Western Waltz
Home Up

   

Sharon Shaw

The Woman Who Brought
Western Waltz to Houston


Story written by Rick Archer
March 2011

 
   

Forward - Sharon Shaw

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 SSQQ. 

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 practically run 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 Waltz

Written by Rick Archer
March 2011


 

Chapter One - 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 Waltz.

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 it.

 

Ballroom Dancing

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.

I 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. 

Just the word "Ballroom" was enough to send people running out of the room in terror.  With choice comments like "I hate schmaltz", "the 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 Kings

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 is 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 success.  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!  Hurry up! 

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 another one! 

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 it?"

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 class headache.

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?

Sheer magic.
T
he Last Waltz will last Forever

Every girl becomes a Cinderella
when the Waltz is played

 

Chapter Two - Seeds of the Western Waltz

 

My Stupid Mistake

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.

Let me 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!


Back in 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.

Planting the Seeds of the Western Waltz

Unlike the rest of the world, 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 backs.

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 spite.

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 had it? 

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.  Interesting.

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.


Western 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, pretty tame. 

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 dancing.


The Introduction of Frame: Ballroom Dancing to the Rescue

The situation changed considerably after Urban Cowboy 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 lead a 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 purple passion.

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.
 

Western 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 to do.

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 were.

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!

The moment 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.  However, I developed some competition faster than you can whistle Dixie.  Western Studios like Exclusive sprang out of the woodwork. 

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 authentic cowboys. 

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.  Plus 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.

However, 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 forth. 

I guess you could say I had trouble thinking outside the Box.

 

Chapter 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. 

In the 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 everyone learned how to make Ballroom Waltz patterns travel around the dance floor. 

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 on at 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 elite. 

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 that, John and Sharon did the heavy lifting.  John and Sharon are the ones who deserve the credit for bringing the Western Waltz to SSQQ. 


 

John Jones

John Jones had a lifelong love of the Western Waltz.  John was a wonderful Waltz dancer who was a close friend of Sharon Crawford. 

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 hobby. 

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 teach it?  

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. 

Sharon smiled.  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! 

One man 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 ever seen. 

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.


The Trick Works!

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 dancers. 

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 "Breathe" 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 posture. 

What was the world coming to?

John and Sharon

Ballroom Dancing in Disguise

Let's face it - there exists a prejudice against Ballroom 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 music.

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 the challenge.

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.  That's progress!

 

Thank You, Sharona!

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 yesterday. 


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! 

Rick Archer
March 2011

 


 

 
   
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