Cowboy was filmed here in Houston and Pasadena during 1979. However, with my usual lack of foresight,
it had never occurred to me to anticipate any sort of
repercussions. I stuck my head in the sand and
completely ignored what this might mean. Bad move.
There were some serious bad omens. Before the movie had even opened, during
a six-month period of 1979, almost every major Disco closed
one night, spent a week or two remodeling, and re-opened as
a Western Dance Hall.
I was flabbergasted. And did I react swiftly to this looming
crisis? No, I did not. Instead I sat there and
mostly felt sorry for myself.
(Would you like to read this story in far greater detail?
History of Western Swing)
Disco World was crumbling around me. One by one, my favorite
Discos began to close and reopen as Western clubs.
A very popular Disco named "Mirage" became the original
"San Antone Rose" on San Felipe and Voss. The "Rubaiyat" on the Southwest Freeway became
"Bullwhip". "Foxhunter" became "Cowboy". "Xanadu" became "Desparado".
"Touchť" became "Kickers". It was ridiculous. On and on, ad nauseamÖ
Some Discos like Cooters and Elan tried to cover their bet by adding a side floor strictly for
Country dance. They adopted dual identities - Discos
with a Western touch. Good grief.
The move by Elan was particularly ironic because it had been featured in
the big Urban Cowboy
Disco scene hyped as the 'hottest
Disco in Houston'. Now just eight months after the filming they were
changing their stripes like everyone else.
EIGHT - URBAN COWBOY AND THE MEYERLAND
The next part of this story is two parts audacity and two
parts humor depending on your point of view. From my point
of view, it is the stuff of recurring nightmares.
Throughout 1979 Western was encroaching on my turf. All I
did was watch it happen. Disco had been different. I
liked Disco music from the start. I actually started
learning to dance Disco in 1974 and kept improving gradually
for four years until I was positioned to exploit the
unexpected benefits that rained upon me when Saturday Night
Fever came along.
But Western was a different story. I was a city boy who
hated western music. When they put on that "Willie Nelson -
Waylon Jennings - George Jones" done-me-wrong twang music, I would scream in
I HATED THAT MUSIC!! It was really difficult to
get excited about Western Dancing when you hated Western Music.
Throughout 1979, now and then someone would ask me when I
was going to start teaching Western. I would laugh and brush
them off with the arrogance of youth, "When hell freezes
over..." I was sooo funny!
But like the Grasshopper and the Ant, I should have been
reacting to Bad Omens of elephant-doodoo proportions.
Western WAS definitely coming!! Any fool could see
that as the bars made their switch.
And did I prepare for the future by learning to Western
dance? Heck, no. Instead I clung neurotically to
Disco, my first love.
Throughout 1979, the top Discos were still doing strong
business. My Disco classes were still full. But by
June 1980, the transformation was nearly complete. The movie was
due out in a month and almost all the clubs had
gone "Country" now.
A year had passed since the clubs had begun to
change, but I was so bitter that not once had I
bothered to visit one of the
new Western Clubs.
Remember how I said "I stumbled into
avoidance situation would be a good example of what I meant.
This was a clear chance to react to a major threat by
preparing for it, but I did nothing. Why not?
I had a bad attitude.
Not only was I bitter that Disco was Dead, I was also furious
that a lot of people seemed to have been a lot smarter
anticipating the changes than I was. I
hated that I never saw the switch coming until it
was in front of my nose. Most of all, I couldn't
stand the changes - right before my eyes my beloved hip, modern, cosmopolitan
Disco Dancing was disappearing because all the
venues were closing.
I was going crazy! Dance Fever was currently one of the
biggest shows on TV. I was learning all these moves, but no
one cared any more. Around the country, Disco was as hot as
ever, but here in my town, Houston was going Kicker.
What was I going to do? I was an admitted bigot towards Country music, Country dancing,
But I was also a practical young
man. A bend in the road is not the end of the road if you are
willing to curve a little.
My bitterness wasn't subsiding, but paying the
bills seemed important to me. I wanted to
eat and I wanted to support myself. I loved teaching
dancing. And I definitely knew I never wanted to investigate
another child abuse case as long as I lived.
Even as I stewed in my venom, I
imagined teaching Twostep could not possibly be
worse than seeing more child abuse. Seen in this light,
Western dancing clearly seemed the lesser of
You know the adage about the Stick and the Carrot? While
the fear of hunger and the threat of maybe getting a "Real Job" was
looming over me as the Stick, I also noticed that the phone was starting to ring.
Hmm. Do I hear a Carrot calling?
"Rick, can you teach me the Texas Twostep?"
"Rick, can you teach me to Polka?" "Rick, can
you come to my singles group next week and give a Western
Dance Lesson?" The opportunities were starting
to pop up.
I resisted all requests for C&W lessons until one day in
September 1979 when a former Disco student called to ask me to teach an
eight-week Western class at the Meyerland Club.
The gig would start that weekend. It paid two hundred
bucks a night. My eyes were wide open. She had my attention.
"You do know how to teach Western, don't you?"
I lied through my teeth and assured her I did.
As I hung up the phone, I broke out in a cold sweat. I had
just committed myself to teaching an eight week class that
started in four days... I had never danced a lick of
Country-Western in my entire life.
It was an enormous gamble.
was scared out of my wits- not only did I not have a clue
how to Western Dance, I didn't know anyone who could teach
me. But for $200 a night, I was willing to look
I phoned Glen Hunsucker, my Disco instructor. He told me
for the tenth time he not only did not know how to Western Dance, he
did not know anyone who did. He had said this every time I
had asked him before, but I
was hoping he had been kidding. He wasn't kidding.
However it puzzled me that Glen said he didn't know anyone who did. No
one seemed to know any Western teachers. That seemed odd.
Lance Stevens knew something about Western dancing, but he and I were barely speaking to each other. More
about that coming up... but in the meantime I was desperate.
I humbled myself and asked him for some help. He said he was
pretty busy; maybe next week. I needed the lessons before
Saturday, so he was NOT an option either.
With startling clarity I suddenly realized why
people were calling me to teach them Western - There were
no Country-Western dance teachers. No one in my world had a clue!
I had figured out that Western dancing was danced by people
with "Country" roots. Disco was danced by people with
"Urban" roots. The two groups did not intersect.
Ah, now I get it. That was the whole point of the
movie!! (Except that I hadn't seen it yet, but I had a
hunch.) A lot of good my insight did me. I would
have preferred to trade my epiphany for a Western teacher.
What was I going to do? Even Houdini would have
trouble getting out of this one.
I only had one card left to play. It was time to call the
- AN UNSUNG HEROINE COMES TO MY RESCUE
Joanne Wilson had moved to
Houston from Pennsylvania in September 1978. Shy, mousy, quiet,
she had one talent- she was a gifted dancer. Joanne
soon moved from dance student to become my dance assistant.
Joanne's entire social life revolved around the dance
studio. However she was so shy she had trouble making
friends. Often at dances, she would sit there quietly
talking to no one until someone asked her to dance. Then all
eyes on the floor were drawn to her magnificent ability!
You would think she would have grown out of her shell, but
small talk was simply an art she had never mastered.
Due to how lonely she was, and adding in the praise I
gave her, Joanne developed a crush on me. However I had a
girlfriend so I always kept Joanne at arm's length.
Meanwhile Joanne's crush crossed the girlfriend's radar
loud and clear. Like a jealous queen, the girlfriend did
everything in her power to make sure the other women in the
"In Crowd" shunned Joanne like a leper. She was ostracized.
No one would talk to her.
Joanne eventually gave up on me and began to date a guy at
the studio. Unfortunately he two-timed her and embarrassed
her publicly. Shunned by the women, humiliated by her
boyfriend, and tired of waiting for a change of heart from me, Joanne decided she had had
She left the studio and she left Disco as well. Joanne was
officially the first person I knew to take up Western
dancing. There she was completely certain she would
never see the guy who had dumped her or the women who would
not be nice to her. Western Clubs were her new
four months. At
the time that I made "The Call"
to Joanne, I had not talked to her since she quit. I had no
idea what kind of reception I would receive.
My heart pounded as I made that call. I had no one
else to turn to. If she said 'NO', I was dead.
could tell by her voice on the phone that Joanne wasn't mad at me any more. But she
told me she was
very skeptical whether she could help or not because she
didn't have the first clue how to actually "teach" Western
Then I remembered how financially
strapped she was.
I offered to split the earnings from the Meyerland
Club 50-50. Good move. This
softened her reluctance dramatically. Quite frankly, I would
have given her the whole share just to save my skin.
Our first meeting was pretty tense. I
didn't know a Polka from a Waltz from a Twostep. I would
simply tell Joanne to go put a song on. She didn't
have a clue what her footwork was much less mine.
So I let her throw me around to the music, then I would
guess at what my feet should be doing. I learned enough
during our first meeting to fake my way through my first
lesson at the Meyerland Club. (By the way, this is a
very good story if you want to read the
The next eight weeks was a comedy of
errors, but I was the Master of Deception. Fake It till you
And you know what? I did figure it out. Necessity is the
Mother of Invention. And now you know the first
explanation of how someone like me without a lick of previous
training suddenly became one of Houston's best-known Western
teachers - I had no competition and I found a way to learn
before everyone else. The Early Bird got the Worm.
- A GOOD BREAK BECOMES A BAD BREAK BECOMES A GOOD BREAK.
after I survived my Western Teaching gamble over at the Meyerland
Club, Urban Cowboy appeared
in the movie theaters in July 1980. Here on the Houston scene,
this much-awaited debut created
a sensational surge of interest in Western dancing
that took me off guard. I had no idea the interest would not only
match the intensity of Saturday Night Fever, but
actually surpass it! Nationally
Urban Cowboy had nowhere near the same impact as "SNF" originally had,
but in Houston the reaction was phenomenal.
Despite a rather drastic
fashion change and some difficulty accepting the death of my beloved
Disco, once I learned how to teach Western dancing I discovered I
was EVEN BUSIER than I
ever was during the Disco Era.
Now wearing Johnny Cash black as personal testimony to the Death of
Disco, I was teaching practically Western full-time.
Furthermore, thanks to the
enormous risk I had taken at the Meyerland Club, I was nicely
positioned to catch the Western version of Saturday Night Fever.
Thanks to Joanne, I was right at the edge of the wave and caught it
perfectly for the ride of my life.
However, following my grasshopper tradition of not preparing in
advance, it never dawned on me to take Joanne Wilson up on her offer
to go out
dancing to a Western dance hall. (Actually, I did go once, but I was
too depressed to get on the floor). The sheer thought of actually
trying to dance to this music for the "fun of it" was too absurd to
Plus I still carried an enormous chip on my shoulder towards Western
music and the Western lifestyle at the time. I may have had the
sense to keep my mouth shut around others, but I secretly hoped this
Western stuff would recede into the background and let us all get
back to Disco.
That's when out of the blue I suddenly landed the biggest teaching
bonanza in the third year of my 30 year career. Soon I was singing a
DOOR TEN - A TOTAL STRANGER GIVES ME THE BREAK OF A
About the time my Meyerland Club job was wrapping up
(successfully I might add), one of my Disco students
mentioned a Church Singles Group he belonged to known as TGIS
("Thank God It's Sunday"). This group met each week at
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. He said a number of his
friends had been talking about learning to Western dance.
Each week after the Sundays service, he and his friends went
out to have lunch together. Last week C&W lessons had been
the hot topic. (Please forgive- I regret that I don't remember
what his name was; otherwise I would credit him in a flash.)
Even though Urban Cowboy would not be released for
five more months, my friend
suggested I go over there and approach someone about
teaching western lessons.
First the Meyerland Club and now this TGIS group give me my
first clues that interest in Western Dancing was
starting to pick up thanks to the upcoming release of Urban Cowboy. I decided
the man's suggestion seemed like a pretty good idea so I made a mental note to
drop by the following Sunday.
Sunday morning in February 1980, I visited their service.
I gasped as I saw a room of 400, 500, 600 people in
attendance. The number was staggering! In Cowboy and Indian
terms, the Buffalo were plentiful!!
I picked up a brochure. It said Linda Shuler was the current
leader of the group. I asked someone to point her out.
After the service was over, I went up to Linda Shuler. I
introduced myself and told her what I wanted.
Ms. Shuler smiled at me and said, "Hmm, sounds like fun.
Bring me a flyer next week so I can approve it."
Then she walked off as I stood there with my mouth wide-open
doing a Greek statue impersonation.
I was stunned. This woman who I had never met before in my life had just given me
the break of a lifetime. The entire transaction had taken 3
minutes. The following week she initialed my flyer and told
me to print it out and distribute it each week at their
meetings. That transaction took two minutes.
Five minutes for one of the biggest breaks of my career.
"Right place at the right time". Does that phrase sound
I couldn't help but remember the time Donna Gordon offered
me a job working for the Class Factory out of the blue. This
moment felt very similar. However I smiled because this time
I had made the first move. I was learning!
For the next several weeks I distributed my flyer and answered
questions. The class would start in April 1980 which was two
There was no Pre-registration in those days. This
meant I had no real idea how many people would show up. In
fact I clearly remember how nervous I was on the first night
before the class began. I kept walking around the
block trying to deal with my fear that no one would show up.
My worrying was needless.
I was astonished to see a class
of 120 TGIS people showed up for Western lessons at Stevens of
was stunned out of my mind! These people each paid $25
for a 10-week, one hour per week class. Linda Schuler had
dropped $3,000 in my pocket and that was just for starters.
Dance classes work on like Pyramid. A huge Beginning class
will taper gradually with each new level. Beginning classes
always have a natural attrition rate. Then typically
the Intermediate class is about half the size of the
The drop-off isn't so great from Intermediate to
Advanced. In the case of TGIS, a Super-Advanced was all but guaranteed.
Sure enough, the initial class of 120 led to an Intermediate
class of 60, then 40 for Advanced, and 30 for
Super-Advanced. But that was not the end of it
Urban Cowboy was creating a Tidal Wave of demand for
Western dance lessons here in Houston!!
Since there were no other Western instructors of note in all
of Houston, I was receiving an unbelievable word of mouth
bounce from my TGIS group. TGIS was the largest
Singles Group in all of Houston. Its membership was easily
over 1,000 people. Practically every person in my
first TGIS class referred someone else to me as well and
they in turn referred someone else. My phone rang
In other words, the "multiplier effect" from my first TGIS
class was absolutely phenomenal. Did I say "phenomenal"?
Change that to "UNBELIEVABLE"!
This was my Super Bowl Victory of a Lifetime.
It was the biggest score of my life. This event was so
important that it put me just one step from starting my own
First, I stuck my neck out on the Meyerland Club. Second, by
visiting TGIS I
had wandered into the biggest score of my life.
Now suddenly overnight I had become the best known Western
Teacher in all of Houston... but I still had never been out
dancing at a Western club in my entire life. This
little tidbit would soon come
back to haunt me in a very serious way.
A Hollywood Script doesn't usually get this absurd, but
That's My Story and I am sticking to it.
Meanwhile, there was a storm brewing. The TGIS bonanza was
about to have another consequence and this one wasn't quite
I was about to get evicted.
ELEVEN - EXODUS
AND DELIVERANCE TO THE PROMISED LAND
If there was
one person more
astonished by my TGIS success, it would have to
be my boss Mr. Stevens.
You may remember that the previous summer Mr. Stevens had given me
permission to teach my own classes under his roof. At the time,
neither of us could have foreseen consequences of this magnitude.
Unfortunately over time my success created
a flaw in my business relationship
with Mr. Stevens. The fact that I worked for him
and worked for myself simultaneously created a massive conflict of
interest. Not only did I teach for Mr. Stevens, but
I taught my own
classes as well.
Since the summer of 1978 I had been renting
some side rooms where I taught classes and I was my own Boss.
was only teaching one or two classes a week in 1978
this was no big deal.
However, once I quit my social work job and aggressively began adding Intermediate
and Advanced Disco classes, my program expanded quickly
As my program grew, this arrangement grew harder and harder for Mr. Stevens to accept.
He complained about it all the time, but
he made no attempt to reach a detente. I
was willing; all he had to do was sit down and talk it over.
However, sorry to say, 'communication' wasn't one of his strengths.
For me, this was a year-round Christmas. As a hungry, ambitious guy, it meant
every hustle move I made such as TGIS would reward me directly. If I taught well,
people would take my Intermediate class. Or people would refer
others to me. My business was growing by leaps and bounds!
Before TGIS, he and I had been two dance studios of roughly equal size
for about a year. Mr. Stevens grumbled a lot, but he took solace in
the fact that he was making a lot of money. While money can't buy
happiness, it makes misery easier to swallow.
TGIS came along, overnight my program grew to twice as large as his.
The balance had shifted.
every night at the dance studio had become a Nightmare for Mr.
Stevens. I am sure the irony was not lost on him that my
status had changed. Due to the explosion of my Western classes, by the
time Urban Cowboy was released in July 1980, I was paying Mr.
Stevens a great deal more in rent than he was paying me in salary.
If I may be
candid, Mr. Stevens had been shocked by my original Disco
success. Mr. Stevens wrote it off to the
sheer ignorance of my students that they kept taking my classes.
In his mind, they just didn't know any better. Had they been
exposed to a real dance teacher, they would have exited long ago.
Sad to say, he may have been right.
Now as the TGIS crowd rolled in, Mr. Stevens was scratching his head
How could someone who could barely Western dance
get all those students?
Mr. Stevens knew that my Disco Dancing had improved
thanks to constant practice in the Discos plus Glen Hunsucker's
training. But he also knew I could not dance a lick of Country-Western.
Just a few months ago I
had asked him to teach me and he had refused. Where could I
have learned? Not from Hunsucker... Mr. Stevens knew that Glen
hated Western with a purple passion.
So now as one-hundred
of TGIS Western students showed up for a class taught by a man Mr.
Stevens considered a one step short of a complete fraud, he was fit
to be tied with exasperation.
In his mind, I had one-tenth of his knowledge and one-twentieth of
his dancing ability, but somehow all these students were taking my
It was more than he was willing to tolerate.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S
A very uneasy four months passed. Mr. Stevens was apoplectic
as that fat April TGIS Beginner's class turned into a fat
Intermediate class in June and then a fat Advanced class in August
(classes were taught on a two-month cycle in those days as opposed
to one month in the modern era).
He continued to shake his head as another wave of Beginning Western
students from TGIS showed up in June. I had more Western
students than I knew what to do with.
In September 1980, I
welcomed yet a third TGIS Beginning Twostep class to Stevens of
Hollywood. This one approached a 100 people as well. My reputation
with the early wave of TGIS students was excellent and they kept
telling their friends to join us. Plus Urban Cowboy's
July release had revealed a curious fact - Practically no one in the
whole city knew how to Western dance! No wonder the
students kept rolling in.
The Third Wave marked the beginning of the end. In the third
week of class, Mr. Stevens and his wife literally walked out on the floor
right into the middle of my class. He stopped the music that people had
been dancing to and began to address my class. I was stunned. There
had been no previous
warning to me.
First he introduced himself and his wife Cliann. Then he made a point that
HE was the owner of Stevens of Hollywood, not me. Then he told
the TGIS group that he was the "King of the Whip".
At this point, he put
on a song and proceeded to put on a Whip demonstration that lasted
minutes. Finally Mr. Stevens and his wife went up to each
student to hand them a flyer promoting his
next Whip class which was starting in a couple weeks.
I was seething with anger on the sidelines. I was
furious at how he had barged into my class. After classes were over
later that night, I went up and told
him what I thought.
To my shock, that was the moment when
Mr. Stevens decided he had had enough. It was time for me to go.
Remember I told you I had problems with
authority? After all, in 1974 I got thrown out of graduate
school because I wouldn't keep my mouth shut. Well, I had just
been given another first-hand lesson in what can happen when you
may have been justified in standing up for myself, but I had
not foreseen this consequence. It never dawned on me
that the man's ego was bigger than the obvious asset my
program was to his bottom line. I was making Mr.
Stevens wealthy, but that didn't seem to matter right now.
Mr. Stevens was miserable. He was sick and tired at having a pipsqueak like me upstage
him in his own home.
And you know what? I understood. Maybe it was
time to go.
Note: In December 2006, I ran across a letter about Mr.
Stevens written by his ex-wife Cliann.
Stevens was once the talk of this town. He came
from Hollywood California as a brilliant dancer,
choreographer and teacher. He moved his studio
from Hollywood to Houston in the early 60's. It
was the first successful independent dance studio in
Lance was very successful, honest and never tried to
trap you into anything. He just gave you good
dance instruction for a very fair price and opened up a
world of dance that brought couples together and gave
others the opportunity to express, learn and enjoy life
Unfortunately, although Lance was the best teacher and
performer, he wasn't a very good businessman."
Perhaps I am too sensitive, but I interpreted that last line
as a possible reference to me. It is true that while our agreement
to let me teach my own classes became a huge blessing for me, it
was so tilted in my favor that it had to cause trouble.
When Mr. Stevens decided to evict me in September 1979, he
said there wasn't room for two studios under one roof.
I asked him point blank if we could negotiate a compromise -
i.e. more money - that would allow me to stay. Mr. Stevens
wasn't interested. He responded by repeating it was time to go.
For my part, I wish to say that I respected Mr. Stevens a
great deal and that I meant him no harm. If what Cliann
Stevens says is true about him being a poor businessman, she
may have been alluding the uneven bargain.
However where I was concerned, I think his
biggest mistake was only looking at my weaknesses,
not my potential.
FORTUNE CONTINUES - OUT OF NOWHERE I FIND A NEW HOME
Now I was terrified. I had flourished under the
protective umbrella provided by Mr. Stevens for two years. All I had
to do was teach - something I was good at. But I didn't know
much about the business world: rent, lease, utilities,
insurance, books, rules, politics, advertising, dance floor,
mirrors, payroll... yes, I was terrified.
Nor did I have the luxury of a year to think it over and
mull my options like I
had when I decided to quit my day job. Mr. Stevens gave me
two weeks to pack my bags.
That is when another door opened.
The day after I received my two-week countdown
notice, I showed up for my weekly private lesson
with Glen Hunsucker. I had been taking
private lessons from Glen for a year at that point.
By complete coincidence, Glen Hunsucker had just
moved his studio
from Westbury to a new location in Bellaire.
His dance company and jazz classes were so
successful, he needed more space. Unfortunately he
had a problem: he had bitten off more than he could
chew. His new location in Bellaire was three times
larger than the place he was leaving.
He had one room that was only used
occasionally plus an extra room in the back that wasn't being used at
all.... he invited me to move in with him.
Guess how long it took me to accept?
So in October 1980 I rented the two extra small rooms in the back of Dance Arts
Unlimited and moved
my program here to our location at 4803 Bissonnet.
now on my own...
sort of. In fact, I had the best of all possible
worlds. Now I had a new umbrella. Glen would take
care of all the business details. All I had to do
was pay a reasonable rent and go about my business
of expanding my program. Even better, Glen and I
would not compete for students since we taught
It turned out to be a great move. My program
The next few years would be one of the happiest and most
successful times of my career.
TWELVE - THE FINAL PIECE OF THE
PUZZLE - I JUMP TO
Another huge stroke of good fortune followed me over
to Dance Arts when I began to accept students from Leisure
Learning in October 1980. My move to Dance Arts and
the start of LLU were simultaneous.
The bad news had come that
earlier that summer when I learned my
long-term friend Donna Gordon was selling the Class Factory
and moving to another city. The truth was that her program
had been weakened due to a dispute with one of her
key employees, a man named Ted Weisgal.
Ted had gotten angry when she
reneged on a promise to him. After his wife Kathy suggested
he quit and form his own program
in 1979, Ted decided it was time to go out on his own.
At first I scoffed to
think this quiet, reserved man would ever
pose a threat to the sophisticated, elegant
Ms. Gordon, but I was completely wrong. Just
like Mr. Stevens underestimated me, I
At the time I was only vaguely that Ted
Weisgal had previously worked at the Sundry
School and Courses a la Carte. One of
his strengths was recruiting instructors.
Each time he left an organization, he took
his instructors with him. As a result, there
was a huge seesaw effect - one program went
up and one program went down.
Now as Ted left the Class Factory in a huff
to form his own program, he took all his
teachers with him.
The Class Factory had just been spiked.
Ted first broke away from the Class Factory in July 1979, Ted Weisgal invited me to teach for him. I turned
him down out of loyalty to the Class Factory. But I
was definitely on alert.
Sure enough, I began to watch in horror as Ted's new Leisure
Learning program systematically began to bury the Class
Factory. My enrollments from the Class Factory
suddenly dropped precipitously when LLU put out its
first catalogue. This marked the beginning of
the end for the Class Factory. By the time Donna Gordon left town, I was
secretly grateful she was leaving because
I was dying to work for Leisure Learning before they found
another Western instructor!!
1980, I phoned Ted Weisgal to see if that offer to work for
him was still open. Imagine my relief when Ted received my request with open
This was a golden opportunity.
It was one of the three best breaks of my career
(Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy,
Leisure Learning). It was
even bigger than the marvelous TGIS
break because it was permanent.
Leisure Learning was only a year old
when I established my business
relationship with them. Advertised as Houston's "lifetime learning
program", LLU offered all sorts of classes in subjects ranging
from cooking to computers to canoeing to psychology to dancing.
Oops, no dancing!
Hmm. I wondered why not.
When I talked to Ted to offer my services, Leisure Learning was
only one year old. Ted
said that he had looked around for C&W teacher, but couldn't
find anyone. Nor did they have any
other dance classes
either. Since my
dance program was
originally tailor-made for Class
Factory, SSQQ fit their similar
schedule like a glove.
From that moment on SSQQ and LLU
became instrumental in helping each other grow to into the monster
programs they are today.
Closing in on
30 years, Ted and Kathy Weisgal's Leisure Learning has proven to be the best friend
SSQQ has ever had. And I mean that.
THE WINCHESTER ERA 1980-1981
HOW SSQQ GOT ITS
On February 25, 1981, just four months
after our move
to Dance Arts Unlimited, I
showed up to teach a western class. Since Dance
Arts was the landlord and I just had two small rooms in the back, we had to go
somewhere else for our Practice Nights. On this particular night, we were planning to drive over to the
Winchester Club after class
for some dancing and fun. The Winchester Club was a legendary C&W honky-tonk on Bissonnet located
just one a mile down the road from Dance Arts. (Story
in more detail:
THE WINCHESTER CLUB)
One of our fledgling traditions was to hit the
Winchester Club for "Graduation
Night" on the final Wednesday of each dance semester.
Winchester Night was a big deal back in those days.
Not only did most of our current students go, but many of our
graduates from previous classes would show up as well to join the fun.
Crowds of 100 people were the norm and "Tonight was the
Before I could start the class, I
was stopped cold in my tracks. My
eyes were riveted to a very busty lady wearing a western shirt with "SLOW SLOW QUICK
QUICK" written in huge block letters right across her
Due to her ample figure,
the letters literally seemed to jump out at you. After I
overcame my astonishment, I composed myself enough to ask her to explain the story behind
The lady said her Husband had been having trouble keeping the rhythm
of Two Step when they danced. (slow slow quick
quick, of course). She smiled wickedly as she added that
he never could take his eyes off of her chest either.
An elementary school teacher by day, Ms Slow Slow Quick Quick thought a little
Kindergarten-level visual aid trick might
help her Husband hear the music a little better when they hit the Winchester later on.
By now the entire class was
rolling on the floor.
It was a very funny joke except for her husband. As
she talked, I watched a this poor soul
stood next to her staring at the floor in
crimson embarrassment. From his body language he clearly didn't
think this practical joke was nearly as funny as the rest of us did.
We finished our class as best we
could despite the enormous distraction. I have to admit I had to
make a special effort not to gawk at the woman throughout the entire
night, but most of the men were not so discrete.
Later that night
our lady was enormously popular at the Winchester Club. She was asked to dance
for every song.
Legend has it that
all of her partners' rhythm improved that night, but the men also developed
habit of bobbing their heads up and down while they danced. It
also took months to get rid of their bouncing...
This is a true story. (One I will never forget!)
Over the next couple weeks, news of this woman's audacious stunt swept
through the studio In-Crowd with the subtlety of a
tornado. Oh I
wish we had taken a picture!! Or maybe it's better that we
didn't since the story grew in proportion to the woman's chest size
with every re-telling.
Immediately it became the In-Phrase to invite someone to go dancing by
saying, "Hey, you want to go Slow Slow Quick Quick with me
tonight?" Soon after someone shortened the quip from
"Slow Slow Quick Quick" to "SSQQ".
A lady named Jann Fonteno had an answering machine that explained
where everyone would be going dancing from night to night. This of
course was back in the Dark Ages before email and
the Internet. People would call her
phone at all hours to hear the recorded message as to where the group
was headed next. Jann decided to call her answering machine "The
SSQQ Hotline". From that moment on, anyone who called
heard this recording, "Hello, this is the SSQQ Hotline. Tonight
we are going dancing at..."
Up till then, my group of students and dancers had never felt the need
to have a formal identity. However after this unusual incident
there was no doubt in anyone's mind what the studio name had
Over the years our unusual studio name has let to a lot of curiosity.
When people call our studio about dance lessons for the first time, it
is very common for them to either begin or end the call with,
"Just what exactly does 'SSQQ' stand for?"
If they only knew the whole story!!
THE WINCHESTER ERA - RISKY BUSINESS
The Winchester Era was the period of time
where I finally came into my own as not only a dance
instructor and a businessman, but also as a grown man.
Looking back, I had spent the first two years - 1977 and
1978 - bumping into one incredible opportunity after
another. My first teaching job at the Braeswood JCC
came out of nowhere, my second teaching job at the Memorial
JCC came out of nowhere, and my teaching job at Stevens of
Hollywood likewise came out of nowhere. Furthermore
Saturday Night Fever came out of nowhere. My Class
Factory job came out of nowhere. My teacher Glen
Hunsucker came out of nowhere. These Doors were
systematically opened for me. All I had to do was walk
Another reason for my success was the arrival in my life of
a woman named Victoria. I do not publish her last name to
spare her embarrassment.
Victoria was married
when I met her. We ended up having a serious affair.
Ordinarily I wouldn't talk about it, except that
Victoria was totally instrumental in getting my dance
career started. To withhold the credit she deserves
would not be right.
In the summer of 1978, Victoria took my Disco Line Dance class
at the Jewish Community Center. She enjoyed my class
and stayed afterwards to talk to me. She
discovered I taught other classes at Stevens of
Hollywood as well. Victoria decided she wanted to
be involved at the studio. For the next year,
Victoria became an unbelievable source of support for
me. She became my business partner.
Victoria was everywhere. She became the most popular woman
at the dance studio. She helped me teach classes.
She became my dance partner, took lessons with me
during the day and performed with me. She was the person everyone went to with questions.
She was important and people liked her. Best of all, she thrived on
all the attention she was getting. Her smile
lit up every dance class.
In thirty years, I have never met another person
who equaled Victoria's charisma.
A born "people person",
friends at the studio right and left. She loved to
organize events which helped generate enthusiasm. She
was the person who often talked students into going out
dancing after class. One of her accomplishments was
promoting a Disco party at the Pistachio Club in December
1978 that attracted 300 guests. That was quite a
Victoria helped in many other ways.
She initiated our mailing list. She was a marvel at
promoting the next level of classes. Often people
would continue taking classes because Victoria took the time to
talk them into it. The woman was a dynamo to be sure.
relationship with Victoria had quite a few twists and
turns. I spent all of
1979 answering to four different girlfriends whose lives
were closely intertwined with not only my dance classes, but
each other. Indeed, 1979 was the wildest year ever -
my life was always out of control whether I liked it or not.
Slowly but surely,
ways to send them packing. She was definitely the
Alpha woman of this group. First went Joanne
in June - yes, that Joanne - although she did make a
comeback four months later to help me learn Western dancing.
Next went Susie in July. Then Victoria conquered her most
dangerous foe - Madame X - in February 1980.
Victoria's Dragon Slaying
period, all the while our attraction to each other
was moving from simmer to slow boil to burning hot.
One year after we met, Victoria told her her husband
she was going to move in with me. In October
1979 she did indeed move in, but not for long. She
immediately decided she had made a terrible mistake.
She missed her six year old child so much that one
week later she moved back home. Of course her
husband was furious, but he did his best to stay
civilized. I admired his conduct throughout.
Victoria's golden life was in ruins. Meanwhile I felt
like a complete jerk. What a mess.
Her husband soon divorced her, but
Victoria never quite let go of him. Victoria spent the next
two years going back and forth between him and me trying to
decide which man she really wanted.
And why did I put up with this?
For several reasons.
I was loyal to Victoria because she was the woman who had made
me King. It was her work in late
1978 and throughout 1979 that had been instrumental in
helping me double the size of my dance program.
The second reason was pure guilt. I had been a part of
ruining her life. She actually didn't have any other
job but teaching dance. It would be terrible to kick
her while she was down. I felt it was my duty to stick
around to help clean up the mess I made.
The third reason was that Victoria blackmailed me. She
threatened to ruin the studio if I did something against her
will. She had built it up and she had the power to
tear it back down. She also said she had consulted a
lawyer who told her she had a legitimate claim to partial
ownership of the studio based on her work over the past two
years. This threw me for a loop - she really had her
hooks in me!
Quite frankly, my studio was like my child. I couldn't bear
the thought of hurting its phenomenal growth in any way even
if it cost me my freedom. I decided not to call her bluff.
Nor did I want to pay her off. The best thing to do
would be to let her be in charge.
So for the next two and a half years, I waited patiently while
up her mind. Believe it or not, this crazy story had a
happy ending. In May 1982 Victoria and her ex-husband
moved back in together. After a rocky start, their
relationship came back to life. They remarried two years
later. I could not have been happier for both of them,
believe me. I had made an enormous mistake, so seeing
them patch it back up gave me great satisfaction.
And, as a reward for my patience, I
got the prize I had been waiting for - Victoria relinquished
all claims to ownership of my business when she decided to
return to her husband.
Now I finally stood alone on my own two feet.
It had taken me four years, but I was now back in control of my
If you would like to read the gory details of this wild ride, by
all means visit
It is quite a story.
A NEW DANCE IS BORN - WESTERN SWING
The two years
Victoria spent growing up
were also two years where I grew up as well. These two years
(actually two and a half) more or less coincided with the
Winchester Western Era (1980-1981-part of 1982).
It saddens me to admit my business success arrived a long
time before my maturity did. My mishandling of my
relationship with Victoria and my poor relationship with Mr.
Stevens underscores the fact that I still had a lot to
The events of the two previous years - 1978 and 1979 - had
tested me in many ways. In addition to my unfortunate
affair which troubled me greatly, I was weary from
scrambling all the time. My biggest challenge had been
staying ahead of my own students for two solid years!
Yes, as you have gathered, the Disco Era and the Urban
Cowboy Era saw me constantly taking chances by offering
advanced classes when I barely knew much more than they did.
I definitely did my share of running for my life. I
was only one step ahead of getting busted on too many
occasions to remember.
I thought my problems were solved when I met Glen Hunsucker,
but obviously he wasn't much help once Urban Cowboy
came along. The Nightmare of the early Disco Days was
repeated as I struggled to learn Western dancing just
moments before my Meyerland Club classes began. Of course thanks to
Joanne Wilson's help in September 1979, I survived that
However, just one year later I
was faced with yet another huge challenge. There was a new dance
out there, but no one knew how to dance or teach it!
It turned out that the close proximity of the
Fever Disco Era and the Urban Cowboy Western Era
resulted in not only a huge culture clash here in Houston,
but also a clash of dance styles. Once the Disco
dancers discovered that Western dancing was a little too
easy, they went out and created a whole new dance - Western
I am proud to say I played a pivotal
role in the deciphering the mysteries of this new dance.
And once I solved the mystery, I set out about creating new
patterns. The work I did in 1981 in mastering the
Western Swing ensured that SSQQ would remain the leading
Western studio for a long time. I must have done a
good job - the patterns I invented then are still with us
today and SSQQ remains the largest Western studio in
the city. Not bad for a 25 year span.
I also wrote a very good story about the birth of this brand new
dance right here in Houston. Visit
History of Western Swing.
YEARS - 1980 THROUGH 1986
I moved my operation to Dance Arts in October 1980.
I now had a secure location with a supportive owner.
I now had professional training in my chosen profession.
now had a name and an identity.
We had a new dance - the Western Swing.
Thanks to Victoria's departure, I also had total control.
I had four marvelous sources of new students:
A well-maintained mailing list to send out
A powerful word of mouth network
from former students.
SSQQ began to grow... and
grow... and grow.
The next six years saw endless prosperity as I enjoyed
some of the happiest (and goofiest moments) of my career.
One afternoon in March 1988
I arrived at Dance Arts Unlimited to teach a private
lesson. I was stunned to find a chain and padlock on the
door. I also discovered the key lock on the door had
Panic-stricken, I called the home of Glen Hunsucker, owner of
Dance Arts. He was the man who sub-leased me my space in his
studio. There was no answer. I had a bad feeling
had been no previous warning of trouble. This lockout came
totally out of the blue. I stood there staring at the door
stunned out of my mind.
What in the hell was going on??
No one was inside to explain the story. I was paralyzed
with uncertainty. What was I supposed to do
Finally my student showed up. Her appearance forced me to snap
out of it. I pointed to the door and apologized. What else could
I had more students coming for class that night. Should I
wait for them or should I simply put a sign on the
door? I decided to do both.
I cringed with embarrassment as my students began to show
up. I told them all I didn't know what was going on and I
would put a daily message on my answering machine with
updates. What else could I do for the
The truth was my relationship with Glen
Hunsucker had taken a plunge for the worst over the previous two
years. His erratic behavior was making life with him as
difficult for me as it had been with Lance Stevens. Sad to say,
I wasn't even sure why our relationship had deteriorated, but I
had looking for a way out for some time. 1987 was the year
I went looking for my
The place was not working out for a variety of reasons. The air
conditioner didnít work, the place was always dirty and
run-down, and we had outgrown the space of our two rooms in the
back. I had an excellent relationship with Glen for the first
six years, but now in 1987 we began to quarrel.
I felt totally taken advantage of, probably because I was!
While I waited for my students to give
them the bad news, I noticed there was a store for rent in the same shopping center.
It said to call "Village Savings" for information. I
got the phone number from the sign.
The very next day I
called made an appointment. I was NOT prepared
for what was about to happen. A man named Gary Hargrave
met me and immediately lost his temper over Glen Hunsucker. He
literally started yelling at me!!
I quickly discovered that Glen had not paid his rent in over a
Mr. Hargrave continued
to rant and rave about how poorly Glen had treated him.
He listed one bitter experience after another. This was a
very angry man.
Finally I asked Mr. Hargrave if he would rent the place to
me. No way, Jose!!
I was surprised and
more than slightly scared out of my wits.
Where else would I go on short notice?
So I asked him why not.
His reply was he would not rent to me
because I was one of Glen's associates and he would never do
business again with anyone who knew Glen!!
I admitted that although I considered myself an associate,
added that my organization
was independent of Glen.
Mr. Hargrave didn't believe me. He had been so
badly burned he was not in a trusting mood AT ALL.
He was convinced I was an agent of Glen's trying to sneak Glen
back in through the back door.
I had an idea. What if I could prove our two operations
Hargrave looked at me. How did I plan on
I replied that I could produce monthly checks over the past
seven years that would prove that I was paying rent to
Dance Arts all along. This would show it wasn't my fault
that Hunsucker hadn't paid the bills.
Hargrave began to calm down. He took a deep breath and
thought for a moment. Finally he said if I could produce those
checks and give him a $3,000 deposit, he would let me assume
This was a done deal. I now had my very
own dance studio!!
Starting in April 1988 I assumed the lease from
Dance Arts. Overnight our space expanded from 2 rooms to 5 rooms, a major step at the time.
I hired Sharon Crawford and Debbie Reynolds as full-time
instructors and added many new classes. Soon after we put "SSQQ" on the front door for the
very first time.
It wasn't till a couple years later that I learned that Glen
had a serious drug problem. He was taking my rent
checks and plowing them into cocaine purchases. His story
became one of the saddest tales I have ever run across. As a
2006 update, I am pleased to say that Glen is now healthy
and he has resumed his career as a dance teacher.
Unfortunately we have not seen one another nor spoken nor
exchanged communication of any sort since 1988.
That said, I wish him the absolute very best of luck. I
could never have accomplished what I have done without his
ON MY OWN
After my lease
ordeal in 1988 I was very relieved to be back in the studio.
I knew I had my work cut out for me. My rent had tripled. My space
had tripled. This was a huge step up in responsibility for me.
On the other hand, I was ready and I was confident. There was not
one moment when I ever experienced a single thought that it would
not work. We hit the ground running and expanded quickly.
With the delicious extra space at our disposal, SSQQ began its
steady climb to become Houston's largest social dance studio.
The 1990s marked a
growth of the studio. There were no moments quite as dramatic as
my getting thrown out graduate school, getting thrown out of Stevens
of Hollywood, or my eviction from Dance Arts. It was mostly business
There was one period where city-wide interest in dancing dipped
somewhat in the early 90s, but "Achy Breaky Heart" and "Boot Scoot
Boogie" in 1992 created a surge of interest in Western dancing that
solved that problem nicely.
In 1996 our next door neighbor Charlie's Barbeque approached us with a
request to take some unused space off their hands. As a result we
were able to add a sixth room to the studio. Not only did Room 6
become our new entrance and Registration Station, it also proved to be
useful as a great Haunted House at our annual Halloween Party!
Night Fever and Urban Cowboy helped give SSQQ the
momentum it needed to start, it was
almost 20 years before the next dance craze would
come along that would drastically change
the face of social dancing.
1995, my former wife Judy Archer took an interest in an odd
dance known as the Lindy Hop. Judy began to create a
Swing Dance program at SSQQ that was two years ahead of the
pack (Swing History)
interest in Swing Dancing and the 20s
dance known as the Lindy had been brewing in New York City
and out on the West Coast In the early to mid 90s.
couple of movies -
"Swing Kids" and "Swingers" - helped create interest
neo-Swing music. Then the music of Squirrel Nut
Zippers, Indigo Swing, Cherry Poppin' Daddies ("Zoot Suit
Riot"), Royal Crown Revue, the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, and
original Stray Cats band member Brian Setzer began to sell a
lot of records.
However it took the famous Gap Khaki Jeans
"Jump, Jive, and Wail" Commercial
in the spring of 1998 to light the fire that created a
national revival of interest in Swing Dancing.
to Judy, SSQQ was perfectly positioned to take complete
advantage of the 90s Swing Craze.
Our studio was packed! And SSQQ
began to make serious money for the first time in many years.
Suddenly rich in windfall
profits, rather than give most of it to Uncle Sam in taxes,
Judy and I decided to put the money back into the studio. We went on a huge remodeling frenzy.
We tore down walls, eliminated two hallways to create more space in
the dance rooms, and added new floors.
The studio was beautiful.
Thank you, Swing Kids!
SSQQ - HSDS Feud
Unfortunately, the Swing Era also cost me my marriage. After
a number of our Staff defected over to an organization known
as HSDS in early 1997, a bitter 4-year rivalry between the two organizations
erupted. A lot of dirty business was conducted and
vicious rumors floated.
I was outraged by the dirty tactics and the rumors. I
wanted to fight back. However my wife preferred to say
nothing and do nothing to avoid controversy. Over this four
year period, Judy and I spent many an
hour behind closed doors debating the correct path to follow. Judy's
way prevailed. I certainly could not go on the attack
without her support, so we said nothing to the Swing
Community in self-defense.
This was a bad move. It opened the way for HSDS to grab huge
gobs of SSQQ turf while I was forced to watch helplessly. I
felt completely handcuffed by Judy's decisions.
Disgusted with the "Feud" and disgusted with each
other, Judy and I realized the fact we could not agree on anything
meant something far more serious. At that point we
grew apart. We separated at Christmas 2000 and our divorce was final in early 2001.
Judy and I parted amicably at the time. She continued to
help me run SSQQ for the next three years.
In 2000 Judy again showed her genius for creating dance
programs. She was way ahead of the pack when Salsa jumped on
the scene fueled by "Living La Vida Loca". Her hard work
paid off as SSQQ immediately became Houston's largest Salsa
training program. She did the studio a huge favor!
Unfortunately Judy decided to part ways with SSQQ in
November 2004, ending a fifteen year relationship with the
studio. Her contributions while she was here were a big part
of our success during her stay.
teaches Rick how to use computers
In 1997, one of the most important people in the modern history of
SSQQ, Gary Richardson, came into my life. Not only did he sell me my
first modern home computer, he generously offered to teach me how to
use it! Over the next few months, I drove over to his computer
store for a daily tutorial on how to fly a modern computer.
Since then Gary has sold me over 20 computers which I use in my
business. Thanks to Gary, we have stayed ahead of the technology
curve ever since. SSQQ has returned the favor many times. In 2005,
Gary emailed to say that his business,
Computers, had just sold its 100th computer to an SSQQ
creates the SSQQ Web Site, the Email List, and Computerized
One of the single most significant moments in
studio history occurred when the SSQQ Web Site got up and running in late 1998. Created by
David Schroeder with an assist from my friend
Sylvia Key, we threw away our mailing list and became one of the
first dance studios in the country to advertise its classes solely
through the use of the Internet. In the years since, the SSQQ Web Site
has been instrumental in bringing many new students to our
The Modern Era
Living La Vida
Loca - the Salsa Explosion!!
realized that Y2K wasn't going to send us all back to the Stone
Age, next in line came the electric "Living La Vida Loca" Salsa
Explosion in 2000.
Driven by the music of Ricky Martin,
interest in Salsa dancing reached huge new peaks
never before seen.
Ironically, before 2000, Salsa classes barely existed at our
have one "Mambo" class a week with a dozen students. Now 4 rooms
were packed three different nights of the week with classes
ranging from 50-100 students.
SSQQ was now officially packed wall to wall as the leading Salsa
studio in the city.
Unlike the Disco and Swing Eras which only lasted a couple
years, the Salsa Explosion has proven to have legs!
Salsa has never abated. It has been our most successful program for
the past six years. As of 2006, Salsa Dancing is unquestionably the most
popular form of social dancing in America.
here at SSQQ the Swing and the Salsa
movements overlapped. Our studio
became so crowded at
times it seemed like the walls would burst from too many
students. The crowding problems forced us to realize that we
could literally be overrun with students if we couldn't find a way to
limit registration and control our doors.
It was obvious SSQQ had
become so popular that we no longer could handle all comers
just showing up at our doorstep.
Something had to be done.
Hall Monitors and
This realization led to the use of Hall Monitors. When it became
obvious adding the Hall Monitors still wasn't enough, we invested the
Salsa profits into a sophisticated computerized OnLine Registration
System. David Schroeder did the programming and Gary
Richardson's TFW Computers supplied the hardware.
The system went into action in Spring 2001. Today students
register for classes at the click of a mouse using the SSQQ web
site plus we have a permanent record of all registrations.
PROBLEMS: 9/11/, The Allison Flood, Enron,
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
two events in 2001 put a swift end to our over-crowding problems.
The crazy Allison Flood of 2001had
Houston reeling, but when Osama Bin Laden's Al Quaida Network bombed
the Twin Towers in New York City, the 9/11 tragedy proved to be a deeply effective solution to SSQQ's
massive overcrowding problems.
Attendance at SSQQ plummeted almost as fast as the ill-fated buildings.
Dancing is fun in its place, but this national tragedy was far more important.
Consequently our studio was a ghost town for much of 2002. And
four years since, we have yet to reach anywhere closer than 80% of
our pre- 9/11 numbers.
It didn't help much that Houston's economy came to a crashing halt
in 2003 due to the triple disasters at Enron, Compaq, and
2004 was a below-average year at SSQQ. 2005 started very well,
but the twin disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita really hurt
SSQQ in the final four months of 2005.
Due to the all these external problems, I would have to say in
general the interest in Social Dancing here in Houston for the past
five has been
steady but not spectacular. Not just SSQQ, but everyone in
Houston has suffered from the fall-out of the 9/11 Tragedy, the
weather problems, and our local business problems in this time.
That said, SSQQ continued to do pretty well in this time. In
fact when you consider all the situations outside our control, I am
pleased to say the energy level at the studio stayed pretty solid.
Indeed, the energy at the
start of 2006 was higher than it had been in some time.
Dancing With the Stars provided a big boost to our Ballroom
Program. Sure enough, 2006 turned out to be our most
successful year since 2002.
SSQQ Travel- the
In August 2001 I met my wife Marla
on an SSQQ Cruise Trip. We fell completely in love. Three years
later we married aboard the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody in September
2004. During our courtship, Marla turned her love of Travel
into a second SSQQ business - Cruise Trips!
Marla has turned out to be a phenomenal Travel Agent. Her cruises
are well-promoted and professionally run. As of 2007, SSQQ has now
taken 10 cruises carrying over 850 customers! Our
Cruises have become a major part of the SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance
Slow Dance and Romance
always enjoyed phenomenal success at creating that marvelous
intangible known as "Romance". However no serious records on
just how effective the studio really is at creating "Romance"
existed until the SSQQ Newsletter came along at the end of 1998.
That is when I began to keep records.
Now we know that SSQQ helps create and/or nurture 24 Weddings and
Engagements each year. That's right, for the past 7 years, SSQQ has
AVERAGED 2 Weddings and/or Engagements every month. And don't
get me started on all the love affairs that I am forbidden to write
about. Let's just say that we have established beyond a shadow of a
doubt that Dance leads directly to Romance.
Cupid has clearly found a permanent home here at the studio!
In 2006, I wrote an extensive eight page story on the history of the
studio's role in Matchmaking over the course of our 30 years. It is
a wonderful article if you interested.
Year in/Year out SSQQ hosts perhaps the most popular Halloween Dance
Party in Houston, Texas. Thanks to great costumes, great
music, plenty of room to dance, a professional light show provided
by my friend
Grega, great decorations, and best of all our surprisingly
effective Haunted House, SSQQ has become the place to be at
During the Party, we take pictures and post them on the Internet as a
permanent record of just how much fun can be had dancing at Halloween.
Every year 300 people show up to dance and get their picture taken.
Then during the year, they can check in to enjoy great (or gruesome) they looked by
visiting the ssqq web
site! Plus many people say they scan the pictures to get
ideas for their costumes. And of course others thank me
because they were about to wear their Captain Kirk Star Trek outfit
again until they checked the web site and realize they wore it last
year. No problem, this year they come as a Klingon! Except
that if it doesn't fit right while dancing, it becomes a Klingon
The SSQQ Web Site and the SSQQ
The SSQQ Web
Site came online at practically the perfect time - just before
every other business in the world did!
Thanks to Gary Richardson's computer training and David Schroeder's
expertise at getting the web site started, in the past seven years
the Web Site has grown... and grown... and GROWN!
Today the SSQQ Web Site is probably the most famous "dance studio"
website in America. Not just Houstonians interested in dance come
here. The SSQQ website has also drawn quite a bit
of national attention.
www.ssqq.com has consistently been in Google's Top Ten List of
most visited websites for dance studios ever since its inception.
Visit Google and type in "dance studio" if you don't believe us.
You will see us right there on the first page. oops - change that.
Now that Google 'sells' location, in 2007 we got bounced to Page
Two. C'est la vie.
The best part of the SSQQ Web Site is the
SSQQ Newsletter. The
Internet is a marvelous tool for mass communication and the
Newsletter allows us to spread the word of "what's happening" here
at the studio far and wide.
Jokes, pictures, stories, logic puzzles, gossip, upcoming classes,
travel stories, new romances Halloween stories, you name it, you'll
find it in the SSQQ Newsletter.
The SSQQ Web Site has also been a good friend to me. I have always
enjoyed writing. Now the SSQQ Website becomes the perfect tool for
me to tell all my stories to anyone curious enough to click in.
The Final Word
Which brings us to the end of our story for now.
In 1974 I was a
shy, introverted, incredibly depressed kid who had just received the
most bitter blow of his life when Graduate School sent him packing.
Since then I have had many other reverses as well- evicted from
Stevens, evicted from Dance Arts, lost the Class Factory, lost key
instructors, 9/11, two broken marriages and one disastrous affair, and so on. But if you keep
following the thread of the story, each reverse magically seemed to
result in something even better coming along!!
Yes indeed, Rick Archer and his alter ego, SSQQ Dance Studio, have
both been blessed by a Guardian Angel and amazing good fortune. And
perhaps a little persistence thrown in for good measure ("the harder
I work, the luckier I get!" Samuel Goldwyn of MGM movie fame).
As we close in on 30
years of business, SSQQ stands alone as
Houstonís largest social dance studio. I guess it
is safe to say we are established.
In fact we have become a Houston standard of excellence. Over the
years the studio has been recognized by print media and television
alike many times as a special place to visit. There
really is no other studio like SSQQ in the city or in the country
for that matter because we made it all up as we went along.
Our studio is visited each month by well over 1,200
students. Not only has practically every dancer in the city been through our
doors at one point or another, as I mentioned
earlier we have acquired the interesting
reputation as possibly the best place in Houston to find a
wife or a husband!!
As our slogan "Slow Dance and Romance" suggests, SSQQ not
only teaches people how to dance, it also serves as a safe, extremely
relaxed environment where people can make friends in simplest of ways
- dancing around the floor in each other's arms or sitting on a couch
chatting and eating popcorn.
What more could you ask for??
Can you tell I am proud of SSQQ? You bet I
Thanks for reading my story!
SSQQ At a Glance gives a quick
overview on the many facets of the studio.
covers the events that led to the
development of Houston's largest dance studio.
explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group
Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important
to our dance program.
covers the events that explain
how we developed our Group Class Dance program.
This section is actually something of a meditation on the nature
of the Rights of an Individual Versus the rights of the Group. It
covers in great detail the incidents that led to our policies and
the reasoning behind the policies.
Why do we insist everyone switch partners?
Why can't people watch classes?
Why are children banned from the studio?
Why do washing machines eat my missing socks? (well, maybe
we don't cover that one)