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Why SSQQ insists that Everyone Switch Partners

Making Exceptions Doesn't Work

In 1987 a young couple in a Beginning Swing class begged me not to make them switch because they were getting married and needed to practice for their wedding dance.

Despite my misgivings, I said okay. In the first week, 40 people switched partners while the single couple stayed in a corner. In the second week, another couple asked permission.

What was I supposed to say?   That same night, after the Break, now there were four couples not switching.

change_partners.jpg (11450 bytes)

By the third week, I had two groups. Twenty non-coupled people rotated in a circle on one side of the room while ten couples stayed at the other end preferring not to switch. The morale was pathetic.

The absolute nadir occurred when several ladies of the non-switching couples began to ask me to give special attention to their partners. It seems their husband's leads and footwork were weak.  Since all individual help occurs naturally as my assistant and I rotate through the Circle, none of the non-switchers were being helped with their leads.

Quite frankly, no one finished that course in a very good frame of mind. I was so disgusted I vowed that even if I had to ask people to leave the class and refund tuition, I would do so rather than have people refuse to switch. Most people do not mind "sharing", but if even one couple doesn't switch, then the selfish side of human nature is tempted to appear.

I concluded that for Group Classes to work, switching is necessary. 

However just because this is what I think is best for my business does not mean everyone agrees with me.  Below is a famous complaint letter about our switching policy. 

Michael Weneck’s Letter


Dear Rick Archer,

I am writing to register a complaint about your school. This evening my wife and I arrived at 7 pm to start our 4-week Salsa dance class and were told that the class was actually scheduled for 4:30 pm and that we could take the crash course tonight and then continue next week at the regular time. This really did not present a problem.

What really bothered me is, 15 minutes into the class my wife and I were told by the instructor that if we did not switch partners we could not participate in the class. This resulted in us leaving. Nowhere in your ad for the salsa class in the Leisure Learning catalogue does it say that couples cannot dance together!  The main reason we took the class was to spend more time together. I had no interest in dancing with anyone except my wife. I find it incredible that your program is so inflexible that couples such as ourselves cannot dance together. If this is indeed your policy, you should state clearly in your ad that no couples will be permitted to dance together. You can be sure that I will tell anyone that will listen not to patronize your business. I am also registering a complaint with LLU.



Rick Archer's Reply to Mr. Weneck

Mr Weneck,

You are correct that in the specific description for the Salsa class “partner switching” was not addressed.

For space purposes, it is impossible for Leisure Learning to list every detail for each and every class, dancing and otherwise. The cost of printing alone would be prohibitive. However in the Leisure Learning catalogue, LLU gives a general description of the SSQQ Dance Program before the class listings. This description says clearly, “By switching partners throughout the class, students learn to lead and follow with different people“.

We have found in dealing with large groups of people, partner switching is what works best. You registered for a “group class“. If we make an exception for you, then we have to make the same exception for everybody. Then the “group” ceases to be a “group”. It becomes a collection of individuals all following a private agenda.

This wouldn’t work in high school and it certainly has not worked in the past in our dance classes. In this case, the needs of the group supercede the needs of the individual. The majority of the class would rather switch, but even more important we have discovered our students learn better when they switch for several reasons. Women learn to follow better after they realize that each man has a different style. Men learn to lead better because some women require clearer signals than others or require more precise timing and less/more strength. Dancing with the instructors during the switching is how the men learn to the best ways to lead each move.

We have experimented with allowing couples to stick together in the past only to be greeted with a new set of much larger problems. Our responsibility to teach people to lead and follow as a “group” works best when everyone cooperates. Why would you sign up for one of our classes, then not trust that we know what we are doing? 

Not everyone wishes to be part of a group. You are one of the them. I completely sympathize with your point of view. You are not the first person to express this identical concern. This is why we have private lessons for people who feel the same way as you do.

I have enclosed an article I wrote explaining our position in greater detail. You may not agree with it, but at least you will see I have put considerable thought into the matter. Unfortunately we do not always have the time to sit and explain our position in as much depth as I have with you. Usually we have a group of dance students waiting to get started. Thus the “take it or leave it” approach that surely rubbed you the wrong way.

If you haven’t already contacted Leisure Learning, I will forward a copy of this letter to them. They are aware of our policy, having dealt with similar issues during our 18 years of working together.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio


Overview of the SSQQ Switch Partners Policy in reference to Mr. Weneck

SSQQ has been in business for over 25 years now. By and large we run a pretty tight program, but in the words of Abraham Lincoln, we can't make all of the people happy all of the time.

Our Change Partners policy by and large is accepted gracefully by the vast majority of our students, but I won't lie and say everyone likes it.  At this point we are to the point of "no exceptions" and we stick to our position very firmly.  The man writing the letter refused to switch, a decision which created a no-win impasse. He and his wife left the building feeling angry and misled. Unfortunately I do not know what we could have done to appease him.  If we allowed him to have his way, then we would have been forced to extend the same privilege to others.  And there we go again.

I did not actually meet Mr. Weneck. Even if I had, there wouldn't have been much I could have done. Switching Partners is mandatory in our classes and all of our instructors are asked to enforce the rule. I wish we could be more flexible, but every attempt to "bend" in the past has led to even bigger problems.

2003: The Most Famous Complaint About Switching Partners
and every other Policy in SSQQ History!! 

From: Carolyn
Sent: Monday, July 14, 2003 5:02 PM
Subject: Beginning Ballroom Class
Importance: High

Hello Mr. Rick Archer,

My partner and I registered for the beginning ballroom dance class on July 8, 2003. During the first class session, there were at least 60 people in the class and two instructors. They oriented us to the dance rules which include switching partners. I agree and understand the advantage to switching partners, however, please consider that most of the people who came with partners came for the enjoyment of dancing with their partners. We only got to dance with our partners for about 15-30 mins. out of the 2 hr. session. Also, there were so many people that it was so crowded and difficult to move. I voiced my concerns to Judy Archer. I even made suggestions such as...dividing the class in to two groups. Allowing partners to dance for the first hr., then start switching partners the second hr. of the class. Also, there should be a set limit to the number of people allowed to register per class.

There were other couples who felt the same. I heard a great deal of soft complaints between the couples, however, they were hesitant to speak out. If you are not willing to change your routine, then please refund my money or offer an alternative. Apparently, I have been asking around and the alternative is not any better. I have ask other people if they have experienced the same treatment from your beginning classes, majority of them said that the classes are very crowded. No limit to the number of people registered. They didn't get a chance to dance with their partners as they expected. Most of them said that if I ask them first, they would not recommend enrolling in your beginning classes at all.
I am willing to work out an agreeable compromise with you. Please call me on my cell phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx or xxx-xxx-xxxx. I am scheduled to take the second lesson tomorrow, July 15th, from 7:00-9:00 pm.

Carolyn d l S

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 1:15 PM
To: Carolyn
Subject: switching partners

Switching partners has always been a controversial issue at my studio.

We have attempted in the past to allow certain couples to avoid switching, but the experiments resulted in miserable failures. You are welcome to read my story on the subject on ssqq the web site.

Although my web site article deals with the subject in more depth, I can summarize what it says:

Historically, making exceptions on the switching rule has proven to be a disastrous mistake for the class as a whole. As I said above, please be assured we have been down this path before.

When dealing with large groups of people, at some point policies are developed for a reason. In this case, switching partners has proven to be a very effective policy. Unfortunately the needs of some individuals such as yourself get compromised. I am well aware of this which is why we warn people ahead of time. For example, on each person's receipt it is printed that switching is mandatory. This allows students to withdraw from the class without losing their money if they find our policies more objectionable than they care to tolerate.

Group classes are about learning to lead and follow different people. Group classes are also about "Social Dancing" - in social dancing situations, it is expected that you trade partners frequently. Having people refuse to switch completely defeats that purpose.

I sympathize with your point, but to satisfy your wishes would defeat the stated purposes of a Group class in Social Dance. Our system of teaching is based on the principle of switching. Bending this particular rule is not an option.

I doubt there is anything I have said which will cheer you up or make you see it from our angle in a way that will give you satisfaction. If this proves to be the case, please forgive.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 1:50 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: switching partners
Importance: High

Mr. Archer...I don't disagree with switching partners. I would like to have the benefit of both. However, why can't we strike a balance between dancing with our partners and switching at the same time.

For example...the beg. ballroom is two hrs long.

1) How about we dance with our partner for an hr. and switch partners the next hr. The class is so big that I only had a chance to dance with my partner for 15-30mins (out of the two hrs that we were there). If the class continues to be extremely crowded...what's the fun of it.

2) We are so crowded that we are not getting the full benefit of the class. I suggest crowd control. I have to tell felt like a meat market, not to mention cattles being herded. We were shuffled from one guy to the next...I thought I'm going to a dance studio, not a night club.

If you are not willing to change or improve the way you conduct your classes then please... I am asking for a partial refund of my money and my partner's money. I attended only one class-July 8th. Unknown to me, since it was my partner who registered us, if we wanted a refund, we should have ask for it after the first class. Unfortunately, that was not the case, therefore, I am only asking for a partial refund of the class.

As for other dance classes… we have ask and research other dance classes, they are not conducted that way. As for my partner...he also said that the class seems disorganized. He should know, he is an experienced ballroom dancer and instructor. He came to the beginners class to enjoy the activity with me, which he was not able to do.

Also, have you ever thought of providing "program evaluation" surveys to your students to see how you could better improve your classes and meet their needs.

Thank you for your response, but I prefer a return email from you with a resolution to this situation, meaning a partial refund of our fees. I would appreciate a prompt response since we have a class tonight and would prefer not to attend.

Thank you,

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 2:35 PM
To: Carolyn
Subject: switching partners

Our business policies preclude refunds after the first class.

And I prefer not to strike a compromise on switching partners. As I said, we have been down that road before and it has always led to worse problems.

I am sorry that you are not satisfied with our program.

I hope that you will decide to attend your class and find a way to enjoy it despite your disappointment with my responses.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 3:45 PM
Subject: switching partners
Importance: High

Rich Archer,

Tell me you always fill the class to the point of being over crowded?

Reason I'm asking…what good would that do us to sign for another class even if you give us another credit...if all the classes are extremely crowded. The quality is lost!!!

I'm beyond the issue of switching partners. Now I want to know about the lack of crowd control that you seem to avoid discussing!!!! It seems that is a very unethical way to practice your business!!!!

If I took the credit to sign up for another class...will you guarantee that there will be some type of crowd control.....


From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 5:34 PM
To: Carolyn
Subject: RE: switching partners

"Will you guarantee that there will be some type of crowd control?"

What about the crowd is out of control? Did someone push you? Were people noisy? Did you get stepped on??

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2003 8:10 AM
To: Rick Archer
Cc: Isaacson, Allen
Subject: RE: switching partners
Importance: High

Mr. Archer,

Apparently, I will never get anywhere with you. You are not willing to consider other people's requests or suggestions on improving the way you conduct your classes. No one pushed me, no one kicked me, no one slammed into me. However, even your biggest dance floor was not able to adequately accommodate the number of people that signed up for the class. How many times do I have to tell you....there were >60 people there!!!!!! It was very, very crowded!!! We started in a small room, then they moved us to a bigger room...still, it was crowded!!!!

Never mind...I found two dance studios that conduct their classes in a more professional way. They do not over pack their classes, it is not a meat market or herding cattle. I will be enrolling in one of those schools. Unfortunately, a friend of mine who happens to be single enjoyed your class. She doesn't know any better and has not experienced other schools… so for her, your school is just fine. If a refund is not possible then a gift certificate will do, I'll pass it on to my friend. However, I will not recommend your school at all and will make a point to mention to people I know to try the other schools that I found (Adagio and The Dance Place).

I'm done with this conversation. When can I expect the gift certificates????

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2003 1:32 PM
To: Carolyn
Subject: RE: switching partners

You have to be the studio's least happy customer of all time, Ms. D L S.

I find it fascinating that you were moved to a larger room and it was still not adequate to satisfy you.

60 people can fit into Room One just fine, but I suppose no amount of arguing is likely to change your opinion.

My guess is nothing we will do will ever please you.

If I agree to send the certificate, is it understood that last night's class will be your final visit to the studio?

If the answer is yes, I will then issue you a gift certificate for half of your remaining tuition. Please tell me where to send the certificate.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2003 1:50 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: switching partners
Importance: High

The only thing that would please me is to reduce the number of people per class. The class that I was in had two instructors. The class could have been divided into two groups. But when I talked to Judy Archer, she said that all the rooms are occupied, so dividing the class was not an option. As I said before "At Least" 60 people.

Have you had a chance to look at the roster to count the number of people registered or have you talked to Judy Archer as to how many people actually registered? We were all complaining that even in a big room, we were still crowded. Bottom line, Mr. Archer, it's time to reevaluate the way you conduct your classes.

I should be expecting two certificates, one for me and my partner. Please send the certificates to xxxxxx xxxxxx,

And I was not able to attend yesterday's class (July 15th) due to inclement weather.

NOTE: If you are willing to reduce the number of people per class, then I wouldn't mind finishing the last three sessions.

Thank you, Carolyn

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2003 4:50 PM
To: Carolyn
Subject: RE: switching partners

"How many times do I have to tell you....there were 60 people there!!!!!! It was very, very crowded!!!  We started in a small room, then they moved us to a bigger room...still, it was crowded!!!!"

"The only thing that would please me is to reduce the number of people per class."

Ms D L S,

I have absolutely no sympathy with your position. A floor space of 2000 square feet is more than adequate for a class of 60 people. The City of Bellaire fire code specifies 9 square feet per person. By their definition, the room your class is assigned can handle 200 people.

At our studio, we have targeted 100 students as the maximum number of people for Room 1. We have had several Waltz classes that size in that room this summer. I will grant you it is definitely crowded at 100, but there is no way 60 people constitutes a problem. However if it is your perception that 60 is too large for your comfort, that is your right.

"NOTE: If you are willing to reduce the number of people per class, then I wouldn't mind finishing the last three sessions."

Exactly which students do you suggest I eliminate in order to fulfill your latest demand?? What should I do, send each member of your class an email asking them to voluntarily drop out of the class so Ms. D L S can have more room in her group dance class?

"You are not willing to consider other people's requests or suggestions on improving the way you conduct your classes."

Ms. D L S, I have been running SSQQ for 25 years. One of the things I have learned along the way is that experience is the best teacher. One particular lesson my experience has taught me is that switching partners is the policy that works best for our studio. I told you I have been down this road many times, that this was our policy take it or leave it, I gave you my reasons, and you turned right around and criticized me for ignoring your brilliant ideas.

Just out of curiosity, how much experience do you have running a dance studio? Your attitude is eerily similar to a rookie on the team telling the coach what plays to run. Guess how far that attitude will get you in the real world? About as far it got you with me.

Nevertheless I confess that I admire the strength of your personality.

I am completely fascinated by your unwavering conviction that you believe you possess a special insight that allows you to impolitely dictate how I should run my business. You seem convinced that you know exactly what is best for my studio, a position I find humorous for lack of a more descriptive word. You have criticized our partner switching policies, our refund policy, our room size policy, our crowd control, and how well our classes are organized.

Furthermore you have basically demanded - yes, demanded - I change the way I run my studio to fit your individual needs. Considering we don't do things the way you want us to, I imagine it must be a huge mystery to you to learn over 1200 people a week participate in classes at our studio.

Along the way, you have systematically belittled my program by comparing it to other studios who in your mind are quite superior to ssqq.

So I decided to do some checking.

First I found out you phoned our office on Monday to complain about the same issues you have covered in the emails. I found it interesting that you told the woman that you have taken 9 private dance lessons at another studio.

You seem to expect quite a bit for your $4.50 an hour group lesson fee as opposed to the $50/60 an hour you pay for expensive private lessons elsewhere. Do you think it fair to hold our group classes to the same standard as private lessons?

I also found it interesting that the woman you spoke to on the phone told you exactly the same thing about our policies as I have, yet you decided to come complain to me as the next target for your unhappiness. How many times do we have to explain our policies to you? You have behaved exactly as a kid would who doesn't get what they want from one parent, so they go to the other one and try again.

I also noticed you find it convenient to stretch the truth.

There are 48 people registered for your Ballroom class, not 60.

I am sorry after all our correspondence you were unable to attend last night's class. As for last night's 'inclement weather' which prevented your participation, there was barely a drizzle after 6 pm. I was out in my backyard playing basketball at 7 pm and the sky was clear. However if it was your perception that the weather was inclement, that is of course your right.

Expect your certificate in a couple days. I mailed it today.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2003 8:35 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: complaint switching partners
Importance: High

That is why I prefer not to come back to your studio. Please send the certificates... I'm truly done with this conversation.

Just a note: I have called and research several dance studios, they even said that your class size is ridiculous and it sounds like your just in for the money, without regards to the people your teaching.

Send the gift certificates to the following address:
Carolyn d l S

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2003 10:46 AM
To: Carolyn
Subject: complaint switching partners

Ms d l S wrote: "Just a note: I have called and research several dance studios, they even said that your class size is ridiculous and it sounds like your just in for the money, without regards to the people your teaching."

Rick Archer replies: Aren't you naïve!!  And what did you expect them to say?

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

From: Carolyn
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2003 10:48 AM
To: Rick Archer'
Cc: Lisa_Upchurch (Work) (E-mail)
Subject: RE: complaint switching partners
Importance: High

Mr. Archer...I'm tired of your emails. I'm done with you!!!!

Just send my certificates.

(Editor's Note: A certificate in the amount of $40 was mailed on Wednesday, July 16, to Ms. D l S.)

Miss Manners Writes about
Switching Partners
(This article was contributed by an ssqq student in 2001)

 Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I recently signed up to take some dance lessons together (swing and twostep). When the class started, we were very surprised that the teacher expected us to take turns dancing with everyone in the room.

Her reason was that in social dancing situations, it is expected that you trade partners frequently. Obviously, if we had known this, we would not have signed up, but, fortunately, we were able to gracefully excuse ourselves at an appropriate moment and  cancel the remaining lessons. After checking with several more studios, I found this practice to be the norm.

I realize that traditionally it was expected for ladies to dance with whoever asked them, but I thought that went out along with hoop skirts (or at least poodle skirts!). I certainly never thought that ever applied to married couples.

Perhaps we don’t move in the highest of social circles, but anywhere I have ever seen social dancing (weddings, formal office parties, charity balls, etc.), I have never seen this practice, outside of the occasional teenager who happens to have attended. In this day and age, I would never let a stranger touch and hold me while dancing, and even if it was a close friend, I wouldn’t let it happen for the sake of appearances.

Am I correct in feeling that this tradition no longer takes place, or are my friends and I simply gauche? 

We are taking private lessons from now on.


Gentle Reader: 

Gauche?  Only if you embarrass respectable gentlemen by treating conventional social invitations to dance as if they were erotic overtures.

‘Prudish’ is the word that Miss Manners would use. She does not normally consider this the insult that everyone else does (priding herself an a bit of prudishness of her own), but you have far outdone her.

Dancing with different partners at parties and celebrations (as opposed to public nightclubs) is such a perfectly standard form of socializing that Miss Manners is astonished to hear your friends consider it tantamount to marital infidelity.

At those weddings you attend, do you never see the bride dancing with anyone but her husband?  Her father, her father-in-law, her husband’s best man, the groomsmen?  And do you all stand around and twitter about that brazen hussy allowing others to hold her?  Of course not. It is perfectly acceptable behavior.

In the future, you may be comforted to know there is no social convention which proscribes the perfectly acceptable act of accepting an offer to social dance with a friendly gentleman who asks politely.

Miss Manners


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