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Miss Marla's Ballroom Dance Class
Written by Rick Archer

These are pictures of SSQQ dancers taking Marla's pre-cruise Ballroom Dance class in the month of August.  Marla and I both know the same secret - Ballroom Dancing is alive and well on every cruise we have ever taken.

With that in mind, Marla thought it would be helpful to offer a quick brush-up on the Lost Art of Formal Dancing.  To the strains of Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon, these intrepid Bahamas cruisers learned how to use "Frame" to create Lead and Follow patterns to the Foxtrot. In succeeding weeks, they used the same knowledge of Frame to create Rumba patterns to Smooth Operator by Sade, and Slow Dance patterns to Unforgettable by Natalie Cole.

As you can see from the pictures, Marla did a good job. All the couples have "The Look".  One problem - the girls are smiling, but not the boys. Now if the boys could just learn to smile and dance at the same time...

When I first saw these pictures, they conjured up memories of my Seventh Grade Dance Class. I took one look at the pictures and couldn't help but wince when I compared my terrible attitude at age 13 to my genuine love of Ballroom Dancing at 60. 

What a difference a few years makes!  Back in the Seventh Grade, I hated my Ballroom lessons.  Get this - they made the girls wear white gloves!  And full length dresses as well.  They were all going to be junior Jackie Kennedys.  I am sure the girls were just as uncomfortable as the boys were.

The boys were told to wear coat and ties.  That just added to their contempt for the process.  Most of them had not discovered girls yet.  Nor did any of them have the slightest inkling that dancing could someday help them meet girls and make them happy.  Make girls happy?  Are you nuts?

You can include me in the group of ignorant young men. I couldn't stand it.  I wasn't ready to touch girls yet or listen to them complain about how poorly I danced. I hated the dancing, I hated the music, I hated the coat and tie and I definitely hated the girls giggling and laughing at me.

In my opinion, the hardest part about grade school was being forced to learn things I doubted I would ever need later in life.  To me, this "Ballroom" stuff was just another case of being forced to learn something I would never need.  Sort of the same problem as learning Latin or Chemistry, but this was even more distasteful.  Since it was "voluntary", I un-volunteered. I refused to go back after the first week.

Many people here in Houston have a similar poor attitude towards Ballroom Dancing.   Is it possible other Houstonians had the same traumatic experience as I did when they were 13?  Although Ballroom Dancing does exist here in Houston, it is not particularly popular. Ballroom Dancing comes in at a distant fifth place in popularity behind Western, Salsa, East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing.  If it wasn't for First Dances at Weddings, some men might go scot-free for life when it comes to Formal Dancing.  The cynics would say that's just another good reason not to get married.

Oddly enough, Ballroom Dancing is extremely popular with Asian people. They have several advantages over the Anglos - they like the music, they like to dress up and they seem to enjoy the "Formality". Besides, maybe they don't have any built-in prejudices that carry over from grade school. 

I contend that Ballroom Dancing is actually quite popular here in Houston with Anglos, but in a disguised form.  I won't bore you with a thorough explanation of my theories, but I have long believed that the popularity of Western Dancing is responsible for keeping Ballroom Dancing in the shadows. 

Do you like to Twostep?  Well, Twostep is very similar to Foxtrot. Do you like to Waltz?  Western Waltz and Ballroom Waltz aren't that different. 

Western Cha Cha and Latin Cha Cha are pretty much the same. Western Night Club is a form of Rumba.

East Coast Swing works just as well to a Western Honky-Tonk song like Born to Boogie as it does to the Big Band classic In the Mood.

Seriously, the only Ballroom Dance that Western doesn't attempt to co-opt is Tango.  Here in Houston, all the other major Ballroom dances have made their way on to the Western dance floor.  I have found that most people like to dance Ballroom patterns as long as they can use it to the Western music they are more fond of.  Plus Texans have that fondness for blue jeans.

Interestingly enough, once people give Ballroom Dancing a try, they quickly discover this form of Dancing is actually quite pleasurable.  It turns out that the music is very pretty and that Slow Dance can definitely lead to Romance.  It is pretty sexy dancing that close!

Dancing eye to eye... or cheek to cheek... does have its advantages.  Not only does it feel great to hold a woman in a man's arms, the ladies like being held just as much.  The closeness breaks down barriers.  Surprise surprise, once they get the hang of it, the men find they can actually talk to women face to face while they are dancing.  Now if they could just learn to smile at the same time...

This Ballroom Dancing stuff turns out to be a lot of fun. All people need is a "Reason" to learn and suddenly the interest is there. 


Here is a Reason to Learn: 
Ballroom Dancing on Cruise Ships

This picture was taken on our 2009 Conquest Trip.  As you can see, Ballroom dancing is alive and well on Cruise ships. 

Although it is mostly Western and Salsa here in Houston, out at sea, you will hear more Ballroom music played than any other type of dance music.  It is a completely different world at sea.

The main reason for this is the ship's emphasis on glamour and sophistication.  In this sense, Ballroom Dancing is very appropriate due to its emphasis on grace and elegance. 

When it comes to grace and elegance, our minds wander to Fred and Ginger.  Exactly. Blue jeans are great back in Texas, but the night at sea calls for a more sophisticated setting.  On board, the lights are low, the music is beautiful, everyone looks wonderful in formal attire. Best of all, Slow Dance leads to Romance. Formal Dancing is perfect for the occasion. 

Partner dancing in America is a Lost Art

There is, unfortunately, one missing element in the cruise formula of beautiful women, beautiful gowns, and beautiful music - most people these days don't know how to dance.

For years, I have pointed out that the Cruise Ships offer all these wonderful dance opportunities, but very few of their guests actually know how to dance.  Uh oh. 

In the real world, people have kids and jobs and all sorts of time-consuming commitments. When you are a soccer Mom or an oil and gas exec traveling all the time, it's pretty tough to find the time for weekly dance lessons.  Furthermore, there is no SSQQ in every small Texas town or big city suburb. Back when I ran SSQQ-Bissonnet, people regularly drove in from Woodlands, Clear Lake, Baytown, and Katy for classes.

Marla, for example, used to drive in from Kingwood.  I asked her, "Why drive so far?"  Her reply was when she first looked, there was no dance studio in her neighborhood.

Given this sad situation, it is no wonder that SSQQ dancers become instant stars on every cruise we take.  The skill level of even the beginners in our group is usually far beyond the reach of 98% of the people who take these cruises.

Meanwhile, all the other guests either sit in their chairs or line the railings one deck above us watching in awe and envy as one SSQQ couple after another demonstrates their prowess.  It must aggravate these people no end to be unable to participate. 

We are the lucky ones!  Every cruise becomes a delicious reward for all those hours spent in dance class practicing our dance moves.  Now we finally get the opportunity to literally dance the night away. 

Dancing on an SSQQ Cruise takes three different forms depending on the time of day.  During our morning dance workshops at sea, we will cover anything from Salsa Rueda to Synchronized Waltz to Country-Western Barn Dancing.

Then there is our Late Night Dance Program.  After Midnight, the SSQQ DJ will play a steady diet of Swing and Western music just like you get at home back in Houston.

However, it is the Evening Dancing that exposes the Achilles Heel in many SSQQ guests.  A knowledge of Western dancing will only get you so far.  Throughout every evening after dinner, there are live bands that play romantic Ballroom dance music ranging from Foxtrot to Swing to Waltz, Rumba and Cha Cha.

This is the kind of music where you put the woman in your arms and she is more than happy to be there.  I think this kind of dancing is wonderful, but maybe that is because I already know what to do. I took the time to learn and now I receive the rewards. Marla and I love the fact that Formal Dancing is alive and well at sea. I think it is wonderful to watch men dress up for the opportunity to dance arm in arm with lovely women to romantic music!

Marla goes out of her way to warn her guests, but unfortunately not everyone in our group comes prepared. For several years now, on every trip there are guests who express displeasure over this "over-emphasis" on Ballroom dancing. Why can't the dancing be more like what they get at home?  They complain to me or to Marla they had no idea they needed lessons in Sinatra Foxtrot for their cruise.  Now that they are on board, it's too late. Nobody can learn all these dances overnight.

Now that Marla and I are focused on offering at least three and possibly more trips each year, we intend to conduct classes in Foxtrot, Rumba, Waltz, Cha Cha, and Swing throughout the year similar to Marla's class that just ended.  In this way we can prepare our passengers for the wonderful world of Ballroom dance that exists out at sea.  In addition to teaching the basics, we hope to have ongoing classes in advanced material as well that will work just fine on the small dance floors typical of most cruise ships. 

But you don't have to wait for us.  If you are ready to learn something NOW, just holler.  Any time you wish to take a private lesson or organize a small group lesson, just let us know.  We may be on cruises three or four weeks during the year, but that leaves 48 other weeks for dance lessons. 

Marla and I would be excited to prepare you for all kinds of dancing on a cruise be it Ballroom, Swing, Western, and Salsa!   
Private Lessons with Rick and Marla


Marla's Footnote on her Dance Class
Written by Marla Archer

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach a Pre-Cruise Ballroom class for 42 members of our Bahamas Cruise on Monday nights at The Dance Place from July 26th through August 16th.  We learned the basics to Foxtrot, Rumba and Slow Dance, but most importantly bonded as dance buddies.

Although I emphasized learning some useful dance patterns, the most important element was getting the group together to establish a friendship bond prior to our cruise ship sailing off towards the Bahamas.

I must say it was a challenge for me learning The Dance Place's music system, claiming squatter's rights on the room I had rented for the four weeks, frantically searching for a room to practice in after class, and the worst problem was Week 3's air-conditioner failure, in addition to torrential rainstorms for two of the Mondays.

Despite it all, we smiled, laughed, and had a super fun time while learning the differences between a Foxtrot box and a Rumba box. Check out the smiles in the picture!

The class picture was taken on Week 4. It shows only 24 students in attendance. On our last night, we went over Slow Dance. I assume that the missing students didn't want to face the traffic created by the monsoon that swept through or were afraid the air was still out.

Missing in action Week 4: Leads: Charley Denton, David Johnson, Jack Medley, Mark Sellers, Sam Lathrum, Vernon Jones, and Jeff Plaster.
Follows: Crystal Maxwell, Elizabeth Schaefer, Jill Morell, Karen Eggert, Katherine Grigsby, Leah Maciel, Roberta Burns, Sylvia Wetuski, Teresa O'Donnell, and Velma Roppolo

I will be so proud of you all at the Captain's Reception and in the Atrium area for before dinner Ballroom dancing!

Thank you all, and I look forward to sharing good times with you during the cruise! 

Pictured from left to right are as follows:
Amber Poole, Vanessa Diaz, Kevin Mcleod, Lizzie Rose, Lila Waring, Joel Konkel, Patricia Salinas, Wayne Corbett, Rowena Roche, Ed Anderson, Joan Recht, Jennifer Cowan, Jack Myers, Sandra Palmer, Wil Uecker, Jeff Hanrahan, Joann Hatley, Charisma Petrie, Mack Warren, Fran Zandstra, Gus Donnell, Tim Crist, Joyce Peters and Mike Peters

Pre-Cruise Bash at Westwind
Written by Rick Archer

Wow!  What a party!!  We had the best time at Westwind Dance Club.

A pre-cruise meeting typically serves three purposes - a chance to ask questions (very important for first-time guests), a chance to organize carpools to Galveston, and, best of all, the chance to meet the other guests.

We don't have a dance studio any more, so Marla and I originally planned to host the Bahamas Pre-Cruise Meeting here at our house in the Heights. 

Don't laugh.  Ten years ago, I used to hold huge volleyball parties here.  Back in those days, crowds of 100 people were the norm.  In fact, SSQQ became so good at volleyball that we nearly won the fabled Pasadena Strawberry Festival Mud Volleyball tournament in 2002.  We finished second out of 116 teams!  Not bad for a bunch of wimp dancers.

That was the good news.  Later that summer in 2002, one day I went out back and saw my concrete volleyball court had been split in half after a storm.  Thanks to the root system from a giant oak tree that I had planted, the volleyball court was now in ruins.  In addition to the crack, the area near the tree had a bulge in it. That side of the court was half a foot higher than the rest of the court.  The estimate to fix the problem correctly was $5,000.

I didn't have that kind of money. Instead, I used some concrete to patch the cracks.  Unfortunately, the raised surface meant the court was no longer safe to risk playing on.  Sadly, I decided the SSQQ volleyball era was over.   

When Marla said we needed a place to hold our meeting, my mind raced back to those days of yesteryear.  Now that the studio was closed, maybe we could have the meeting here at the house. Why not at least throw a picnic? 

One day in July I went out back to practice shooting the basketball. The first thing I noticed was how hot it was.  Thanks to Hurricane Ike, many of our shade-producing trees were now gone.  Who in their right mind wants to come to a meeting in this heat?  Then I noticed that the old volleyball seats were terribly worn with age.  In fact, the entire decking infrastructure was badly in need of repair.  Maybe I should have given this idea more thought.

As I mulled over the time and expense it would take to whip the place back into shape, it occurred to me that our cruise didn't have 100 people; it had 200 people.  I didn't have a place for another 100 people to sit.

I frowned to myself.  How stupid of me. A party here at the house simply didn't make any sense.  I walked into Marla's office to tell her the bad news.  Marla smiled quietly to herself.  She had suspected this all along, but didn't have the heart to tell me.   

About this same time our friend Gary Richardson began organizing Tuesday night dancing at a Western club called Westwind near the corner of Tidwell and 290.  This had come about because Wild West decided to discontinue a long-standing Tuesday night dance program that Gary was devoted to.

Someone suggested a place named Westwind as an alternative.  Gary had never been there before, but since it was close to his house, he decided to give it a try.  The first thing he noticed was the place wasn't crowded on Tuesdays.  His group of 20 had the place to themselves on Tuesdays.  Since there was no DJ, Gary got permission to play his own music.

20 became 30 the next week.  30 became 40 the next week. Wild West's loss became Westwind's gain. At this point, Gary was filling the club on Tuesday.  Gary also began to develop a rapport with Azar, the owner.  

Gary noticed the place was empty on Mondays as well.  Gary got permission to offer Night Club dance classes on Mondays.  Now Gary was filling the place twice a week.  Gary had found a diamond in the rough. 

Faced with our problem, Marla wondered if perhaps Westwind would let us have our cruise meeting there.  Gary said he would ask Azar what he thought.  To Marla's profound relief, Azar said yes.  Thank goodness!

Now that we had the club available for our meeting, this opened up some interesting possibilities.  Marla said we could meet at 5 pm to hand out information and answer questions, then turn around and have a potluck dinner at 6 pm plus start the dance music. 

I was impressed with Marla's idea.  This might just work!  All our previous pre-cruise meetings had been ho-hum get-togethers on a Sunday afternoon shortly before dance classes were about to start.  Out of nowhere, we suddenly had been give an opportunity to have a huge party!

Sure enough, this event turned out to be the best pre-cruise party we have ever had.  Everyone had a blast! 

For starters, we had 125 people. Let the pictures tell the story.  Everyone brought food - there were two entire tables of potluck dishes to choose from!

The food was absolutely delicious!  It was so good I had to go back for seconds.  After I had been dancing for an hour, I got hungry again.  Wow!  There was so much food left that I had a completely different meal that just was just as good as the first!  yum yum yum.

I wasn't the only person who liked the food.  Everyone was raving about it!  We obviously have some great cooks in this group.  This is something we need to do again!

The neat thing was that everyone sat down at a table with friends.  The conversations became animated.  This evening was almost as good as being on the ship itself. 

Those full bellies paid off.  We turned the lights down low and suddenly the dance floor was teaming with bodies!  Even better, people like Marty Shea, Priscilla Ray, Sol Eisenbaum, Lee Ann Parkinson, and Philip Easterling dropped by to join us.  In other words, the party was open to the entire dance community... I liked that a lot!

One person I enjoyed seeing was George Mr. Handsome Sargent.  Mr. Handsome, of course, is someone I always pick on in every cruise writeup.  Does George enjoy the terrible things I say about him?  Well, I'm not sure.  I know for a fact that George complains that I always pick him on him and that very little of what I say is correct.  And yet he keeps signing up each year for the next cruise. So draw your own conclusions.  By the way, that's George with his mouth open in the picture to the right.  No surprise there.

All I know is that George's buddy Margarita Marsharita (sitting next to George) had told me two specific things when I saw her four days earlier.

First Marsharita said that George was DEFINITELY not coming to the pre-cruise meeting.  George said there wasn't anything about this cruise that he didn't know already.  Second of all, there was an unbelievably important Texans pre-season football game on TV that same night.  He would not miss an important PRESEASON game for the world!!

Second, Marsharita said George had given up dancing.  George said he was tired of dancing. He was thinking of taking up a new hobby like joining the professional hot tub stuffing circuit.  I frowned when I heard this.  I had no idea that sitting in a hot tub could even be classified as an 'activity', much less something you could compete in.

In Handsome's defense, if anyone could elevate hot tub stuffing into a hobby or a skill, that would be Mister Handsome.  He has developed profound hot tub skills.  In fact, the first thing I heard him say at Westwind was that he was working on a plan to get the entire 190 passenger group into the Conquest hot tub at the same time.  Well, good luck, but don't ask me to be on the bottom. 

Later that evening, I was stunned to discover that George was out on the Westwind dance floor.  Now maybe it was illusion, but George APPEARED TO BE DANCING.  I figured he would deny it, so I took a picture.  Unfortunately there wasn't enough flash to do the moment justice.  I am sure that George will say it was just someone who looked like him. 

One person who definitely had a great time at our party was Gareld McEathron (pictured on the right).  Tonight was Gareld's 82nd birthday!!

Back on the 2008 Cruise, Gareld had celebrated his 80th Birthday on board the ship.  To have some fun with the event, I had brought a box of plastic leis along for the girls to put on his shoulders while they gave him a hug and a big smooch (read story). 

I don't know who had more fun - Gareld or the 60 women who smooched the lucky guy. I think a couple guys smooched him too.  However, Gareld got so swamped with leis that I began to worry he might suffocate!  Fortunately, he survived the experience and got a big kick out of it.

Here at Westwind, when I saw Gareld, I remembered it was again his birthday.  So on the spur of the moment, I asked him to get out on the floor and told the girls to line up for a new round of kissing and smooching.

Sure enough, a line of 60 women jumped from their seats for a chance to smooch our celebrity.  Talk about popularity!  I was actually envious.

It is a good thing Gareld's wife Virginia is a good sport. As I told Gareld's daughter Deborah later on, this guy gets more action than a rock star.  The guy is a born babe magnet.

That's when I noticed Marla smooching the guy too.  Gee whiz, it is one thing to send the guy a legion of women, but now my own wife is getting in on the act!  Hmmph.  I think I am going to have Marla schedule a cruise for my birthday and see if I can work this angle to my own advantage.

Changing the subject, I didn't take very many pictures. Please forgive.  Historically, I can either take pictures or I can dance.  I am not very good at doing both.  Tonight I was having so much fun dancing that I completely forgot I even had a camera in my pocket.  Oh well. 

I wasn't the only person having fun dancing.  I grinned when I saw my buddy Joel Konkel out there dancing Swing to a perfectly good Twostep song.  Both Swing music and Twostep music have similar speeds.  Since Joel is such a Swing nut, he always finds a way to transform a night of Western dancing into some extra Swing dancing as well. 

Joel isn't the only Swing nut in the group. Charley Denton and his girlfriend Rowena reminded the group that they are organizing a group to wear flapper dresses and Zoot Suits on Formal Night during the cruise.  Mind you, I have no desire to wear a zoot suit, but I am in full support of whatever floats your boat! 

I am sure I will be grinning from head to toe as they use their special form of madness to turn our Bahamas Trip into a Zoot Suit Riot.  On the other hand, if they get into dress code trouble, I don't know any of them! 

If I had remembered, I would have taken a picture of my friend Velma, or MVP as I like to call her.  Velma is one of those people who have natural charisma.  That girl is a born leader!  Born trouble maker too.  

On our 2009 cruise, Velma took her dinner table of 10 strangers and welded them into a solid unit of 10 trouble makers.  Velma even gave them a name - The WTH Club.  The WTH Club got the award for most noise, rowdiest behavior and most fun of any table... and believe me, they had competition.

They even had the nerve to ask me if they were in line for a reward of some sort. I replied that the joy of misbehavior is rewarding enough.

At Westwind, Velma announced to me that 9 out of 10 people from last year's table had re-upped for this year's Bahamas cruise.  I could see she was bragging, but I was still pretty impressed. That's amazing!  I was curious about something.  I asked Velma how on earth so she had persuaded so many people to return.  Velma and smiled. "These guys are my peeps.  I keep 'em in line!" 

Then MVP let me in on her secret... throughout the year, Velma organized regular monthly get-togethers for the WTH Club.  Sometimes they all met to go dancing.  Sometimes they all met to have dinner.  Sometimes they met to take a dance class together. 

It didn't matter what the occasion was as long as they all had fun.  As a result, the friendships that were forged on the cruise stayed connected throughout the entire year. 

I smiled.  The long history of SSQQ has seen many similar groups form.  It doesn't happen often and I certainly don't have control over it, but when it does happen, I am always happy.  This is how we build our family. 

Truth be told, the greatest legacy of SSQQ Dance Studio and our Travel group are the many friendships that will continue for years and years to come.  We have truly become a community. 

We are all fortunate to have Marla to thank for this... and that includes me. I am just as grateful as everyone else. I remember how suspicious people were of Marla in the early days of organizing SSQQ cruise trips.  They questioned every move she made.  Whatever went wrong was her fault. 

Not any more.  Over time, thanks to one successful cruise after another, people saw first-hand that this was a woman who knew what she was doing.  Today Marla's word is golden.  Everyone knows that Marla has every trip completely under control.  Marla's reputation for excellence is so well-established that people trust her completely.  People sign up for her cruises and just relax.  They know they will get exactly what Marla promised.

Thanks to Marla, our Travel Community is poised to thrive for many years to come.  However, tonight's Westwind Party hinted strongly at an important new wrinkle to our future.  In addition to headline-grabbing adventures across the Seven Seas, I think our fun night at Westwind is just the start of many weekly and monthly get-togethers throughout the year. 

If getting people together on a regular basis works for Velma, it will work for all of us.  If Saturday Night at Westwind was any indication, a lot of you agree the time has come for adventures on land as well as at sea.

That's Gareld in action.  The women line up for this guy.

         Velma and her crazy "What the H" Club


Hey Rick....just a point of clarification....In recent newsletter you said, "Thanks to Gary Richardson, the group at Westwind just keeps growing and growing on Tuesday nights."

However, it is Liana Waldberg who actually found this great little place in early June, sent out continual emails encouraging people to show up, spent time telling everyone on other nights at Wild West where people were on Tuesdays etc.

Gary has done a great job of providing music and reminding people on Facebook...but Liana is the one who spearheaded this and needs to be acknowledged!

This has been such a win- win for dancers and for West Wind. Thanks Rick...  Terri Beeler

Rick Archer's Note:  Liana Waldberg, better known as "Welcome to the Jungle (ask her to explain), is now credited as the official Discoverer of Westwind.   We are all in debt to her!!

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