to the Description of SSQQ Western Dance Classes
to the Story of Texas Honky Tonk Music and Twostep Dancing
The History of Western
written by Rick Archer, SSQQ, 2003
Chapter One: 1979
- Disco Dies
a Horrible Death in Houston
It has been over two decades since the movie "Urban
Cowboy" graced our Bayou City with its presence. Gilley's is gone; so is the mechanical
bull. The old Winchester Club that was just a couple blocks down the street from SSQQ has
been closed so long most of you have never even heard of it.
For that matter epitaphs should be written for
Texas, Dallas, Cowboy, the original Rose, the original Wild West, the original Longhorn,
Fool's Gold, Bronco, Diamondback, Desperado, Johnny B Dalton's, Midnight Rodeo,
too many others that escape my memory.
Disco is still dead, John Travolta has actually had
enough time to be gone and come back again, and Houston's first big
western dance studio - Exclusive Dance Club aka Disco Tech with a chain of
20 locations - is a nearly extinct memory.
All of those places are long gone, but here
in the 21st Century, Western dancing
is still going as strong as ever at SSQQ and in Houston.
Houstons Western Swing originated during the Urban Cowboy period back in
1979-1981. The birth of this dance is an interesting story that traces its roots even further
back into the Disco era. Yes, it is a cosmic joke that even though all the Real Cowboys
agreed that Disco Sucked, Western Swing owes its existence to Disco. Yessirree Cowboys
this wonderful Kicker dance we use to Clint, Garth, George, and Reba would not be
around if it wasn't for Donna Summer and John Travolta's
You can argue all you want, but without "Shake
Your Booty" and "Shake Your Groove Thing" all you gals would still be
dancing backwards hanging onto belt loops and all you guys would probably still
be going forward with your
right arm crooked around the lady's neck.
To start my story of
Western Swing, I need to explain that my dance career and my
as-yet-unnamed studio were moving along a parallel line to our saga of
Western dancing in Houston .
The spirit of today's SSQQ was born in the summer of 1977
when I taught my first dance class here in Houston at the Jewish Community Center on
Braeswood. It was a Disco Line Dance class (the Hustle, the Bus Stop, the Four Corners)
with maybe 20 people in it. The JCC experience led to another job
teaching Disco at Stevens of Hollywood (corner of Shepherd/Westheimer
across the street from the St. Anne Catholic Church).
One months later "Saturday Night Fever" opened
quietly in November 1977. As you know, this unheralded movie lit up people's imaginations
in a big way. The Disco Craze hit Houston in 1978 as hard as any city in America.
In January 1978, I was teaching a Disco class one
night a week. By March I was teaching seven nights a week. In the
Spring of 1978 everybody with a pulse and two legs began taking lessons, new Disco clubs opened weekly, and there was
a dance contest somewhere every night. Can someone say Tidal Wave?
One year later in January 1979, I decided to
quit my day job as a child abuse investigator to teach dance full-time for a living. I
was exhausted after working two jobs for an entire year.
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.
Can you imagine my shock and confusion in the spring of 1979 when some of
Houstons Disco dance clubs began to convert into Western
"Urban Cowboy" was filmed here in Houston during the
summer/fall of 1979 although it wouldn't be released till June 1980.
While "Urban Cowboy" was still in production, Houston Night Clubs began a
metamorphosis of staggering speed. Practically overnight dance clubs
across the city changed from Disco to Western in early 1979.
conversion began just a few months after I had confidently told my mother that
Disco would last forever. Don't parents always complain that their 20-year
old children never listen to them? Now that I am 50, I still grimace as I recall my mother's
all-knowing look when she said, "Didn't I warn you?"
I hadn't been paying much attention when the papers wrote stories
about "Urban Cowboy" being filmed over in Pasadena during the
summer/fall of 1979. I do remember reading that my friend Patsy Swayze, mother of movie star Patrick
Swayze and my one-time dance teacher, had been hired to do the choreography. I laughed because to my
knowledge Patsy was a jazz teacher.
I couldn't imagine seeing her Kicker
dance. I couldn't imagine how she had ever
landed an off-the-wall job like that. I suppose
she used Patrick's Hollywood connections.
Unbeknownst to me, the filming of this movie would cause seismic
shifts in the Houston dance scene. It seems behind the curtain some educated guesses were being made by Houstons
Movers and Shakers about the possible changes that "Urban Cowboy" might have on
the landscape of the Bayou Citys nightclubs.
With "Urban Cowboy" being filmed right
here in Houston/Pasadena and starring youknowwho, many Disco clubs decided to
to lead rather than follow - they turned Country
before the movie even came out!!
This was something I had not anticipated. Watching
some of the less popular Disco clubs began to
close and re-open as Western clubs had been one thing.
Okay, I thought, these clubs aren't
making big bucks with Disco so they are willing to take a gamble that
"Urban Cowboy" will hit Houston big. These clubs were obviously anticipating a
shift in interest well before it happened. Each night some student would walk in and say, "Guess
What? Another Disco club turned Country!"
Talk about a Bad Omen. I literally had no foresight about this development and I was beginning to worry.
I asked myself, "What
will happen to Disco dancing in Houston if the Disco clubs
disappear??" The obvious conclusion was too
painful to consider so I would do a Scarlett O'Hara and decide
to think about that tomorrow.
Never before and never since have I felt so helpless. Much like a little Kon-Tiki raft
buffeted about by the gigantic waves of the Pacific Ocean, I watched in
shock as my happy Disco world came tumbling down. Forces much bigger than
I were creating changes Without Even Consulting Me or Asking for My
Never before was my status as a little grain of sand on the
great Beach of Life more
evident. I had no control over the
fate of my beloved Disco Dancing.
What I did have control of was my able to prepare
the obvious changes ahead and learn how to Western Dance ahead of time.
But my hatred of Western music at the
time and my bitterness about losing the best friend I have ever had - my
Disco Dancing - instilled a Titanic-like instinct to go down the Merrye
Old Ship Disco to the bottom. I never lifted a finger to learn to
Western dance during when I had the chance to do so at a leisurely pace.
When it comes to me, if it wasn't for the last minute, I wouldn't get
anything done at all.
These switches made little sense to me. Why were they
doing this! After all, as this mass
conversion was taking place, there was still quite a bit of interest in Disco
Houston. What seemed odd to me was that my Disco classes were as busy as
ever!! And the Disco clubs that stayed Disco were still as
packed as ever. In 1979, Disco in Houston was just as
hot as it had been in 1978. Plus it had reached the stage where the
overall dancing had become very sophisticated.
It felt like the shift to Country was being dictated to us.
My worst fears came to pass. Once a few clubs went
Country, the herd instinct kicked in. The holdout owners must have figured someone else knew
something they didnt, so now they all made the same move. Even the Disco clubs that had
been packed made the switch to Country. It was absolutely crazy!!
the spring of 1979 by my count over a dozen Disco clubs switched to
Country in the span of
just four months.
A very popular Disco named "Mirage" became the original
"San Antone Rose" on San Felipe and Voss. The "Rubaiyat" on the Southwest Freeway became the
"Bullwhip". "Ciao" became "Diamondback".
"Foxhunter" became "Cowboy". "Xanadu" became "Desperado" ad nauseum
Other Discos like "Cooters" and "Elan" tried to cover their bet by adding a side floor strictly for
The move by Elan was particularly ironic because it had been featured in a big "Urban Cowboy" scene hyped as the 'hottest
Disco in Houston'. Now just 8 months after the filming they were
changing their stripes like everyone else.
My earlier vague worries now grew to
full-blown dread. I was absolutely appalled! Here I was teaching Disco for a living, and
one by one the Discos were vaporizing into thin air. Suddenly there
were Western clubs all over the place. Western apparel stores could barely keep up with
the sudden demand. Practically
overnight Houston had gone "Urban Cowboy" before the movie had even premiered!!
Although Disco was as popular as ever in the rest of the
country and "Dance Fever" was a popular weekly show on
here in my hometown I was forced to watch in horror as Disco was being
rapidly nudged to the edge of the precipice.
Extinction seemed imminent.
The Looming Disaster
The story you are about to
read is so preposterous, you might be tempted to dismiss it as stuff
too absurd for anything but a TV sitcom. Indeed,
sometimes when I watch reruns of "Cheers",
it crosses my mind just how
perfect SSQQ would be as a setting for a similar show.
For the first few seasons of "SSQQ TV",
the scripts are already there. We wouldn't even have to make stuff up!
One great episode would revolve around this period where I was
panic-stricken to see my entire livelihood jeopardized by a social
change totally out of my control including my total
inability to force myself to react to the change.
As Houston's Dance Scene
changed, perhaps I would have seen the humorous side if
I had been more detached, but frankly I was
stuck in a serious funk.
I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. What
was I going to do?
Obviously I had forgotten to take
the 'Reading Tea Leaves' course or maybe I would have seen this coming,
but I had been totally blind-sided. Or maybe
the truth was I suspected what was coming, but didn't
have the guts to accept it and prepare.
I loved Disco dancing! Plus I had just quit my other job.
My safety net was gone. I
did not have an immediate fall-back option.
Even worse, I
didn't know a thing about Western dancing. I had never Two-Stepped in my life. I absolutely HATED the music of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and
I know because one day
as I drove to work I would hit the button of a Kicker
Radio Station. Then I listened in a cold
sweat. Sure enough, this same twangy music
was still dominating the airwaves
"Your Cheatin' Heart!!"
I carried one huge chip on my shoulder towards the whole damn thing.
What was I going to do?
In Chapter Two of the History of Western Swing, read about how our
stumbling hero gets into one
stupid mess after another
as he scrambles to make a living... click here