The Conquest Dance
Story written by Rick Archer
This year's trip was beyond a doubt the most
pleasant summer dance cruise that Marla and I have
experienced to date.
I say this with a bit of hesitation
because two of my best friends - Gary Richardson and Phyllis
Porter - were not on this year's trip. As anyone who has
read my accounts of previous trips knows full well that over
the past seven years, both Gary and Phyllis have been a huge
part of the success of each year's trip. So I would prefer
that people not draw any conclusions that their absence had even
the slightest reason for this year's smooth sailing.
Gary has been wonderful at taking
pictures and playing the dance music on our past cruises.
Not surprisingly, I was pretty worried when this year Gary
said he felt a need to keep a closer eye on his computer
business (he doesn't have a person he can count on to run
his store when he is gone).
On a personal level, I missed Gary and his wife Betty because
they are my friends, but fortunately Steve Gabino was able
to step in to handle the photography and DJ work. No
disrespect to Gary, but Steve did a great job.
Betty and Gary Richardson
Another Gary who was missing this year was my friend Gary
Schweinle. Gary was a huge part of our SSQQ cruises. Gary
went on so many trips that he, Iqbal Nagji, and Gareld and
Virginia MacEathron were in a virtual tie for the most SSQQ
Unfortunately, Gary died of a tragic
during Hurricane Ike last year.
That said, even though Gary
wasn't along for this trip, he was definitely along in
spirit. I thought of him many times during the trip,
especially at dinner. Gary was famous for hosting the tables
that made the most noise during the trip.
definitely a rowdy, raucous, big-hearted guy who loved
people and loved getting the party started. I will never
forget the peels of outrageous laughter that would emanate
from his circle of friends. I never had the slightest idea
what they were laughing about, but I swear Gary had his
buddies rolling on the floor! Every head in the dining room
would be staring over in curiosity, but he couldn't care
less. Gary and Company were having fun! I miss him.
Gary and Tracy Schweinle
Somebody else I missed
on this trip was Phyllis Porter, My Favorite
Troublemaker. Phyllis was literally the MVP of last year's
trip and many trips before that as well. She had to miss
this year because she switched jobs and did not have
vacation privileges established yet at her new job.
Phyllis' greatest talents is getting people involved. She
loves recruiting newcomers to join the cruise, then works
hard to make sure they are quickly adopted into the family.
There is no such thing as a 'lost soul' on one of our trips
and I give Phyllis a lot of the credit. Her major technique
for involving people is 'cooking'. Phyllis makes sure all
the newcomers get in the hot tub, she seasons them with
George Sargent's special hot tub Gatorade (he should market
the stuff), then she tells Carnival to turn up the heat.
Then Phyllis gets out a big broom, stirs the hot tub around
like a witch's cauldron, and pretty soon everybody has
blended in just fine. They are now SSQQ Cruise Zombies… and
they like it.
My nickname for Phyllis is "Troublemaker" and I say that as
a compliment. Phyllis is best known for creating chaos and
insanity during our cruises. As far as I am concerned, this
is a good thing. No one creates energy like Phyllis.
Trouble is always up to stuff that keeps everyone
amused. She makes sure everyone is included in the
activities and makes
everyone laugh. Not surprisingly,
Trouble is always responsible for
my best stories. This year, however, things were different.
Sad to say, there was no one who could possibly take her
place. Hence we had a much quieter cruise.
However, "quieter" is not necessarily a bad thing. We had a
total absence of headaches. The alcohol abuse and the
incidents of rudeness that plagued last year's trip 2008
were totally gone. Thank goodness.
Some people suggested the trip went more smoothly because
there were fewer people (90 in 2009; 144 in 2008). Nonsense.
The size of the group had nothing to do with it. Throughout
the trip, people would ask me what I thought the difference
That is pretty easy to explain - there were six people
on last year's trip who caused all the problems.
They were all newcomers in 2008 and not one of
them returned for this year's
2009. Draw your own conclusions.
I have given it some thought, I think I
have to accept partial
responsibility for last year's problems.
I believe that
my cruise write-ups had something to do with attracting the
Peggy McElroy, Penny Warren, Tim Bailey
Now it is true that there is misbehavior on our trips,
especially in the hot tub and at the designated Cozumel
watering hole. Since this stuff is fun to write about,
that's exactly what I do. Anyone who has been on one of our
trips knows I exaggerate my recollections from time to time,
but that's also part of the fun.
Unfortunately, I think I
make the trips sound a lot more 'wild and crazy' than they
really are. I think in 2008 a few outsiders read the stories and
figured our trips were more "Club Med Party Boat" than they
were "Family Outings". In other words,
I suspect the
newcomers in 2008 who caused all
the problems were people who actually believed my hype.
the truth is somewhere in the middle. Our group is hardly
"Frat Party at Sea", but then again we aren't saints either.
We misbehave, but just a little.
The absolute truth of the matter is that until 2008 came
along, we never had people out of control.
This was a disturbing new development.
I for one did not miss the drama one bit this year.
Picture from the
2007 Trip. This year the hot tub was much quieter
DANCE DANCE DANCE!
As always, the dancing was very popular
on this year's trip.
In particular, each night the Atrium was
a beehive of activity thanks to nightly appearances
by "Magic and Music", a husband and wife
song duo. Or was it Music and
Magic? Whatever their name was, this talented
couple played one great dance song after another. Their
music made everyone
in our group very happy.
"Magic" was a pretty Filipino lady with a golden
voice. "Music" was her husband who played keyboard
while his lovely wife entertained us with her smile and
After I finally was able to tear my eyes
away from the pretty girl, I noticed her husband could sing as well. In particular,
Mr. Music did a
terrific job on Elvis tunes
like "Jailhouse Rock"
I also enjoyed hearing their Santana hits such as "Evil
Ways" and "Oye Como Va". Both songs
are excellent Cha-Chas. For the past year, I have been
watching Joel Konkel (pictured with Deborah Jenkins)
practice his cha cha. I think it has to be one of his
favorite dances. Sure enough, Joel was in Cha Cha
Bliss out there when these songs came on. It was fun
watching Joel in action with his big smile.
Their music appealed to the versatility in our dancers. They
covered the spectrum from Fifties Swing music to Cha Cha,
Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Slow Dance standards. As I keep telling people,
Ballroom Dancing was alive and well on this cruise. Let me
add that East Coast Swing Dancing was far and away the
single most 'practical' dance to learn ahead of time since
it can be adapted to such a wide range of music.
As has happened many times in the past, our dancers became a
show unto themselves. People would line the levels above to
stare down at the Atrium and smile with approval at our
dancing. I think we all enjoyed feeling special.
includes me. At a party for returning guests
on the last day of the trip, Marla and I
got to dance on stage all by ourselves to the accompaniment
of the ship's orchestra. We had two hundred people in the
audience watching us parade around up there. That was fun!
There was plenty of Slow Dance and Romance on the trip. We
had two honeymoon couples.
One honeymoon couple was Chad Bryant and Allison Crunk.
Allison is Scott Ladell's dance assistant in his Friday
Ghost Town class. Seeing how happy they are together, I
would love to claim them as an 'official' SSQQ wedding
couple. However Allison told me she met Chad at a western
dance class over in Beaumont about a year ago. Now it is
true that Allison brought Chad over to take classes and keep
her company at the studio during their courtship. That
indicates the studio did at least play a positive role
as their romance developed.
What is most important is that "dancing"
brought them together. I can settle for that. After all,
Allison learned her Twostep right here at the studio and it
came in handy when the right guy came along. So you might
say her dance lessons paid off big-time. I know you all tire
of me saying the same stuff over and over again, but even
with all the modern Internet Dating sites, an old-fashioned
technique like "Dancing" seems just as effective as ever at
bringing people together.
Chad and Allison were married in early July 2009. I didn't
realize they had just gotten married till Allison mentioned
something to me at the pre-cruise meeting in early August.
It was fun to watch how happy Chad and Allison were during
As you can see from the pictures, Newlyweds have a glow about them that they share
Our second honeymoon couple played
a game of 'I've got a secret'
with me. On
Monday morning at breakfast, Gary Catalan and Dina Burton
announced to me that they had gotten married one week
Prior to the trip, I had noticed that
both were smiling more than the average guy. I assumed
Gary and Dina were smiling at the studio because
they were happy, but now I
know their grins concealed their big secret. Both Gary and Dina
are well aware how seriously I take "SSQQ Wedding Couples".
I think they were looking forward to their chance to spill
the beans and surprise me. Well, it worked! I started to
smile from ear to ear at the news. I was completely taken
That said, this news didn't totally bowl me over. In fact,
it gave me the chance to figure out what I had been feeling
for some time. I had been noticing for several months just
how much both of them always seemed to be grinning when I
would see them at the studio. Most people seem glad to see
me at the studio, but Gary and Dina seemed unusually happy
to see and I couldn't figure out why. Now I had the
explanation that allowed me to make sense of the special
rapport I had been observing for some time.
What I did not expect, however, is when they said they had
met at my dance studio. This was something I didn't know. I
first met Gary and Dina in a West Coast Swing class. They
showed up as a couple. I assumed they had met elsewhere and
were coming to the studio to learn WCS. What I did not know
is that they had originally met in a Salsa class. After
class, along with a group of friends they would go out
dancing. Over the next several months, the size of their
group dwindled slowly but surely, but Gary and Dina would go
dancing anyway. The group was no longer necessary - Gary and
Dina had connected. I have heard SSQQ Romance stories
EXACTLY like this so many times before, but I can assure you
I still get goose bumps when I learn what an important
contribution the studio can make to people's lives. I was
very touched by Gary and Dina's story.
I noticed this couple from the very start. Gary is an
accomplished Argentine Tango dancer (in fact, his Tango
teachers Martin and Natia Palaez accompanied Gary and Dina
on this year's cruise!) I don't think Dina knew much
Argentine, so Gary set about teaching her. Even though they
were at the studio on Sunday nights to learn Swing, whenever
the opportunity came along they would practice Tango. During
Breaks and Practice nights, I would see Gary working with
Dina on her Ochos and leg whips. Argentine Tango has a neat
look about it… as Gary would stand still, I enjoyed watching
Dina wrap her legs around him. I have a hunch Gary liked it
too. Gary and Dina looked really good together, so I went
out of my way to praise them. They deserved the praise,
DANCE AND ROMANCE
As you can
see from the stories of my two honeymoon couples,
dancing was the common denominator that
brought Allison and Chad
together and Gary and Dina together. As these two couples took
classes together and practiced together, the dancing allowed
their friendship to turn into something special. Salsa,
Tango, Western, Swing,
Ballroom... if all roads lead to
Rome, then all dances lead to Romance.
Another SSQQ specialty that creates Romance are the Cruise
Trips we organize. Yes, shades of the old TV show Love
Boat, people really do meet on cruises and fall in love.
As a veteran of 16 cruises, I have used my vantage point to
observe powerful forces at work during these trips. Yes, it
is true that some people have their flings. We are all
adults; hanky-panky is just as much fun on water as it is on
And yes, sometimes these small romances do end when
the cruise is over. Most of the time everyone knows exactly
what they are doing and are prepared to break away clean.
However, it isn't always a 'clean break',
so to say. Sorry to say, sometimes people do get hurt.
That is one of the dangers of fooling
around. I can recall two
past situations in particular where someone was crushed to see it
end at the dock.
two stories are the exceptions. Usually, if the feelings are real
at sea, they get past Customs just fine.
and Stephen Veregge
I am pleased to report that most SSQQ Romances
that begin at sea have a way of making it back onto land.
One of the beauties of an SSQQ Cruise is that someone you
meet within the group will be heading back to Houston just
like you will.
Marla and I are a prime example of that.
Marla and I barely knew each other before the cruise started
in 2001. Once on board, that changed in a hurry.
On the very
first night of the cruise, we met on the dance floor. From
that point, we were inseparable. Two people who got on the
ship alone left the ship together.
As we drove back to
Houston, we were thrilled with the knowledge that our new
romance could continue forward so effortlessly.
Marla and I have
never been apart since.
romance at sea story, I met a
delightful couple on the cruise
who had a story very similar to our own.
We were fortunate to welcome
Vickie and Joey from California to our
Joey first met Vickie on a Baja California dance cruise. I
am not sure if Joey was on the cruise as a dancer or a
civilian. If forced to guess, I think Joey was a participant,
but also a beginner. This dance cruise was his way of trying
He was attracted to the dancing, but not
ready to draw attention to himself. Consequently,
Joey stayed more around on the sidelines and did some
watching. That's when he spotted Vickie, a very stylish
dancer, out there dancing. As
Vickie smiled and moved those
Joey sat up and took notice. Vickie was
way out of Joey's league on the dance floor, but he was
smitten nonetheless. There's an old
dance saying, "Never make your move too soon!" Joey
decided to bide his time.
Although Joey didn't have the courage to ask her
to dance during the cruise, he wasn't
giving up. When he returned home,
Joey immediately signed up
for Salsa lessons. Joey practiced and practiced. He was
encouraged by his progress and decided to sign up for a
second dance cruise. He crossed his fingers he might see Vickie
again. Sure enough, as luck would have it, Vickie was back
This time Joey was ready. The moment Joey spotted his dreamboat, he
didn't hesitate. Now it was time to make
his move! Thanks to the dance floor, they connected!
From that point on, the relationship progressed nicely.
People say the Love Boat plotlines were pure fantasy, but
they are wrong. The Myth of Romance at Sea actually has a
substantial basis in fact. Vickie and Joey's story plus my own are just
two examples that the power of dancing and cruises is a
mighty powerful combination. For
matter, a casual review of our other past cruises will bring
up more stories along the exact same theme.
So how did a California couple end up on our trip?
Since "dance cruises" serve as their common bond, Vickie and
Joey set their sights on taking several trips a year.
Vickie was trolling the Internet one day when she ran across
the SSQQ dance cruise. Since we were hitting some ports that
were new to them, Joey and Vickie were intrigued.
simply on some of the stories and pictures, they signed up
for this year's Conquest cruise. I am pleased to report
their gamble paid off. Vickie told me they had a great time
with us. The last time I saw them, they were talking about
joining us for the Oslo - Northern Europe cruise that Marla
has scheduled for next May. I hope they do - Vickie and Joey
are a fun couple!
Besides couples that meet at sea, there are SSQQ couples who
meet ahead of time at the studio and use our cruises as a way to get to
know each other better. I counted at least a dozen couples
in this category. However, I won't say a
Using a baseball analogy, no one is
supposed to say a word in the dugout when the pitcher is
throwing a no hitter. So I prefer not to jinx anyone by
commenting further. Nor will I jinx
anyone by adding their picture here either!
A cruise trip is an excellent
way to learn a lot about a person in a short period of time.
Romance is especially powerful at sea because people have
seven complete days to devote to deepening relationships in
beautiful, comfortable settings.
If the couple wishes to interact with
friends, that's great, but the beauty of a cruise is the
couple can disappear and be alone anytime they wish.
There is something about
watching those beautiful sunsets
from your balcony accompanied by
those wonderful sea breezes that helps
people relax and open up to one another in ways that rarely
happen at home with all the distractions.
There's is one thing I can say for sure -
Romance is definitely alive and well on these trips. I
have the pictures to prove it!
CRUISES BRING OUR WEDDING COUPLES BACK INTO THE FOLD
Back in the old days of SSQQ, people would marry and drift
away. These couples might make an occasional reappearance at
an occasional Halloween Party, but by and large they were gone for
good. It hurt at first because these people invariably had
become my friends as well as students. However the same thing
kept happening again and again, so eventually I
had no choice but to grow
philosophical about this development. I didn't like
it, but I learned to accept it. Their priorities had changed
and importance of dancing in their lives
That phenomenon has changed quite a bit here in the 2000s. The
nice thing about the SSQQ cruises is they give SSQQ wedding
couples a pretty neat way to stick around
after the ceremony. These days, SSQQ wedding couples
our cruises give them a way to
hang with the studio and have fun in the process.
Whether dancing is still
important or not, everyone enjoys taking trips with a
great group of people.
I might add, to their surprise,
once they are here they frequently discover dancing is still fun!
I might add, to their surprise, once they
are here they frequently discover dancing is still fun!
Marriage might be the Death of Dance, but Cruises bring
Dance back to Life!
That's a new phrase, by the way.
In 2009, we had 15 SSQQ Wedding couples
join our two cruises. That is quite a number! On
the Barcelona Trip, we had
9 SSQQ wedding couples.
For the 2009 Conquest Cruise, there were six
originally met through the studio.
Besides Marla and myself, there was Gareld and Virginia
MacEathron (seen smooching above!), Larry and Cathy Leising,
Keith and Betty Baker, Richard Greason and Toni Maciel
(engaged!), and Don and Jean Taylor.
In particular, it was fun to see Don and Jean
again. Don and Jean were married in September 2007.
They took their honeymoon on our 2007 Conquest trip. Shortly after the
wedding, they moved to Oklahoma and began their family.
As you can see, Don
and Jean had to come a long way to join our cruise, so I was
especially happy to see them. As
you can see, they
are a lovely couple indeed.
Larry and Cathy
Richard and Toni
Betty and Keith
FRIENDSHIP AND A SHIP OF FRIENDS
While it is true the Romances are the highlights of every
cruise, ultimately just as important are the friendships.
Again I repeat myself from previous stories about SSQQ
cruises, but these trips are incredible at creating a sense
of "Community". The energy at dinnertime was special to
watch as the room lit up with stories, pranks,
silliness and laughter.
I witnessed an odd phenomenon - back in the early days of
the cruises, there was a big emphasis on switching tables.
On this trip, I got the feeling that people liked who they
were already sitting with. Even though rotating tables was
completely okay, I noticed most people preferred to stay at the same
table the entire week.
I attribute this development to two things. One, Marla has
learned to assign people by common dominators - singles
tables, couples tables, and families. Two, there are large
pockets of returning guests who have ties from previous
trips. Marla puts these groups at the same table. Sure
enough, these cruises have begun to feel like one big family
traveling together. I suspect we will see the exact same
group spirit on our upcoming Barcelona trip.
One table in particular got my Gary Schweinle Award for
Noisiest, Happiest Table. I have absolutely no idea what
they were laughing at or what the subject was (probably
making fun of me), but the table next to mine was so noisy I
had to cup my ear most of the time just to hear what people
at my own table were saying. Did I mind? Oh, heaven's no.
Just like with Gary in his prime, their joy was infectious.
From what I gather, the ringleader was Velma Roppolo. I am
not quite sure what magic Velma used (probably a little dose
of wine helped), but along with her buddy Mark (James Bond)
Sellers, her gang of crazies known as the
"What the Hell" Club filled the room with
peals of laughter
every night of the trip.
Sometimes when the decibel level cranked up, at my table we
would just stop talking and watch in smiling admiration as
Velma's group literally rocked the boat.
Edward Sanchez, Mark Sellers, Susan Bloome,
Velma, Lisa Mallett (plus Carol Batson, Roberta Burns,
We had a new wrinkle this year - a Scavenger Hunt. At the
last minute, Marla and I decided the most natural "instant
rivalry" we could think of was boys against girls. Worked
like a charm. Both teams immediately wanted to win in the
I felt sorry for the boys. The girls seemed to have all the
advantages. For one thing, at the start the ladies seemed
far more interested in being there than the men. This
sounded like fun to the fair sex. Meanwhile, judging by the
looks on their faces, the men showed up either for lack of
anything better to do or because their female counterparts
told them to or else. Their lack of enthusiasm didn't bode
well for their chances. Second, the men were outnumbered. To
be honest, I didn't give them a chance.
To my surprise, the men won handily. For one thing, I had
forgotten that men have some serious "hunt and gather" DNA
in their makeup. If you can just get them to stop thinking
about sex for a moment or two, they can be mighty effective
at searching and collecting.
My big surprise was that the men seemed to be better at
delegating than the women. As Marla put it, the ladies all
went off by themselves and didn't work as a team. Meanwhile,
each guy had a list of separate things to look for to avoid
duplication of effort.
The men were also a crafty bunch. For example, I was highly
amused by the gentleman who used a condom to count as his
One of the major reasons for the men's
surprise victory was their super-hero - Karl Rorabacher
- and his super weapon - his Blackberry.
Before the trip, Karl had cleverly asked his company to authorize his
Blackberry for roaming Internet service during the cruise.
Karl smiled to me as he whispered he didn't have to pay a nickel.
That Blackberry proved invaluable during the Scavenger Hunt.
As a result, Karl was able to find pictures of Sponge
Bob, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley on the Internet to
gain valuable clues the women couldn't duplicate.
Karl was definitely the Rookie of the
Year on this year's cruise trip. Karl, who I suspect
possesses a deep-seated Gothic Streak, is usually seen
dressed in black or wearing tee shirts covered with
smart-ass slogans that drip with sarcasm. That said,
Karl surprised me no end by showing off his heretofore
unseen clean-cut side. A picture is worth a thousand
words. As you can see, Karl cut quite the dashing
figure out on the dance floor. In addition, Karl was
seen on stage singing Sinatra's "New York, New York".
At the time, I thought that was very un-Goth-like behavior. Indeed, Karl was so
frequently charming, light-hearted and cheerful, it made me almost wonder
if he had a twin brother on board!
However, no matter how charming he was, I don't know if the
ladies will be able to forgive Karl for singlehandedly
stealing their expected victory. Naturally the ladies claimed foul. They didn't appreciate
Karl's technological advantage one bit. It isn't much fun to
show up for a contest with bows and arrows only to discover
the other team has rifles.
Furthermore, it didn't help that the ladies
ran into a bad break - I had a lot of
scavenger clues that could have been
accessed in the Library. Unfortunately, the Hunt started at
1:30 and the ladies found out to their chagrin the Library
didn't open until 3 pm. The men won the game at 3 pm. Oh well.
The ladies fussed and fumed it wasn't a
fair fight. I was sympathetic at first, but then came the allegations
that 1) the boys cheated and 2) I cheated. My sympathy level
began to ebb a bit from that point on. For the record, I
didn't cheat. The boys found their clues fair and square.
They won a fair victory.
By and large, the participants seemed to
have a good time. In fact, once they got into it, I discovered there were
something highly committed people.
Only Gareld MacEathron remembers this
I tried another
back on the 2001 trip. One of the clues in 2001 was to find
a picture of someone naked.
I figured that was good for a laugh.
To my surprise, someone actually
came up with a picture of a naked woman
from a magazine. As you can see for yourself, in the
picture the woman was sitting down and
discretely covering her breasts with her hands. It was
naughty, but nice. Finding that picture
was an excellent job of coming up with an obscure clue.
For this year, I assumed someone had
brought a Cosmo or a Playboy along that might have a naughty
picture or two, so I asked for a picture of a woman's bare
breasts and a picture of a man's naked butt.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
searchers had other ideas on how to
collect this clue. Why bother wasting time looking
through a magazine? One woman pulled up her top for a cell
phone picture. Well, now.
Not to be outdone,
one man pulled down his shorts for a cell
phone picture of his butt. That really cracked me up.
Him too, I guess. Ah, the wonders of
technology. You learn something new every day.
Meanwhile I was very impressed with the
lengths our players would go to win this contest!
Considering the Hunt was a new adventure for this trip, it
won a fair amount of praise.
The Scavenger Hunt turned out to be a lot of fun. We had
about 30 people participate. Despite the good-natured
grumbling, most everyone said they enjoyed it.
I was very encouraged and
learned all sorts of ways to make it even better for next
year. So maybe next year the girls can get some revenge.
Then they can have the last laugh.
and Rowena Roche helped me organize the Scavenger Hunt.
Then on the day of the event, I surprised them a bit by
naming them Captains.
Karl dancing with
Wendy Weston was
one of the women stunned by the men's victory