Why We Ask for Receipts: Over-Crowding in SSQQ Classes
written by Rick Archer
SSQQ got its start
during the Disco Era in 1978. For 22 years, our building space
grew at the same rate as our number of students.
However the Millennium Year of 2000 forced us to make serious changes.
This was the first year in the history of our studio where demand for
classes threatened to totally overwhelm our facility.
Up to this date, we had always had room for everyone
who wished to register for a class. Sometimes the rooms were tight, but
nothing like the crowding we were suddenly
experiencing had ever happened
This sudden crush was
caused by the merger of two simultaneous dance crazes.
As the 21st Century began, the "Jump Jive and Wail"
Gap Commercial-inspired Swing Era of the late 90s was still going
strong. But the buzz was all about Ricky Martin's
new song "Living La Vida Loca". This
sparked an amazing interest in Salsa
dancing. It created a
sensation that had not been seen since "Saturday Night Fever".
Overnight our studio was PACKED!
As a result, in early 2000 I received one complaint after another about the over-crowding in classes. Some were polite, some
were very angry. (If you are curious, I posted a Staff Memo
from that era on this same page. You can read some of the angry
notes and the reasons behind my decision to make changes.)
We decided we had to do
something. Our decision was to begin to issue receipts and have someone
stationed at the door to check the receipts.
This emergency created the start of
the Hall Monitor era.
In June of 2000, SSQQ began hiring Hall Monitors to screen the people
entering classes. This was a huge step for us. We had made it for
20 years using our relaxed "let it be" system of taking all comers. As with any
change, this move was met with initial resistance, but was accepted for
one simple reason - the rooms at SSQQ had become far
We quickly discovered we had an enormous number of undocumented people
who were showing up to 'Volunteer'.
On any given night, various dance students with a free evening to burn
would walk through door, find a class whether it
needed an extra guy or girl or not and just blend in. This led to the
practice of issuing Volunteer Cards and keeping a list. Things
Almost overnight the size of our classes
went down about 20% and the crowding problem improved noticeably. In
addition to reducing our legions of volunteers, apparently a sizeable
number of people had been taking some classes for free. The
creation of the Hall Monitor
Program and the Volunteer program cleared up
two huge headaches.
In early 2001 we had a
were a man was denied entry to a class because he didn't have a receipt
and he didn't have his name on a roster either. He vehemently protested
and began to
make quite a scene.
After I investigated the incident carefully, I concluded that it was
likely that the man had paid. However at the same time
he didn't bother to take either
our request that he keep his receipt or
sign the class roster process seriously. Neither
he or the studio had any record of his transaction which led to the
confrontation two weeks after he started classes.
This incident was so ugly that I realized
we needed a better system of keeping rosters.
I decided the best thing to do was add the use
of computers to Walk-In Registration as well. At a cost to the studio of
over $30,000, in
2001 we added computerized Registration to our
studio. We ordered
computer software and hardware to handle the problem. Three new computers from Gary Richardson's TFW
Computers were installed to run some sophisticated
Registration software designed by David
Schroeder. Unfortunately the immediate effect was to
slow down Walk-In
Registration considerably. As a result, David
Schroeder went back and added "On-Line Registration" to the system as
well. Now people could just walk into class if they wished to
by-pass the lines.
This expensive but
needed move allowed us to build accurate
class rosters and keep statistics. Now we had
accurate rosters for each class plus everyone's transaction could be
looked up if someone lost or forgot their receipt. The Hall Monitors
could make decisions based on fact, not guess-work. Such a relief!
Ironically, the over-crowding problem had also been solved. It takes a
long time to design a massive system like David did. By the time the
system was finally completed, the problem had already been solved by the
9/11 tragedy in 2001.
The horrible 9/11 crisis had such a chilling effect
on attendance that the over-crowding problem instantly disappeared. As
of 2005, attendance has never again approached the numbers we were
looking at during the year 2000.
Some day there will be another dance craze. Hopefully if our
studio ever reaches a crowding problem that approaches those
uncomfortable days of 2000, we will be able to use our Registration
System to limit class sizes.
we plan to be ready.
A Memo from Rick Archer to the SSQQ Staff
I believe you have sensed, I have felt for some time that our studio is
a little "out of control".
There were no exact moments I could put my finger on and say this
was "Proof", but little by little it just seemed people were
showing up that were unaccounted for.
have to be honest and say this was an impression, not a fact. It just seemed like teachers weren't checking receipts
properly and keeping clip boards up to date.
There were men wandering all over the studio looking for a class
to "volunteer" in. One
night I saw Shane and Eric pass each other twice looking for some class
that needed men. There were
none. But they disrupted
every class in the studio twice as they wandered around.
I have teachers threatening to quit because their classes are too
crowded. Then I have
students writing angry emails for the same reason.
has been made to our attention that all complaints regarding SSQQ
rules and regulations be directed to you.
the month of March, every Tuesday, my friends and I have duly reported
to our Salsa dance class that was unbearable crowded.
At one point we counted eighty people.
Eighty. In a small
room. Imagine trying to
learn a new dance by lining up in three rows, snaking around the room. And with one teacher. Oh,
I forgot, you don't have to.
the class collectively aired our complaints, we were told that we
could go to the Saturday class at 4:30 P.M.
I think that suggestion is quite insensitive to the needs of
your customers. We have
chosen Tuesday nights to fit into our schedule, as I'm sure the other
eighty people have done the same, so to tell us to move ourselves to
Saturday is bad customer service at its best.
And of course no other remedies was offered throughout the
should have been done? There
needs to be a limit to these classes.
You can not enroll as many people as you can to make the most
profit and let your customers “figure it out” for themselves.
Please join the rest of the civilized business world and set
aside some rules to SERVE your customers, and then maybe you'll make
some money at it. And
while you're at, what about “feed back” forms at the dance studio
for those customers who are not electronically adapt yet?
Because I know a hell of a lot of angry customers who do not
have access to a computer to send you an e-mail.
what about the four of us? We
will continue to take dance classes, but not at SSQQ.
Enjoy your profit Rick, while it lasts.
Thuy Tran and friends
is another letter:
We have been taking swing, salsa, and tango classes at SSQQ for about two and a half months now, and we have a couple of requests for you.
Each of the levels that we advance to seem to have the same problem: Too many people in each class! Your instructors are great, but they are having difficulties both providing a high level of information, as well as being able to complete the curriculum in a timely fashion. They give it their best, but they are very much out numbered. This also causes several of the students, including both of us, to be stepped on and run over regularly due to the lack of room.
Are you considering a limit to the class size? Or maybe opening the rooms up and reducing the number of simultaneous classes? Please let us know.
there was a class that appeared to have a combined force of 8 volunteers
and assistants one night. They
all canceled each other out, but the room was 8 people more crowded!!
was the night I shook my head and said this had to stop.
have been trying so hard ever since to tighten things up a bit without
alienating people in the process. It
is obvious that at some point the old system of "show up-sign
up-take all comers" is too risky.
There might be a Tuesday where the whole world shows up and then
don't want to change, but I feel like the studio needs to.
At least you know why I am taking action and starting the Hall
this change will be smooth or shaky depends on your patience, the
students' patience, and my self-control.
It should be interesting.
(Editor's Note: four years later
in 2005, I can easily say this is one of
the best moves we ever made.
2001 - WHY WE ASK FOR RECEIPTS:
THE INCIDENT THAT CHANGED THE ENTIRE NATURE OF
SSQQ COMPLAINT OF THE MONTH (February 2002
Thu 12/06/2001 1:02 AM
I would like to share with you the humiliation I went through at SSQQ.
It was about 8:30 PM in class when I was rudely disturbed while
attending a class by a person claiming to be an employee of SSQQ.
Most of all, I have no idea what provoked him to pick on me from all the
people in the classroom. During the second half, while I was making a
name tag, we struck a conversation and he started asking me if I am
registered for this class or not, apparently he did not see me before or
whatever his rationale was. I thought he was joking asking such a
question. Anyway, I told him I signed up for this class and two step and
then left to join the class.
About ten minutes later, while I was in the middle of dance and in front
of everybody this gentleman marches towards me and told me that my name
is not on the roster and I had to leave. Although was holding the
registration in one hand and he did not bother to look over. He stood
next to me and said, "you are not on the roster and you need to leave."
He implied that I am like a thief in the grocery store for coming
without paying for it.
I don't know if you ever had been accused of cheating or kicked out of
an institution or called a cheat or a thief in front of an audience in a
restaurant, studio, grocery store or anywhere. It is humiliating to go
through such a process in front of many of your colleagues. As a banker
and a very conscientious person, I hold myself in a very high ethical
standard. It was a nightmare and none of your clients should go through
this. I had a problem sleeping wondering if I would ever run into the
people again and wondering what would they think of me if they see my
I am baffled, disturbed and hurt by this episode. You are the boss and
so you should know what happened.
(Email Letter to Rick Archer from a student who witnessed the
Wednesday, December 05, 2001 10:37 AM
I dropped in early last night for dance practice, and I was the
unfortunate witness to a confrontation outside the studio with a
Since I was early, I could not enter the studio and was within earshot
of the event. There was an individual arguing vehemently with the Hall
Monitor (I assumed the discussion was regarding his removal from the
class). He was obnoxious and abrasive, and the Hall Monitor tried
patiently to explain to him the policies regarding proof that he had
signed up for the class. He kept demanding that the Hall Monitor
accompany him to his car to show him the receipt. The Hall Monitor
wisely told him he could not leave the studio, but he would await his
return. This individual later returned, went in to the intermediate
class and started a ruckus that the Hall Monitor had unfairly removed
him. I considered this to be totally inappropriate behavior.
Personally I thought the Hall Monitor handled the situation with great
composure and respect.
Email Letter from Rick Archer to the Complainant
Mon 12/10/2001 3:12 PM
I have now reviewed carefully four documents: Your report, the Hall
Monitor's report, an instructor's report, and that of a student who
witnessed the incident.
I am sorry you were embarrassed.
However you need to see things from my studio's point of view. Our Hall
Monitor program was established 18 months ago to reduce a huge number of
people from wandering around the studio who were showing up and claiming
they were a volunteer. The situation had become a real headache. Since
this policy was established, things have become much more organized.
Now the Hall Monitor is paid to do a job - ask people for their receipt.
You didn't have one.
Then he or she is supposed to look your name up on a roster. Your name
did not appear on one of the rosters.
Furthermore, the Hall Monitor said you made the comment that you are
being given free classes. Whether you were jesting or not, this made you
seem even more suspicious.
Finally, you naively think someone who has never met you in his life
should take your word for it that you paid when it is his job to do the
exact thing he did - prevent you from participating without simple
I do not enjoy the report of this confrontation at all, but please help
me understand why I should criticize the Hall Monitor when on the
surface it appears he was simply trying to do his job.
Look, I am not happy that you were embarrassed. Our studio is about
having fun, not pushing people around.
However we have to have rules. You did not produce a receipt as
requested and your name wasn't on the roster. Whether his style was to
your liking or not isn't the question - I am sorry the Hall Monitor
rubbed you the wrong way, but the fact remains that this person did what
he was hired to do.
Please forgive the incident and forget about it. You are a nice guy. You
are always welcome here.
(Editor's Note: This incident was so aggravating to me that I have
decided to invest $30,000 in a new computer
system designed to upgrade the SSQQ Registration process. Starting in
March - or April if necessary - we will use computers for walk-in
registration. Combined with our already successful On-Line Registration
system, this will allow us to have a computerized recording of all class
rosters. This will hopefully prevent incidents such as the one above
from happening again.)
MORE ABOUT RECEIPTS
APRIL 2003 COMPLAINT OF THE MONTH - THE
HALL MONITOR WITH AN IMAGINATION.
Several students were deeply upset that we had no complaints last month.
Well, cheer up, we have a fascinating complaint for you this month
guaranteed to make you think deeply about the human condition.
SSQQ is like a movie theater. We have drinks and popcorn, six theaters
of fun, and we have a ticket taker at the door known as the Hall
Our students drive the Hall Monitors nuts because only about 2/3rds of
the people on any given night remember to bring their class receipts.
The Hall Monitors are supposed to look the student's registration up on
their computer, but the computer response isn't always very fast. The
students stare at the Hall Monitor in frustration and quite frankly can
be very rude at times… which is sad because the student could solve the
problem effortlessly by bringing their 'ticket' in the first place.
One night one of our Hall Monitors snapped completely and decided to
fight back in a very interesting manner. The HM thought they were being
clever, but unfortunately went too far.
Decide for yourself.
It's your favorite swing dancing attorney. As you may know, I have gone
back to class again to learn C/W dances at the best and most friendly
dance studio in Houston (prob. the universe). Swing is fun but due to
limited venues, C/W is the ticket (plus most C/W places have swing in
the song rotation). I am taking Amanda's Beginning Western Swing class
and enjoying it greatly. Amanda is a fantastic instructor, funny and
very precise about the steps and technical aspects. Her class is a real
pleasure to go to.
Over the years, I have referred many people to SSQQ when I am out in
dance venues because it is by far the friendliest and most socially fun
dance studio I know of. I compliment you on the business and atmosphere
that you have created and I greatly admire it.
So, you are probably wondering what is the point of this email...and I
hesitate to mention the following. But after all these years, I have a
small complaint or maybe suggestion. Normally, if something irritates me
I sleep on it and then blow it off...but I did sleep on it and I am
still irritated. In addition, I really love going to SSQQ and intend the
comments below to be constructive. Also, it occurred to me that you
might not know about what irritated me and that you should.
Last night I got to class late and left my registration slip at work in
my briefcase (I discovered later). Amanda had very carefully explained
that we need to have that slip with us each night because if we didn't
they would have to look us up on a computer to reconfirm our
registration and it would cause delays. A very good and logical policy.
I had forgotten my slip during the prior month and a very nice young man
looked my name up on the computer and allowed admittance. Amanda's
warning confirmed my experience.
Last night something different happened with a monitor when I showed up
for class 30 minutes late. I was only person at door to get in:
HM: "Hi Student, do you have your registration?" (the HM was smiling and
very pleasant - I had introduced myself to them during prior night
Student: "I'll look but I don't think so"
HM: "Well, where is it?"
Student: "I may have left it at work or lost it; I'll reprint one from
registration history for the next class"
HM: "So you lost it...well we have a special name tag for you" (again
Student: "Can't you just look it up on the computer?"
HM: "Here, wear this" (Name Tag reads "I LOST IT")
Student: "What's this, you must be joking, okay, how about a tag with my
name" (both smiling at this stage)
HM: "It just lets everyone know you lost your slip"
Student: "I really don't think this is funny...seriously, this is going
to irritate me, I don't like public chiding" (both still smiling)
HM: "Here, go on in; you will have lots of company" offering name tag
Student: (me realizing the HM is serious and me becoming irritated and
short) "Well, if this is what I have to wear to get in, I'll just go
HM: some sort of hrrmph sound, "Well if that's how you feel, here's your
name tag" handing my a new tag with "Student" on it (neither of us
smiling at this point)
Student: "Is this Rick's policy now or something you're doing"
HM: "Go on in and have a nice class"
Student: "I may ask Rick about this...I really don't like this name tag
HM: "If you do, I may go home"
I am sure that HM was well intended and was just trying to be funny with
a point to force me and others to bring the slip next time...so I don't
really fault the HM if they came up with this idea on their own since
even well intentioned people make mistakes, or if the HM simply was
following your directions. However, during my class I danced with
several women who had the I LOST IT name tag on. I asked them about it.
One thought it was funny. The other two found it irritating and took it
off after I asked about it.
Anyway, this obviously pushed a hot button for me....trying to force
someone to wear a dunce cap etc is not something I would even consider
doing with children, my own or otherwise, much less adults.
Well there it is....if your policy, I just ask that you reconsider...as
for me, I will make sure that I have the slip in future and if not, I
will just stay home until I can reprint another one....I genuinely don't
like public chiding and don't want to make your monitors uncomfortable
either... However, if this is one monitor's idea of a joking way to do
it, I just ask that the HM and others think of some other way to enforce
your slip policy that does not involve public chiding or humiliation...
however, well intended.
In all sincerity, I intend this email to be constructive and also, it is
only my point of view. As I said, you have a very well run and
successful business; you obviously don't need some amateur like me
second guessing you if this name tag approach is policy. So if it is
policy and you believe the benefits from a business point of view
outweigh the negatives, then I will certainly understand and you will
not hear any further comment from me about it.
Thanks, (Student's name withheld)
Rick Archer's Reply:
Student, I am so grateful you have taken the time to write me.
I noticed several people wearing a name tag like that. I thought it was
their idea of a joke. Unless I find out otherwise, my guess is that the
HM was acting completely on their creative own.
You have my complete assurance that it will not happen again.
I am totally irritated with this move. The HM should be ashamed.
The HM is supposed to look names up on the computer.
Please forgive. Rick Archer
(Editor's Note: This was a harmless incident. However
it had serious repercussions - the Hall Monitor did not appreciate the
student's complaint, so she quit.
I wish all of our students would respect our need to check receipts, but
at the same time no one deserves to be embarrassed when they forget it.
On the other hand, I feel for the HM. SSQQ Hall Monitors are subjected
to a lot of unnecessary irritating comments from students, volunteers,
and staff who don't bother to remember their ID. One woman simply walks
past the HM each week as if they aren't even there.
I guess one HM decided they had had enough and were not going to take it
Although as a business owner I cannot tolerate any employee who treats
customers in a discourteous fashion, at the same time I completely
understand their point.
As a result of this incident, I personally have made a special point to
bring my own ID with me to show the HM. And I might add this was a very
interesting story. When I get around to selling the ssqq story to
Hollywood as the next Cheers, I will definitely use this curious
incident in my pilot episode.)