Western Swing 2
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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.

INTRODUCTION

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 Urban 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 dance studio.

  Dawn of Urban Cowboy (Short Story)   Risky Business (Long Story)

I have added a Timeline of Events to help you see how the events unfolded.

  URBAN COWBOY TIMELINE
 1978 September  Joanne arrives at Stevens
 1979 April  Joanne takes up Western dancing
 1979 May  I visit Joanne's "Country Club" and become more depressed than ever before about Country Dancing
 1979 June  Joanne gets razzed for going country, completely quits the studio for good
 1979 September  Meyerland Club Lessons, Joanne and I scramble to learn C&W
 1979 November  I teach my first Country dance class at Stevens
 1980 January  First Class Factory Western class appears
 1980 April  First TGIS Class
 1980 July  Urban Cowboy movie debut in Houston, throat surgery
 1980 October 20  I move my dance classes to a new location at Dance Arts
 1980 November  I start teaching Western Classes for Leisure Learning
 1981 January  I finally decipher the genetic code of Western Swing
 1981 February  The Winchester Era takes hold


DISCO IS DEAD IN HOUSTON, "URBAN COWBOY" SUSPECTED IN MURDER

"Urban Cowboy" 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, Houston's transformation from the Disco Era to the Urban Cowboy Era was complete.  Almost all the dance clubs were "Country" now.   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 coming switch.

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 it.

That's when an interesting opportunity knocked on my door.
 

The 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.

On the phone today, she said she wanted me back. Great, I thought to myself, I know plenty of new Disco moves.

"That sounds like fun. Sure, I would enjoy teaching for you again."

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. "Do 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 everyone else."

Then came the next question.  I can still recall her words clear as day.

"You do know how to teach Country Dancing, don’t 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 arrangement?"

"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 weeks!"

EIGHT WEEKS!!  FORTY DOLLARS A PERSON!!

I could not help myself. I had to ask. I HAD TO KNOW. "Uh, 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 Temptation?

I gulped.  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.... 

"Uh 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.  That 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 cannot always 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.   

Right??  RIGHT!!

However my guilty conscience was the least of my worries. I was in a state of near-total panic.

I didn’t 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 burned.

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 5 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 fix?

It was time to call the Outcast. She was my only chance...

JOANNE WILSON - THE OUTCAST

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 outcast. 

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 Houston.

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 with life.

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 sanity.

THE HONKY-TONK BLUES

Although Joanne 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 to me.

THE LAST STRAW

A month later one night in June 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. Several people recognized her and invited her to sit with them. One of the guys asked Joanne where she had been.

Joanne 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 this group
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.

So the 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 had come 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 I had to sacrifice to appease the imperious queen.  And to say you never realized that a dance studio could have treachery the equal of Hamlet's castle??

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 once-a-week assistant.

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 lessons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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 earlier.

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 didn’t know the boy’s part and she didn’t know how to teach the leads or anything. I told her I didn’t 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 ever imagined.

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 that 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… forget it.  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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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' Man!!  
 She loves him in spite of his wicked ways she don't understand..."  

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 woman’s 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 you.

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."
"Now what?" 
"You are nowhere near the beat of the music."
"What 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 stuff 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 better.

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 couldn’t have identified a Polka if my life depended on it. I didn’t know the difference. Every song sounded exactly the same. Besides, I couldn’t 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.

We 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 couldn’t 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 coward.

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, she said.

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 world’s biggest hug; you know, the kind you give someone after they have pulled your car out of a big ditch.  Deliverance!

As far 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 faster.

Each week before the Meyerland class 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 were fine.

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 to 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.


THE MEYERLAND CLUB SETS THE STAGE FOR MORE SUCCESS -

CLASS FACTORY AND LEISURE LEARNING UNLIMITED

My ordeal at the Meyerland Club quickly paid enormous dividends. 

For one 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 wall!

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 "UNBELIEVABLE"!

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 "Interpreter".


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 been!

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.  There was 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 year.

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' could comprehend

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 anyone else.

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).

I am 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 dance studio.

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 job. 

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 learn.

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 thing...

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 possibility?

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 notThey 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 career.  

In Chapter Three of the History of Western Swing, read about how our idiot hero gets 
cornered into dancing C&W in the Real World!  Click here

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