Written by Rick Archer in third person
Last Update: July 2010
admits he is not a natural dancer, has never won a dance
contest, does not like to perform,
put on dance exhibitions or do choreography. Rick has never received any
teaching awards nor any professional recognition
is, of course, a cosmic absurdity that a man with so
little natural ability
managed to create the largest dance studio in Houston,
Texas, and quite possibly the most famous dance studio
in the entire United States."
Rick Archer, 2003
Rick Archer is best known for
operating SSQQ, Houston's largest
social dance studio, for 33 years (1977-2010).
There is reason to believe SSQQ was not only the largest
dance studio in Houston, but in America as well. At its peak
SSQQ averaged 1,600 dance students a month, an amazing
Unfortunately, SSQQ was forced to shut
down its longtime location on Bissonnet Street in April
2010. The landlord chose not to renew the lease in
favor of building a hospital extension instead. It was
a shame to see this happen since SSQQ was still as popular
as ever. At that point, Rick sold the studio and
retired. [Note: The final days of SSQQ-Bissonnet are explained in
The intriguing question, of course, is
how someone who was given so few dancing skills to begin
with managed to create a dance studio
that will remain a Houston legend for many years to come.
Curious? If so, here we go.
Rick Archer was born in Pennsylvania
in 1949. He was the only child of OJ and Mary Archer.
Rick's father was trained as an electrical engineer.
His father was transferred to Houston in 1955.
1955 wasn't a very good year for Rick.
Shortly before the move, Rick cut out his left eye with a knife.
It was his own fault. Although having only one eye was never a
major handicap, it did prevent him from participating in sports
throughout his school years (a major regret).
Rick's parents had a rocky marriage to say the
least. They sought the help of a psychiatrist. One day Rick's
mother complained that her son was at best an average student in
elementary school. Worried that her son had a learning
disability, she asked the psychiatrist to have Rick tested. The
psychiatrist reported back that Rick was actually a pretty smart
kid, but full of anger and bored out of his wits in public school. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop."
The psychiatrist recommended sending Rick to a private school.
The idea was that a strong challenge was exactly what the boy
needed. That is how Rick ended up at
John's School as part of the divorce
settlement between his parents in 1959.
Rick's time at SJS
turned out to be a remarkable stroke of fortune. Saint
John's not only gave the young man an excellent education during his nine
years there, they also helped him stay focused despite all
his problems at home. Thanks to a good school and a lot of hard work, Rick was
accepted at Johns Hopkins University,
a well-known Eastern university. He received a
BA in Social Sciences from Hopkins in 1972.
Recalling how the psychiatrist had been so
instrumental in his own life, after college, Rick
decided to become a clinical
was accepted as a graduate stuent at Colorado State University
Unfortunately (or 'fortunately' depending on your point of
view), Rick was
unceremoniously dismissed from the program after only one year. He was told his personality was
far too aggressive to make it as a therapist... so he was sent
packing. It was a devastating blow.
The Curious Paperback that
Changed Rick's Life
Getting thrown out of Graduate School was a major setback.
There was no Plan B.
Unsure what to do
next, Rick spent the next four years working for Harris
County Child Welfare (1974-1978) investigating child abuse and
neglect. Although Social work was definitely a
field Rick was interested in, this particular job was pretty
depressing. Most of these people were set in their ways and
resistant to any suggestions on how to improve their lives. Rick did the best he could, but realized this was
a pretty tough job to succeed in. Rick was frustrated at just how little he was able to
accomplish. He felt his efforts were like putting a tiny band
aid on gaping wounds.
Meanwhile, Rick was not doing very well
in his personal life either. After getting tossed from
grad school, Rick spent the summer of 1974
in a constant state of depression. Rick
realized he had failed at graduate school, he didn't have a job he
liked and he had little confidence when it came to women.
Of course, the problems with women might have
had something to do with the Prince Valiant hairstyle. What do
Feeling pretty lost, one day Rick drifted into
a used paperback book store. Browsing the aisles, he noticed a
beat up $1 book on the subject of "How to Meet Women".
Leafing through the chapters, he noticed that "dancing"
was one suggestion on how to break the
ice. Ready to try anything at this point, Rick
began taking dance classes after work to learn how to
dance freestyle. More
details of this particular chapter can be read in
Learning to Dance
Unfortunately, Rick soon realized he had
little natural ability at dancing. Rick had no sense of rhythm
and was far too self-conscious about his awkwardness. He also
"thought too much". Cursed with an over-analytical mind, Rick
agonized over the slightest mistakes.
Dismayed by his obvious clumsiness and slow improvement, Rick
decided his only hope was to practice. So he bought 15 mirror
tiles and pasted them to his apartment wall. To the strains of
a popular song at the time called "Year of the Cat", Rick practiced
for hours at a time every night after class. As a true
testament to the power of persistence, slowly but surely Rick began to
Oddly enough, the dancing didn't help his social life
very much. Due to a phobia about looking spastic while dancing with
a pretty girl, Rick refused to go out dancing until he was satisfied
he was "good enough"... and that was definitely going to take a while.
However, to his great surprise, Rick discovered he liked
learning to dance. This was a good challenge for him. So Rick
made it a point to sign up for every dance
class he could. Rick took dance classes three or four
nights a week for three straight years (1974-77).
It took quite a while, but his eventual success serves as
unshakeable evidence that anyone can
learn to dance if they put their mind to it.
Dawn of the Disco Era
One day in early 1977, Rick noticed his
interest in dance class had shifted. He was beginning to pay more attention to
"how" his teacher taught than to "what" his teacher taught. A
few weeks later, he got up the nerve to ask his teacher, Rosalyn
Lively, if he could
substitute teach for her some time. Rosalyn smiled and said sure.
This led to a one-night opportunity in
Rick was so
excited after teaching his class that he began to daydream non-stop about teaching dance
classes. He spent an entire week developing a
syllabus for a two-month class... even though he didn't have
any idea where he would actually teach.
Oddly enough, just days after finishing the
syllabus, Rick's dance teacher surprised him after class.
Rosalyn asked if he would consider taking her class for the
summer while she went on vacation. Interesting coincidence.
Suddenly Rick was a dance teacher. Given his pathetic start,
who would have imagined? Now, after three
years of pursuing social
dance as a hobby, Rick's dance project had magically
led to a part-time job as a Disco
Rick made his debut at
Houston's Jewish Community Center on Braeswood in June 1977.
To his delight, Rick discovered he was
pretty good at explaining the patterns. He liked teaching his
class a lot and dreamed his friend would not ask for her job back.
But she did.
Although Rick's teacher reclaimed her job
back at the end of the summer, fortunately he had done such a good
job that an administrator at the Braeswood JCC recommended him for
an opening at
another Jewish Community
Center located in the Memorial area.
He started in September 1977. There were all of ten students, but Rick
didn't care. He was excited about this new opportunity.
His ten students liked the line dances just fine,
but they sure were fussy! One night after class, a group of
ladies came up and said they wanted to learn some partner dancing as
well. Unfortunately, Rick didn't know a thing about partner
dancing to Disco music. He could teach freestyle and line
dances, but dancing with a woman in his arms was out of the
However, now that he thought about it, maybe
dancing with a woman in his arms wasn't such a bad idea. In an attempt to make
his students happy, Rick
signed up for a Disco partner dance class at Stevens of Hollywood
Dance Studio on Westheimer and Shepherd.
By coincidence, the Line
Dance teacher at Stevens of Hollywood had just quit. When Rick's teacher
discovered Rick taught line dances at the Memorial JCC, he asked if Rick
would be interested in
teaching at Stevens of Hollywood as well.
This was yet another curious coincidence...
the third so far in this story. One thing was leading to another. In October
1977, Rick began his second part-time job at Stevens of
Hollywood Dance Studio. Read
for more details.
So here you have an obscure young man with
very limited dance skills teaching two small Disco line dance classes
each week. What Rick did not know was that he was standing at
the crossroads of a enormous phenomenon.
One month later, November 1977,
a movie about Disco dancing was released. Rick noticed a
writeup in the paper. It was about an obscure young man from a working class section
of Brooklyn who used dancing to seek his fortune. Rick felt an
immediate connection. He was literally the first person in the theater
that afternoon... only to discover that no one was joining him.
There were maybe four people total in the audience.
It was a
modest little movie, yes, but nevertheless, Rick liked it. He
thought the story was interesting and the dancing had him inspired.
It didn't take long for a lot of people to come to the same
conclusion. This unheralded movie created a tidal wave of
interest in Disco dancing.
one of the few people teaching Disco in Houston when the
surge hit in January 1978. The phone at Stevens of
Hollywood began ringing off the hook. Rick soon realized he was standing directly
in the path of an enormous
cultural trend. It was an amazing coincidence.
It took just four months after
Saturday Night Fever hit town for those two
line dance classes to
into a full-time, six night a week job teaching
dance to hundreds of people.
had been in the right place at the right time. Obviously
that dancing hobby had
panned out a lot better than Rick could ever have
Love of Teaching
Right from the start, Rick realized how much
he loved to teach dance. Ever since high school, he had long been interested in
teaching, but had never found a subject he was qualified to teach.
Then one day Rick received a valuable clue that
'teaching' might actually be something he had some natural ability
During his year in Graduate school (1973-74),
one of his duties as a graduate student was conducting a "Review"
seminar each week. The professor would lecture to 300 students
in Beginning Psychology. Then it was Rick's
responsibility to host smaller classes to review the material and
Rick decided to skip the usual
method of have the students open their textbook and leaf through the chapter page by page.
Rick decided the students could do this on their own just fine. He
introduced a weekly feature called "Great Moments in
Rick would pick the most interesting studies and
Psychology experiments he could find. After telling the story of the
experiment, Rick made it a point to show how this knowledge could be
useful to the students. His examples included research ranging
from resisting peer pressure to the ways advertising people use 'conformity'
to sell their products. Rick
covered the concepts of romantic love and identity. Rick's
favorite section reviewed a famous experiment known as "Learned
Helplessness" that took a unique look at
the cause of depression and apathy.
The students - young, impressionable, curious - absolutely loved
these stories. "Psychology" became much more interesting
once they realized how the study of Psychology could
help them understand themselves and others as well. As you can
guess, this material far transcended the usual boring rote
memorization that plagues many college classes. These young
adults were actually being shown "why" and "how" learning this material could
be valuable to them in their everyday lives.
Thanks to the rumors, every week Rick's class
grew... just the opposite of what you would expect as the semester
went on. Word of Rick's unusual methods eventually
drifted to Rick's professor. One day the professor snuck into the back
of the room where he wouldn't be noticed. At the end of the
the professor came up and talked to Rick.
The Professor said, "It would have helped if you had asked permission to try a
different approach. I came here today expecting to hear
something that would upset me very much. Then I watched you in
action and watched the reactions of the students. I was
pleasantly surprised to observe this was a much better use of the
review class than I could have ever imagined. Very motivating!
You have a definite knack for this."
Although the professor already secretly knew the
decision had already been made to ask Rick to leave the program at the end
of the school year, the man was at least kind enough to
compliment Rick and suggest he had some natural teaching ability.
That was 1974.
Thank goodness Fate intervened four years later to steer Rick towards an area
where his teaching skills could be put to better use.
Throughout the early part of his dance career, Rick did
a lot of scrambling. Rick had practically no formal dance
training to rely on. As his students learned what little Rick
knew, they begged him to teach follow-up dance classes. Rick
was very ambitious and more than willing to offer new classes.
But there was one major problem - he had a bad habit of offering to
teach new classes before he had enough material to teach.
His first year of teaching dance - 1978 - was one heck of a rough
year. This was Rick's "fake it till you make it"
Rick's biggest problem was
acquiring the dance skills necessary to teach advanced material.
Unfortunately, Rick had no one to teach him. It is pretty tough to teach
dancing when you aren't a natural dancer and you don't have much
knowledge about the finer points. It is almost impossible to
succeed when you don't have a teacher of your own. What was he
supposed to do?
It was classic "Peter Principle" - Rick was being
promoted to his level of incompetence. Thanks to the
incredible amount of interest in Disco dancing, Rick was accepting
challenges he wasn't qualified for. Rick adopted the attitude that he only
needed to know more than the students he was teaching to get
started, a very risky idea.
Rick stayed just steps ahead of the posse.
He was forced to copy moves from TV shows like
or try to figure out some move he had seen in a club. Week after week, Rick was
frequently forced to teach new moves he had learned just moments
before his class started. There were several close calls in dance
class where Rick
was nearly exposed as an unqualified charlatan.
Rick's entire year felt like learning trapeze
work without a net. The stress of being so
poorly prepared was unimaginable, but Rick's overwhelming ambition
left him no choice.
A chance meeting at a
Disco named the Pistachio Club in August 1978 solved his
problem. One night Rick noticed that the dance floor
was surrounded by the thick crowd of people. Curious to know
what they were looking at, he squeezed his way close enough to see a
man who resembled him dancing the Latin Hustle with
a pretty blonde teenage girl alone
on the floor.
Rick gasped. The man leading the young
girl was just as
good or better than Travolta had been in the movie. This was
the finest exhibition of Disco Partner Dancing Rick had ever seen in person.
Afterwards, Rick got up the nerve to approach the man who had been
dancing to ask if he was a dance teacher. Yes, he was.
That's how Rick met
Houston's premier Jazz choreographer and likely the finest male
dancer in the city. Rick now had a teacher. Thank goodness! This was yet another stroke of luck in a long line of
In September 1978, Rick began to take two private dance lessons a
week to acquire the skills necessary to pursue a career in
teaching dance. This is when Rick learned the "Latin Hustle",
a clever Disco partner dance derived from the fusion of Salsa
dancing and East Coast Swing. The "Hustle" (as it is now called)
quickly became Rick's favorite dance.
Class Factory and Leisure
Some might say it was the luck of the Irish.
Others might say it was a deal with the Devil. Still others
call it Divine Guidance. Whatever the reason, one of the
luckiest breaks of all came in the summer of 1978. It happened
when Rick met Donna Gordon one afternoon at Stevens of Hollywood.
Rick had just finished teaching a private
lesson. He came out into the main ballroom to observe a dance
class. A woman he had never seen in his life came over and
stood beside him. Pretty soon, the woman began fussing and
fuming over the way the class was being taught by Rick's boss.
She turned to Rick... a complete stranger... and began to let off
steam. This led to a conversation. It turned out this lady had just opened a new
business called "Class Factory" which offered adult education
classes in things like auto maintenance, Spanish, cooking, and, yes,
dancing. Amazingly, this conversation led to a job offer. Would Rick like to teach a dance class?
Of course he would!!
Suddenly, just by standing there, Rick had magically
acquired a source of dance students he could call his own. It
was an incredible stroke of fortune.
That afternoon Rick asked his boss for
permission to rent a room to teach dance classes during the times he
wasn't scheduled to teach for the studio. To his surprise, his
boss shrugged his shoulders and said okay. Rick was stunned. Did his boss not
understand the implications? His boss had just given Rick permission to create his own
program under his boss' own roof.
A year later Rick approached yet another important adult education program known as "Leisure
Learning". Now more students began flooding in. This
created a curious situation where Rick was sometimes working for Stevens
of Hollywood and sometimes working for himself. As Rick's own
dance program began to expand, this would lead to a lot of friction
down the road.
1978 was definitely a busy year.
Unfortunately, working two full-time
jobs day and night for an entire year had
its toll. Rick was on the edge of exhaustion.
January 1979, Rick quit his
social work job to
Disco dance for a living. To his shock and dismay, just months after
Rick quit the social work job, Disco clubs
began to disappear in Houston faster than the dinosaurs.
Houston's Disco clubs were changing their stripes
to get ready for Urban Cowboy, the next big Travolta
This was not a welcome development. Disco dancing was the only thing Rick
knew how to teach. So much for job security! Plus Rick was not a fan of western music.
Nevertheless, Rick was certain he did not want to go back to
abuse. So, despite some serious reluctance, Rick swallowed his
pride and forced himself to learn how to western dance.
a quick fashion change, Rick was back in business as a
western instructor in the latter part of 1979. To
his surprise, the dancing turned out to be a lot more fun than he
had expected. Along the way,
Rick helped develop an emerging dance he called "Western Swing".
After an argument with his boss at Stevens of
Hollywood in October 1980, Rick
was told to move out. By fortunate coincidence
(there's that word again), Rick's dance instructor Glen Hunsucker had
just moved his jazz program known
as Dance Arts Unlimited to a new location
in Bellaire. Glen offered to sublet a couple of rooms
in the back of his Bissonnet
This turned out to be a good relationship for everyone
concerned. Since the two dance programs were vastly
different, there was none of the
friction that had existed at Stevens of Hollywood where Rick had
been competing with his own boss for students.
The Birth of SSQQ
Rick was now his own boss. Taking
advantage of the freedom, Rick continued to build his dance program.
In 1982, thanks to a funny incident involving a night of dancing at the
Winchester Club, Rick's program acquired its unusual name
SSQQ - Slow Slow Quick Quick.
The next several years saw Rick's development
as a complete dancer. Rick was determined to learn all the
social dances just in case Western suddenly disappeared like Disco
Under the tutelage of his long-time instructor
Glen, Rick received training in all the Ballroom dances - Waltz,
Tango, Swing, Rumba, Samba, Foxtrot, and Samba. Rick also
honed his skills at the Whip, his new favorite dance (now
referred to as "West Coast Swing").
What was special about this time were the
first signs of an emerging "Community". Right from the
beginning, Rick had noticed that most of his students were drawn to
dance for the exact same reason as himself - the chance to meet
people. With this in mind, Rick made it a point to promise his
students a trip to a dance club as often as possible. This was
like offering water to a thirsty man. His students absolutely
jumped at the offer. That is when he realized that many of his
students were intimidated about visiting a club on their own. His offer
to escort a group of people was exactly the opportunity they had
Rick realized that his job didn't stop at the
end of dance class. In the beginning, 1978, it had been the Disco clubs.
By 1981, his ritual had changed to events in Western clubs like the popular
where crowds of 100 people quickly became the norm.
Rick realized his students appreciated his willingness to organize social
activities. This gave the students a chance to use their newly-acquired dance
skills to meet people in a friendly, less threatening manner than
just showing up at some bar not knowing anyone.
At this point, Rick became aware he was not
just a dance teacher, but a Social Worker as well. At least
now he was finally accomplishing something. It was a proud
The Golden Era of SSQQ
Thanks to all this energy, yes, of course, there were romances at SSQQ. Lots
of them! Rick developed a favorite phrase: "Slow Dance leads
The romantic feature was easy to predict, but
Rick was surprised to see the dance students develop many
friendships as well. This after-class dancing was doing a lot
more than simply leading to dating opportunities. These nights
of dancing created an entire social network!
Many students continued to
take dance lessons as much to see their friends on a regular
basis as to learn to dance. Taking the next level of dance
class meant hanging out with the gang. Not only did
students take class after class, they talked their friends into
coming too. This "community" was not only good
for the soul, it was good for business as well. The studio
just kept growing. It was a pretty wonderful sight to
By 1982, it was pretty obvious that Rick's
little dance program had become something special. The
question of survival was no longer an issue. SSQQ was here to stay. The only question now
was just how far the studio would go. The Eighties saw SSQQ
grow by leaps and bounds. The entire decade was the Golden Era
At this point, Rick was able to take a step
back and smile. His social work instincts had been there all
along. Unfortunately there had been some wrong turns along
the way - the failed attempt to become a therapist as well as the
hopeless job trying to protect children from neglectful and
dangerous parents. Rick's desire to work with people had finally found
the right target - running a dance studio
was the fulfillment of his dream to contribute.
The Nineties were okay, but nowhere near
the success the Eighties had been. The fall-off was
clearly Rick's responsibility. The success of SSQQ was dependent
on Rick's willingness to organize activities and act as host.
Something as basic as the energy of after-class Practice Night
rose and fell depending on how much Rick was willing to dance with
his students and encourage people to participate. The more
involved Rick got at Practice Night, the longer the energy stayed
The problem was that Rick was starting to burn
out. As the Nineties began, he was a twelve year veteran. The enthusiasm for dancing with every woman at Practice
Night had once been there, but too many trips around the dance floor
had robbed him of the necessary desire. It was getting old. Just like championship
sports teams begin to lose some of their fight after years of
success, Rick began to withdraw
from his longtime role as "Leader of the Pack".
Rick's major problem was an intense
loneliness. Rick lived an "Opposite Lifestyle". While
his friends were at work during the day, Rick sat at home reading
newspapers and having a late breakfast. When his friends from
the studio would meet to have fun at night, Rick would usually be
working. His six night a week job kept him from joining them.
Furthermore Rick was angry that his "Opposite
Lifestyle" doomed several very promising relationships. The
problem was lack of sleep. A new girlfriend might be willing
to wait for Rick to get off work at 10:30 pm in the beginning of a
relationship, but a year of going to work the next day with
three or four hours of sleep took its toll.
Another major problem was kids. Rick wanted to
be a father at some point, but the forty-something women he was
attracted to were done having children. Several
relationships ended simply because Rick had to start
looking again for a woman willing to have children.
The frustration mounted. Finally, in 1990, Judy,
one of Rick's instructors, said she not only wanted
children as well, she was willing to quit her regular job and join Rick at
SSQQ on a full-time basis. It was a pretty tempting offer.
Judy and Rick had a child, Samantha, in 1991.
was wonderful news.
The marriage had many positive aspects and a
few negative ones as well. On the positive side, Judy was a doting
mother who gave her daughter plenty of encouragement and love.
Judy was also very good for the studio.
She ran the business side efficiently and found time to develop
lucrative new programs like Swing, Zydeco, Lindy, Nightclub and Salsa.
Unfortunately Judy was a loner, a
real handicap in a business based on socializing. Judy preferred to spend her free time with
the family. Instead of Saturday Night out dancing with a group
from the studio, Saturday was usually dinner and a movie for Rick, Judy and
The social program at SSQQ began to taper.
Leadership is important when people need a push.
Over the years, Rick would see a party without energy and
immediately kick-start it into action. He would do this by
asking a lady to dance, then challenge
the bystanders to get out there on the floor and join him. One by one, the
floor would fill up. Pretty soon, the energy on the floor would be high
enough that the couch potatoes would get off their
backsides and begin to dance as well. What people didn't understand,
however, was that it gets tiresome night after night overcoming
people's resistance with persistence.
In the Nineties, the studio stopped being fun
for Rick. Running the studio had turned into a job. Rick's days as
"Leader of the Pack" dwindled dramatically. Increasingly, Rick
showed up to teach dance class and chose not to stay for Practice
Night unless he was scheduled to do so. No more dancing beyond
the call of duty. With that lame attitude, sure enough, over
time, the momentum at SSQQ began to diminish. There
was a stretch of about eight years where the studio was still good, but it
wasn't nearly as great as it had been in the Eighties.
The Swing Kids Start the
Swing Dancing hit the country big in
Thanks to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and the Gap Jeans
Commercial, Swing Dancing became the first major dance development since
Urban Cowboy back in the
Now the energy at the studio began to bounce back.
SSQQ began to buzz like it had in the Eighties. However
Rick was still in his backseat mode.
Fortunately, thanks to Swing Dancing, the energy grew so
hot at SSQQ that Rick's diminished interest in dancing with students
after class no longer mattered. People
were so excited about Swing Dancing that they certainly didn't need Rick's
encouragement to get out on the floor.
Swing Dancing filled the studio to the brim
with students. The early part of the Nineties had been a lean
time for the studio. Now that SSQQ was suddenly profitable
again, SSQQ reinvested the money and installed a gorgeous $100,000
dance floor throughout the studio.
SSQQ Becomes Houston's
Biggest Dance Studio
1998 was the year when SSQQ clearly became the
biggest dance studio in Houston.
The combination of the Swing phenomenon and
the beautiful new dance floor was potent. Furthermore, SSQQ
was the very first studio in Houston to have a website. People liked
the convenience of getting a schedule so easily. The addition of the
popular new SSQQ website gave the studio the final boost it needed to
reach the top. SSQQ was now the hottest name in town when it came to
Oddly enough, Rick took a back seat during
this exciting Swing Era at SSQQ. His wife Judy was so enthusiastic about Swing Dancing that it was
easier to let her take the ball and run with it. Instead, Rick
began to write stories. Rick noticed writing about dance
events helped sell dance lessons. At this point, he created
the SSQQ Newsletter.
There were problems in the marriage. Tensions
created by some
in the Swing Dance community had created deep rifts in the marriage.
Unable to agree on the best way to fight back against lies and
accusations, Rick and Judy began to drift apart.
When Judy was
at the studio with her Ballroom or Swing dancing, Rick stayed home
with Samantha. When Rick was at the studio with the other
programs like Whip and Western dancing, Judy stayed home with
Rick began to use his new toy - the computer - to
further distance himself. Rick wrote story after story to help
popularize the SSQQ web site. This was good for the studio, but
bad for the marriage.
Writing up a Storm
Rick's writing career began in 1998.
Thanks to a friendship he developed with a dance student named
Gary Richardson, Rick
bought his first computer in 1997. Rick was intimidated by
this complicated "Windows" stuff, so Gary was kind enough to
actually train Rick how to use a modern computer during the day at
his computer store.
For an entire month - November 1997 - Rick would drop in for
tutorials. Gary would roll his eyes at how baffled Rick was,
but patiently explain things till Rick finally got it.
Shortly after Rick bought his computer, the Internet began to
take off... another one of those curious coincidences. Gary
strongly recommended that Rick take advantage of this new
phenomenon, so Rick established the SSQQ web site in late 1998.
They say if you build it, people will come.
Wrong. No one was visiting Rick's new web site.
Discouraged that so few people were visiting
his new web site, Rick asked Gary what the problem was. Gary
said the problem was the lack of anything interesting to read or
Rick had just begun to use email at this
point. He noticed that many of his students were also
beginning to use email for
the first time themselves. So Rick created an email list of his
students, then began writing a weekly studio
Newsletter and emailed it to them. This might seem like an
obvious move today, but it was a brand new idea back in 1998.
Now Rick had to find a way to make the
newsletter interesting. With this in mind, Rick began
to write furiously in hopes that more people would find his website
fun to visit. The SSQQ Newsletter did the trick. Now SSQQ
students began flocking to the website.
The SSQQ Newsletter quickly became the
newspaper of the Houston dance community. People were able to use the SSQQ website on the
Internet to keep track of upcoming dance parties and events. Plus
they enjoyed reading the entertaining gossip about people at the studio.
In particular they wanted to know about the latest engagement or
Pleased with the growing interest in his Newsletter and website,
Rick was inspired to write even more. He began to write articles about dancing.
Many articles were
about his experiences in the dance world (Adventures
of a Dance Teacher).
Other articles gave advice (Advice
Advice to Women). There were articles on the
History of Swing,
the History of
Whip, and the
History of the
Western Swing. Rick wrote stories about his infamous
Parties complete with thousands of pictures.
Then Rick branched into areas other than
dancing. Among other things, Rick wrote a nine
chapter article on the importance of protecting one's
in the Internet age. He wrote a story on the most
in the world. He wrote about the most famous
pot farm in
Tennessee. He wrote about faraway places like
and the Carnival of Venice.
He published the most popular logic puzzle on the Internet - The
For good measure, Rick added the Internet's most popular
Puzzle as well.
Thanks to Rick's new writing career, SSQQ now
had more information about dancing on the Internet than any other
dance studio in America. Since Rick's website had hit the
Internet on the ground floor, there wasn't much competition out
there to begin with. No other dance studio was even remotely
close to SSQQ in utilizing this powerful new marketing tool.
Furthermore, all the initial traffic from his
own dance students helped to give the ssqq website a ratings boost
that brought it to the attention of Google.
Being first has a lot of advantages. As a result, anyone from around
the country - or the world for that matter - who typed a question about dancing into Google were funneled
directly to ssqq.com. Google was spreading the SSQQ website
across the planet!!
SSQQ.com quickly became the Number One dance
studio website in the world without any need whatsoever to purchase a top spot.
Thanks to the Internet, SSQQ was no longer simply the best known
dance studio in Houston. SSQQ was now the
most famous dance studio in the country and the world! It was amazing to watch.
Thrilled with the success of his website, Rick
continued to write and write and write.
And write some more.
You name it, Rick probably wrote about it. However, just when
Rick thought he had tapped out all the subjects to write about, to his
great surprise, Rick found something new to write about - the SSQQ
Cruise Trips. Aha! Now Rick was ready to really hit his stride!
The First SSQQ Cruise
Writeup was Lots of Blank Space!
SSQQ took its first studio Cruise Trip
in 1998. 30 people from the studio either flew or drove over
to New Orleans to catch a cruise ship to Jamaica and the Cayman
At this point, Rick's marriage was in trouble.
Consequently on a personal level, Rick did not enjoy the trip very
much. However, when he returned home, he did sense an opportunity to write
some interesting stories for the SSQQ Newsletter.
The web site
and the Newsletter were both brand new.
Rick had only been
using the web site for a month. He did not understand much
about web page design.
Rick ran into a new problem. He had way
too many pictures, but not nearly enough to write about.
Rick noticed that whenever he added a picture
from the trip to his page, there were vast areas of the blank space
next to the picture... exactly like what the reader can observe
Everywhere Rick looked,
there was blank space.
There were too many pictures and not enough copy.
To his dismay, Rick had just discovered he had
more pictures than stuff to talk about.
The only way Rick could see to fix the
problem was to either make the print bolder or add empty spaces between
Rick decided a better solution would be
to add more copy to the story.
But there just wasn't that much to write
Then Rick had an idea. Why not make stuff up?
That would be one way to add more copy next to each picture.
So that's exactly what he did. Thanks to Rick's
imagination, more disasters visited this 1998 cruise than Homer's
First there was Mr. Crocodile chasing Rick's 7 year old daughter Sam.
Oh, the poor girl!
Then there was that terrible hurricane and
Then there were pirates.
And then cruise ship hit an iceberg in the
Caribbean and sank. It didn't matter to Rick that there are no
icebergs in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
Immediately the trip became oh so much more
interesting... although several people who actually went on the trip
later asked how they could have missed all that excitement.
And let us not forget Marty and the naked mermaids!!
"Oh, by the way, on
Day Six of the 1998 Cruise Trip, Marty just happened to glance out the window of his cabin.
Marty gasped when he saw a group of beautiful naked mermaids
singing directly to him! They were far away, but their
voices were so enticing. The more he listened, the more
convinced he was they were singing, "Oh, Come to me, Marty, Come to
Marty was full of
desire and rapture. He had to embrace them!
Marty immediately ripped off his own clothing and
rushed to the deck. Marty was just about to jump off the
ship when one of the ship's crew members tackled him at the
railing. It took four men, but they carried Marty kicking and screaming back to his cabin. The
steward was forced to lock the door for his own good.
After a night's
sleep, the effects of those three bottles of Jamaican Rum
finally wore off. Thank goodness. Marty returned to
the same sweet guy we all knew and loved the next day.
couldn't get Marty to shut up about the naked mermaids for the
rest of the trip.
Will you please give it a rest, Marty? We are telling you for
the last time, there were no naked mermaids!"
Rick was quite pleased with his
discovery. It became so much easier to think of things to write
about when the
truth was unimportant.
This epiphany marked the beginning of Rick's reputation for
'embellishment' on Travel writeups.
Rick later learned how to design a web page
correctly, but by then it was too late.
Once Rick discovered
how much fun it was to make stuff up, the cat was out of the bag.
Rick saw any cruise trip as the perfect
opportunity to write anything he wanted to regardless of whether any
of it was true or not.
By the way, did you know our 1998 cruise ship crashed into the pier
at the end of the trip?
How the people in our group managed to survive
was an amazing miracle.
SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance
Over the Christmas Holidays
1999, Rick was working as usual on the ssqq web site.
Rick was upset because
his various articles and Newsletter stories were scattered across
his website in eight
different spots. It was time to get all the material
On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, Rick
finished his project of collecting all his 1999 stories into
one easy-to-locate spot. Once all the stories were next to each other,
Rick noticed there sure were a lot of weddings and engagements he had written
about over the year. Curious, he decided to total them all up.
1,2,3.... 10, 11, 12....16, 17, 18... 22, 23, 24. Holy smokes!
24 marriages and engagements in just one year!
staring at this number in shock. Rick had always known that
SSQQ was good at helping people find romance, but he never had
imagined the studio was this good! This total was insane.
Rick could hardly believe his studio had helped 24 different couples
find each other in just one year.
Rick was thunderstruck. For the rest of their
lives, these 24 couples would hold his dance studio in their
thoughts as the place where it all started. He got goose bumps
all over. This was like God saying, "Rick, this is why you
are here. This studio is your duty."
This realization carried the same
importance as a religious awakening. Rick thought back over all the
amazing coincidences and lucky breaks that had played such a huge
role in the studio's early years. Had there been a divine hand
guiding the studio's destiny?
wonders if there is more to this world than simply meets the eye.
Perhaps this dance studio might have
an importance that transcended dance lessons.
Whether he was doing God's work or not was a
question Rick could not answer. No angel had appeared in the
night to reveal any particular Divine Plan. Nevertheless, at this moment Rick
was proud to have created the dance studio. His dance
studio was serving a positive role in the Universe - creating friendships,
bringing people together. It was a very humbling and
At this point, using the SSQQ Newsletter, Rick
began to pay closer attention to his studio's unique ability to
create relationships. Throughout the coming decade, Rick carefully kept track
of every wedding and every engagement. Rick soon realized that 1999 was no aberration.
Every year for the next ten years, SSQQ averaged over two weddings
and engagements a
month!! SSQQ was truly the home of Slow Dance and Romance.
In 2006, Rick decided to tell the entire story
about SSQQ's remarkable success.
In an article titled the
Rick wrote a nine chapter story about the studio's role over the
years in creating romances and marriages.
In May 1999, Ricky Martin released "Living
La Vida Loca". In a pattern eerily reminiscent
of Saturday Night Fever,
Salsa Dancing came out of nowhere to take the country by storm.
First came Swing and now Salsa was even bigger!
Saturday Night Fever and
Urban Cowboy had
ignited dancing throughout America back to back in 1978 and 1980. Now
for the second time in Rick's career, two huge
dance movements had developed back to back.
However, something was
different. Back in
the days of Urban Cowboy, Western dancing had replaced
Disco dancing. Not this time. Although Salsa did
overtake Swing in Year 2000 as the most popular dance in America, Swing was still
Rick had never encountered two overlapping dance fads before.
These twin dance movements skyrocketed SSQQ to even
greater heights. Enrollment averaged around 1,600 people a
month. 2000 was easily the most prosperous year in
Unfortunately fame and fortune doesn't always
bring happiness. Salsa students came out of the woodwork.
The studio had
no experience with crowd control since this had never been a
before. Now SSQQ was terribly over-crowded. Everyone blamed Rick for the problem.
Quickly the complaints started rolling in.
Rick received some of the ugliest emails he had ever encountered.
Rick was accused of profiteering and showing little concern for his
These harsh words stung deeply, especially considering the problem
had developed overnight. What was Rick supposed to do, stand out
at the door and personally tell people the rooms were too full and
send them home? Anybody who wanted a refund knew where the
Unfortunately there were no quick fixes. Rick did everything he could think of to
alleviate the problem. He added more Salsa classes on
different days. Then he had his carpenter knock down fixed walls and
build movable walls that could enlarge class room space.
Then he hired Hall Monitors to make sure people weren't sneaking
into classes to make the problem worse than it already was. Then Rick installed two new air-conditioning
systems to alleviate the unbearable heat caused by the crowds.
Everything Rick did eased the problem
somewhat, but the main problem was not having a way to limit class sizes.
Since there were no rosters, Rick had no way of knowing how many people he had
in each section. It was time to create computerized class
rosters. Rick decided to re-invest $20,000 more of those Salsa
profits to create Houston's first on-line registration system.
However, this kind of software was new. It took time to write
the code and test it.
Meanwhile the classes stayed crowded and the student's patience with Rick wore
thin. Nothing he did seemed to make them happy.
This was a very painful time. Rick
simply wasn't used to dealing with criticism this intense.
The daily pressures of dealing with
classes plus the constant student complaints about everything
from lousy boy-girl ratios to not enough toilets was
getting under his skin. The studio had become a jungle.
The studio was supposed to be a place of fun and joy, but Rick was
miserable on a daily basis thanks to volumes of negativity.
They say money doesn't guarantee happiness.
Sure enough, SSQQ was making all this money, but no one was enjoying it. Meanwhile Rick's
marriage grew more and more distant, thanks in large part to the
stress from coping with all the business headaches.
By the time the year ended 2000, Rick's nerves
were shattered. Year 2000 had been both the best year in SSQQ
history and the worst year in SSQQ history. Yes, the studio
made money hand over fist, but who could enjoy the success with all
Rick's wife Judy was pretty miserable herself. She was in the
line of fire too. The constant daily tension strained their
ten-year marriage to the breaking point. It just wasn't
working any more. In December 2000, Judy asked for a divorce.
Rick and Judy agreed on joint custody of their daughter Samantha and parted amicably.
The divorce was final in May 2001.
The On-Line Registration system did not
actually solve the crowding problem. Sorry to say, it was
terrorism that did the trick. 9-11 put a fast end to all the
Salsa-Swing energy in 2001.
For at least half a year, no one could care
less about dancing. That included Rick. Not much is more
important than dancing, but when faced with a tragedy like losing
the Twin Towers, it is difficult to care about having fun. It
took two years for the studio to regain its full momentum.
Fortunately, once SSQQ did regain its mojo,
the On-Line Registration system and the Hall Monitor system worked
in tandem to ensure the crowding problem was never repeated again.
SSQQ remained Houston's largest dance studio
throughout the 2000s. Being on top was good for the soul, but
it also created a target. SSQQ was criticized for one thing
after another... mediocre instructors, low-quality classes, legions
of "ex"-students, scores of "ex"-teachers.
Rick took the time to answer every one of
these complaints in a detailed article titled
Although it is true that SSQQ had its critics
and Rick Archer had his share of people who disagreed with his
policies, one thing that was never questioned was the studio's
- No legitimate request for a refund was ever
- Any request for class credit was honored.
- Not one bill was ever left unpaid.
- No teacher was ever denied their salary
or paid late.
- Only two instructors were ever fired... and one of them came back.
- There was never any hint of scandal, sexual harassment or strong-arm
- There were no complaints to the Better Business Bureau
that Rick ever knew of.
- There was no hint of shady dealings such as soliciting dance
students at other studios or bad-mouthing the reputation of other
dance teachers or studios.
- All students were shown respect no matter
what their race, religion, or sexual preference.
Throughout its tenure, SSQQ had a positive
reputation as a safe, ethical, decent place that treated both its
customers and its employees fairly.
One Door Closes; One Door
Rick's divorce in 2001 brought profound changes to
In January 2001, Rick was invited
on a ski trip with friends who had met at his studio back in the
Eighties. Tom Easley, a friend of Rick's from the happier days
of the Eighties, knew Rick was feeling down and thought this trip
Tom was right. Spending time with his friends from the Golden Age of
SSQQ was a real shot in the arm. Many of the people from this
Eighties group had married within the group. It gave Rick great
satisfaction to realize that his studio had contributed so much to these people's lives.
However, Rick also felt sad because the sense of
"Community" that had led to these marriages had diminished in the Nineties due to his
neglect. Rick felt guilty that he had pretty much mailed in
his effort throughout the Nineties.
Now that Rick could see first-hand all the
good will that had come from SSQQ's powerful social network back in
the Eighties, he was motivated to get the ball rolling again
at his dance studio.
With that in mind, Rick decided to
schedule another cruise trip.
This time he put his mind to it. Using
the SSQQ Newsletter, he had the perfect vehicle to advertise the
trip. In addition, Rick personally promoted the trip to
everyone who seemed interested.
his delight, 101 people signed up. It was good to see the
energy flowing again. Rick had finally returned to his natural role as
"Leader of the Pack".
After the divorce, Rick wasn't ready to start
dating again. He did, however, develop a secret crush on a pretty
girl named Marla in one of his dance classes. His crush
remained a secret once Rick discovered Marla had a steady boyfriend of six
years. Since Marla didn't give any hints
her status was going to be changing any time soon, Rick kept his
feelings to himself.
To Rick's consternation, Marla signed up
for the 2001 dance cruise on her own. No boyfriend, just Marla.
This added fire to Rick's suspicion that Marla's relationship wasn't
nearly as strong as it had once been. However, Marla never
said anything to give an opening, so Rick finally decided to simply
wait for the cruise to begin before signaling his interest.
To Rick's surprise and delight, on the first
night of the trip he
ran into Marla by chance at the stroke of midnight. After some gentle probing, Rick discovered to his relief
that his suspicions had been right all along. Marla was taking
this trip in defiance of a failing relationship.
Now that the
door was wide open, Rick and Marla danced and talked the night away.
By the time the sun rose, they were still talking. This had been
quite a night. (Rick
and Marla Meet)
Rick and Marla fell in love on the spot.
They were basically married from the
moment they met on the ship. Their romance continued
effortlessly when the ship returned to Houston. Bringing
things full circle, Rick and Marla were "officially" married on
2004 studio cruise trip.
The Start of the SSQQ Travel
During their many conversations on the 2001
Cruise, Rick discovered that Marla had a deep love of Travel.
As their relationship deepened, Rick began to toy with the idea of
asking Marla to organize future SSQQ cruises herself. Marla
had excellent business instincts. These dance cruises were
such a natural fit for the studio. Why let outsiders do it and
keep the money?
Marla was immediately intrigued.
After taking a day to think it over, Marla agreed to give it a try.
Marla's first effort was quite a success - the 2003 Jubilee Cruise Trip
had 144 passengers! When I saw how many people had signed up, I knew
a star was born. Marla was incredible.
In the following year 2004, Marla decided one
cruise per year wasn't enough. She came up with the idea of one dance
cruise and one adventure cruise per year. Her first adventure
cruise - a trip to Mardi Gras - was such a hit that Marla knew her
instinct was correct.
As the years passed,
the dance studio visited one marvelous location after another -
Mardi Gras, Alaska, New England, Hawaii, Greece, Turkey, Italy,
France, southern France, Spain, Eastern Caribbean, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, and Egypt.
During the 2000s, SSQQ took
20 cruises with
2,000 passengers. SSQQ was able to transfer the group experience
from land to sea. As people traveled to distant shores
together, they shared all kinds of special experiences. Friendships deepened and a new sense of group identity
formed. Thanks to Marla, SSQQ students were dancing their way
across the world.
SSQQ was not just a dance studio any more, it was now a Travel Club as well. The Travel experience served to create an
even larger sense
of community than had ever existed at the studio before. A new
Golden Era of SSQQ had been created. We weren't just going to
sail the Seven Seas, we were going to dance on water as well.
The Last Waltz
Alas, even in Paradise it sometimes
rains. SSQQ acquired a new landlord in
2004. These were medical people whose future plans for the
Bissonnet Center did not include SSQQ. They made it clear
there would be no new lease. They coveted the studio's space for
Thus the relationship between SSQQ and the
plastic surgeons was doomed from the start. Since the new
landlord could care less about SSQQ renewing its lease,
they didn't show
much concern for the studio.
Almost immediately, the doctors took steps that eliminated
over half of the studio's convenient parking space. Now each
night many students were forced to park anywhere from half a mile to a mile
away. Not surprisingly, the studio's attendance plummeted. Students
even had their cars towed.
Then the landlord allowed the roof to leak for
almost an entire year.
Rick was stuck. His lease did not expire
until 2010. He was forced to watch helplessly as the landlord
used their lawyer to back the studio into one corner after another.
His once-lucrative business was slowly being choked to death by
parking loss and constant questionable raises in the rent.
After four years of this contentious relationship, SSQQ ceased being profitable in
2008. The final two years of the studio were break-even at
best. It was not fun
being poor. It was not fun feeling subjugated. Not fun at all. So why not sue the
landlord? Stand up for your rights!
Rick considered fighting the doctors in court However,
his lawyer explained that Texas Law favors the landlord, not the tenant.
This standard lease was so vague that it could be interpreted in
many different ways. The same lease that had made Rick rich
under a benevolent landlord during the Swing-Salsa Millennium Era was now being used to bleed the studio dry.
The lawyer said it would cost a fortune to sue with only a
fair chance of
winning. The studio's case was no slam dunk. Just
paying the legal expenses would have removed any remaining
profitability at the studio. Since the lease would expire in a few
years, the lawyer advised against legal action. Just roll with
the punches and try to accept the situation.
At this point, Rick threw in the towel.
What choice did he have? Who can afford to fight the powerful? Unable to improve the
situation, Rick grew increasingly bitter during the remaining four
years left on the lease.
As the date for the end of the Bissonnet era
loomed, Rick was faced with a difficult decision.
Rick could see that although SSQQ was bruised from the Landlord
struggles and the parking problems, SSQQ still had plenty of life in
it. Fortunately the students had not been affected like Rick
was. Although Rick was infuriated by his treatment, the
students were largely insulated from these problems. As long
as they didn't mind walking a ways, they were largely unaffected by
the landlord problems. They loved coming to SSQQ. A new location with good parking would likely restore the
program to profitability fairly quickly.
Should Rick keep the studio and move it or
should he hand it off to someone else? SSQQ Dance Studio was his life's
work. It would be difficult to walk away from this achievement
that he was so proud of.
Rick, however, was fed up.
Six years of one losing battle after
another with the landlord had taken a huge psychological toll. Given the acrimonious
relationship, Rick had no desire to put his head in another
The thought of signing another lease and possibly going through this
nightmare again at age 60 was a chilling thought indeed.
There was another factor as well. Deep down inside,
Rick felt a
sense of completion with his studio. Rick had given 33 years of his life to
SSQQ. Now there was nothing left to prove. It was
time for a new direction and new challenges.
So, with a heavy heart, Rick decided the time
had come to sell the studio and turn his attention to help Marla
expand her well-received Travel Club.
On April 24, 2010, Rick said goodbye to SSQQ Dance
Studio at its Bissonnet location. The
Last Waltz Party
was awesome, but sad as well. Running SSQQ had been one long,
marvelous experience. But it was over now. This was the
end of an era.
SSQQ was an amazing place.
During its remarkable 33 year run, close to half a million students
took classes at SSQQ. This article has barely scratched the surface of the
many touching and
often humorous stories. You can imagine many interesting things took place.
SSQQ was considered a very unusual place by
other people in the dance business because its approach to the dance
studio business was so unique. While other studios
traditionally used private lessons, SSQQ was one of the first dance
studios to emphasize a program based on "group dance lessons", a
more economical way to learn to dance.
SSQQ proved this new business model could be very effective. The
group lessons served to create an entire community of dancers. There was a marvelous side benefit as well
- the true legacy of SSQQ in Rick's
mind will always be the countless friendships and marriages created
during the studio's tenure.
SSQQ started as a
dance studio and grew into a Family.
SSQQ demonstrated that dance and romance
worked just as well on water as on land. The Travel side of
SSQQ became a popular extension of the studio's group energy.
Throughout the 2000s, the Travel program just kept growing.
For example, Marla set a new attendance record with 190 people
signed up for her September 2010 Cruise to the Bahamas. When it came to Travel, Marla had
the golden touch.
No one can ever predict the future. Fortunately, despite the
sadness of losing SSQQ-Bissonnet,
Rick has a strong hunch that the seeds are planted to ensure the Travel Family will be
just as special as the dance studio once was. Something as
good as SSQQ deserves to continue, so surely the spirit of SSQQ will
be along for every new adventure.
Rick and Marla hope you will join them as they prepare to sail the
Seven Seas. And dance on them too.
Interesting Articles on the SSQQ Web Site
Studio is similar to this article, but goes into
much more detail on several of the events.
Business (not quite yet finished, but almost) covers the
incredible roller coaster days of Rick's first few years as a dance
The Dance Curse
covers the odd and often quite humorous incidents that led Rick to
wonder if he was actually jinxed when it came to dance contests and
is the story of Rick's Senior Year in high school and the curious
incident that snapped him out of a deep depression.
No story about Rick Archer will ever be
complete without reading the
of the SSQQ Halloween Party.
A lifelong love of the Whip is revealed in the
Bar Party saga.
Rick had his share of business battles.
Here is one of the best. Or worst depending on your point of view.
Rick sometimes had a temper.
is the story of his biggest blowup.
Rick met Marla
is a great love story if you like mushy stuff.
is a wonderful story that combines the ups and downs of Rick's
career with a story about all the wonderful SSQQ marriages.
is the story of how Rick used dance to recover his sanity.
Marissa, Glenn, and Sam - Christmas 2009 at Keystone