Chapter Two: The
Dawn of Urban Cowboy
Rick Archer, SSQQ
Last update: February 2006
How Four Women - a Beauty, a Tragic Lover, a Social Outcast,
and a Mystery Woman - plus two dangerous Gambles made Rick
Archer the best-known Western Dance Teacher in Houston....
All before he knew how to dance Western.
This story was originally written as part of my History of Western
Swing series in 1999. The original 1999 story skipped the gory details
of my tortured 1979 love life. I simply stuck to the parts that involved
Cowboy. What you are about to read here is the original
1999 story here. If you just want to know about how Western
Dancing evolved here in Houston, this is the right place to be.
In 2006 I expanded the 1999 version to explain how my personal life
directly affected my dance career. I decided to come clean and tell the whole story.
The longer story, Risky Business,
chronicles how events surrounding Urban Cowboy served as
the backdrop for the tangled
twists and turns of my love life. These two stories are deeply
intertwined. You will see how when mixed together, they resulted in a wild
rollercoaster ride that ultimately led to the formation of my
I have added a Timeline of
Events to help you see how the events unfolded.
URBAN COWBOY TIMELINE
arrives at Stevens
Joanne takes up Western dancing
I visit Joanne's
"Country Club" and become more depressed than ever before about
Joanne gets razzed for going country,
completely quits the studio for good
Club Lessons, Joanne and I scramble to learn C&W
I teach my first Country dance class at
First Class Factory Western class appears
First TGIS Class
Cowboy movie debut in Houston, throat
my dance classes to a new location at Dance Arts
teaching Western Classes for Leisure Learning
I finally decipher the
genetic code of Western Swing
Winchester Era takes hold
DISCO IS DEAD IN HOUSTON, "URBAN COWBOY" SUSPECTED IN MURDER
made its Houston debut in July 1980. But as far as I was concerned,
the movie had already committed "murder" before it even arrived in
Houston's movie theaters. By July 1980,
from the Disco Era to the Urban Cowboy
Era was complete. Almost all the
dance clubs were
My Disco Dances classes had virtually disappeared in the mass
stampede to learn how to Western.
By contrast, in 1980 Disco Dancing was still going strong in all
other parts of the country. I was beside myself with frustration.
Not only was I bitter that Disco was Dead, I was also furious
that a lot of people had been a lot smarter than I was
back in 1979 when the movie was being filmed.
How they could have predicted this change so far
in advance was beyond me. I
hated that I never realized the magnitude of the
I mean, sure, I saw the dance clubs change their
stripes. But everyone in my world still clearly preferred Disco
Dancing and claimed they had no intention of switching. Most of the
Disco loyalists felt the same way I did. They hated the music and
they resisted the changes.
Personally, I couldn't
stand the changes - right before my eyes hip,
sophisticated, modern, cosmopolitan
Houston was going Kicker. It felt like a step
back to the Stone Ages.
What was I going to do?
I had just quit my "day job" at the end of
December 1978. I was an admitted bigot towards Country music, Country dancing,
everything Country. In 1978 I had spent the entire
year scrambling to become a good Disco dancer and a good Disco
teacher. I was an excellent Disco teacher/dancer now and I was happy
doing what I was doing. I had no desire to learn even a lick of Kicker Dancing.
But I was also a practical young
man. A bend in the road is not the end of the road if you are
willing to curve a little.
My bitterness wasn't subsiding, but paying the
bills seemed important to me. I wanted to
eat and I wanted to support myself. I loved teaching
dancing. And I definitely knew I never wanted to investigate
another child abuse case as long as I lived.
Even as I stewed in my venom, I
imagined teaching Twostep could not possibly be
worse than seeing more child abuse. Western dancing
clearly seemed the lesser of
two evils. The only problem was - I didn't
have a clue how to Western Dance nor did I have any desire to learn
That's when an interesting opportunity knocked on my door.
Meyerland Club comes Calling
On a Tuesday early in
September 1979, a lady named
Sandy from the Meyerland Club called
to ask me if I would consider teaching her group 8 hours of Western Dancing.
Her name seemed familiar on the phone so I asked
a couple questions. Sandy told me she and
her husband had taken Disco classes from me at Stevens of Hollywood in
1978. Pleased with my work
at Stevens at that time, Sandy had hired me to teach Disco
lessons at the Meyerland Club in April 1979 to a group of friends who were all connected through her club.
Now I remembered exactly who she was. 1979 had been
such a hectic year, my memory had become one long blur. But now I
remembered going to her Meyerland Club to teach Disco lessons.
phone today, she said she wanted me back. Great,
I thought to myself, I know plenty of new Disco moves.
sounds like fun. Sure, I would enjoy teaching for you
Her next question was, "Can you teach on Sunday evenings?"
"Yes. My Sundays are free right now."
Then came the curve
ball. Sandy said all her friends were abuzz
about the new movie. Urban Cowboy had not been released
yet, but it was due to hit the silver screen
sometime next year. Sandy
and her friends wanted to get a head-start!!
Oh damn, I
thought. Sandy must have sensed the pause in my voice.
you like to teach Western?"
I paled at
her question. She had really pinned me with that one. I
clenched my teeth and swallowed my pride.
I hated Country and everything to do with it. Nevertheless
I was still talking on the phone, wasn't I?
I hedged and said, "I'm getting used to it just like
Then came the
next question. I can still recall her words
clear as day.
know how to teach Country Dancing, dont you?"
If I hesitated I was
dead. "Of course I do."
I had just lied through my teeth. I had never danced Western one
time in my entire life.
"That's good. A couple ladies in my group asked around but
couldn't find anyone. That's when I suggested you."
Not only did I not have a clue, I hated Western music.
Just as I was thinking of turning her down, Sandy's next words
froze me. "Would the price be the same?"
MONEY!? I couldn't resist; I
had to ask!! "Refresh my memory. What was our previous
"The last time you were here you charged $5 an hour per person which I thought
was reasonable. Would that be okay?"
Now I hesitated. Disco classes weren't as big as they used to
be... but on the other hand, I could turn down a hundred bucks or so
just to avoid the aggravation of fooling with Western dancing.
She responded to my
pause by continuing, "This would mean $40 a person. I forgot
to tell you, we want you to come out once a week for eight
EIGHT WEEKS!! FORTY DOLLARS A PERSON!!
I could not help myself. I had to ask. I HAD TO KNOW.
how many people do you expect?"
"Maybe 40, 50 people. Here at the Meyerland Club it is being
billed as the thing to do! All the ladies want to wear
their new Western outfits!"
I felt my knees go weak. The math was inescapable. $200 an
hour was a lot of money. Would I have the strength to resist
The thought that crossed my mind was I guess I could start
learning how to Western dance. With my heart pounding, I said yes.
That's when she added,
"By the way, the first class is this Sunday!"
I gasped as she said it started this coming
Sunday. The job was only
five days away!
She felt my pause. She said,
"Is this too short a notice?" Then she added there was one other person
on her list she had
heard might teach if I couldn't help....
no, Sunday evening will be fine.
See you then!!"
I hung up the phone in a panic. What had I gotten myself into?
I did not know how to Twostep. I
did not know how to Polka. If
you put on a Country song, I would
not be able to tell you which dance to use.
I had never been dancing in
a Western Club in my life.
I basically knew no more about Western Dancing than the
people I was about to teach.
makes it interesting, doesn't it?
THE BIG GAMBLE
Kahlil Gibran wrote in "The Prophet" that
morals and scruples are the province of well-fed men.
He added that hungry men
afford such a luxury.
As I hung up the phone, I rationalized that
even though I thoroughly detested Country Music and couldn't care less
about the dancing which made me the world's biggest hypocrite, sometimes
you gotta do what you gotta do to bring home the Bacon.
However my guilty conscience was the least of my worries. I was in a
state of near-total panic.
I didnt have a clue how to western
dance, much less teach it!!
I had FIVE DAYS. I had put my rear end so far out on a limb I was certain to get
Gut-wrenching nausea coursed through my body. What had I done ?!?
In case you the reader have not been
following my narrative closely, let me repeat: I had just
committed myself to teaching an eight week dance class starting in
days, yet I had never danced Western in my entire life.
Now let me add one more obstacle: I only knew one person on earth who
could bail me out on short notice and there was a better than even
chance she hated my guts... how would I ever get out of this
It was time to call the Outcast. She was my only
JOANNE WILSON - THE
I was holding a weak hand. I had
exactly one card to play
and I guarantee you it was no "Ace in the
Hole". I had no idea what I
would do if this didn't work.
I wasted no time.
Ten seconds after telling THE BIG LIE to
Sandy, I was desperately
phoning a former dance student named Joanne Wilson.
I was going to beg her to teach me how to Country Dance.
I was worried because I had no idea what sort of reception awaited me.
I had every reason to worry. Joanne
might be holding a grudge.
And who on earth was Joanne Wilson?
Joanne had once been a key member of the
studio, but at the time I made this phone call she was an ssqq
One year earlier, Joanne Wilson moved to
Houston from Pennsylvania in search of employment. She had a
distant relative here who said the economy was good and
thought Joanne could get a job here. Since Joanne had limited education
and little business training, this was her best shot.
Unfortunately nothing in her previous small-town existence
prepared her for the hustle and bustle of a big city like
When I first met Joanne in September
1978, she had only been in
Houston a few weeks. She had just gotten a secretarial job of some sort.
A good natural dancer in high school, dancing was the love of her life.
Joanne showed up at my dance studio doorstep for an unusual reason. Joanne's entire world revolved
around Westheimer. This key east-west Houston artery
was the center of her universe. Her apartment
was on Westheimer. Her job was on Westheimer. And by
coincidence, Stevens of
Hollywood - the dance studio where I worked at the time
- was located on Westheimer. This is why she had originally chosen
our studio out of the Yellow Pages to take lessons over many other
dance studios much closer to her home - she didn't know
they were closer because she didn't even know how to use a
map!! All she knew was Stevens was on Westheimer,
so it was the one she could find.
Her apartment, her job, her dance studio, and her favorite
disco were all on Westheimer. How convenient. She
actually had a joke about it. She called Westheimer "Sunset Boulevard"
because she had two directions in life: Westheimer East (sunrise) and
Westheimer West (Sunset Boulevard).
If you think I am making this up, I am not. Joanne Wilson was a lonely,
isolated person who kept her world as small as possible in order to cope
Joanne had found it tough to fit in with our group from the
start. She was shy and quiet. Joanne was pretty, but only when
she smiled. Unfortunately she didn't smile much. Mostly
she preferred to frown.
Behind her back
people referred to her as the 'Ice Queen'. Some people thought
she was aloof, but I knew better - Joanne was lonely and wasn't very good
at small talk. Our group was 98% college-educated professionals while
Joanne had a very limited education. People would
talk circles around her and she decided the best thing to do was shut up
and conceal her educational shortcomings.
When our group went dancing, Joanne would either sit at the outer
edge of the group and say nothing or she would stop at the railing
surrounding the dance floor. She would just stand there chewing gum
watching the dancers.
But when she was asked to dance, Joanne was
transformed into the most dynamic woman in the Disco. Joanne was
literally a Disco Queen with her fabulous spins. No woman was her
equal when it came to turning. She never got dizzy. 10 turns
in a row, 15 in a row, it didn't matter. Joanne was amazing to watch.
With her beautiful long legs, her long
hair and Disco dress floating with centrifugal force, Joanne
was the Disco equivalent of an ice skater. Joanne was a
sight to behold when she turned. Her dancing ability was her claim to fame.
Joanne had started in September
1978 as one of my dance students, but she
didn't stay a student for long. She was such a natural, she
quickly transcended everything I knew. One
month later she began to
help me teach Disco classes as an Assistant, partly
because she told me she didn't have enough money for lessons any more. I
didn't care - she didn't need any lessons!!
Assisting was good for her
because it gave her something healthy to do at night.
Little did I anticipate that someday two other love triangles would collide
and send Joanne packing.
I went into great
detail how my tortured love life in
Risky Business caused Joanne to vacate the Disco Scene.
Suffice it to say that Joanne crossed swords with the two
mightiest women at the studio - Susie, my girlfriend at the
time and Victoria, the Dragon Lady wanted Joanne's head in the
worst way. These two women acted both in unison and
separately to make life so miserable for Joanne that in
April 1979 she turned to Country-Western dancing to find
didn't want to have ANYTHING to do with the
Disco Scene any more, out of loyalty to me
(I was still her friend) Joanne continued as
my assistant one night a week.
However like I said, Joanne no longer joined the group for after-class dancing.
After class was over, I would head to the Disco and
Joanne would head to some Kicker Joint she had found way out Westheimer,
aka Sunset Boulevard.
One night I actually went with
Joanne to check it out her personal "Country Club". I
did it as a "scouting mission". I figured, don't knock
it till you've tried it.
The dive we visited
was as dreary a place as I have ever been to in my life. It was some dump with 10
unhappy people dancing at 1 mile an hour to the most awful
music I had ever heard in my life. "Yer Cheatin' Heart!"
I asked Joanne if smiling was forbidden in this place.
True to her own sarcastic nature, she grinned at that one
and invited me to go tell one of the patrons some of my
jokes, maybe cheer 'em up a little. I politely declined.
This was about the time when some of the
Discos were first starting to change their stripes and go Western, but
this was the Real Deal. It was an authentic Country Bar with
a rough blue-collar crowd. Nor were the girls making any
fashion statements with the latest Urban Cowboy outfits I
had seen popping up around town.
All I could think was "Thank goodness I'm wearing jeans".
One word from Joanne along the lines of, "This guy says Disco Rocks,
Country Sucks" and that would be my epitaph. She had my life
in her hands.
The music was bad enough, but I was
even more depressed when I saw the
dancing. Boring!! Side
- Touch, Side
- Touch, walk walk,
boy's forearm locked around the girl's neck,
girl's right hand grabbing the boy's belt loop
looking like she was hanging on for dear life.
Joanne begged me to dance, but there was NO WAY IN HELL...
I refused to participate.
I realize she wanted me to show any sort
of approval I could for her new world, but so help me, this
placed was WORSE than my imagination had ever possibly
dreamed it could be.
Disco Dancing was fast footwork,
sexy clothes, move your body, spin the girl six
times, intricate patterns, flashy lights, gyrate to cool energetic music.
This Country stuff was "girls go backwards real slow to awful music/no
one-hand turns allowed".
I quickly left
in total disgust. My bad attitude towards Western
dancing had just grown much worse. As I drove home, I remember
being consumed by bitterness towards the entire Western scene that
threatened to push my Disco Dancing to extinction.
Disco was getting
dumped for this? I was beyond incredulous. It made no sense
THE LAST STRAW
A month later one night
1979 Joanne decided to go
Disco dancing with us after class for old
times sake. Now that I think about, I probably
encouraged her to join us. I missed dancing with her.
Although we came in separate cars, since we came from the
same place we showed up together at Annabelles. This is
where the ssqq in-crowd of the
day was hanging out including Victoria.
I immediately headed over to Victoria's table first or
risk being beheaded on the spot. Watching me come in with
Joanne, Victoria already had a frown. Put on your seat
belts, boys and girls, this one's going to blow.
Joanne went to a safe location where
people from our studio were sitting. Joanne was still
famous as the "Dance Superstar" in our group.
recognized her and invited her to sit with them. One of the
guys asked Joanne where she had been.
made the mistake of telling them the truth. They
began to frown at her answer. Unfortunately Joanne's
interest in C&W dancing was way ahead of the rest of us. She was too far ahead of the pack for
to tolerate. They didn't realize she
had done it only to escape pain. Instead she was seen as
some weird traitor.
Following a maudlin script that could have been
lifted from a B-movie, once the Disco crowd discovered that Kicker
Dancing was the reason behind her disappearance, they began to tease her
about her desertion.
It was pretty obvious I
wasn't the only person angry about the coming Western Invasion. There
were a lot of Disco Dancers who felt threatened by the
emergence of a lifestyle they weren't too thrilled about.
crowd began to take their frustration out on Joanne. Pretty soon the
teasing turned to taunting, you
know, the usual stuff like how southern zoos put recipes
under the animal names and a quarter horse is what you ride
in front of Kmart, etc.
Furthermore no one
would ask the little Country Leper Girl to dance. Joanne felt the
meanness loud and clear. She left shortly after when
people were on the floor and
no one was looking. No one except me - I was watching the whole
thing in disgust.
Unfortunately, tethered by
Victoria's watchful eye and disapproving frown, I was unable to come to
Joanne's rescue. I think that's what hurt the
worst. She felt betrayed by me.
As I watched Joanne's harassment at the Disco over
her crime of going Country before Country was Cool, I knew Victoria had nothing to be jealous
about where Joanne was concerned. But Victoria would not accept that. If I
to Joanne's rescue, this move would
have been akin to confronting your boss and your
girlfriend at the same time. No way I was going to
take that kind of risk!!
The woman who doubles my business can also reduce
it to rubble. I wasn't willing to take that gamble.
Joanne was a pawn in this passion play that
had to sacrifice to appease the imperious queen. And to say you
never realized that a dance studio could have treachery the equal of
However Joanne had taken her
last lick as the Human Punching Bag.
She had had enough.
The next day Joanne called to resign as my
I apologized as
best I could, but I could tell Joanne was furious
with me for not coming to her defense. Joanne had a legitimate beef, but
if she had ever taken a step in my "tip-toe through
the mine field" dancing shoes, she would have understood.
Joanne quit the entire Disco scene in June 1979. She
did not come back to the studio.
In the meantime, Urban Cowboy was wrapping up filming here in Houston and
would debut one year later in July 1980.
However the fact that it was filmed right here in Houston
meant it stirred up interest in Western dancing way in
advance of its actual debut in the theaters.
In the summer of 1979, the city was already abuzz with talk
of a coming "Urban Cowboy" lifestyle. This was reflected in
my world immediately. Disco clubs went Western, Disco
outfits were replaced by Western outfits, and most
important, the phone calls started ringing for Western
RETURN OF THE OUTCAST
- JOANNE MAKES A COMEBACK TO SAVE THE DAY
If you remember back to the start of
our story, on a Tuesday early in
September 1979, Sandy from the Meyerland Club called
to ask me if I would consider teaching her group 8 hours of Western Dancing.
You can see clearly one of the reasons I had ignored the
looming "Urban Cowboy" menace - I had been traumatized by my
adventure to Joanne's Country Club.
That visit deepened my admitted dislike of all things
Country, especially the music.
But now I needed Joanne to throw me a life raft. The last
time I had seen her, she was furious at me for letting the
Disco crowd publicly humiliate when just asking her dance
would have put the dogs at bay. Would she forgive me?
REVISITING THE MEYERLAND CLUB PHONE CALL
The Meyerland Club threat loomed large. Joanne was
the only person I knew who had ever been country dancing. As I made "The Call" to Joanne, I had
not talked to her since she quit in June three months
I had no one else to turn to. If Joanne said 'NO', I was
dead. My heart pounded as I told Joanne about my problem.
Fortunately I could tell by Joanne's
voice that wasn't mad at me any more. In
fact, she actually sounded happy to hear from me. But 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 offered to split the earnings from the Meyerland Club
50-50. Joanne was not wealthy and this softened her reluctance
dramatically. Quite frankly, I would have given her the whole share
just to save my skin.
Then Joanne asked me if I had gotten permission from
Victoria. I smiled ruefully. Ouch.
I told Joanne not to worry about Victoria. I told her Victoria had too many
problems of own right now. In truth, this phone conversation was taking
place just weeks before Victoria's ill-fated decision to move in with me.
Next Joanne warned me again that she didnt know the boys part and she didnt
know how to teach the leads or anything. I told her I didnt care,
we would figure it out. I hoped she was just being modest. Besides, what
was my next option?? Exactly.
Unfortunately learning to Western dance proved much harder than I had
Had I even an inkling ahead of time just how tough this was going to be, I would have called
Sandy back and thrown in the towel.
But ignorance is bliss... and I had a lot of ignorance going for me.
Ignorance had been my calling card for some time now.
OUR FIRST CRACK AT SOLVING THE MYSTERIES OF COUNTRY DANCING
Our first practice was just
pathetic. I was quickly reminded how much I hated the music. To make things worse I discovered
Joanne had told the truth - she did not know the first thing about what I was supposed to do.
In fact, she didn't even know what she was supposed to do!!
In her words, she
just "followed". Oh Great! This was
going to be the blind leading the blind for sure.
The first thing I learned was there were
3 Country dances. Now came a succession of unwelcome surprises. We tried
Polka first. Sad. We tried Twostep. Sad. We tried Waltz
Zero luck on the first run-through. Things were grim.
The only thing in the world I had going for me was this
well-meaning lady who didnt know what her footwork was much less mine, what the
timing was, or what the leads were. Joanne was your archetypal right-brain dancer; she had
learned everything strictly by "feel".
She could not tell you what her feet were
doing if her life depended on it. I asked her every question I could think of, but she
would just shrug. I had to figure out every crummy step on my own through trial and error.
And my bad attitude towards this new dance made each moment a torture.
If it wasnt
for the crisis looming in four days, I would not have stuck it out. My stomach
was tied in knots. I wanted to scream!! The whole thing
seemed like a bad bad bad nightmare.
Back to Polka. It had been the only dance that I had even a semblance
of connection to Joanne. She was trying so hard and I could see she
was just as frustrated as I was. Now she put on the music again.
Every prejudice I had towards Western music came rushing back into my
brain as Waylon Jennings droned on in the background...
"She's a Good-Hearted Woman in Luv with a Good-Timin'
She loves him in spite of his wicked ways she don't
I couldn't stand it!! 'How do people listen to this stuff?'
I thought. Need I remind
the reader to say I
had a very bad attitude?? I hated every damn moment of this.
At least with root canals you get anesthetic. But with Disco dying faster than the
dinosaurs, I didn't see what choice I had but to continue. Yee haw. I gritted my
teeth and tried again.
I learned if I tuned out the music completely, it
was easier to pay attention to Joanne's feet. Gee, what a loss.
So with Waylon wailin' and me not listenin', Joanne put me in her arms, started to dance,
and threw me around in
a bunch of Polka Circle Turns. I hung on for dear life and tried to follow
as best I could. Joanne still couldn't figure out
what her feet were doing. The secret of Joanne's dancing
ability was that she 'felt' her way through everything, but when it came
to verbalizing it, she was helpless.
Joanne's favorite move was what we call "Circle
Turns". We would go round and round and round. After a lot of trial and mostly error, I made the discovery that the womans
footwork and the manís
footwork to Polka are basically the same. That was a start.
Joanne wrapped her arms around me and threw me around
some more while I tried to
figure it out what she was doing. It's not easy for a 100 pound woman to
toss around a 200 pound guy who doesn't have a clue. It was
felt like an awful
parody of a slapstick scene from "I Love Lucy".
Somehow I managed to grasp that my steps were in groups of three. Aha! Now maybe we were getting somewhere.
Then a couple times I noticed my balance improved when I went
"step close step". Before my feet had no pattern, crossing
one over the other at random. But this "step together step"
business made sense. So no matter what Joanne did, I went "step
close step, step close step". Since I am a big guy, I stopped
letting Joanne toss me around and began to dictate the action by sticking
to a consistent "step close step". We still stumbled a
lot, but something was clicking. Joanne's eyes grew larger as she
sensed our balance improve dramatically.
"That's it!!" she cried. "You've got it!!"
Waves of relief poured over my body. Thank goodness. Did I mention we had
been at it for three hours when I made my big discovery?
While trying to decipher the genetic code of Polka footwork, I
speculated the riddle of the Double Helix could not have been any more difficult.
At this point, you the reader are probably sitting at your computer screen shaking your
head in amazement. It took me three hours to learn that Polka was a
triple step dance based on "step close step". Beginners learn this same thing in their very first night
ever of Western classes at our studio. Yes, this is correct. The
difference is that in an ssqq class, someone explains it to
It's a lot easier to solve a maze when you have a guide.
Now you know how I stay in business - I can save people a lot of time by
explaining footwork to them and helping them if they get stuck.
But I had no one to explain the timing, the footwork, the leads, or
even how many steps there were in a unit of Polka. Joanne didn't know
the Polka consisted of six steps to four beats of music. She had
learned in it the clubs by using her amazing 'follow' skills. I had no
follow skills. I am too analytical to learn anything by feel. Learning
this stuff from scratch was unbelievably hard for me.
We continued to dance. Using "step close step" the dancing
got easier. In fact, it was kind of fun except that I got dizzy a lot.
Joanne never got dizzy, a fact that irritated me greatly. Nevertheless I
was starting to feel better when suddenly Joanne popped my bubble.
"Uh, Rick, there's one more problem."
"You are nowhere near the beat of the music."
"Very funny. You aren't dancing to the beat at all."
"How far am I off?"
"You're not even in the ball park."
It was at this point I realized the only way I was going to get on the
beat was to actually listen to the music. No way. I wasn't going to listen
to THAT music for all the tea in China.
I couldn't take any more frustration so I made a deal with Joanne - she
would be in charge of making sure I was on the beat. In other words, she
would lead. I would follow. What difference did
it make? The footwork was the same.
Anything to avoid listening to that music...
THE FIRST MEYERLAND CLUB LESSON
Saturday night arrived. Game time. I made a clever
decision. I would teach the Polka the first night and save this mysterious Twostep
for later. Waltz? Maybe later. I made another good decision
- teach the Cotton-Eyed Joe first and stretch it out as long as possible. The
lesson was only an hour long. The less time allotted to Polka, the
Now I had to handle another problem. You already know I did not want to
listen to the music or the beat. As a result I had never figured out how
to tell whether a country song was a Two-step, a Polka,
or a Waltz. This was all a big mystery to me.
I didn't even want to touch that Waylon album!! (Other than the
Cotton-Eyed Joe, it was the only record Joanne had!!). I decided when it came time to play music,
I would ask Joanne to start the music. I
couldnt have identified a Polka if my life depended on it. I didnt know the difference. Every song sounded
exactly the same. Besides, I couldnt stand to listen to
them long enough to even begin to guess. Do you get the sense I was definitely swimming
upstream on this entire project? Nothing came easy.
started with the Cotton-Eyed Joe. I did not have a clue how the footwork fit the music,
but I found if I counted to 8 and started, the music and the feet would sort of cooperate.
Sad. I think we got off the beat because our footwork ended before the
music did. Not a good sign, but no one said anything. They were all
gasping for breath! Saved by heavy breathing.
My nausea just kept getting worse. Now that we were starting the
Polka I was certain I would be exposed. I was too sick in my stomach to worry any more about
counting the beat so Joanne and I made a deal - I would teach the steps; she would call it out. To this
day I can still remember listening to her call it out. "Ready, Go. 123 123 123 123
123". She couldnt even make it to 4-5-6. What a farce.
And maybe I should admit something else... Joanne led
me the whole evening in the Polka. I pulled an FDR.
President Roosevelt was crippled, but in order to get elected he felt he
had to keep this a secret. So he would use the secret support of his
bodyguards to appear to walk through crowds.
So even though I was going forwards when we demonstrated the dance,
Joanne was secretly leading me. It was sort of a "dance lip sync" if you
know what I mean. Just shoot me.
But somehow we did it. I don't know if we fooled
them, but no one said anything.
Everyone thanked us after class and said how
much fun it was. I smiled ruefully, but inside I was
ashamed of myself. I realize that sometimes just showing up is half the
struggle, but this was pathetic.
I did learn one curious thing that night. Many of my rookie instructors are petrified as the night to teach their first dance
class looms. I
always tell them, "It is okay that you are not a master yet. All you need to know is
more than your students."
And how do you suppose I learned this lesson?
Finally I caught a huge break. Joanne had gone Western dancing
that night after the Meyerland lesson. She had invited me to come with her, but the thought of actually going Western dancing
in the real world make
me even more sick in my stomach. My nerves were already shot. Yes, I was a
However the next time I met with Joanne to practice, Joanne said she
had learned something at the club. Apparently Joanne had
asked a guy from A&M how he did the Twostep. The cowboy said the way it was explained
to him was this strange cadence "Slow Slow Quick Quick". So all night long at
the club when a guy asked her to dance Joanne would say these magic words to herself.
It seemed to work,
So I told her to play a Twostep. When she and I tried to dance -
she led of course - I said the "Four
Magic Words". Lo and
behold, this seemed to work! A gift from heaven.
Hmm. Then a thought occurred to me. I knew Foxtrot
had that cadence too. And I knew how to Foxtrot.
So I tried some Foxtrot patterns. Joanne smiled and
asked where I had suddenly learned how to Twostep. I was ecstatic! I gave Joanne the worlds biggest hug; you
know, the kind you give someone after they have pulled your car out of a big ditch.
as I am concerned, at this time and moment Joanne Wilson saved my life and my career.
Using what I already knew about Foxtrot, we began to
work on the Twostep with a vengeance. This time the work went
Each week before the
Joanne and I would work furiously to further decipher the genetic code of Twostep and Polka.
But thankfully it wasn't nearly as nerve-wracking as
the "Blind Leading the Blind" first visit. Now it was just a question of
trial and error and experimentation. As long as we prepared, we
We stayed literally ONE STEP ahead of our class the entire two months.
Neither of us could have ever taught this
series of classes by ourselves. Whenever we demonstrated a move, Joanne would secretly lead it. When it
came to playing music, Joanne found the song.
However when it came time
explain the move, after the first night I did all the talking. Joanne
probably never said another word
(which suited her just fine!!)
Neither of us could have ever taught that class alone. We were
like a blind man and a deaf mute together. Working as
a team though, we covered for each other all the time.
I was learning to Western dance right along with my class. I even
started counting to the music. Imagine that.
By some miracle, no one ever caught on that I barely knew what I was
doing. Hell yes, the students struggled at times, but amazingly
they didn't blame me.
Joanne had saved my skin.
The irony was that if Susie and Victoria hadn't chased Joanne off in the first place, she
would have never learned how to Country dance. I was glad to see my lousy
love life had finally paid a dividend. It was about time!!
On a sad note, after the Meyerland class ended, Joanne drifted away. As
I said, she no longer felt comfortable with the ssqq crowd. At the
same time I had no desire to actually go out Western dancing
with her either (a decision I
would later regret). Other than giving her the money she greatly deserved,
I only saw her maybe one or two more times over the years when by chance I would run into
her at some Western club.
Nevertheless, I am sure Joanne knows full well the enormity of her
contribution to my destiny.
THANK YOU, Joanne Wilson, wherever you are. I will always remember you as
the woman who saved my career. I am deeply in your Karmic debt.
MEYERLAND CLUB SETS THE STAGE FOR MORE SUCCESS -
CLASS FACTORY AND LEISURE
My ordeal at the Meyerland Club quickly paid enormous dividends.
thing it gave me the nerve I needed to offer a Country Dance class in an adult-education
program called the "Class
Factory" (the Class Factory was a predecessor to Leisure Learning Unlimited.)
The owner, Donna Gerdin, said she had
been looking for someone to teach it but so far
no one seemed to know how or
show any interest.
She told me no one in the city was teaching Western dancing at
all or wanted to give it a try!!
Her words sounded familiar. Hadn't Sandy at the
Meyerland Club told me no one else even knew any Western instructors? I
was beginning to wonder if anyone else was even teaching this stuff
besides me. I could not believe my
luck. I knew practically nothing about Western dancing, but
what I did know was apparently more than
anyone else did. My phone was ringing off the
I didn't bother to mention to Donna I had never actually been Western
dancing in a club in my life. I decided to keep that
little secret to myself. Just like I did with Disco, I would wing it and
try to stay one step ahead of the posse.
Once I discovered I had the rough idea about how teach Western dancing
during the late September Western classes at the Meyerland Club, I
decided to schedule them at Stevens of Hollywood too. My first Western
classes at Stevens were in November 1979, a full NINE MONTHS before the
movie actually debuted in July 1980.
The fact that the city had made such a drastic change nine months to a
year before the movie was even released is a testimony to just how
bizarre the "Urban Cowboy" phenomenon was here in Houston. 25 years
later, I still don't understand it. I just accept it.
In January 1980 Western dance students began rolling in from the Class Factory listing.
Enrollment in the Class Factory Disco classes dried up simultaneously, marking my
official transition from a Disco teacher to a Western teacher.
MY TGIS SUPER BOWL VICTORY
Shortly after the time I began to teach Western classes at
Stevens, early in 1980 one of my Disco students
mentioned a Church Singles Group he belonged to known as "TGIS"
("Thank God Its Sunday"). This group met each week at
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. He said a number of his
friends had talked about learning how to Western dance when
they went to lunch after the previous Sunday's service.
I wish I could remember who made the suggestion, but I do at least
remember their idea - my anonymous friend
suggested I go over there and approach someone about
teaching western lessons.
Interest in Western Dancing was just catching on here in
Houston thanks to the soon-to-be-released "Urban Cowboy". I decided
it seemed like a pretty good idea. I made a mental note to
drop by the following Sunday and thought nothing more of it.
One Sunday morning in late 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 for me to approve."
Then she walked off as I stood there with my mouth wide-open doing a
Greek statue impersonation.
A woman 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?So for several weeks I distributed my flyer and answered questions.
There was no Pre-registration in those days. This meant I had no real
idea how many people would show up.
One month later in April
1980 I was astonished when a class of 120 TGIS
people show up for Western lessons at Stevens of Hollywood!!
People just kept coming and coming.
I was stunned out of my mind! These people each paid $25 for a 10-week,
one hour per week class. Linda Shuler had dropped $3,000 in my pocket
and that was just for starters.
Dance classes work on a pyramid structure. Beginning classes have a
natural attrition rate. Typically they dwindle down so an Intermediate
class is about half the size of the original. The drop-off isn't so
great from Intermediate to Advanced, so a TGIS Super-Advanced class was
all but guaranteed from the very first night on. This was the good news.
The bad news was that I didn't know any Super-Advanced moves nor even
any Advanced moves. So I knew I had my work cut out for me to learn this
much Western material. I no doubt I would figure something out by
then! As they say, Ignorance is Bliss. (I suppose you can see this
leads to another chapter.)
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 Buffalo
Stampede 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
This was my Super Bowl Victory of a Lifetime. It remains today the
biggest score of my life. This event was so important that it put me
just one step from starting my own dance studio.
April 1980 was my first TGIS class. By October 1980 I would be in my own
dance studio. That is the importance of the Meyerland Club gamble
combined with the lucky break at TGIS.
Like they said in the movie, "There is a time for playing it safe and a
time for Risky Business".
This gamble had paid off.
FOR A MOMENT IN
TIME I WAS HOUSTON'S BEST KNOWN WESTERN DANCE TEACHER
When "Urban Cowboy"
debuted in July 1980 I stood
gracefully atop my pedestal as perhaps the
best known Western teacher in Houston.
You know and I know that most of my glory
had been built on a total sham, but thanks to some
serious practice in the early months of 1980
by now I was a pretty fair Western dancer. I
did actually have one unique skill - I was an
You might think I am teasing, but as I began
to teach Western, one student after another
said they had tried to learn somewhere else,
but couldn't understand the instructor.
Most of them just
said, "Watch my feet". Yeah, right.
I had been through that with Joanne and knew
it was a lot harder to learn to Western than
simply watch someone's feet. My hard
work with Joanne had taught me how to
explain the footwork and the leads. If
anything, I was a better teacher since my
own frustration was so recent in my mind. I
knew exactly where the tricky places had
Nor did I have any
competition. Surely there were some western
instructors getting started, but there was
no Internet in those days. It would have
been hard for them to get any sort of
reputation quickly. In the beginning, word
of mouth was delivering the vast majority of
the students to me.
There were plenty of guys who knew a lot
more Western dancing than I did, but they
couldn't teach! Believe it or not,
part of the problem was an odd sort of
language barrier. At this point in
time the few people in Houston who could
actually dance 'Country' could only speak 'Cowboy'.
There were "Urbans"
and there were "Cowboys", but despite the movie's premise there were
very few 'Urban Cowboys'. Furthermore neither group seemed to be able to
understand each other or even like each other.
a huge Redneck backlash that would soon begin to surface.
People who were "Country before Country was Cool"
could dance Western, but there was so
much animosity towards the Johnny-come-lately "Urban Cowboys" that the
two cultures refused to intersect for at least six months, maybe even a
The "Urbans" longed for an Interpreter. That would be me.
Although I wouldn't put myself in the same league
as Prometheus, the guy who stole Fire from the Gods and gave it to the
humans, I was one of the first to actually find a "Country Girl" and
decipher her footwork. I broke the Code!!
This explained why I was apparently one of the
first teachers in Houston who could explain Western dancing
using language the 'Urbans'
As they say, I couldn't exactly Walk the Talk, but I could at least
Talk the Walk.
There are a lot of ways to become a
failure, but never taking a chance is the most
successful. Thanks to Joanne Wilson
and the Meyerland Club Gamble, I had gotten
to this spot before
As you know, once I stumbled into
this amazing position, I at least had the sense to
quickly capitalize on it.
Using my "got there first" position, I quickly formed my
own classes at Stevens, got listed with the Class
Factory, then pursued
TGIS which resulted in the phenomenal word of mouth campaign. Each move
elevated my notoriety till incredibly I became
Houston's best known Western teacher.
I am not saying I was the best (hardly) or the first (hardly).
merely claiming I had become the "Best Known" which as you
might gather had marvelous financial benefits.
By the end of 1980, I experienced the final
triumph of my wild joyride - I moved out of Stevens and formed my own
THE FINAL WORD
My dance career has been charmed. When "Saturday Night
Fever" had come out, by an odd coincidence I had just begun to
teach Disco. As a result I was one of the first Disco instructors in all
of Houston even though I barely knew what I was doing. I may have been
green, but I grew into my
Now miraculously in spite of my terrible attitude,
with "Urban Cowboy" I had repeated my earlier magic. I was once again somehow in the right place at the right
time as practically the first Western dance teacher in Houston. And as
before, I still barely knew what I was doing, but I was willing to
The students started to line up the moment "Urban Cowboy"
came out, the TGIS students started rolling in,
and my Western class listings appeared in the Class Factory.
Things were looking very good indeed except for one
I still barely knew how to Western dance
and worst of all had no idea if what I was teaching was the same
thing that was being danced in the Western Clubs... and I was
scared to death I would be exposed as a scam artist. What if
Joanne had shown me something crazy? What I was teaching
was based on her word. What if she was confused, a very real
Yes, I was actually stupid enough to start teaching the
Meyerland Club, Class Factory
and TGIS Western class before I had even visited a Western club.
Then one night my students cornered me into going Western dancing with them
whether I liked it or not.
They would not take "NO" for an answer.
Would I finally be exposed as the fraud I truly was - the western
dance teacher who couldn't western dance?
This ridiculous mistake led to one of the scariest moments in my dance
Chapter Three of the History of Western
Swing, read about how our idiot hero gets
into dancing C&W in the Real World! Click here
Back to "History of SSQQ"