Woman Who Brought
Western Waltz to Houston
Story written by Rick Archer
Forward - Sharon
Rick Archer's Note: I
could write a book about the wonderful Sharon Shaw. If I am the Father
of SSQQ, then Sharon is the Mother.
After 22 years with SSQQ, Sharon
recently decided to retire from teaching dance. Sharon had originally
planned to come back for her 12th consecutive year of teaching her famous
Western Waltz series of classes.
However, at the last minute
Sharon changed her mind and decided to let her talented understudy Karen
Clawsen take over. Thanks to Karen, the SSQQ Western Waltz program is
in good hands. Since Karen has assisted Sharon with her Western Waltz
class practically since the beginning, Karen is easily the best prepared
successor in the history of SSQQ.
Sharon's decision to retire has
closed the books at least for the moment on her remarkable 22 year career at
Much of her career with SSQQ can
be read on Sharon's
Bio Page. Sharon was known as 'Sharon Crawford' when she first
started at SSQQ back in 1987. In 1988, Sharon stepped up to
SSQQ dance studio singlehandedly. She was either my right-hand
woman or I was her left-hand man, but the bottom line is that Sharon was
invaluable in steering the studio through a crisis.
From that point on, Sharon went
on to become the studio's most popular dance teacher.
At this point in her career,
Sharon is best known for her pioneering work in the Western Waltz. I
am going to take this opportunity to share a previous article I wrote on the
History of Western Waltz.
Sharon's part in this
story will begin in Chapter Three. If you would like to go there
directly, click here.
Bill and Sharon in Ireland on the Oslo 2010 Cruise
The History of Western
Written by Rick Archer
- The Waltz Kings
I have learned there
aren't many advantages to growing old, but one nice feature is the
opportunity to share a story from the past.
At the start of my dance
career, I was privileged to watch the development of a new dance
form - Western Waltz.
My first experience with
the Western Waltz was not an auspicious one at all.
Although I'm not proud to admit it, in 1979
I started teaching Western dancing before I had actually ever been
to a Western club.
Thanks to Urban
Cowboy, practically overnight Houston's dance clubs had
switched from Disco Dancing to Western Dancing. The clubs
anticipated to upcoming movie would create a huge surge of interest
in Western dancing. It turned out they were right, but there
was only one problem. Except for a few Aggies, no one in the
city knew how to Western Dance. Nor were there many teachers.
I had so many Disco
students begging to teach Western Dancing that I scrambled to learn
a few steps. Frankly, I was learning and teaching Western all
at the same time. I was faking things right and left trying to
learn enough just moments before class started. As you might
imagine, I was usually just a few steps ahead of the Posse.
Consequently, I got a
few questions that could have easily exposed me as the amateur I
was. I had a very close call involving the Waltz.
One night a couple of my students asked me to show them how to Western
I taught them the
Ballroom Box Step which was the only Waltz step I knew.
When I saw them the next week, they said people had run them down
at the Winchester Club while they Waltzed.
They were very suspicious that I hadn't
taught them the move correctly.
A month later when I went to the
Winchester for the first time.
When a Waltz came on, I
too did my Box Step...surprise, surprise, my partner and I were nearly trampled to death by a
herd of Waltzing buffaloes. That
was the night I learned the difference between a Ballroom Waltz
and a Western Waltz. Western Waltz travels and
mows down any obstacle in the way.
It dawned on me maybe things would have been better if I had actually
gone Western dancing before I decided to start teaching
I loved Disco with a
passion. I thought it would last forever. When Disco
suddenly vanished off the face of the earth thanks to Urban
Cowboy, I was panic stricken. How could a dance form
this popular be eradicated before my very eyes?
I had just quit my day
job to begin teaching dance full-time. Fortunately I grew to
love Western Dancing almost as much as my beloved Disco.
Western Dancing would actually be the break I needed to open my own
dancing studio in 1981.
Almost immediately I
began to worry what I would do if Western Dancing ever folded the
way Disco had.
I began to wonder if
Ballroom Dancing might hold the key to the studio's future.
learned that in other parts of the United States, Ballroom Dancing
was the backbone of most dance studios. For that matter,
Houston had a Fred Astaire studio, an Arthur Murray studio and several others. I assumed that
SSQQ would eventually find its way to Ballroom Dancing just like the
entire rest of the world.
Testing the waters, Judy
Price, one of my instructors, helped me organize a trip to Al Marks Melody Lane Ballroom one
Friday evening in 1982. Al Marks had a band that played lots of Swing
and Foxtrot standards every Friday night. We talked up the
event in all of our classes. There was only one problem - no
one at SSQQ seemed very interested.
Sure enough, when our trip took place, we were only joined by a
dozen or so students. I was disappointed to say the least.
Out of that dozen people, most of them left early. Now that I see that photograph of me, they probably took one look at
how I looked with my short tie and enormous
glasses and left just so they wouldn't be seen with me.
Occasionally I would
offer a Ballroom course at SSQQ, but attendance was terrible.
Except for East Coast Swing, my students ignored the other Ballroom
Dances like the plague. Cha Cha, Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Waltz.
Not interested. Ballroom was non-existent at SSQQ.
the word "Ballroom" was enough to send people running
out of the room in terror. With choice comments like "I hate
music bores me to tears" and "dancing for dead people" ringing in my
ears, I could see that introducing Ballroom to SSQQ was going to be
an uphill struggle.
Rick Archer and Judy Price, 1981
Enter the Waltz
I was undeterred by the
initial rebuff. I assumed I had the ability to create interest
in Ballroom Dancing. I took it as a personal challenge to
figure out how to accomplish this worthy goal. That is about the time
I made an interesting observation.
Jim and Bill at the Winchester Club
There were two guys -
Jim Garrison and Bill Stumph - who had women begging to Waltz
with them. When I say "begging", trust me that when I say
"begging", I mean begging!
Pleading. Beseeching. Imploring. I am not exaggerating
in the slightest. These were grown women, but they acted like
pitiful, forlorn teenagers.
At one party, I witnessed an a unruly mob of five women arguing with each
other over who was next in line to dance the upcoming Waltz with Jim or
Bill. These women wanted to Waltz so badly that they had begun to
fight amongst themselves for the privilege. I kid you not.
"I'm next!" "No you aren't, I
am!" "Bill asked me first!" "No he didn't, he asked
me!" "No way, I got here long before you did!" I thought these women
were ladies, but maybe not. This catfight was definitely
unbecoming to their dignity.
I was incredulous. My
gosh, these two guys were hotter than Elvis! Now they had women
fighting over them! What kind of pixie dust had Bill and Jim
sprinkled on these ladies to turn grown women into children? Jim and Bill had discovered and harnessed
The Amazing Power of the Waltz.
Apparently only the atom
itself was mightier than Waltz when it came to women.
When they weren't on the
dance floor, Jim and Bill were just two
normal guys. In a crowd, they would not be the first man a single
girl would notice. Or the second or the third. In my
opinion, when it came to women, they needed an edge. Well,
they found one. Back in the early days of the studio, these
two men discovered a magic potion to become the life of every dance party.
Bill and Jim had become the Waltz Kings!
Women would literally flock to their side whenever a Waltz came on.
Each man had his choice of 10 ladies. And donít think for a moment
they werenít aware of their power. They played their ace card
well. I would notice one man or the other talking
animatedly to some lady. I always knew what was coming next.
Sure enough, once Bill or Jim felt that he was making progress with
the new lady, he would come over ask me to play a Waltz.
Spinach for Popeye, Waltz for Jim and Bill. They were suddenly
transformed into a dynamic God of Dance.
Moments after I would put on a lovely song like "The Last Waltz"
(... the last Waltz will last Forever...), I
would see Bill or Jim parading around the floor with a beautiful
woman smiling and laughing in his arms. Seeing my careful
scrutiny, they would wink at me as they sailed past. After
all, as DJ, I played a key part in their racket. They wanted to stay
on my good side. I would roll my eyes and smile back. I
figured since these were big girls and the men were playing by the
rules, why should I interfere? After all, it wasn't illegal to
Waltz. But it should have been! These guys had way too
much power. Jim and Bill were practically the only men on the
floor who knew what they were doing.
Then I would turn my gaze to the crowd. I would notice
all other men "sitting this one out". They watched these
Supermen with awe and wonder. Who are those guys? What
their secret? What do they have that I don't?
You would think the other guys would catch on, but they were
unbelievably retarded in this regard. They continued to avoid
the Waltz like the plague. Must have been a macho thing... the
Waltz was too graceful, too prissy, not manly enough. Their attitude
was ridiculous. Meanwhile these two nerds were cleaning up right
under their noses! Women became totally helpless in their
arms. Waltz was their license to seduce women.
Yes, Jim and Bill used their Waltzing ability to create virtual
harems. Both men understood that all women are transformed into
Cinderella at the Ball whenever a Waltz comes on. Women
absolutely love to Waltz and they are helpless to resist the
Mythology! The beautiful music and the flowing movements make
them feel like a princess when they are out on the floor. That
is when they become vulnerable. The
woman can't help but fall in love with the man who makes them feel
this good. Jim and Bill knew this secret, but they were smart
enough not to brag.
Actually, I knew the secret too. I was a pretty good Waltz dancer in my own right, but I already had
a girlfriend that I was very happy with so I didn't need to press my own advantage.
Besides, since I
danced so much anyway, I would rest during the Waltzes.
Consequently the women didn't know that I too
possessed the skill
prized by so many.
Besides, watching Jim and Bill in action amused me. I was fascinated by their
Sitting out the Waltzes allowed me to keep tabs on Jim and Bill's
Waltz racket. However
my amusement vanished quickly when the quarrelling women turned their wrath
towards me. They started bugging me to play an extra Waltz so
they could dance with Bill or Jim! Play another Waltz, Rick!
These women could have cared less that each Waltz
forced thirty men to sit on their hands while two men had the floor
all to themselves. When I pointed out I had just played a
Waltz, their attitude was 'so what?'. At first, they asked politely, but as the evening wore
on, the women needed their Waltz fix so badly they would get pushy.
They would demand
a Waltz or else. Gosh, lady, I just played one! Well, then play
One night I made a huge mistake. A lady caught me off guard.
She said that Bill and Jim were busy... did I know
how to Waltz? Like a moron, I said yes. I instantly
regretted what I said, but it was too late. What was I
thinking? Sure enough, she had set me up. "Rick, will
you Waltz with me? Please? Pretty please with sugar on
Well, it was my own fault. I had opened my mouth, so now I
had to pay the price. Something amusing happened. When I got out there on the floor
with this lady, each
time Jim or Bill would
pass me, both men gave me dirty looks. They acted
like I was poaching on their private property. Don't you dare
steal my women, Rick! Too funny.
Meanwhile, no good deed goes unpunished. My little secret was out.
The next thing I knew, the other women descended on me like locusts
for the rest of the night. Play a Waltz. Dance with me.
Play a Waltz. Dance with me. Now Jim and Bill's Waltz
racket wasn't amusing anymore. It had turned into a first
Once the women started to pester me, I was forced to take another look at the
situation. This was obviously a problem of supply and demand.
There were only two men who knew how to Waltz and there were dozens
of women who wanted to Waltz with them. What I needed to do
was increase the supply of male Waltz dancers. Brilliant!
That is how I decided
the time had come to offer a class in Ballroom Waltz. However, to my absolute astonishment, the men at the studio
completely rejected the idea.
I was stunned. I was doing
them the favor of the lifetime and they couldn't figure it out. How stupid
could men be?
Last Waltz will last Forever
Every girl becomes a Cinderella
when the Waltz is played
- Seeds of the Western Waltz
I was incredulous. The Magic of
the Waltz gave the men at my studio a direct line to Romance, but they
turned a blind eye to this golden opportunity.
Their attitude simply
made no sense.
point out I wasn't so smart myself when it came to the Waltz.
Looking back, I can't believe I completely overlooked that the place where
Jim and Bill had first developed their successful Waltz racket was
the Winchester Club. The Winchester
was a Western dance club.
I had a blind eye of my own in this regard.
I was fixated on 'Waltz' and didn't understand that the word
'Western' needed to be included to be successful.
Western clubs were obviously the
most likely source of Waltz music for my students to dance to.
Yet it never dawned on me
that the easiest way to popularize the Waltz would be to link it to
the Western Waltz music.
It was right under my nose and I
didn't see it. When it came time to drum up business for my
Waltz class in 1982, my mistake was to demonstrate the Waltz using
schmaltzy Ballroom music. If I had used Western music instead,
I might have been a pioneer too.
It would take eighteen more
years for Waltz to catch on at SSQQ!
1982, none of the
Western dancers knew anything but the most basic Waltz moves. 99%
of the men danced one lousy move - The Travel Step. That meant
the women went backwards for an entire song! That was the
accepted way to dance a Western Waltz in 1982.
The emphasis was always on Twostep and Polka. Most people
ignored the Waltz because Waltz music was played so infrequently in
the clubs. You might go a whole night and hear just one. As a result,
no one paid much attention to the dance. This created a
classic snafu - since no one danced the Waltz, the DJs didn't play
very many. Since the DJs didn't play many Waltzes, there
wasn't much reason to learn how.
the Seeds of the Western Waltz
Unlike the rest of the
our Waltz Kings Jim and Bill had
taken a Ballroom Waltz class. Cheaters!!
One night when our group was at
the Winchester Club, the band played a Waltz. Bill and Jim
decided to try their
Ballroom Waltz moves like the Box Step. To their shock, the
other dancers ran them down. Good grief.
This was a pure example of the old joke - how do you tell who are
the pioneers? They are they ones with the arrows in their
Well, our Waltz pioneers
had dusty boot prints in their back.
Fortunately, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
After Bill and Jim got back up and cleaned themselves off, they
stopped to figure out another angle. By chance, the band took
its break. The floor was completely empty. This was
prime beer drinking time for everyone! Their two lady
Waltz partners were still smarting from getting knocked down as
well. Trying to atone for the mishap, Jim went over to the DJ
and asked if he would play a Waltz. Sure, why not?
So now Bill and Jim had the
enormous two thousand foot floor all to themselves. They asked
their two ladies to try again. So the four of them got back
out there to practice their Ballroom Waltz moves.
It was the perfect use
of time during the Band Break. From that point on, whenever
the Band stop playing, Bill or Jim would go over and request a
Waltz. Soon enough, it became two Waltzes. I later
learned that they tipped the DJ. Hmm. I never got any
tips at the studio when Bill and Jim asked me to play a Waltz.
It was money well-spent. Bill and Jim were on their way to
becoming legends. These early days at the Winchester was where they got their edge.
If you were a girl and you had a choice between going backwards for
an entire song or dancing twelve different Waltz patterns with Jim or Bill,
what would you choose? This was the secret of their success.
Eventually Jim and Bill
took their act back on the floor when the Band played Waltzes as
well. At least now they were aware of the danger. There were a
lot of rednecks at the Winchester. Bill or Jim knew if they got in their
way, these jerks would just run them over. To avoid getting knocked over
dancing their stationary Box Step, Jim and Bill learned to go to the middle of the giant
dance floor at the Winchester and hope that no one would knock them over.
This solution was only partially satisfying. Sure enough, some
guys would veer away from the crowd circling at the perimeter of the
floor to plow right into the Waltz Kings... probably out of sheer
This was the moment
where Bill and Jim made a unique adaptation. In 1982, the concept of
making Ballroom Waltz moves TRAVEL around the floor like our
modern Western Waltz had not yet come along. Or
I remember distinctly it was about this time that both
Bill and Jim developed the same signature move - Waltz
Crossovers. At the time, I assumed they liked this move because it
was so pretty. Now that I look back with a 2011 perspective, I
think they used that move all the time because it traveled so nicely.
After all, when I learned my Waltz Crossover, my teacher had me
dance it in one spot on the floor. Bill and Jim made it travel.
In other words, Bill and Jim were already tinkering with the
Waltz. Wouldn't it be nice if they could avoid getting
run over? Necessity is Mother of Invention. Trying to
avoid collisions, Bill and Jim were learning ways to make their
moves travel around the dance floor. In this regard, both men were way ahead of their time.
The Waltz Kings were among the very first Western Waltz dancers.
Unfortunately, until now, neither guy ever got any credit for their adaptations.
I doubt that they care.
The Waltz Kings had women everywhere to distract them. I
consider that to be reward enough for their innovation. It's
pure Darwin, now isn't it? The first caveman to invent the
wheel gets all the babes.
Please note I don't have
a grasp of the national picture. All I can report on is what I
saw happening on the Western dance floors in the early Eighties.
I really don't know who
came up with the idea for altering most
of the basic Ballroom Waltz moves to make them Travel nor do I know
when it happened or where it happened. What I do know is that
Jim and Bill were amateur dancers who made a clever discovery.
But they were certainly not the ones who created what I consider to
be the Western Waltz.
My guess is the
idea for the today's Western Waltz came from someone familiar with competitive Ballroom dancing
who took an interest in Western dancing as well. When I began
to watch major Ballroom competitions on TV, I noticed that the
competitors tended to travel their Ballroom Waltz in a circle around the floor.
Yes, they wore tuxes and gowns. Yes, they danced to Schmaltz
Waltz music. But they also traveled in a CIRCLE....
I have a hunch that the technique for traveling Waltz moves already
existed in the rarified atmosphere of elite Ballroom dancing.
At some point, I assume
a competition Ballroom dancer who also liked Western music helped the
bring the traveling features of Ballroom Waltz over to the Western dance
floors. After all, a Waltz tempo is
still a Waltz tempo whether it is Johann Strauss or George Strait.
Dancing Cleans Up its Act
Hey, Girls, how would you like to have
some guy's nasty arm around your neck while you dance? The picture
captures the image nicely. However, the true look was actually much
worse. Before Urban Cowboy came along, the men
danced even closer. They would stick their entire forearm around the
back of the woman's neck.
Pretty sexy having some big sweaty guy
with bad breath holding you close with your neck in a vice grip,
huh? The arm around the neck was The Look
for Western Dancing in the Seventies. Yee haw!
So what ever happened to those exciting days of yesteryear?
You might be surprised to know that all the fancy Western dancing we
do here in Houston and at SSQQ owes a big debt to the world of Ballroom
Dancing. Houston has long been a national leader in
competitive Western Dancing.
I have a hunch that Houston's national leadership in
Western Dancing can be traced back to various Houston Ballroom professionals who
applied their Ballroom training to Western dancing during the
Urban Cowboy era.
When I first learned to
Western Dance (1979), the man was supposed to crook his arm around
the woman's neck and the woman grabbed his belt loop.
There was only one move... woman
goes backwards. The men went forward for the entire song.
Side-touch, Side-touch, walk, walk. It was simple stuff,
By the time
Urban Cowboy came along, at least the men were going
backwards now, but only occasionally. There were no fancy
Western Swing-style turns. Those had not come along yet.
The first time I ever danced Western in a club, I was unbelievably
bored out of my wits. At the time, I thought to myself, "Is
this all there is?" After all, I was a boy raised on
Disco. This backwards and forwards stuff wasn't going to cut
it. There was no way I could do this for an entire night! I
left after ten minutes.
That experience was the beginning of my bad attitude towards Western
Introduction of Frame: Ballroom
Dancing to the Rescue
The situation changed considerably after
created a tidal wave of interest in Western dancing here in Houston.
Once Urban Cowboy hit and the dance pros discovered
there was serious money to be made teaching Western dancing, they
changed a lot of things.
For starters, there was no
way a female Ballroom teacher was going to let some guy put his
sweaty muscle bound arm
around her neck. She taught him to put his arm around her
back where it belonged and develop Frame (see picture).
Suddenly both people could stand up straight! What a relief. Once
Frame was introduced, the man
and woman not only looked more graceful, the man was now able to
wide array of new patterns.
It was no coincidence that overnight the Texas Twostep began to
suspiciously resemble a Ballroom Foxtrot.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Do you see an
arm around that woman's neck? No. Thanks to the Ballroom
influence, Western Dancing was fast becoming classy. Now a lady could wear a
lovely dress and feel pretty out on the dance floor. Her belt
loop grabbing days were over.
I will take a little credit
for the changes. I hated that arm around the neck with a
I refused to teach Twostep or Polka with the old look. Not only was the woman uncomfortable, how do you lead a woman with
your arm around her neck?
Early on, I occasionally had men in my
classes who insisted I do it "The Right Way", some women too for that
matter. However I stood my ground. My class, my way. Since most people didn't have a
clue what the old style was in the first place, the old school
people were outnumbered. It was pretty easy
for me to win. Eventually people stopped arguing with
me. The Frame technique became the studio's Twostep standard.
It also became the accepted look throughout the city.
Don't forget to thank the Ballroom instructors.
Swing Comes to H-Town
My major contribution to the Western World of
Dance was the Western Swing.
My first experience with Western Dancing was a disaster. The
dancing was so simple that I wanted to throw up. Side-Touch,
Side-Touch, Walk Walk. This was supposed to replace Disco
Dancing? There had to be more to it than this. Well,
there wasn't. I was completely and totally appalled.
There's an old saying, "If you don't like it, then do something
about it." So I did... I helped invent a new style of dancing.
The sudden death of
Disco here in Houston had a lot to do with the emergence of the
Western Swing. Disco Partner Dancing was extremely
sophisticated. It involved the complicated turns and footwork.
A girl had to be able to turn fast or she wasn't cut out for Disco
Partner Dancing. The fast spins were flashy to watch and fun
Just because they turned
the lights out on Disco didn't mean the turns went away. As
every Disco dancer in Houston drifted onto the new Western dance
floors, they brought them the memories of how much fun those turns
They were amazed at how
boring the state of Houston's Western dancing was. Forward and
backwards. Ho hum.
Overcome by the stultifying boredom of the basic Twostep,
men and women immediately began to experiment with ways to
incorporate the flashy Disco turns into the Twostep. It was
amazing to see a new style of dancing emerge before my eyes.
Shazaam - suddenly the Twostep had Double Turns in it!
I saw guys trying to double turn their partners on the dance floor,
I immediately signed on. Turning girls was something I liked
to do. I figured the dizzier the girls got, the more fun I had.
I wasn't alone. Lots of people were interested in this new style of Western Dancing.
I discovered the other Disco Refugees were thinking the
same thing - let's start turning the girls again! We were all
silently in agreement. If Urban Cowboy was going
to take Disco Dancing away from us, then we needed to make Western
Dancing a lot more interesting.
In the very beginning, I was
practically the only western dance teacher with any sort of reputation.
developed some competition faster than you can whistle Dixie. Western Studios like Exclusive sprang out of the
Fortunately, my fledgling western dance program was able to stay at the head of the
class thanks to these new double turn moves. People heard that
I was the only person teaching the complicated
double turns to the Twostep and the Polka. Other people called
the new style "Twostep with Turns", but that wasn't catchy enough
for me. I called it "Western Swing".
The name stuck.
Nor did I stop there. I played with Western Swing constantly
in 1981. I incorporated my
memories of tricky Disco patterns like the Pretzel, the
Lariat, and the Rope and found a way to
make them TRAVEL to
Twostep and Polka rhythm. In other words, I was doing the same
thing with the Twostep that Bill and Jim eventually did a couple
years later with the Waltz.
Advertising my patterns as Disco
on the Run, the Western Swing made the Twostep considerably
more interesting to dance. Thank goodness! The added
challenge of Twostep with Turns
increased the popularity of Western dancing here in Houston.
It was also good for business. My classes swelled with people
who couldn't figure out how those tricky double turns worked.
Mind you, I didn't invent the Western Swing.
However I will take at least some credit for its development. I was practically the
first person in the city to start teaching those patterns. I
am proud to say my classes were instrumental in popularizing Western
Swing, the new
style of Western Dancing.
Back in the days when Urban Cowboy came to town,
old-timers might recall there was a lot of tension between the
authentic kickers and the Disco Frauds dressed in Western attire. "I was Country before Country was Cool" was a pretty
accurate slogan for the day. However, the kickers didn't put
up much of a fight on the western dance floor.
Thanks to the
advent of Western Swing, the ex Disco dancers with their superior
dance skills quickly outflanked them. I might add there were
many more ex Disco Dancers on the dance floors than there were
In addition, the
newcomers greatly preferred the Ballroom Frame; consequently, the change in the look of the Twostep took place
swiftly. The arm lock on the neck was a thing of the past.
the women had better learn to double turn if they were going to have any
fun. The kickers figured it out - if you can't beat them, join
them. They adapted to the new style of Western dancing.
not every change in Western dancing happened overnight. For
example, the old style of Western Waltz stayed unaffected by the
developments in the Twostep.
Throughout the Eighties most women still danced the Waltz backwards
for an entire song.
I definitely contributed with the Western Swing, but I am filled
with regret that I completely missed the ball when it came to Western Waltz.
This could have been my chance to be a pioneer a second time.
You would think my experience with the Western Swing would have
transferred over to the Western Waltz, but it didn't. In
retrospect, I fell into the same trap as everyone else - no one
plays Waltzes; why bother?
Whatever the reason, it never occurred to me to tinker with the Waltz and create
adaptations to allow more patterns to travel. I was just as locked into the "one
spot on the floor" concept for Ballroom Waltz moves as the next guy.
I simply took it for granted that God meant for a Box Step to stay in
one spot and a Twinkle was supposed to stay in one spot and so
I guess you could say I had trouble thinking outside the
Three - Sharon brings Western
Waltz to SSQQ
Counting from the Days of the
Waltz Kings, it would
take eighteen years before the modern style of Western Waltz
finally took hold here at SSQQ.
early Nineties, Western dance competitions
were growing in popularity thanks to Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn,
etc. Waltz was added to the list of dances. That gave the competitors
the incentive they needed to upgrade their Waltz. Soon
learned how to make Ballroom Waltz patterns travel around the dance
Oddly enough, the modern
form of Western Waltz existed right here at SSQQ throughout the Nineties.
Unfortunately only a couple people paid much attention. Sharon
Crawford, SSQQ's wonderful dance instructor, and her dance partner Patrick Steerman loved to dance the
Western Waltz. Frequent participants at Western Competitions
in the Nineties, together Sharon and Patrick won many Western Waltz awards.
However, for reasons I don't completely understand, it took
forever for the modern style of Western Waltz to catch
SSQQ. The look of the Western Waltz here at the studio didn't
change much during the Nineties. Maybe a couple of underarm
turns were added and quite possibly the Traveling Twinkle, but
sophisticated moves like Triple Twinkle, Same Foot Sweetheart
patterns and Waltz Syncopations were only danced by the competition
In other words, the knowledge was here at SSQQ
throughout the Nineties, but the interest wasn't.
No one complained to me. No one was bugging me for a class to
teach them how to dance the sophisticated patterns. The utter
lack of interest still remains a mystery to me, but I should add I
didn't know the patterns either!
It took two people - John Jones and Sharon Crawford - to
break through the barrier. I helped too, but my contribution was
negligible. All I did was come up with the idea. After
and Sharon did the heavy lifting. John and Sharon are the ones who
deserve the credit for bringing the Western Waltz to SSQQ.
Jones had a lifelong love of the Western Waltz.
John was a wonderful Waltz dancer who was a close friend of Sharon
Early in the Nineties, John began
helping Sharon with her advanced Western Swing classes on Wednesday nights.
John would help Sharon demonstrate moves, dance with the extra ladies, and
share some of his own advanced Twostep moves with Sharon whenever he
ran across a new pattern.
I was grateful to John for his constant help here at the
studio. John was a grumpy Gus kind of a guy. He was
ALWAYS frowning about something. The photo on the right with
Mary is the only known picture in existence where John is smiling.
That said, his gruff exterior was a total act. This guy had a heart
of gold under that stern look. John was one of the most
giving people I have ever met.
John and Mary Jones
One day John asked me if I would mind if he practiced his Waltz
here at the studio. Of course not. I knew John was the Master.
After all the kind things he had done for Sharon and for the studio,
I was more than happy to lend him a room so he could pursue his
That's how it started. Throughout the mid-Nineties,
John spent countless evenings in back rooms here at the studio
practicing his Waltz with his best friend (and former wife) Mary
Jones. Every Wednesday night around 9 pm, John would get
together with the tall and graceful Mary. They would proceed
to dance the night away
just for the sheer joy of performing this beautiful dance.
Whenever John got bored with what he knew, he tried to
learn something new. To improve his repertoire, John ordered
every videotape ever made on the subject. He did his best to
add each new pattern on the tape (some of which were unbelievably
complicated) to his vast knowledge of the Waltz.
I liked watching John and Mary dance together. I made it a
point to drop by every Wednesday to watch them practice. Their dancing was
phenomenal. Once I asked John if he would like to perform a Waltz
for us. However he declined. Despite his great skill, John was
not a show off. Always the grump, John had no interest in the limelight.
As I listened to his reservations about performing, I completely understood.
Thanks to experiences with my own personal Dance Curse, I had long ago lost
any interest in performing either. Since I felt the same way
John did, I didn't press him on it.
John was so shy that he would often stop dancing if someone
at SSQQ watched him for too long. Fortunately, he allowed me
to watch because he knew how much I respected his dancing.
John's Waltz moves were incredible! And all that practice had
paid off - John and Mary were sheer poetry.
Finally I couldn't take it any more. Something this
good deserved to be shared. One night in 1999, I suggested that John
consider sharing his vast knowledge of patterns in a Waltz class
here at the studio. If John wouldn't perform, why not at least
I could see that John
took my suggestion seriously. He didn't answer right away, but I could
see he was thinking.
Finally John cracked the
hint of a smile. John told me he would
enjoy sharing his knowledge with anyone who was interested.
Did I think anyone would be interested in learning this material?
I told him my gut said yes.
John frowned and thought about it
some more. He was clearly intrigued by my suggestion that he
share his love of Waltz, but something was still bothering him.
Finally John admitted his reservation.
Teaching wasn't his strength. John told me he was too quiet for
this. He wouldn't know where to begin to explain these
complicated moves. I said I had idea. Maybe somebody
would help him so he didn't have to do it by himself.
John nodded. He was thinking the same thing I was.
We both just happened to know someone who was a born
teacher. So John walked down the hallway to find his best
friend Sharon. He asked her if she was game.
Absolutely! Right there on the spot Sharon agreed to do it.
For the next few months,
John collaborated with Sharon to put together a program. The
result was pure magic - their very first class in September 2000 attracted over
70 people! John and Sharon's Western Waltz program was an
instant hit. I couldn't help but smile. That's when I
realized people had been interested in the Waltz all along.
The real question was why they hadn't spoken up!
confided to me he was thrilled to take this class. He said he
had been watching John practice on Wednesdays for years now hoping
he would teach Waltz some day. However John was so unapproachable, he
didn't dare say a word. Good grief.
Due to the high energy
of the class, naturally I scheduled a follow-up Intermediate class
in October. I expected the usual drop-off, but just the
opposite happened. Due to an unusually powerful word of mouth,
not only did the same 70 people stick around, the class grew a
little bit as more dancers joined in progress to share the fun.
It took a while to absorb the Johnny-come-lately dancers, but Sharon
and John pulled it off.
Just like putting an
extra log on the fire, the energy grew. Soon the students
started begging for more levels. Sharon and John added an
Advanced level in November. Then came Super-Advanced in December.
December marked a
natural stopping point, so for 2000, Sharon and John left it at four levels.
However when the same
energy came back the following year in 2001, they added a fifth
month of Western Waltz.
The dancers brought out the best in each other. What made the
class exceptionally fun is that many of the dancers stayed after
class to practice. It was like a party that follows a party.
Before you knew, all that practice paid off - the entire room was
wall to wall with beautiful Waltz couples swirling and twirling
across the floor! Sharon's amazing program had developed into
the finest GROUP training program for the Waltz that this city had
As the Legend of Sharon
and John's class grew, over the years crowds of over one hundred people became the
norm. I had to hire people to watch the door just to keep
extra people from signing up for a different class and then sneaking into
Sharon's class. It was irritating that people would try to
sneak, but it was also a
compliment to Sharon.
Another compliment was
the number of people who took the same class from Sharon year after
year. They say even though they realized Sharon would teach the same patterns, they
wanted to learn them better. Plus I think the repeaters
enjoyed the energy of the Waltz class. It was fun to practice
Waltz on a weekly basis.
Many of the finest Waltz
dancers in Houston claim they owe their skill to Sharon and John's
class! I think it is safe to say that thanks to Sharon Shaw,
today there are more Waltz dancers in Houston than probably any
other city in America. That's quite an accomplishment.
John and Sharon were proud of their successful Western Waltz class
and rightfully so. They now had an entire dance studio
practicing extremely sophisticated Ballroom Waltz patterns that
previously had been the strictly the domain of competition Western
Cloaked in a disguise
known as "Western Dancing", right before my eyes
SSQQ students were unwittingly becoming pretty good Ballroom dancers.
About the same
time, another gifted SSQQ instructor named Susie Merrill popularized
Night Club here at the studio. Night Club
was a stylish Western dance that
suspiciously resembled Ballroom dances like the Rumba and Bolero.
The Western dancers had a prohibition against learning any of that
foo-foo Ballroom stuff, but as long as they were dancing to Faith Hill's
or Alan Jackson's "Remember When", then they
didn't care. As long as it was 'Western', they loved this new dance!
Not to be outdone by
Susie, a year later Sharon and John went on to introduce yet another a
favorite SSQQ class, Western Cha Cha. Now the
same people were tricked again into learning competition Cha
Cha patterns complete with Latin hip motion.
No problem. As long as they were dancing to a Polka, they
didn't seem to mind at all. Rock Step Cha Cha Cha.
Amazingly enough, Western Dancing... a dance style that had once
been regarded as the domain of the rough, unsophisticated and slovenly... now had men moving their hips and concerned about their
What was the world coming to?
Dancing in Disguise
Let's face it - there exists a prejudice against
dancing here in Houston. Maybe it comes from some awful experience in a 7th
grade etiquette class or maybe it comes from images of over-groomed
men and fake-looking women loaded down with gaudy costumes and
jewelry. Or maybe it is just those pasty iron-on smiles that
turn people off. Or maybe they like the dancing but hate the
Whatever the reason, I think we all have to
admit the word "Ballroom" seems to conjure up all
sorts of negative stereotypes.
Mothers have long known
the easiest way to get a kid to swallow a bitter pill is to wrap it
up in candy. You get the analogy. By avoiding the terrifying word "BALLROOM", Sharon, John and
Susie helped SSQQ students find a way to overcome their prejudice. By
substituting the word "WESTERN" they were able to
sweet talk their students into trying something new.
The result was magic.
Hundreds of students began to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from
advanced Ballroom dancing. They loved the complexity of the
tough patterns. Dancing was their hobby and they appreciated
Ironically, I believe
the heavy Ballroom influence that has permeated Western Dancing has
prevented actual Ballroom Dancing from catching on more deeply
here in Houston. There are no active Ballroom nightclubs that
play Ballroom music. The only place to dance to Ballroom music
are typically at Ballroom dance studios. As long as people in Houston continue to
prefer Western music over Ballroom music, I think the number of
people who take Ballroom classes will continue to stay suppressed.
One of these days we need to change that. There's some
great Ballroom dance music out there that people are missing.
It may take a while though. After all, Texas has enjoyed a long
love affair with the Western lifestyle and Western music. If
given a choice between a Sinatra Foxtrot or a George Strait Twostep,
my money is on George. If given a choice between an Englebert
Humperdinck Waltz or a Reba McEntire Waltz, my money is on Reba.
Count the number of Western clubs here in Houston... a
half-dozen or so. Now count the number of Ballroom nightclubs. Zero. It is kind of silly in a way. In my opinion,
advanced Western dancing here in Houston is really just Ballroom Dancing in disguise.
Okay, as long as no one
calls it "Ballroom Dancing", then the SSQQ Western crowd loves to Ballroom Dance. All they ask
is to let them wear blue jeans and play Western music.
However, lately there
are signs this is changing. Whenever we take our SSQQ Cruise
Trips, our patrons flock to the Ballroom Dance Floor. They are
quite content to Waltz to an Irish lullaby. As one man put it
to me, "It ain't western, but it ain't bad."
I'll take it.
Bill, Sharon and Marla at a pub in Dublin, Ireland,
on the 2010 Oslo Cruise
Sharon Shaw has my
eternal gratitude not only for creating her wonderful Waltz program,
but for an entire list of accomplishments and contributions.
Sharon has been
the heart and soul of SSQQ for twenty-two years.
As good as Sharon is at
dancing and at teaching, I promise you she is an even finer human
being. Along with my wife Marla, there is no person on this
earth I trust more than Sharon.
Bill Shaw will tell you he is the luckiest guy on earth to have a
wife like Sharon. As for me, I thank Sharon for being the
closest thing to a sister I have ever had.
We go so far back.
Memories like creating the Sleazy Bar Whip Party seem like
And how can I forget the
time Sharon and I lost a dance contest to some yahoos in the Bahamas
who could barely walk, much less dance? Twenty years of all
that crazy stuff. You will just have to wait for the book I am
writing to hear it all.
Sharon is a timeless
source of strength to me. She is always there.
I love Sharon from the
bottom of my heart... and I know a lot of people who feel exactly
the same way!