Summer of 1980:
Houston's Western Swing Time Line
1980: Urban Cowboy debuts. Very few people
know how to Western dance. Everyone is trying to learn at the same
time, but there are no teachers. As a result women dance backwards
for most of every song.
August 1980: Many more newcomers to
the scene (including me). At least half the crowd can dance a traditional
Twostep and Polka. A Third of the dancers have learned the Circle
Turns. Primitive forms of
Western Swing emerge plus a few mysterious double turns. No one seems to
know what the secret is.
September 1980: Western Swing
starts to take hold. Most people people can do some simple underarm turns.
Many couples have learned the secret of the double turns. By the end of
the month, Critical Mass hits. By now all the best dancers
are trying to learn how the double turns work.
History of Western Swing
Chapter 4: The Arrival
of "Urban Cowboy" is followed by Seeds of Discontent
Rick Archer, SSQQ, 1999
September 1979 was the month Joanne
Wilson helped me learn how to dance the Polka
and the Twostep. It was the month where I taught the Meyerland Club plus
a few classes at my studio. Now ten months
later the movie finally arrived.
Urban Cowboy made its world debut here in Houston in
1980. Its impact on Houston was phenomenal, especially in my
corner of the world. Overnight the movie created an
incredible surge of interest in Western dancing.
The summer of 1980 would first see an entire population struggling to
learn how to Western dance despite a near-total absence of teachers.
Then came the explosive development of a new dance that I would come to
call "Western Swing". It was a busy summer for me full of
incredible highs and stupefying lows. I was in for one heck of a roller
My Fright Night
Adventure at Cowboy mentioned in the last
chapter had occurred in November 1979. I had been Western dancing
several times since, but truth be told, I still went Disco Dancing
whenever I could.
But Disco was almost gone now that Urban Cowboy
had finally arrived. As July
1980 began, I was teaching several Western classes. After my
Fright Night of Reckoning
early in July helped remove my phobia about Western dancing and music, I
made a habit to go
dancing afterwards with each of my Western classes. I wasn't just a Western
dance hall regular, for the next two month I practically lived in the
It was my new profession after all- Western dance teacher.
Never heard of it.
The club scene was so weird at first! I saw all the same
faces in the Western clubs that I had seen in the Disco clubs.
These people loved to dance, so most of Houston's
Disco dancers simply traded in their Disco dresses and their polyester leisure suits
for designer jeans. The presence of all these fake cowboys created a resentment
that resulted in a huge redneck
backlash here in Houston. 25 years later this phenomenon seems
ridiculous beyond belief, but there was a lot tension in the clubs for
half a year.
Before Urban Cowboy
very few people danced Western here in Houston. For one thing, there
was zero demand for Western dance classes.
Indeed I had never received
even one request to learn how to Western dance. For
example, in 1977 and 1978, I had not had one person ask me to teach
I would watch as Mr. Stevens would teach his once-a-month Crash Course
in Western Dancing. In addition to the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the
Schottische, the highlight of his class was "Put Your Little Foot". Oh
my. I used to roll my eyes. What's next, the Hokey-Pokey? Western
in Houston, Texas, was non-existent in my circles. Yes, Gilley's was in
Pasadena, but I was just barely conscious of its existence.
For another thing, Joanne Wilson had told me there were only a few western dance
clubs in the days before Urban Cowboy and they were not terribly crowded.
However once Urban Cowboy hit
the theaters in Houston, there was a tidal wave of interest! The
floors were so packed it was bumper to bumper out there. Immediately it
was not only cool for yuppies and ex-Disco dancers to Western dance
for the first time, it was extremely cool for a lot of Kickers to dance
Western for the first time in their lives!
years a lot of Houstonians may have listened to Western music on the
radio, but that didn't mean they had ever danced to it.
The debut of Urban Cowboy
signaled to all the Western music fans that it was their turn to
There was a lot of symbolism in the fact that John Travolta, the hated Ravolta of Disco Dancing, was now an Urban Cowboy. It was very much like
when Michael Jordan switched
to Baseball for a while.
had been UNCOOL to many people with a Country
upbringing, but COUNTRY DANCING was super-cool.
The same people who
definitely sat out the Disco Era watching in disgust over all the silly
Dance Fever hijinks and shenanigans were ready to Twostep. Unfortunately
not everyone had a good attitude. If you think I was prejudiced against Western music, there
were a lot of Western music lovers who were just as prejudiced against
Let's review the scene. As the movie
appeared in July, you had four groups of dancers:
- Displaced Disco Dancers who had never
danced western in their life.
- Yuppies who had never danced western
in their life... or Disco for that matter.
- Kickers who had never danced western
in their life.
- The few A&M graduates who actually
knew what they were doing out on the dance floor.
Truthfully, I would guess 95% of the people
on Houston's Western dance floors in June 1980 were dancing Western for
the first time in their lives. That included a lot of people who
pickup trucks with the dial set to KIKK-FM.
Think about it: Only one person in twenty in Houston had ever
been Western Dancing before Urban Cowboy.
As I mentioned earlier there was plenty of meanness
and hostility displayed in the clubs right from the start. Many of the Kickers treated this
opportunity as "their turn" and were
not at all happy to see the Disco Dancers suddenly invading their citadels wearing Country
clothing. Their rallying cry was "I was Country when Country wasn't Cool".
A lot of these guys may have
Country, but that didn't mean they could dance country.
Anybody with an
eyeball could see the former Disco Dancers were picking up the dancing
faster than the non-dancing Kickers did.
This did not boost their
popularity one bit.
There was a lot of chaos on the floors
because so few people knew what they doing and everybody was jam packed
together. There were a lot of deliberate dodge 'em car antics where the
Disco people got knocked down or elbowed or shoved from behind by the
Wrangler crowd. I'm not kidding. I got elbowed many
times. I nearly got in a fight more than once I was so angry at the
Prime time for displays of
hostility would occur whenever the Western clubs would play an
Disco song. As the Disco refugees began to dance to it, the hard-core Western
Polka to the song and deliberately run the Disco dancers over, especially the
ones trying to partner dance.
Stupid? Yes. Did stuff like that really
happen? Yes. It happened to me several times,
especially at a place called "Broncos". I would be dancing the Latin
Hustle only to be run down by someone dancing the Polka deliberately
close to my partner and me.
Other nonsense from the UC Era included the
blue jean wars. Back in those days, Real Cowboys wore Wranglers,
Fake Cowboys wore designer jeans such as Gloria Vanderbilt.
The Western apparel stores were making a
killing. Some women spent minor fortunes on Western clothing and
accessories. You should have seen some of the outfits!! There
were a lot of Yuppie women new to the scene who didn't just cross the line
with their elitist snobbery, they demolished it... Western shirts with tassels,
vests with sequins, boots, hats, turquoise necklaces with matching
earrings and belts, Navajo skirts, braided hair...
The word 'pretentious' doesn't
even begin to describe it.
Gotta make those fashion statements, I
guess, but personally I wanted to run
over some of those outfits myself. Some of the
rich Yuppie girls looked ridiculous.
The Times were strange. There was
definite tension between the obvious Country types enjoying their day in the sun and the
Disco converts feeling their way through a hostile
entire city went nuts because of a movie... and a lot of the craziness
revolved around Western dancing!!
Another situation that added to the
tension was the obvious fact that virtually everyone out on floor was new to the Country-Western
dance scene. Most people did not begin have a clue how to dance a
Twostep. I already mentioned the deliberate
collisions, but there were constant accidental collisions as
well from total beginners running into each other. People
got their feet stepped on all the time, especially the brave
For one thing, there were no Western
teachers and no place to learn ahead of time. As a result most people
tried to learn the hard way right out on the floor. It was baptism by
fire. Predictably these huge
numbers of new dancers were just awful. In
confusion they would stop in the middle of the floor all the time, causing
frequent traffic jam pileups that angered the few
Western dancers no end.
Anyone who enjoys a good wreck at the
Indy 500 would have loved watching the Western dancing in the Summer of
1980. Unless you were one of the people unlucky enough to run
smack dab into a stalled Twostep couple in the middle of the floor only
to be crushed by another couple from behind, these were very humorous
moments to observe. My friends and I would spot one particularly
hapless pair of dancers and watch their adventures as they staggered
around the floor creating enormous collateral damage!
What a hoot!
Human billiard balls out of control were bouncing from one couple to
another. Now I knew why there was a railing - same reason as a skating
I became well aware
that there was an
enormous new market for my talents, feeble as they were at the time. My
were exploding with the sense of opportunity. I don't think a shark in
bloody water was any more frenzied. I drooled at the
possibilities. My pain over the loss of Disco subsided the moment my
phone began to ring off the hook from former Disco students who couldn't
At first everyone was caught up in the task of learning
this new type of dancing. Once I got the hang of it, I was surprised to find out that Western dancing
was easier to teach than Disco. Plus a student could put their lessons
to use almost immediately. I didn't just enjoy the money. I enjoyed
teaching Western and I liked dancing Western. I was even beginning
to like a lot of the music. Wonders never cease. Yes, that
"chip" was gone now.
However just when I thought things were
about to ease up, a new problem developed, one that would lead to profound consequences. As I said, Western dancing was
much easier to learn than Disco. I would imagine I picked it up in
a quarter of the time it took me to master Disco. This was great in the
beginning. For example, as I discovered on my Fright
just took one night of serious practice to get the hang of it. I was
However, the bloom quickly wore off.
my despair, I realized that after just a couple of weeks
of steady Western dancing, a sense of
monotony was starting to set in. I began to wonder if there
were any bigger Western dance challenges down the road. There
better be, I thought, or I might have to look around for a day
I wasn't alone in this concern. As the adrenaline from
the initial stages of the new dance craze began to wear off, the former Disco crowd admitted that they were starting to miss
Disco a lot. The consensus was the lack of complexity in Western dancing
was driving them nuts. Blasphemy!!
We knew Disco was not coming back.
It was starting to fade in other parts of the country as well. Houston was
six months ahead of the USA in this regard.
But the buzz among the ex-Disco crowd was that Western dancing was starting to become - dare I say it? -
This awareness led to an intense concern
on my part. What if there was nothing more to Western dancing? How
long would interest in the dance last if we had already seen all there was to
do? Would forwards/backwards/&circles be enough to sustain my
career as a Western dance instructor?
These fears had me very worried. Little
did I know that just around the corner these concerns would lead me down
a new dangerous path.
I was about to make one of the biggest mistakes of my
dance career and it would cost me. I was finally
exposed as a Fraud.
In the final Chapter of the History
of Western Swing,
our Hero nearly self-destructs and has to face a second
Fright Night of
This time he cleverly attempts to teach a dance before he even
knows how to dance it. Sound familiar?
Click here for the Birth of
the Western Swing!