History of SSQQ
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SSQQ At a Glance History of SSQQ SSQQ Philosophies

Group Classes

SSQQ At a Glance  gives a quick overview on the many facets of the studio.

History of SSQQ  covers the events that led to the development of Houston's largest dance studio.

SSQQ Philosophies explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important to our dance program.

Group Classes 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...

Story written by Rick Archer in First Person

First written June
2003
Last Updated February 2007

INTRODUCTION

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 following question:

"How did I do that?" 

First let's 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.

Did I 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 got caught!

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 through backwards!

But once I fell through each door, at least I had the sense to start scrambling.


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.

The story 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 self-destruction.

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 spot!

The story 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. 

And the 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.

Yes, there 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".

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000


CHAPTER ONE:
(1974 - 1977)

How a 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. 

Dr Richard 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.  Adios, Amigo.

I 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, I 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, t
his 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 life. 

THE FIRST STEP

M
y idea of cooking was to make a peanut butter sandwich or heat a hot dogI 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.  Hmm. 

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 Avenue. (LEARNING TO DANCE

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 same time!

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.
 Although I 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 plan.

ONE THING 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 it.

So
I practiced endlessly that week to prepare
to TEACH MY 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.

I 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.

SECOND DOOR

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 as well.

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. 

THIRD DOOR - 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 partner.

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 (I 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 time. 

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.

Dorothy's 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.

Starting in 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 County. 

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 completely. 

I was in the right place at the right time to begin the biggest ride of my life.

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000


CHAPTER TWO: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER  1978
 


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 1977.

No one could have ever predicted the impact this unheralded movie would have upon the American psyche, but it became an overnight sensation! 

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!!

The Disco 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.

When Saturday 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!!   

Mr. 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 GLEN HUNSUCKER


One night in August 1978 I was hanging out at the Pistachio Club, 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 appreciation.

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 performance!

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 himMy coincidental meeting with him that night meant that I now began to receive the training I needed to advance my dance career.  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!

 

DOOR SIX - THE CLASS FACTORY (the Gremlin School)

Back in 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 for later).

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 levels. 

At this point in time, my business relationship with Mr. Stevens was always on shaky ground. 

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!

At this 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 the truth.

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 RICK).

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 out now.

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 sarcasm. 

DONNA GORDON AND THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP

One Saturday 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.

Mr. Stevens commented, "Maybe you should listen to your wife more often."

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 first place.

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 the 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.)

LUCKY 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 equally pathetic 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 styling!"

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 back.

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. 

Mr. 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 later.

Considering 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 for something.

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000

CHAPTER THREE: URBAN 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

Throughout those 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 cheering up.

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.  A
s you can imagine, after a year of this I had become a very tired young man.

IN 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 time. 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.

I loved teaching!

I was 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.

I 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 accident.

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 need?

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! 


MY NEW CAREER BEGINS WITH A VERY NASTY SURPRISE!

In January 1979 I began to teach dance for a living.  No more social work to fall back on.  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.

I 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)

My 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. 


DOOR EIGHT - URBAN COWBOY AND THE MEYERLAND CLUB

CAUGHT FLATFOOTED

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 agony. 

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 success"?  

This 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?  Because 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, everything Country.

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 two evils. 

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.
 I 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 around.

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 Outcast.


DOOR NINE
- 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 enough.

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 sanctuary.

Fast-forward 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.

Fortunately I 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 dancing.

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
long version.)


The next eight weeks was a comedy of errors, but I was the Master of Deception. Fake It till you Make It. 

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.

REVOLVING DOOR - A GOOD BREAK BECOMES A BAD BREAK BECOMES A GOOD BREAK.

Eight months 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 even consider.

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 different tune!!


DOOR TEN - A TOTAL STRANGER GIVES ME THE BREAK OF A LIFETIME!


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 i
nterest 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.

One 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 familiar??

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 months away.

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 Hollywood!!

I 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 original. 

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 non-stop.

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 dance studio.

EVICTION

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 as pleasant.  I was about to get evicted.


DOOR 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.  When I 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 throughout 1979

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.

But once TGIS came along, overnight my program grew to twice as large as his. The balance had shifted.

Now 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 again in astonishment. 

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 class. 

It was more than he was willing to tolerate.


THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S BACK

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 for 3 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. 

Bad move.

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 confront authority.

I 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.
 

Rick Archer's Note: In December 2006, I ran across a letter about Mr. Stevens written by his ex-wife Cliann.

"Lance 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 Houston.

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 through dance.

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.


MY GOOD 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. 

I was 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 different things.

It turned out to be a great move.  My program flourished.  The next few years would be one of the happiest and most successful times of my career.

DOOR TWELVE - THE FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE - I JUMP TO LEISURE LEARNING

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 underestimated Ted.

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.

When 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!! 

In
September 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 arms. 

This was a golden
opportunity
. It was one of the three best breaks of my career (Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, and now 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.

 
01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000
 

CHAPTER FOUR: THE WINCHESTER ERA 1980-1981

HOW SSQQ GOT ITS NAME

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 Night"!!

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 chest. 

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 shirt.

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 a mysterious 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 become. 

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 through.

Victoria

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.

You see, 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.

Soon 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", Victoria made 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 night!

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.

My 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, Victoria found 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.

During 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 Victoria 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 Victoria made 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 own destiny.

If you would like to read the gory details of this wild ride, by all means visit
Risky Business.  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 learn.

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 challenge too. 

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 Saturday 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 Swing!

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.

   

THE GOLDEN 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.
We 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:

1. TGIS
2. Leisure Learning
3. A well-maintained mailing list to send out schedules
4. 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.

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000

CHAPTER FIVE: 1988: SSQQ GETS EVICTED

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 been changed.  
(Complete Story:
GLEN HUNSUCKER)


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 about this...

There 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 now?  

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 do?  

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 moment?

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 own building.
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 year!!  

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, I 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 were different?  

Hargrave looked at me. How did I plan on doing that?  

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 the lease. 

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 inestimable help.

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000

CHAPTER SIX: The 1990s

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 very consistent 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 as usual. 

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.

Room Six

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! 

90s Swing Era

Although Saturday 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

In 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

Renewed
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.

A 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. 
 Thanks 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.

Gary Richardson 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,
TFW Computers, had just sold its 100th computer to an SSQQ student.

David Schroeder creates the SSQQ Web Site, the Email List, and Computerized Registration

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 studio. 

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000

CHAPTER SEVEN: The 2000s
The Modern Era


Living La Vida Loca - the Salsa Explosion!!

Once we 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 studio. SSQQ might 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! 


 Interest in 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.

Overcrowding

In 2000, 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 Online Registration

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

Ironically 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 Continental.

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 Love Boat Cruises!

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 SSQQ Dance Cruises have become a major part of the SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance legend. 
 

SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance

SSQQ has 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.
The Matchmaker


SSQQ Halloween


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
George Grega, great decorations, and best of all our surprisingly effective Haunted House, SSQQ has become the place to be at Halloween time.

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 cling on...


The SSQQ Web Site and the SSQQ
Newsletter

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 am.


Thanks for reading my story!
Rick Archer
February 2007
dance@ssqq.com

01 - JCC Braeswood 02 - JCC Memorial 03 - Stevens of Hollywood 04- Saturday Night Fever 05 - Glen Hunsucker 06- Class Factory
07 - Permission 08 - Urban Cowboy 09 - Joanne Wilson 10 - TGIS 11 - Dance Arts 12- Leisure Learning
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE 1990 2000

SSQQ At a Glance  gives a quick overview on the many facets of the studio.

History of SSQQ  covers the events that led to the development of Houston's largest dance studio.

SSQQ Philosophies explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important to our dance program.


Group Classes 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)

SSQQ At a Glance History of SSQQ SSQQ Philosophies

Group Classes

SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ