SSQQ Newsletter
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Welcome to the
SSQQ Travel Newsletter! 

All Stories written by Rick Archer

Please direct your Questions and Comments plus send any Contributions to Rick Archer,



July 2012 Issues

July 2012 Issue 1

July 2012 Issue 2

July 2012 Issue 3




I am happy, thrilled, tickled pink, elated... whatever you want to call it... to report that an old friend of mine has signed on board to help launch Fundance Houston towards its destiny.

Last week I wrote to announce that I have been reunited with my friends Mario Robau and Donn DeGeorge in a three-way alliance at Melody Club starting in September. 

The very next day after Mario made his announcement last Tuesday, I made a beeline to recruit the one man most instrumental for my success during my years at SSQQ-Bissonnet.  I threw myself at his feet and begged him to take me back.  I may have even wept a little.

That's how important this guy is. 

I am pleased to announce that I am reunited with my long-time friend Ted Weisgal.  Ted is the owner of Leisure Learning Unlimited.  As you probably already know, Leisure Learning makes a business out of marketing adult education courses.  Dance lessons are just a small part of this amazing operation.  Be sure to pick up a schedule the next time you visit Melody Club or, better yet, just visit the LLU website and see for yourself.

Many of you have probably never heard of Ted.  Unlike me who can't shut up, Ted is more the behind-the-scenes strong silent type.  However, I would venture to say that no other person in Houston has been more important to my career than Ted Weisgal.  Operating as my business partner, Ted helped SSQQ become a very famous dance studio indeed.

Am I grateful?  Oh my goodness, yes.  Leisure Learning will down as the cornerstone of the success of SSQQ-Bissonnet when I get around to writing the book.

But you don't have to wait for the book.  I will share the story with you now.  By the way, that reminds me - Christine, I am still waiting for my blackmail money. You too, Marty.  Don't think for a moment that cancer research letter you wrote is going to help.

And now to the story.


Strange as it might seem, both Ted and I got our start thanks to the same woman.  I might add she would eventually ditch us both.

Back in 1978 I worked for a man named Lance Stevens, eponymous owner of Stevens of Hollywood.  Mr. Stevens was a master at Whip and Ballroom, but absolutely detested Disco music.  When Saturday Night Fever hit, Mr. Stevens hired me specifically to teach Disco classes because he didn't want to be anywhere near that music.  His first instruction to me was to close the door and don't even think about playing the music loud.

One Saturday afternoon in June I showed up at the studio early for a private lesson.  At the time, I had been teaching for all of six months.  I didn't know much about the dance business, so naturally whenever I wasn't busy I hung around the studio to watch Mr. Stevens in action.

Mr. Stevens was teaching a Country-Western crash course in the main ballroom. With time to kill, I stood and watched as he taught the pre-Urban Cowboy step-touch, step-touch walk-walk belly rubbin' Twostep. I grimaced as I watched.  It was the old style Twostep with the man's arm wrapped around the woman's neck and the woman's finger in the man's belt loop. Today many Western dancers resemble elite Ballroom dancers, but back then it was pretty ugly. Believe me, Western dancing has come a long way in the past 30 years.

As I watched Mr. Stevens teach his class, I noticed a woman standing about 10 feet away staring daggers at my boss.  As she observed the class, she was obviously unhappy about something.

I knew what she was upset about.  Mr. Stevens had just insulted a woman in his class.

I respected Mr. Stevens a great deal for his knowledge and for creating his studio, but he might actually have been the grouchiest dance instructor I ever met.  His teaching style was laced with hostility.  In particular, Mr. Stevens liked humor that embarrassed women.

Considering teaching dance is a people business, Mr. Stevens' rough personality was ill-suited for his profession.  He could be very sarcastic.  I am sarcastic too, but I do my best to make sure my jokes aren't too vicious.  Not Mr. Stevens.  When Mr. Stevens picked on you, it stung a bit.  His jokes sometimes felt like put-downs.

Some lady had stumbled in class while learning the Cotton Eyed Joe.  Mr. Stevens came over and moved a man on either side of her and placed her arms on their shoulders for balance.  "Here," he said to the men, "Make sure you keep her standing up."  He meant it as a joke, but no one laughed.

The woman standing near me shook her head in disgust. I can still remember the first thing she said to me, "Is he always this mean?"

I smiled ruefully and nodded yes.  It was a stupid thing to do.  I had no idea who this woman was and she probably could have gotten me fired for admitting what a grouch the guy was.  However I sensed that this stranger wasn't a big fan of Mr. Stevens, so I wasn't taking much of a risk.  Unfortunately he had directed his sarcasm at me enough times that I wasn't going to cover for him. 

The woman turned back and watched some more. Mr. Stevens always thought he was being funny, but to many people he seemed gruff and condescending. Soon she was fuming again.  So she turned to me again to complain again.  I said something that made her laugh and she cheered up a little.  I think she liked our conspiracy.

Now this lady looked at me directly.  I could see she was sizing me up.  She decided to introduce herself.

"My name is Donna. I run an organization called the 'Class Factory'.  Are you one of the teachers here?"

I said, "Yes."

Then she asked me if I taught Country-Western. I could have had Mr. Stevens' class on the spot.  Only one problem... at the time, I hated Western music and dancing with a passion!

"No", I told her. "I don't have a clue how to teach Western dancing."

Donna frowned.  This wasn't the answer she wanted.  She was definitely uncomfortable with Mr. Stevens' sense of humor.

Now she grew quiet and began to watch Mr. Stevens teach some more.  Meanwhile I had grown curious about this woman so I asked a couple questions about the Class Factory.  I explained that I had never heard of the Class Factory. 

Donna fished in her purse and handed me a catalogue.  I looked through it and noticed it contained adult education classes.  Then I realized her organization was practically brand new.  In fact, the Class Factory was so new that I think Donna was at Stevens of Hollywood that day to make sure her first class with Mr. Stevens was going okay.  She definitely did not like what she saw.

Then Donna broke the silence.  She said she was looking for instructors.  She asked me if I would consider teaching a dance class.   My eyes grew wide.  Donna didn't know a thing about me, yet here she was offering me a teaching job based on the fact that I agreed my boss had made a couple inappropriate remarks.  Pretty strange job qualification.

I admitted again I didn't have a clue about C&W.  But I had an idea - maybe I could teach a Disco class for her. The Saturday Night Fever surge was just getting started.  Donna liked that idea a lot and accepted my idea on the spot. 

Starting with Donna's next schedule, I began to teach Disco classes for the Class Factory in mid-1978. 

This was a very lucky break for me.  I sometimes call it my "Lana Turner" moment... Lana Turner of course was 'discovered' as she sipped a coke at the counter of a local Hollywood coffee shop.  Considering I don't have Lana Turner's looks, I cannot imagine what I did to deserve this kind of opportunity.  However I wasn't stupid.  The door opened and I walked through it.

Disco was just getting starting when I met Donna, but it would soon bring me countless new students.  My Class Factory students would help me get started as an independent instructor.  I may not have been the greatest dancer, but I was a fairly good teacher and definitely enthusiastic.  I might add I was polite to my students.  Funny how much they liked that.

Donna's program jump-started my career.  It was an extraordinary break for me.  You can easily understand why I felt so grateful to her.


When Donna asked me to teach, I needed a place to hold my classes.  So I asked Mr. Stevens if I could rent a room.  He didn't even give it a second thought.  He shrugged and said, "Sure.  $15 an hour.  Keep the music down." Then he walked away.

Just like that, Mr. Stevens had given me permission to work for myself in HIS studio. 

Bad move on his part, incredible break for me.  I hate to say it, but I think he underestimated me. 

Everyone works a lot harder for themselves than they work for other people.  I was no exception.  These were MY STUDENTS.  I worked like a dog.  I put the hustle in doing the "Hustle".

For the next year and a half I worked for Mr. Stevens and for myself under the same roof.  At the end of that time, thanks to Class Factory and my hard work, I had a larger program than Mr. Stevens.  It was absurd, but it was true.  The highly ambitious upstart had somehow created a bigger program than the owner in his own studio.

This situation was absolutely intolerable to Mr. Stevens.  It was preposterous to think a relatively untrained novice dance instructor like me had more students than he did.  Well, come to think of it, I didn't blame him one bit for being upset.  I grasped every nuance of the strange situation - it was weird!  However, let that be a lesson to everyone - it never hurts to be nice to the people who keep you in business.

Finally in September 1980, Mr. Stevens couldn't take this daily insult any more so he told me to get out.  That's the reason I landed over at Bissonnet.

When I started my own dance program, I vowed I would never make the same mistake as my boss had.  It would be insanity to let someone work for themselves at my own studio! 

Consequently I always insisted my instructors work exclusively for SSQQ and no one else.  That was the rule and I always stuck to my guns.  No exceptions.

This got awkward at times.  One year I discovered two of my instructors were also helping out at the D'Amico studio without bothering to tell me.  I don't think they were doing anything to hurt my studio, but I asked them to choose nevertheless... I lost.  It was tough to lose them; they were good instructors.  But I would not tolerate divided loyalties.

Another time the same thing happened with my best East Coast Swing instructor.  I didn't bother asking this guy to choose... I fired him on the spot. He was not only teaching elsewhere, but he was soliciting my students behind my back to take his class at the other place.

I still don't know why Mr. Stevens allowed our situation to continue.  Letting me work for myself was like pouring acid on his business.  During the time I worked for Lance Stevens, I cannot begin to tell you how many of HIS STUDENTS wandered over to my program, especially the younger students. 

Because my Disco classes were more fun, his skill meant nothing to many of his students.   They could have cared less that Mr. Stevens had ten times as much training or knowledge as I did.   All they wanted to do was meet girls or meet boys and go out dancing.  They would be in one room with Mr. Stevens and overhear my students laughing and carrying on.  The next month they took my class instead... and paid me directly behind closed doors. 

Don't misunderstand - I had permission to operate in this fashion... but why Mr. Stevens didn't put his foot down and say enough is enough remains a mystery to this day.

My time at Stevens of Hollywood taught me my lesson.  An instructor works for me and no one else.  Nor would I ever permit an instructor to teach a group class in my own studio.  Why on earth would I allow my own instructor to compete with me under my roof while I am paying the rent, utilities, advertising fees and insurance?  That's suicide!

You simply cannot have a dance instructor working for himself in your own studio.  He will take every student he can and funnel them to his own class.  At that point the students will become loyal to the instructor, not the studio. 

I honestly cannot imagine any dance studio owner being foolish enough to allow this situation to continue, but that's exactly what Lance Stevens did.  In the end, it cost him dearly.  When he threw me out, 200 students followed me over to Bissonnet.

Did I feel guilty?  Yes, to some extent I did.  I understood that I had taken advantage of a man who perhaps wasn't the smartest businessman in the world.  However, in my defense, I asked him several times to sit down with me and work out a solution. I wanted to stay there. He just sniffed at me with contempt, then walked away.  Oh well.  It was his own fault.


Meanwhile, at this same time, my patron Donna over at the Class Factory was really struggling.  Donna had made a mistake almost as critical as Mr. Stevens had.  Donna had a gifted employee named Ted Weisgal who had helped her get started.  Ted actually had more experience in the business than Donna did.  So Donna had made a promise to pay Ted a percentage of the profits. 

Ted agreed to this for a simple reason - it is easier to bust one's tail for a percentage than a salary. 

As promised, Donna did pay Ted a percentage of the profits for a year. But one day in April 1979 Donna told Ted she had decided to pay him a salary instead. No more share of the profits. This was a huge blow to Ted.

Ted would later tell me that Donna had not anticipated her business would become so lucrative so quickly. Her decision basically meant that Ted would become an employee rather than a partner. This meant less reward for his efforts and far less control of the business. 

Furious at Donna's U-turn, Ted went home and told the story to his wife Kathy. She listened sympathetically and let him vent his frustration. Finally when Ted had calmed down enough to listen a little, Kathy spoke up.

"Ted, why do you keep working for other people? You have built three organizations from the ground up only to get pushed around and receive nothing in return. You need to be in charge of your own program."

Kathy's keen observation hit home. Ted immediately recognized the perfect way to fight back was to form his own organization and go into direct competition with the Class Factory. That was the night Leisure Learning was born.

Ted went back the next day and told Donna that her change of mind was unacceptable. He had no intention of agreeing to this switch.  Ted was understandably angry at the thought of working so hard without the promise of major financial rewards.  But Donna held her ground, so Ted walked out.

Bitter at the way he had been treated, Ted went right for the jugular.  Since Ted had recruited almost all of Donna's instructors, they were more loyal to him than they were to Donna.  They jumped ship en masse.  Ted even came after me... but I declined out of loyalty to Donna.

I remember feeling at the time like I was backing the wrong horse.  The determination in Ted's voice on the phone left me very rattled.  He lacked Donna's flair, but I could tell he was relentless.  This guy would never give up. 

Unfortunately, my instincts proved correct.  Almost instantly the fortunes of Class Factory fell.  My enrollments dropped by 50%.  It became obvious that for all Donna's intelligence and sophistication, she was no match for Ted's immense drive.  It was like a hobby to Donna, but an obsession to Ted. 

After fighting a losing battle for the next year, Donna sold the Class Factory and left town. I rued my decision to back the loser in a two-team fight.  I had done it out of loyalty.  After all, Donna had given me my start. But once Donna announced her move to Washington, DC, I wasn't honor-bound to continue the struggle.  

Ted had always been the enemy, but secretly I was starting to admire Ted in a begrudging way.  His old-fashioned work ethic had thoroughly vanquished the flash and dash of Donna.  No stranger to hard work myself, I appreciated the depth of his accomplishment.  Ted had totally beaten a very talented competitor who had a huge head start on him.  Impressive.

Looking at the letter explaining Donna's decision to sell, I picked up the phone and dialed Ted at Leisure Learning. 

To my utter relief, in the past year Ted had not found another dance instructor to take my place.  I was incredulous at this stroke of good fortune.  I signed on immediately.  The date was September 1980. 

Strangely enough, just a couple weeks after signing on with Ted, I was unceremoniously tossed out by Mr. Stevens.  Finish out the month, then hit the road, Jack.  Consequently, not one Leisure Learning student of mine would ever set foot at Stevens of Hollywood.

Instead the first LLU students showed up at my new address on Bissonnet in October 1980.

The results were incredible.  Things had been looking pretty grim that summer.  Now with a great new location and a steady supply of new students courtesy of Leisure Learning, I was ready to start the next phase of my dance career.  

Now that I had escaped from under Mr. Stevens thumb and acquired the backing of LLU, my dance program accelerated with explosive force.  This moment marked the start of SSQQ-Bissonnet.


That was 32 years ago.  In September 2012, Mario and Donn will join me to begin Fundance Houston over at Melody Club.  Backing us is none other than Ted Weisgal.

Can lightning hit twice?   I certainly hope so.  The timing could not have been better. 



Thanks to Marla's Magic, our Hawaii 2013 Cruise has gotten off to a sensational start.

Since we announced this unusual cruise two weeks ago, we already have 31 guests on board.  Not bad considering we don't leave until late September in 2013.  You can never plan ahead too early!!

I was surprised when Marla said she had already begun receiving complaints from passengers about their cabins.  Now, mind you, Marla takes everything seriously and she looked very stressed. 

So naturally I asked what the problem was.  She replied that so far everyone who has signed up has asked for a balcony for viewing purposes.  Apparently due to the route the ship is taking, the Starboard (Right) Side of the ship is the place to be since all the islands we pass will be on the right side... as opposed to the wrong side, the Port side.

Now, for those Portly Portsiders, these same islands can also be viewed from practically any part of the ship.  However, if you wish to stand naked on your ultra-private balcony and simultaneously view the islands, I suppose a starboard Balcony is clearly the place to be.

Since I end up sleeping on the balcony - the cruise ship equivalent of the doghouse - at least once every trip, I suppose I should take this concern more seriously.  Personally, I don't know if I can sleep with a volcano exploding in the distance.  But I don't get a choice... Marla has us in a starboard cabin.  Since it is always easier to accept the inevitable, my reply was 'Amen'.

This 2013 trip is special for a reason most people would not realize.  Hawaii marks the first destination SSQQ Travel has ever RETURNED TO.   This year's second trip to Puerto Rico doesn't count because we visited different islands.  I am pretty sure this means some of our other great trips such as Alaska will be in play as well in the coming years. 

SSQQ Travel visited Hawaii once before in 2007.  That trip remains Marla's all-time favorite; it is my second favorite (my favorite was Barcelona in 2009).  Hawaii has it all - stunning mountains, lush gardens and rain forest, amazing waterfalls, volcanoes, beautiful ocean, amazing beaches, and glamorous hotels....with the temperature always set at 78°.

My favorite memory of our Hawaii trip was the incredible sense of foolishness that came over me after a fruitless two-hour search for the Diamondhead Crater.

Anyone who has ever been to Honolulu knows that the gigantic extinct volcano Diamondhead looms large over the landscape.  On our first day, Marla and I decided to hike up to Diamondhead and see the vast crater inside.  There was only one problem.  When I got to the very top of the Diamondhead rim, there was no crater.   Considering the crater is so big you can see it from space, this was highly disconcerting.  The facts about the crater said it was nearly a mile wide.  Where did they hide it?  Did someone pull a David Copperfield and make the giant mountain crater disappear? 

How was it possible to hike for two hours and not spot a crater a mile wide? 

It wasn't until we returned to our car that I realized I had been inside the crater the entire day.  The crater was so vast that it gave me the illusion of walking in a giant plain.  I was totally fooled.  For two solid hours, it never even dawned on me I was already inside the crater.

I don't think I have ever felt so silly in my life.  Yeah, we all do dumb things, but this one really took the cake.  It was akin to overlooking an elephant standing in the kitchen.

I loved that 2007 Hawaii Trip so much that I researched Hawaii with great fervor on my return home.  As a result, my writeup of the Hawaii Trip remains one of the best cruise stories I have ever written.  The history of Hawaii, the ecology of Hawaii and its geology are all deeply compelling stories.

I would like to invite you to read all my stories from the Hawaii 2007 Cruise Trip

One warning, however.  Anyone who reads these stories will have a hard time avoiding an overwhelming urge to go on our 2013 Hawaii Cruise.  If you are certain you can't go on that trip next year, seeing the pictures and reading the stories will be the most painful tease imaginable.

Don't do that to yourself.  Read only if there is a chance you can go.  Otherwise the unrequited temptation will make you dizzy with desire.  You will be like Odysseus and the Sirens... you will be driven to madness at the sheer beauty of something you can't have.  Read at your own risk.

Contributed by Jim Dulaney

Rick's Note: Jim Dulaney, my basketball-kayak buddy who is apparently connected to some of the most interesting people on earth, sent me an article listing the background story behind various odd phrases that we use... but have no idea where they come from. 

There are 11 of these little tidbits of joy scattered throughout the Newsletter.  Before you start, please understand that I have not verified the accuracy of these various gems.

Historical Trivia #1 - "God willing and the Creek don't rise"

Did you know the saying "God willing and the Creek don't rise" was in reference to the Creek Indians and not a body of water? It was written by Benjamin Hawkins in the late 18th century. He was a politician and Indian diplomat. While in the south, Hawkins was requested by the President of the U.S. to return to Washington. In his response, he was said to write, "God willing and the Creek don't rise." Because he capitalized the word "Creek" it is deduced that he was referring to the Creek Indian tribe and not a body of water.

Rick's Note:  For the fun of it, I looked this one up. According to Wikipedia, it is accurate.  The phrase means "With good luck and no major problems, we can be successful."

I was too busy to verify the accuracy of the next ten, but I was so amused by some of these history facts that I decided to write a fake one of my own.

There's an old saying that you can always tell when a man is lying by whether his lips are moving or not.  Since some of the stuff I write is so preposterous, many people assume I must be fibbing any time my fingers hit the keyboard.  Actually that is incorrect.  I attempt to tell the truth as I know it all the time... at least on the serious stuff anyway.

That said, I fully admit I made up one of the next ten "historical trivia" items.  See if you can guess which one is mine.  No fair cheating and using the Internet.  This is a test to see whether your built-in BS detector is functioning or not.  See if you know my style well enough to smoke me out.


25 Obscure Geography Facts

Contributed by Jim Dulaney, aka Master Cool J Kayaker

Recently my friend Jim sent me a list of 25 "Obscure" Geography facts with his usual challenge.  "yo dood, see how u do". 


Ugh.  This is a Rice graduate speaking?


Despite the appalling grammar, I was immediately curious.  I have long been very interested in Geography.  This interest goes all the way back to grade school.  However, when I met Marla in 2001 and she got me hooked on these cruises around the world, my interest in Geography increased dramatically.


Before every cruise trip we take, I go back and memorize all the 196 countries and their capitals.  I find this is the simplest way to start a conversation when I meet strangers from overseas on cruise trips.


Consequently I consider myself pretty good at Geography trivia.  So imagine my dismay when I got only six correct out of 25 questions.   I would say that "six" qualifies me for about a "D-".


Let's see if you can do any better.  No fair using reference books.  Just take the darn quiz and see how you do.  Here are the first three questions.


25. Country with the most time zones?


1.      USA

2.      France

3.      China

4.      Canada

5.      Russia


24. Country most likely to disappear beneath the waves?


1.      Maldives

2.      Samoa

3.      Vanuatu

4.      Grenada

5.      Seychelles


23. Most overweight population?


1.      France

2.      Nigeria

3.      Trinidad and Tobago

4.      Kazakhstan

5.      Nauru


If you want to take the entire test, you will discover two things.  First, you will quickly realize you aren't as smart as you wished you were... at least that's what I discovered.  Very humbling test.  Second, you will be fascinated by the answers to these strange questions.


Questions and Answers to 25 Obscure Geography Facts

PS - Please let me know how you did - even if you beat me!  I don't care.  I save my vanity for stuff that matters like Blockus.  The only person I don't want to beat me is Gary Richardson, Mr. Smarty Pants Know it All Never Made a Mistake in his Life Why are You too stupid to keep your Anti-Virus up to date.


Tell me what you thought about the quiz.  Do you think the quiz was fair or not?  Also, don't you agree that Gary Richardson is a pain in the youknowwhat?



Historical Trivia #2 - "arm and a leg"

In George Washington's days, there were no cameras.  One's image was either sculpted or painted.  Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted.  Arms and legs are 'limbs,' therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, 'Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg'.  (Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)

 Rick's Note: I didn't bother to look up the accuracy of this one, but it did remind me of a bad Jeffrey Dahmer joke. 

Q - Why did Jeffrey Dahmer move to another apartment?
A - His landlord raised the rent and said it would cost Jeffrey an extra arm and a leg.

Here's another one.

Q - Why did Jeffrey get a bigger apartment?
A - He needed more elbow room.


My buddy and long-time dance assistant Holly Vitemb recently got married to Ray, uh, I forgot his last name.  Oh my gosh, my life has been such a blur lately that I don't even remember Ray's last name.  Ack.  Now I can't even find what I did with the invitation.  Gee whiz, don't tell Holly. She'll kill me.  Aha... Thank you, Facebook...I forgot we were friends.  Duh.

Holly is now Mrs. Raymond Sass.  Mazel Tov!

I suppose I have known Holly for about four years now.  A former singer on Broadway, Holly came to the studio on the recommendation of Phyllis Phrog, the famous cruise troublemaker. 

Holly was hoping to find a boyfriend, but unfortunately our supply of single Jewish men was a bit short at the time.  Nevertheless Holly discovered my odd sense of humor jibed perfectly with her own, so we were drawn to each other.  Holly became my Friday dance assistant and bodyguard.

Those were the days when the Dragon Lady used to prowl the studio.  Every Friday night during Practice a stunning Chinese woman wearing the latest revealing designer clothing would visit the studio and attempt to wrap her arms around me on the dance floor.  I never quite figured out if the Dragon Lady spoke much English.  One night someone told her I was going on a cruise and she offered on the spot to be my roommate.  The person did a double-take and said I was married, but the Dragon Lady didn't seem discouraged at all by this revelation.  She just kept smiling.  Strange woman.

I have always found that the easiest way to avoid temptation is to avoid temptation.  Dancing with a beautiful, curvaceous Oriental woman who never missed a chance to smile and throw her body at me was not my idea of avoiding temptation. Since my wedding ring apparently had no effect, I decided I needed to stop dancing with her.  Fortunately Joy All That Jazz and her sister Gina agreed to team up with Holly to become my bodyguards.  Any time the Dragon Lady came within ten feet of me, one, two, or all three would come and strike up a conversation with me or surround me on a couch.  It took a while, but eventually the woman got the message and stopped coming to the studio.  Thank you, Holly.  Thank you, Joy.  Thank you, Gina.

About that time, Phyllis "Slick" Sullivan, Priscilla Queen of the Deserted, and Smarty Marty began to join me in marathon Blockus tournaments on Friday nights.  Holly would love to kibbitz our games.  Holly would also occasionally step in whenever one of Marty's extensive harem came calling for a duty dance.  I rarely won because Holly made me laugh all the time.  That's about the time I gave Holly her exciting nickname Holly Jolly.  We became fast friends sort of like brother and sister.

One night I discovered what an amazing singer Holly is.  She sang the famous Waltz "Could I Have this Dance?" for us at the studio.  I was impressed.  So when a friend named Ravi asked me to host a Ballroom dance event at his restaurant Indika, I asked Holly to sing at the event.  Holly was clearly the star of the show.  What a beautiful voice.  Here is a picture of Holly at the Indika Event.

Holly went on to sing for us at a Chapelwood dance as well.  Again she stole the show.  I was sure Holly was about to get some more offers.  However, just about the time I had resurrected Holly's singing career, she showed up one night at Chapelwood with a sad face.  She would be leaving Houston soon.  Surprised, I asked why.

It turned out Holly was engaged.  She would be moving to New Jersey at the end of 2011 to live with her fiancé Ray.   They would be back to have their wedding here in Houston in June 2012. 

OMG!  Bombshell Holly had just dropped a bombshell.  I didn't even know she had a boyfriend!  Apparently they had met when Ray came to Houston one weekend, then began a long-distance romance.  One day Ray proposed, Holly accepted, and so, just like that, whoosh, Holly was gone to Joisey. 

We wrote from time to time.  Holly reported that Ray didn't dance a lick, but she loved him anyway.  I offered to give Ray dance lessons as a wedding present, but Holly wasn't sure they would have enough time to fit them in.

Holly and Ray came down to Houston in April, but Marla and I were away on our Titanic cruise.  That realistically was the only time I could have helped them.

Holly's wedding was on Sunday evening, June 24.  It was an Orthodox Jewish wedding.  I had been to Jewish weddings before, but never an Orthodox one.  There was one very strange ritual - Holly and her mother circled the groom twice while the rabbi watched approvingly.   That's right... Holly circled Ray twice with her mother in tow right behind her.  That's a new one for the books.  I liked it.  I asked Marla if she would consider doing that for me... I received a withering stare. 

Later at the wedding reception, I cringed when the First Dance began.  Holly had warned me not to expect much.  Sure enough, they embraced to do the Clutch and Sway for three minutes.  Ouch.  I don't think even one of the four feet moved once.

Fortunately, next up was the highlight of the evening.... Holly sang for her new husband.  Ray stood at her side beaming as Holly sang the classic Billy Preston love ballad "With You I am Born Again".  Stunning.

As a followup, Holly sang "Sadie Sadie Wedding Lady", a funny Streisand classic.  It was quite a performance.  I had never witnessed a bride singing before, but then who has a voice like Holly?  Holly was a smash hit.  The standing applause was huge and heartfelt.  What a show! 

Later on when the dancing started, I participated in a riotous, energetic ten minute Hava Nagila celebration with the other guests.  Gosh did I have fun doing my grapevine footwork around the circle!!   The best part came when Holly sat down in a chair in the middle of our dancing circle.   Then several virile men hoisted her high in the air above their heads and turned the chair around again and again.  Poor Holly was pale as a ghost up there, but the men never wavered.  Then they finally set her down and it was Ray's turn.  Too much fun.

As the evening progressed, I discovered that Ray is a very nice man.   A lot of you assume I judge a person only by their dancing ability, but I am here to report I am not really as shallow as you think.  Their wedding dance notwithstanding, Holly's smile throughout the evening was a heck of a lot more important.  Holly was a happy Sadie married lady all night long.  That was all that mattered to me... Is she happy?  Is she jolly?   The answer was a resounding 'yes'.  Holly was indeed Jolly.

For now our wedding couple has returned to New Jersey.  However I expect Holly and Ray to rejoin us in Houston in a couple years.  I will miss Holly, but I am sure our paths will cross again.

Historical Trivia #3 - "Bigwig"

As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year (May and October) Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term 'big wig... ' Today we often use the term 'here comes the Big Wig' because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.


As I written several times in the Newsletter, I thoroughly enjoy helping people prepare for their First Dance at Weddings.  Now that I am in my sixties, I have a nice grandfatherly style about me.  I can be very reassuring to the men and unthreatening to the women.  I put the young people at ease and shower them with praise. 

I have heard the legends of the Bridezillas, but I am pleased to report I have never witnessed anything resembling that phenomenon.  The people I work with concentrate hard and are grateful for my help.  I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill I get from helping them.  They radiate with happiness and I enjoy watching them glow as they work together in their mutual dance project. 

These young men try so hard to please their fiancées.  It is very cute to watch.

I would say the average number of lessons is about 3.5.   Most people take about 4 or 5 private lessons, but some settle for 2 or 3.  My record is 6 lessons, but I currently have two couples that look like they will both break that record.  Both couples are interested in learning to dance well enough to partner dance at their Reception, not just prepare for the First Dance. 

Recently I got a request for a wedding lesson from a young lady named Lauren, 27, who said they only had one week to get ready.   They wanted to learn some spins.  Plus they wanted to dance to two totally different songs... one was slow, one was a Polka.  I was very skeptical.  I doubted one lesson would be enough for all that. 

However, Lauren said that they were both dancers, so I decided to take her at her word.

I do the wedding lessons here at my house.  Since figuring out where the entrance to my house can be daunting, I decided on Saturday morning to go out to the street and look for them.  As I read the morning paper on the sidewalk, 11 am came and went.  No Lauren and Michael.  Hmm.

I continued to read the morning paper.  About 10 minutes after 11 am, a car drove up and turned into my neighbor's driveway across the street.  I stared at the car.  Was that them?  

I stood in front of my garage and watched.  No one got out of the car.   I would say four more minutes passed.  Finally I decided to take a chance.  I crossed the street and knocked on the window.  Sure enough, it was my wedding couple.  They were thoroughly lost despite my address and my map.   Good grief.

Lauren's first words out of the car were, "Look, Michael, there's 608 right over the garage.  Why didn't we see that?"

I had a bad feeling about this.  We had one lousy hour to get this done and they were already 15 minutes late.  I was expected to show them spins and teach them two different dances in 45 minutes?  I certainly hoped their expectations could be dealt with.  Based on this start, I felt pessimistic.

Now I got a chance to see Michael dance.  Uh oh.  The young man, 26, could indeed Twostep, but no one had ever shown him how to pass his feet.  Furthermore, he knew only one move... pushing Lauren backwards.  That was his repertoire.  I shook my head.  This wasn't going to work.  No way.

I played Lauren's second song and Michael did better.  His Polka was far superior to his Twostep.  I felt a glimmer of hope.

I smiled, "So where did you learn to dance, Michael?"

"Lauren taught me, Mr. Archer."   I nodded.

Lauren said, "I grew up in a dancing family.  I danced on my Daddy's boots from the moment I was old enough to walk."   I nodded.  That made sense.  As I danced with her, I realized at least Lauren was pretty good.  I actually considered teaching her to be the lead.  We were running out of time.

We wasted another 10 minutes as I evaluated their dancing and I listened to their two different songs.  I demonstrated with Lauren the different dance possibilities there were to the songs.  Michael looked very overwhelmed.

Even Lauren took a deep breath.  This lesson was 30 minutes old and I hadn't shown them a single move. 

Fortunately I had an idea.  Since Polka was Michael's best dance, I could show him how to dance an 8-count Polka to the slow song and a 4-count Polka to the faster song.  That way, whatever patterns I taught him could be used to both songs.

This worked.  To my surprise, Michael caught on very quickly.  Despite his woeful Twostep, it turned out Lauren was right - he did have some dancing ability.   He just needed someone to explain it to him.  Lauren's instruction had all been "feel" which hadn't gotten him very far.

What a shame they had waited till the last minute.  With a couple lessons, Michael would have done very well.   But now we only had about 10 minutes left in the lesson.

Frustrated, I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer.  "Lauren, why did you guys wait so long to come see me?"

I crossed my arms and waited for the inevitable lame excuse. 

"Oh, gosh, we would have loved to have started sooner," Lauren exclaimed, "but we are both in the military.  There are no dance instructors on our base in Georgia.  Atlanta, the nearest city, is a hundred miles away.  Besides, even if there was a city nearby, it would have done us no good.  Yesterday when I called you was the first chance we have had permission to leave the base.  They had to let us get married sooner or later!"

My jaw dropped to the floor.  A huge wave of shame shot through my body.  I had spent this entire morning silently criticizing this couple for waiting too long and then wasting part of their lesson sitting in the driveway across the street. 

Now that I realized the true reason for their last-minute lesson, I was crestfallen.  I felt unbelievably mad at myself.  These two young people were willing to risk their lives so I could lead my soft life as a dance instructor without a care in the world.  I had been mad about their last-minute lesson because it put me on the spot. We wouldn't want to inconvenience Rick, now would we?

How pathetic was my attitude?  I was ashamed of myself.

Right on the spot, my bad attitude did a one-eighty.  I asked them if it would be possible to stay another hour. No charge. They both glanced at each other with relief.  Yes, they could stay another hour.

Michael was amazing.  By the end of the second hour, he had mastered as much material as any man I have ever seen who is a complete beginner.  But he was also overwhelmed.  I expected him to forget half of what he learned.

So I asked them if they could come back one time the following week.  No charge.  It would be my wedding present.  Now they were smiling.  This project of theirs had a fighting chance of working.  Yes, they could come back.

Over the weekend, I spliced their two songs together.  45 seconds of slow Polka, 2 minutes of fast Polka. 

They returned on Monday morning to learn Synchronized Polka.  I figured this pretty dance was perfect for their Wedding Dance.  The Sweetheart position would lend itself nicely to photographs and the moves were easy to learn, yet quite flashy nonetheless.

Michael got off to a very slow start.  As I expected, he had forgotten much of the fine details from Saturday.  The hour passed quickly, so I asked if they could stay longer.  Yes, they could.

The second hour... or fourth hour if you include Saturday... did the trick.  Michael and Lauren had mastered a very polished pattern by the end of the second hour. They videotaped me dancing with Lauren in case they forgot something. Now all they would have to do was practice.  I could not have been prouder of the two of them.  At this point I had adopted them like they were my own kids.  We had an incredible rapport.

There was only one problem.  No matter how hard he tried, Michael could not bring himself to start on his right foot in the Synchronized Polka.  He messed up so many times I began to wonder about it.  Finally I asked him what the problem was.

"Gosh, Rick (he had dropped the "Mr. Archer" some time ago), the Army has drilled me a million times to start with my left foot.  I just can't start with my right foot.  I am scared to death I will start with my right foot when I get back to the base and get latrine duty for a week!"

This was a new one.  I couldn't help but smile.  In 32 years of teaching dance, you would assume I had encountered every learning obstacle in the book.  This poor wonderful young man.  I told Michael to explain to the drill sergeant that he had to learn to start on his right foot to get married.  Maybe even the meanest drill sergeant might cut him some slack for such an original excuse.

Michael grinned. "Good idea!  If he still doesn't believe me, I will go get Lauren and show him our dance routine!"  We all got a good laugh.  At that point, Michael's right foot began to work properly.  It had been 'psychological'.  Thank goodness my therapy training finally got some good use.

I sure hope they will be okay.  They talk like they may be career army... not the safest choice of professions. 

As I hugged them both, I had tears in my eyes.  I can be such a chump sometimes.

Historical Trivia #4 - "Chairman"

In the late 1700's, many houses consisted of a large room with only one chair.  Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and was used for dining. The 'head of the household' always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during a meal.. To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge. They called the one sitting in the chair the 'chair man.' Today in business, we use the expression or title 'Chairman' or 'Chairman of the Board.'


A gentleman named Jim Simmons wrote me this week to tell me about a three-minute video he created to promote "Floor Craft". 

Commonly accepted Dance Floor Etiquette has Rules of the Road.  The Traveling Dances such as Western Waltz, Twostep, and Polka are expected to move counter clockwise on the outside perimeter of dance floor.  Same thing for the traveling Ballroom dances.  Meanwhile, if Stationary dances such as West Coast Swing, Line Dancing, and Cha Cha are being used to the same song, these should be danced in the center of the dance floor.   That way, everyone is happy.

You would assume that every dancer knows this simple rule, but you would be surprised.  There is one popular dance venue that shall remain unnamed where I find it difficult to do much of anything.  People frequently stop and chat right on the edge of the floor where the traveling couples are trying to get past.  You shouldn't have to take years of dance lessons to understand the obvious courtesy of talking on the carpet, not on the dance floor.

Furthermore, the line dancers could care less that they are blocking the passing lanes of the traveling dance couples.  The floor simply isn't big enough to work unless everyone cooperates.  Unfortunately, the lack of concern or understanding is so pervasive that it is difficult for me to enjoy dancing at this place.

Other common sense rules include not teaching on the dance floor during social dancing, not stopping on the dance floor to discuss pattern problems, and not going in the wrong direction against the line of dance. 

I would say most of these problems can be chalked up to general discourtesy.  At the Bobby Flores concert, a large group of his fans milled around talking on the dance floor.  They literally occupied an entire corner of the dance floor.  So much for dancing a circle.  I don't think there is a geometric pattern that can describe the detour we were forced to take.

The ultimate insult came when one man grabbed a chair and placed it on the dance floor in front of the stage.  He had the best seat in the house.  Only one problem - he was now sitting in the middle of the dance floor!  People had to dance around him.  In my opinion, this guy's attitude was pure "Me, Myself, and I".

At any rate, kudos to Jim Simmons for creating this effective video to call attention to the nagging problem. 

The only drawback is that the people who need this information will probably not see this article or the video.  Oh well.

Historical Trivia #5 - "Bee's Wax"

Personal hygiene left much room for improvement.. As a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman's face she was told, 'mind your own bee's wax.' Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term 'crack a smile'. In addition, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt . .. . Therefore, the expression 'losing face.'

Contributed by Jim Landureth

This video is six minutes long, but I will say it is a lot of fun.  A huge crowd of Russian youths got together to create a flash mob dancing to the Irving Berlin class "Puttin' on the Ritz".

Apparently there was some controversy. The show almost didn't go off as planned.  Before the Russian authorities would permit the dance to take place, the organizers had to agree to rename the song "PUTIN on the Ritz".  Only in Russia. 

Puttin' on the Ritz Video

One more thing... I made that up about Putin.  Maybe I do fib once in a while.

Historical Trivia #6 - Strait-laced.

Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and dignified woman, as in 'straight laced' wore a tightly tied lace.

 Historical Trivia #7 - "Playing with a Full Deck"

Common entertainment included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the 'Ace of Spades...' To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren't 'playing with a full deck.'

Letters to the Editor

Miss Smarty Pants Speaks

Rick's Note:  Back in the days before Gary Richardson became Mr. Smarty Pants, Deborah Solomon was known as Miss Smarty Pants at the studio.  Unlike Gary who makes fun of me for my computer ignorance, Deborah actually won her title in a head to head contest.  Back in 1999, not only did Deborah win my Halloween trivia contest, one month later Deborah beat two other women in a head to head Christmas Carol Trivia contest as well.

Unfortunately this talented lady moved to Florida, so I haven't seen her for a while. 

Nevertheless, Deborah took the time to write a nice letter recently.  Her comments refer to my D-Day story and my "Get Rich Quick" story about the song "Those Were the Days".

From: Deborah Solomon
Sent: Saturday, June 30, 2012 11:13 AM

To: SSQQ Travel Newsletter

Subject: Thanks Rick

Hi Rick,

Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy the historical stories in your newsletters. 

My great uncle was a European theater WW2 vet, and he just passed away last Feb.  He never really spoke about the war, but my mother remembers how shaky he was when he returned.  My grandfather was also a vet, but he was in the Pacific theater.

After he passed away, my mother and aunt found an unexploded grenade in the attic, and someone in the VFW came and disposed of it for them.

 I appreciate your research into the stories behind the stories.

 I just finished the story about "Those were the Days", and I found it fascinating.  Although I moved to Florida in 2008, I still love reading the SSQQ newsletter, so I wanted to thank  you for continuing to put it out. 

You have a flair for telling stories.  If I was still in Houston, I would definitely be visiting your nostalgia days.  I really enjoyed my time at SSQQ (after all, those were the days).  Keep up the good work.

 Debbie  (aka Miss Smarty Pants)

Rick's Note:  This second letter referred to the fact that I have begun suggesting dance venues for people to participate in.  In addition, this person suggests that when it comes to asking for cancer donations for my daughter's project (Sam's Texas 4K Profile, Sam's Texas 4K donation page), maybe I am not as unscrupulous as one person suggested.  I appreciate the kind words.

From: M
Sent: Friday, June 22, 2012 12:14 PM
To: SSQQ Travel Newsletter
Subject: Re: SSQQ Travel Newsletter - Done Me Wrong Song Saturday!


I wanted to let you know that I really like today's newsletter.   It is so nice that you are becoming a one stop hub of information on the latest dance venues available outside of the studios as well as inside the studios.   It is nice to get out of the studio and really show off those dance moves to the outside world.  You know what a show off I am!

Regarding the cancer research donation ideas, it is really a shame that some people are such haters and always want to question you about ulterior motives.  Unbelievable.  You are one of kindest people around and it floors me that they would question your motives.

Thanks also for keeping us up to date on the latest computer viruses as well.   We have to always be on our toes since there are a lot of people with a lot of free time on their hands that get into mischief.

Looking forward to hearing you doing bigger and better things in the dance community in the future now that your 2 years on the sidelines is over.

P.S. As far as the old Bissonnet location, no looking back.    You can't move forward if you are looking in the rear view mirror.   LOL !

Kind Regards, M

Rick's Note:  The third letter deals with the Newsletter complaint from back in June that all cancer research is part of the fraudulent drug industry and basically worthless.  I might this was the issue where I was accused of profiting from any donations to my daughter's donation fund.

This email was written by my cousin Rick who happens to be a health care professional. 

-----Original Message-----

From: Rick Griffiths

Sent: Friday, June 22, 2012 3:58 AM

To: Rick Archer

Subject: Re: SSQQ Travel Newsletter - Done Me Wrong Song Saturday

Ulterior Motive Revisited - DOES CANCER RESEARCH HELP?

Ola Cousin Rick A,

I went through most of those Youtube references advocating alternative medicine and unusual approaches to treating Cancer (Cancer - The Forbidden Cures).  I don't know what to say about those videos except that watching them definitely makes it easy to feel suspicious.

The lack of progress of modern medicine can be discouraging.  BTW there is no ONE cure for cancer.

Cancer is many, many different diseases collectively called cancer.  Each one is likely to have its own specific cure.  I heartily agree with your friend Marty.  No alternative medicine has passed the double blind tests and any pharmaceutical company that came up with a cure would jump at the chance to best the competition.

Anecdotally, I can say that nearly all of the physicians I work with are very hardworking, well-intentioned people. Oncologists in particular are normally borderline burned out physically and emotionally from fighting a mostly losing battle with so many patients.  Can you imagine telling people over and over again that you have a death sentence?

There are heart-wrenching cases where I know they would give up a vital organ to find a cure for many of their patients.  I don't know how they do it.

To say there is a conspiracy is not only ludicrous - but ignorant.

Changing the subject, I enjoyed the Mark Lowry Comedy routine about the motorcycle accident.  I might add we have a term for helmetless motorcycles in our Emergency Department.  We call them 'Organ donors'!

Rick's Note: The good news is that now that I am back in business with Fundance, surely the praise will diminish and those juicy complaints will start rolling in again soon.  This surely means the return of Hamburger Patty's favorite Newsletter section, the Complaint of the Month.

I know Patty And is trembling with delight at the very thought of it all.  To heck with these stupid complimentary letters. 

Besides, as desperate as I am for compliments, everyone knows I must have written those letters myself anyway.   The complaint letters on the other hand are so easily believable.

Historical Trivia #8 - Gossip

Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TV's or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars. They were told to 'go sip some Ale and listen to people's conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times. 'You go sip here' and 'You go sip there.' The two words 'go sip' were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term 'gossip.'

Historical Trivia #9 - Raining Cats and Dogs

Back in medieval England, countryside huts were covered with thatched roofs created from straw, sedge, and heather.  The vegetation was layered so as to shed rainwater away from the inner roof.  In the cold climate of England, it was common for animals accustomed to living outside to sleep under the thatch to take advantage of the warmth.  The rising heat from fire within the cottage made for greater comfort for animals on top of the roof.  However, whenever it rained, the animals would quickly depart the roof shelter for dryer quarters.  Hence the saying 'it's raining cats and dogs'.


Saturday, July 14, at SSQQ-TC Jester

There is a lot of competition in the West Coast Swing scene around Houston - and growing every day. SSQQ would like to show you what we have to offer.  Get you swing shoes on and see what's happening!

We currently have 4 Crash Courses planned:
Beg. WCS with Trent & Michelle.

The Really "Wrong" Workshop with Matthew.

Slow WCS (not Slow Whip) with Michael Stephens.

Beg. East Coast Swing with Jack & Jackie.

Crash Courses 7:00 - 9:00.
Big Party at 9:00.

Great music is planned!
SSQQ Website


Houston Dance City Championships - 2012

July 27-July 29, 2012 at Melody Club


We Hope You Will Make Plans to Attend This Year

Enjoy Lots of Competitions, Lots of Social Dancing, Great Music and Great Workshops!
More Info

Rusty Bucket Whip Party at Melody
Friday, August 17, 2012


So we have planned another Rhythm & Blues dance for Friday, August 17, 2012. This dance party has been preliminary named the "Rusty Bucket". Look for more details soon. 

The Grateful Geezers at the Pavillion

Friday, August 24th, 2012




Country, Ballroom, Soul, R&B & Blues.

Contact Gary Richardson:



Historical Trivia #10 - "Ps and Qs"

At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in 'pints' and who was drinking in 'quarts,' hence the phrase 'minding your 'P's and Q's'.

Historical Trivia #11 - Brass Monkey

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck? The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There was only one to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a 'Monkey' with 16 round indentations.

However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make 'Brass Monkeys.' Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled.  

Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey; Thus, it was quite literally, 'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.'

Well, that's a wrap for today. 

By the way, I am not sure, but I think all the Historical Trivia except for the first one was BS.

According to Snopes, the urban legend website, somebody with a lot of free time and an active imagination went to great trouble writing these explanations as a spoof.  If you felt like someone was pulling your leg (now where did that one come from?) as you read those stories, you had every right to feel that way.

So did you guess which "Historical Trivia" was written by me?   If you said 'Brass Monkey', you are wrong.  That was much too complicated for me.  No, I wrote "Raining Cats and Dogs". 

Today's SSQQ Travel Newsletter was only 27 pages long.  I can't control my fingers... they just keep typing and typing.

Rick Archer



The SSQQ Travel Newsletter
July 2012, Issue Two
Written by Rick Archer

Quick Note about Hawaii:
Hawaii 2013 Cruise is big news.  We have 24 people signed up for an event that is a year and a half away!  More information in the next Newsletter.

Quick Note about Encore Our second week of Sunday dance classes at Encore will take place from 3:30 to 5 at Melody on July 8th.  Several people said they had to miss the first week due to July 4th weekend commitments.  They asked if they could join a class in progress in progress.

The answer is yes, of course.  Not only will we pro-rate the price down for the remaining three weeks, I will make a concerted effort to catch people up.  Come early at 3 if you wish and I will give you a head start on what you missed.  To register, just show up. 


Quick Note about Chapelwood My second month of Synchronized Polka classes begin this coming Monday, July 9th at Chapelwood, 7 pm.  To register, just show up. 


Quick Note about Chandelier:  Marla and I will be visiting Chandelier again this Saturday, July 7, 8 pm for a night of Ballroom dancing to the sounds of the Moonglow Orchestra.   Dress code is coat and tie for men, bathing suits for women.  Look for us at the back!



Mario Robau is coming to Melody Club

I hope you all enjoyed your Independence Day.

The holiday came at the perfect time for me.  The night before, Tuesday the 3rd, I danced myself silly for 4 ½ hours at a club in the Heights called Addix.  I ain't that young any more so it isn't any surprise I needed every minute of our July 4th celebration to recover.

Oh, by the way, before a large gathering, Mario Robau announced he will soon be teaching again at Melody Club.  His classes will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays starting in September. 

Interestingly, just a couple months earlier, I made a similar announcement. 

Funny coincidence, huh?

Yes, my friends, as they say, the other shoe has finally fallen.  Mario is returning to Melody Club, the place where he once reigned supreme during the Houston's Golden Age of Dance for twenty years.   I think the man is pretty happy about this sudden turn of events.

As Mario said to me on Tuesday, "It's good to be home again."  I smiled and nodded.  Yes, it is.

This is the dawn of a new era of dance in Houston.  It's time to get out your dance shoes and pump up the volume once again.   We will see you in September!


As I have made clear, I can't seem to get the song "Those Were the Days" out of my mind.

The first line in my favorite song goes, "Once upon a time there was a Tavern."

Last night the tavern was Addix.  Addix is a recent addition to the Washington avenue bar scene.  .  The place is attractive and the people liked the wood dance floor a lot.  Addix received compliments throughout the night

I estimate the crowd at Addix at close to 100 when you add up all the people who visited during the night.  People took turns dancing all night long.    

"We'd sing and dance forever and a day!"

Mario's dance music was awesome all night long.  Mario played a diverse selection of music with not one dud in the bunch.  The dancing continued non-stop throughout the night all the way to midnight.  The floor was packed for 4 ½ hours!

I can't begin to describe all the dancing except to say it was fast and furious.  I danced with so many women I lost count.  Among those I can still remember were Chantee (twice), Laura Jean (twice), Sarah, Suma, Rachel, Dawn, Debbie, Talia, Patty, Marsha, Joan, Trish, Julia, Kristy, and Michelle.

By the way, I got into so much trouble!!

Earlier in the evening at 7:30, I asked Marla if she wanted to come with me for the big announcement.  Marla said there were bound to be tons more women than men and she didn't want to spend the night twiddling her thumbs.  I nodded.  She was probably right; the last time I went to Addix there were definitely more women. 

So I said I would stay until Mario made his announcement, then head home around 9 pm.

As it turned out, I crawled into bed at 12:15 am.  As you might guess, I had some explaining to do.  I told Marla the truth - I had more fun than I ever expected.  The dancing was actually so much fun that I didn't feel like leaving.  I wish to personally thank Mario for turning the music off.  He saved my marriage which is a good thing because I love my wife.



I confess I didn't dance non-stop the entire night.  I spent a lot of time talking with old friends and new friends.  As it turned out, there were many so-called Nostradamuses in the room who claimed the events of this evening were no surprise to them. 

"I have been suspecting this arrangement for over a month now.  I was suspicious from the moment you (Rick) said you were teaching at Melody on Sundays.  I was even more suspicious when Mario showed up at Jukeman a couple weeks ago. 

When I saw Donn and Trish walk into Addix tonight, I was positive that Mario was coming back to Melody.  When I saw you (Rick) show up, any remaining doubt was gone."   Michael Stephens, Psychic.

Of course, as tea leaves go, another friend, Bob Graham, claimed he saw this coming as soon as he saw the reincarnation of the Berlin Wall go up at Melody.  Bob said to himself, "This has to be Rick Archer's idea." (Bob was right).

Ken Oakley said pretty much the exact same thing.  I hate being so transparent, but what can I say?  When you see the black and white pictures go up, you will know I plan to be here at Melody for a long time.  I am making myself comfortable.  After all, this is my new home.

In the main Ballroom, Melody now has a massive structure that is 16 feet high and 48 feet wide.  Consisting of five giant panels, this is the recently-completed moveable Wall at Melody.  The Wall is highly reminiscent of the moveable walls we once had at SSQQ-Bissonnet... just bigger.  Make that much bigger.  This wall is huge.  I believe it is high enough to defeat William the Conqueror.  All we need is a moat and burning oil.

Actually I don't think we are done yet.  Melody is undergoing a major transformation.

In addition to the Berlin Wall and the new Accordion Wall in the back, in August Donn DeGeorge, the owner of Melody, expects to put in yet another wall along the Bar area.  This will create privacy in the middle dance room.  Plus Donn is going to move the massive DJ booth in the main Ballroom and put it close to the Melody Club entrance.  Have you ever seen the size of that DJ booth?  Donn says he may add turrets.  In this way, we can hold off any attack for hours, then retreat to safety behind the Wall.

This move will create more dance space on the main dance floor... probably a good idea since we just might have huge dance parties.  Wouldn't want anyone to feel crowded.

The purpose behind all these moveable walls is understandable.  Mario and I aligned with Donn and Trish at Melody for a good reason.  Melody is making all these changes to permit a nightly circus of five or six concurrent dance classes.  This evokes a scenario that long-time SSQQ-Bissonnet patrons were used to seeing for thirty years.  Six classes, six rooms, great dancing at the end of the night.

Well, shades of déjà vu, you will see it again.  Walls come up, dance classes begin.  Walls come down, dance parties begin. 

We have only just begun.


I wouldn't say that Mario's move to Melody was a secret as well guarded as the landing site at D-Day, but he did manage to keep a lot of people guessing.  From what I gather, Donn and Mario finalized the deal on the same Tuesday that Mario had scheduled his Addix announcement for the same night.

I was relieved to see the deal was concluded with just enough time to change and head over to the "Tavern".

Long-time members of the Houston Dance community will recall that once upon a time Mario and Melody were synonymous.  As the unquestioned King of Southwest Whip, Mario once had Melody hoppin' and boppin' for two decades.

Unfortunately, sometime in the mid-2000s, amid political strife, serious illness and personal discord, it all stopped being fun.  In late 2007, Mario abruptly resigned his position as Director of Southwest Whip after a twenty year stewardship.  Mario turned out the lights and embarked on a gypsy lifestyle. 

Mario began to travel to a different city practically every weekend to host dance events, conduct workshops, and shake a million hands.  Considering the mood he was in, it was probably the right thing to do at the time.  Mario didn't just stick to the USA during his wanderings.  Mario added the decals of several countries to his list of journeys. Sometimes Mario would return home to Houston in the middle of the week, sometimes he would just skip Houston and simply head to the next city.   

I think the first step in Mario's Houston comeback began when he met Stephanie McPherson, a lovely Canadian lady who just happens to be quite a dancer in her own right.  I don't know Stephanie that well, but I can share that one of my first observations is that she seems to have healing powers.  Therefore it came as no surprise to me to learn that, in addition to her considerable dancing ability, Stephanie is an acupuncturist.  Stephanie heals in more ways than one.  This lady has a very calming, almost serene presence about her. 

I have no business saying this, but why let that stop me?  If asked, I would venture a guess that Stephanie had a settling influence on Mario.  As their relationship deepened, perhaps life on the road didn't seem quite as appealing anymore.  Maybe spending a little more time in Houston enjoying quiet evenings with his lovely lady friend might not be such a bad idea.  

I can certainly speak for myself.  When I met Marla, comfortable evenings at home became a lot more fun.  So perhaps Mario arrived at a similar conclusion when he met Stephanie.


It is now 2009.  Enter the picture Cher Longoria, the consummate Ambassador of Houston Dance.  Cher has accomplished more working behind the scenes than most people realize. 

Cher is my friend.  She also served as my long-time assistant in Swing dance classes at SSQQ-Bissonnet.  Cher was also friends with Mario. 

One day Cher asked me a favor.  Would I mind letting Mario conduct his once-a-week private lessons with Cher and her boyfriend Robert at SSQQ-Bissonnet during the day?

Considering all the help Cher had given me, it seemed like a fair trade to me.  After all, the studio was sitting empty during the day.  Sure, go ahead.

As I hung up the phone, I wondered about Mario.  I had not heard much about him in ages.  He obviously had been keeping a low profile.  I thought it was odd that he would be teaching at SSQQ, even if it was during day.  SSQQ and Southwest Whip had been mortal enemies since the beginning of time.  However, it was okay with me.  Those days were long since over.

After a few weeks of lessons with Mario during the day at SSQQ, one night Cher pulled me aside.  She said that Mario wasn't doing much of anything here in Houston during the week.  She said he was teaching a few privates in his house, but wasn't teaching group classes anywhere.  Nor was he affiliated with any dance studios.  

Why not give him a call and ask him to teach at SSQQ? 

Considering that SSQQ and Southwest Whip Club had been business rivals for so many years, the thought had never even crossed my mind.  But Mario had been gone from SW Whip for two years.  Was it possible Mario would be willing to teach at the home of his longtime business rival?

On paper it didn't seem like such a bad idea, but there was only one problem.  Mario and I had not spoken in twenty-five years.  Since I don't enjoy going to the dance competitions, our paths had crossed perhaps three times in all those years.  We had exchanged nothing more than a perfunctory hello on those occasions.  The last time our paths had crossed was 2001, eight years ago.

As much as I tried to be open-minded, I doubted he would be interested in coming here.  Teaching on the sly during the daytime was one thing, but having his name associated with mine seemed far-fetched given our frosty relationship.  Having my business enemy come to teach for me just didn't make any sense from Mario's point of view.  In the pecking order of things, Mario had long since passed me by.  Wouldn't Mario consider teaching at SSQQ to be a step down?

All kinds of negative thoughts passed through my mind.  I entered an unpleasant meditation on the events of the past.


I had become one of Houston's top Whip dancers and teachers in 1986.  However that changed the moment Mario returned to town in 1987.  His appearance on the Houston dance scene created the most serious personal crisis of my teaching career. 

In 1987 Mario moved back to Houston after a lengthy apprenticeship under some of the top dance teachers in Dallas.  Almost overnight, some of my best dance students started to disappear.  I would hear they had been spotted over at Southwest Whip.  I was infuriated. 

This wasn't just business, it was personal.  Some of these people were my personal friends!  Throughout 1986 a group of 20 people or so would frequently join me for boisterous nights out on the town.  As our friendships grew, our list of activities grew to include charade parties, water volleyball parties plus ski trips and beach trips.  Those Were the Days.

And then those Days came to a startling end in a way I never could have anticipated.

I was stunned to discover several key members of this group had left me for Mario.  It was a very awkward time for me.  Once the other members of my group heard the whispers, the next month they followed the leaders.  It didn't happen all at once, but after about six months the cupboard was bare.  I estimate the number of defections from Rick's camp to Mario's camp at somewhere around 25-30 people.  Only a couple students from my former group remained.  

I fussed and fumed.  Then I anguished.  It wasn't the money.  I had plenty of students.  By every possible index, my studio was more successful than it ever had been.  It was the humiliation that got under my skin.  I had just lost my best dance students, the cream of the crop, to someone they considered to be a better teacher.  

Just so we are clear, these people always remained my friends.  In fact, they are still my friends today.  It's just that now they just had a new friend.  And that "new friend" just happened to be a better dancer and better teacher than me. 

It took about a year to deal with losing my top dance students to Mario, but I eventually came to grips with it.  It wasn't that my students didn't like me anymore.  They left because they had discovered a better dance teacher.     I had the ability to make a student a very good social dancer, but Mario could help them perform and compete.  It hurt to admit it, but if I was in my students' shoes, I would have probably done the same thing.

Unfortunately, this strange situation was not just a one-time occurrence.  Mario's dance classes would remain a constant thorn in my side for the next twenty years.  SSQQ became an unspoken farm system for Southwest Whip.  I wasn't happy about that situation one bit.

The way it worked was like this.  SSQQ had the predominant Western program in Houston.  Scores of people would come to SSQQ to learn how to dance Twostep, Polka, and Western Swing.  They would see people dancing the Whip and become intrigued.  Once they reached a level of dance proficiency, Whip (as West Coast Swing was known back then) would often be their next challenge.

I would train them for up to six months to a year.  Then one day they would discover that Houston's leading teacher of Whip, youknowwho, was over at the Southwest Whip Club.  They would quietly not sign up for the next month of classes and head over to Melody Lane.

My beginning students were very loyal.  It was only the Advanced class that had the attrition problem.  Each month I would show up for class and see who the "Left Behinds" were.  Sure enough, 2 or 3 couples would be missing.  I was so aggravated.  The ones I lost were always my special students, people I had known for one, two years.

Others would always step up to take their place.  I had an endless supply of new students to train.  But I grew cynical.  If I spotted one with talent, I would estimate how long I could keep them before the legend of Mario's excellence would reach them and lure them away.

I remained constantly bitter at this absurd situation.  Who wouldn't be?  Who wants to settle for second place?   However, I did come to accept it. 

The thing you have to understand is that this is how we do things in America.  We compete.  If we are in second place, we try harder.  Lord knows I tried harder.  But talent and hard work beats hard work.  That's the way it is. 

I could either drive myself nuts with self-criticism or accept that some people have more talent.  That's life.  Like everyone else, I learned to do the very best I could and if that wasn't good enough, I would have to be man enough to accept that. 

I realized to keep my students, I would have to train to compete.  As long as I didn't compete, I would always be at a disadvantage.  However my studio was growing so fast I didn't have the time to "specialize".  Do I put all my energy into this competition with Mario or do I settle for running my dance studio?

With an air of resignation, I decided that running the studio was my destiny. 

It was the right decision.  Mario would go on to become a national dance champion.  Realistically, I would have never caught the guy.  Instead I turned my concentration to SSQQ.  Over the next twenty years, I developed SSQQ into one of the most unusual dance studios in the entire industry.  

In its heyday, SSQQ was probably the busiest social dance studio in the country.  Along the way, I took immense pride in the many friendships and marriages the studio helped create.  Don't cry for me, Argentina.  It all worked out in the end for both of us.


What I did not understand is why Mario avoided me all those years.  That was what bothered me the most.  Okay, so the guy is a better dance than I am and certainly a better teacher for the gifted students, but that doesn't mean I didn't deserve his respect.  I was his rival, but I certainly wasn't his enemy.  There is a place for professional courtesy, yes?    

For the record, Mario was NEVER rude to me.  Nor did I ever hear a single word from his camp that put me down personally or my studio.  Sure, various students would make fun of this or that, but that's college stuff.   All Mario did was avoid me.  Or at least that's how it seemed.  

Was it just my imagination?  After all, our paths didn't cross very often.  However there were a couple of times when I went out of my way to talk to him.  I remember waiting in line after a dance class to talk to Mario... only to have him politely excuse himself to get to some important meeting when it was my turn.

So it was that mysterious aloofness that made me hesitate to pick up the phone.  I just sat there and stared at the phone while racking my brain again for some clue that might solve the riddle of the man's distant attitude.  I assumed that someone had explained to Mario about my long funk back in 1988 and that he had decided I had a chip on my shoulder, so why bother trying to be friends.  I shrugged my shoulders.  Oh well.

However it was now 2009.  Those problems were twenty years in the rearview mirror.  SSQQ had become a huge success story.  I had long since outgrown my career crisis. 

Now Cher was telling me her instincts suggested Mario was a lot more interested in SSQQ than he let on.  Their daytime lessons at the studio had gone smoothly and he asked occasional questions that revealed a curiosity about the place.   

Okay, Cher, if you are wrong, you are going to hear about this.  I gave Cher permission to ask Mario if he would consider teaching at SSQQ.

Later that day Cher called with Mario's reply.  "I am a businessman.  Give Rick my phone number."

I make it a rule to do one thing a day I really don't want to do.... stuff like calling for a Doctor's appointment or doing the bills.  Calling Mario would be my challenge for the day.   Fully expecting to be rejected, I took a deep breath and dialed the number that Cher had given me.

On the phone, Mario was pleasant enough.  However I sensed that he wasn't any more comfortable with this call than I was.  So we kept it short and agreed to meet soon for coffee.


I don't think I have ever written about what was said at our first meeting.  Although the stakes were dramatically smaller, it was a sort of "Reagan-Gorbachev" moment.   We knew we had mutual interests, but neither of us trusted the other person. 

I knew why I didn't trust Mario... not only had I lost scores of top students to him, he had kept me at arm's length for all those years.  I couldn't figure out why he kept so much distance.

So I decided that's where this conversation had to begin.  What was the reason behind the distance?

Mario said, "Many years ago a person told me you hated me so much that you vowed you would never allow me to set foot again at SSQQ."

I was stunned.  I never said any such thing!

Mario did not tell me who this person was, but I have my suspicions.  After listening, I said that whoever it was, this person had told Mario a lie.  I never said any such thing. 

I said that I understood the circumstantial evidence supported the lie.  Yes, over the years I had avoided Southwest Whip.  Yes, I avoided dance competitions, but that wasn't due to Mario.  Yes, I had expressed my bitterness over the situation to a few close friends. 

But I explained to Mario my "bitterness" had its limits.  I told him was very clear that just because my students had left me for him didn't make him the bad guy.  It was their choice, not anything underhanded that he did that caused the exodus.  I was bitter about the situation and my own shortcomings, not towards him as a person.

I added that many of my close friends were also his close friends.  How would it be possible for us to share so many close friends without a second person stepping forward to corroborate the lie?   If I was truly saying such ugly things, surely there would have been another whisper along the way.

Mario nodded.  That made sense.

I told Mario the truth.  In all those years, I had never let my bitterness become 'personal'.  I understood that Mario had not done anything unethical to lure my students away from me.  It was just a tough break for me.  Okay, so I wasn't as good as I wanted to be, but I didn't see any point in blaming Mario.  If anything, I became a better dancer and teacher in my vain attempt to catch him.  I may have even become a better person for dealing with the disappointment.

I think I saw Mario smile.  Maybe.  Maybe not.   There is a rumor about Michael Jordan, our ideal of the supreme competitor.  Michael Jordan was said to be "unkind".  Jordan took pleasure in rubbing his superiority in the face of the people he vanquished.

In that moment, I realized that Mario was not Michael Jordan.  I think Mario might actually have a kind streak.  I think he understood what I was trying to say.

That said, Mario wasn't completely convinced of my sincerity.  Mario can be a very guarded man.  That day he took my words at face value.  There was still an element of suspicion in the back of his mind.  But what I had just said had convinced him I was worth taking a chance on. 

After coming to work at SSQQ, over the next year, Mario discovered that I was not a fake.  Whatever I said, I meant.  Whatever promises I made, I followed through. 

We got along just fine.  I was amused to watch his Advanced class grow at SSQQ.   Just like the old days, I would show up for class each month and 2 or 3 students would be missing.  Out of curiosity, I would open the door to the big room.  Yup, there they are.  They had moved to Mario's class without bothering to say goodbye.   So, yes, in one way the mysterious "talent drain" had resumed.  

But this time they simply moved next door.  Most important to me, they stayed home.

They weren't Mario's students.  They weren't my students.  They were our students.

MAY 2012

Unfortunately, in May 2010, I was forced to close the studio on Bissonnet.  Mario and I shook hands and promised to stay in touch.  However, over the next two years, I only remember seeing him once.  We basically went our separate ways.

For the next two years, I did not teach nearly as much as I wanted to.  Hate to admit it, but I was bored.  For lack of anything better to do, some of my Newsletters had grown to book length.

After my Titanic cruise in mid-April 2012, I began to think of teaching again on a more frequent basis.  Then out of nowhere, an opening appeared.  The timing was so perfect it was practically on cue. 

One day in late April, I got a phone call from Cher Longoria, Houston's ambassador of dance.  Cher said she was teaching Western Swing in private lessons to some friends and wanted more training on how to lead certain moves.  

Sure, come on over to the house and we will work.  So on Saturday morning, April 28, Cher and I went over the Western Swing.

During our lesson, Cher mentioned how deserted it was over at Melody Club on Sunday afternoons.   I raised an eyebrow.  I knew Cher taught West Coast Swing lessons at Melody Club, but I knew very little about the place.  As I spoke with Cher, I told her I had only been to Melody one time in the previous ten years.   That was for the wedding of Charles and Susie Soileau about a year ago. 

As a little known fact, Al Marks had once tried to get me to take over Melody Lane back in 1987.  This occurred shortly before Mario entered the picture.  I entertained the idea pretty seriously, but backed off when I heard Mr. Marks' asking price of $100,000.   Shortly after that, due to some strange circumstances over at Bissonnet, I suddenly acquired the lease to all the rooms that would become famous as SSQQ for the next 23 years. 

I asked Cher who owned Melody.  Donn and Trish DeGeorge.  What are they like?  They are very nice.  Cher said she was very close to Trish.  Maybe I should consider talking to them.

Maybe I should indeed.  I asked Cher to speak to them about my renting a room from them on Sunday afternoon.  Cher reported back that I had a green light to give them a call.

I thought about it the next morning.  There was a part of me that still remembered all the battles Melody Club had won over the years.  Wouldn't going to Melody be like going to the enemy?

Then Mario's name crossed my mind. If Mario could come to work at SSQQ, it made just as much sense for me to consider working at Melody Club.  So I picked up the phone and called Donn DeGeorge on Thursday, May 3rd.  After meeting with him and his wife Trish the same day, I was so impressed with both of them that I realized I could be comfortable working here. 

On the spot, I expanded my request dramatically.  I didn't want to rent just one room; I wanted to rent the entire building on Sunday afternoons.  However, first I needed to run things past Marla.  So we agreed to meet the following week to formalize the agreement.

On Friday, May 11th, Marla and I met with Donn and Trish at Cher's house.  The meeting went fine.  That day marked the birth of Encore.  We would begin Western classes in June.

One of the first things I noticed was that Donn and I had an almost instant rapport.  He liked the fact that I understood all the behind the scenes headaches he had to deal with in order to run Melody Club.  Yes, I did understand.  I had walked in those shoes for thirty years.  He wasn't telling me anything I didn't have a similar experience with.

Over the next few days, I made it a point to talk to Donn as often as possible.  Donn asked if I had any suggestions on how to improve Melody Club.  That opened the door.  I told him I never wanted to run a dance studio again, but I would enjoy helping him run his dance studio wherever I could.  

I said that back in my days at SSQQ, the major knock on Melody Club was that the students were forced to share the floor in the main Ballroom with other dance classes.  A lot of people said they hated it.  They put up with it because they didn't have a choice.  They appreciated SSQQ because the rooms allowed so much more privacy from music and other people talking.  They also didn't enjoy being watched by all the people sitting around.

Donn frowned.  This was not news to him.  He had heard the same complaints many times.  But what was he supposed to do about? 

I began to explain my concept of the moveable walls to him.  I said the main Ballroom was much too big an area.  I could think of perhaps one single dance class in thirty years (Sharon's Western Waltz class) that would fill a room this large.  Why not subdivide it? 

Donn was curious.  He had never been to my studio and had no idea what I was talking about.  So I explained the purpose of moveable walls.

A moveable wall allows you to have privacy in a dance class, but space at a dance party.  I showed Donn pictures on the Internet of how the moveable walls worked back at Bissonnet.

Donn nodded.  Interesting.

Then I told Donn something Al Marks had told me back when he was trying to sell me the place.  "Rick, the problem I have is that Melody is too big.  When we don't have much of a crowd, the place looks dead.  That's why I use a curtain to make my large room smaller.  People don't like being too spaced out."

On the spot, Donn and I agreed the time had come to divide the main Ballroom into two sections.  That was the birth of the Berlin Wall.

Along with the Accordion Wall (Donn's idea), Melody Club had begun to transform its vast space into multiple dance class rooms.  This place was beginning to feel like home to me.


One day I came over to Melody to discuss the details of the wall.  When I noticed Donn needed help clearing out his new "Accordion Wall" room, I pitched in.  Spending the day at Melody, I had the chance to talk to Donn about his entire program.  Donn pointed out that his Salsa program was very strong.  However they had no Western classes and the West Coast Swing classes had their ups and downs.  He said his quietest night was Monday.  Did I want to rent the place on Mondays and teach a Western class?

I smiled and said no thanks, I like teaching at Chapelwood on Mondays.  However I just might know someone who might be interested in that Monday spot.  What would Donn think about Mario coming back to Melody? 

Donn grew quiet.  Mario had left Melody in a huff several years back when Donn brought another instructor to Melody over Mario's strong objection.  The rift had never been healed.  That was the situation that would eventually lead to Mario coming to SSQQ. 

After SSQQ-Bissonnet closed, Mario went to teach over at Salsa Eddy's on Harwin.  His Monday Swing class had done well there for two years, but as Cher explained it, there wasn't enough room for several classes at once.  In Cher's opinion, Mario's program would do better if he could offer more Beginning level classes on the same night.  Mario missed the old SSQQ farm system. 

It didn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure this one out.  Mario needed extra rooms on Monday. Melody had extra rooms on Monday. 

So I phoned Mario.  We met for some more coffee.  It was an amazing meeting.  Not only did Mario agree on the spot to help me with my daughter's Texas 4000 Cancer Research project, he said he wanted us to work together again. 

I smiled.  I said I would like that too. 

That's when I told Mario about Melody.  Mario frowned.  He said, "You understand, of course, that I have issues with Melody."   I nodded.  Cher had told me everything.  Donn had filled in the details.

I explained to Mario that I wanted to teach a class for him.  I wanted to team up again like we did so briefly in the final year at Bissonnet and see what we could accomplish together. 

Mario nodded.  He wanted the same thing.  That was a good year, wasn't it?

I said that Donn was doing some really impressive things at Melody.  Melody was by far the best facility in Houston to offer us the space we needed to get our programs going on a full-scale. 

Mario nodded.  Probably so.  But...

I suggested that he and Stephanie meet with Donn and Trish over at Cher's house.  I said I would be happy to sit in.

The Summit Meeting took place on Wednesday, May 30th.  As always, Cher was the gracious hostess.  She put everyone at ease in her beautiful home. 

I won't fib.  It took a while to break the ice.  Donn and Mario had to get past the tension in much the same way that Mario and I had once squared off over coffee.  The conversation was very superficial. 

Finally Cher said, "Rick, what do you think?"   I nearly choked... I was right in the middle of eating a strawberry and now I was on the spot.  Thanks, Cher. 

I cleared my throat and began to speak.  I don't recall a single specific word of what I said, but I do remember outlining the benefits of what a three-way alliance would bring to each party.  Now everyone began to nod.  We each knew that we had something to contribute that could greatly benefit the other parties in the room.  We each knew the other two parties had things to offer that would be equally valuable.  If we could just build the trust level, this could be a terrific opportunity.

Yes, I am here to say there is a place in life for Second Chances. 

Slowly but surely, Mario and Donn began to negotiate.  I quietly smiled to myself.  Mario is one of the toughest negotiators I have ever met.  I didn't envy Donn at all.  So I picked up another strawberry and sat back to watch the proceedings in amusement.

To my great satisfaction, our new triumvirate was on the verge of coming together. 

I thought back to the famous Roman triangle of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey.  That Triumvirate did very well for six years until the death of Crassus marked its end. 

The second Roman Triumvirate also did well.  Augustus Caesar, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus ruled Rome for ten solid years.  It took a certain lady named Cleopatra to create the wedge that finally ended this powerful triangle.

At the party at Addix, someone asked me if we will all get along.   How well will our modern combination work out?   

Well, considering the Beatles and the Supremes broke up, there's no guarantee on anything.  Crosby Stills Nash and Young didn't last that long, but they sure made great music while they lasted.

But then on the other hand the Rolling Stones are still together. 

Only time will tell. 

I am betting we will do well.  On paper, we have a lot going for us.  Like Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey, we each have clearly defined areas where we will work separately and clearly defined areas where we wish to intersect.  All we need to do is put our plans into action. 

It should be interesting.  I'll keep you posted.

A Review of Sad Song Saturday Night at the Bobby Flores Concert


So I suppose many of you want to know how our June 30th adventure to the Bobby Flores Concert at the Chandelier turned out.


It was cosmic. 


Bobby Flores is easily one of the best country-western singers I have ever listened to in person.  Now mind you I am not a concert goer or a rodeo guy, so my sample of live concert C&W artists is limited.  However, I will put Bobby Flores right along beside long-time SSQQ favorite "Two Tons" as my favorite band.   I will definitely go see him again the next time he comes to the Chandelier.


Bobby Flores has a voice that can only be described as a gift.  What a wonderful singer!  However, I did not realize what a gifted musician he was.  Bobby Flores played the Star Spangled Banner on his violin.  His performance was very touching.  We all stood at attention and admired this chance to hear the national anthem played so beautifully.  As you can imagine, the applause was huge.  It was a pleasure to watch a consummate professional in action.


As I expected, we had a very large turnout.  I would estimate our extended circle at 40 people. 

However this total would not have been easily noticeable.  There were friends of the Family scattered all over the building in three different areas.  Jess and Pat were nearby as were Dan and Judy.  Over in the corner were Jim and Diana.  Mike came in late as did Beverly and Ted. 


Our friends Jim Colby and Marlene Kayfes anchored a long table.  Among the names at Jim's table... first names only of course to protect the guilty... were Jerry and Vicky, Leroy, Judy, Pat, Kent, Carmen, Nancy, Wayne, Betsy, Dee, Lori, and probably a few more that my addled brain has spaced out.  I know there were a couple of other guys there whose names I didn't know.


At our table were Larry and Bette with their friends Bill and Ann.  Judging from Larry's thumbs up, the new Three Step I showed him worked perfectly to the difficult dance tempos when neither Twostep nor Polka were effective.  Then I asked Larry's friend Ann to dance.  Ann said she had never danced before, but I soon had her doing fast Scottish Reel/Polka on the floor... "Just make your shoulders do whatever my shoulders do."


I was so impressed by Ann's dancing I said she got my Rookie of the year award... only to later discover she had been sandbagging me.  I think Ann has danced a lap around the floor a time or two before me.  I was deflated... here I thought it was my leading ability that resulted in such divine dancing.  Nevertheless, I must have done something right... Ann and Bill showed up in my Encore dance class the next day.  I smiled.  A new pair of victims.  Which one should I cripple first?


Joining us early was one of my favorite teachers Charlene accompanied by her husband Doug.  My heart was broken when Charlene left the studio a few years back to take a stab at the Austin real estate market.  I am not sure how that move worked out, but Charlene took advantage of her time in Austin to meet her husband Doug.  Then Charlene had the good sense to bring him to Houston so she could start having fun dancing again.  Austin has many great qualities, but it isn't much of a dance mecca.


Another dance teacher friend of mine named Paul joined us.  Not only did Paul once teach acrobatics for us, he will go down in SSQQ lore as the man who loaned me his shoes so I could marry Marla.   Charlene knew Paul's reputation for sending women hurtling into the air.  So I asked Charlene if she wanted to go airborne before the night was through.  She gave me a withering stare.   So I asked her if she wanted to dance.  Charlene said, "Oh no, ask me later.  This is a Polka.  I hate Polkas!"


I smiled and reminded Charlene they are all Polkas.  Charlene nodded in resignation.  Good point.  With that she gave me her hand.  So I used my Synchronized Polka moves on Charlene.  She quickly exclaimed, "I have heard about Synchronized Polka before, but no one has ever used it as much as you do.  This is fun!  It's a lot easier than going backwards for an entire song, that's for sure."


Just before Charlene and I had started to dance, a lady named Melinda joined us.  I didn't recognize her until she reminded me she had taken Marla's dance class at Encore in June.  "Don't you remember?  I am a friend of Roxanne's.  You danced with me at Encore a couple times." 


Melinda stood there unsure of herself.  Melinda was rattled to discover the single person she recognized in the entire building didn't have a clue who she was.


It's true.  At first I didn't remember her.  Making things worse, I took her to a table that was blocked by a throng of Bobby Flores groupies.  I took note of her plight.  She was sitting there all by herself.  What a terrible start to her evening!  I vowed when I returned from my dance with Charlene, I would rescue her. 


I wasn't worried that Melinda would leave.  The poor woman was basically trapped.  The group of Bobby Flores fans blocking her only exit from the table was so thick that even a football player would have trouble leaving without saying "Pretty Please".   Even if she tried to leave, she couldn't leave fast enough to escape my detection.


Sure enough, Melinda was still there when I returned.  I immediately asked her to dance to help her relax and get a feel for the place.  As we danced, we talked.  That's when I discovered Melinda was a true first-timer.  I looked at Melinda with new-found respect. She barely knew how to dance, had never visited the vast Chandelier before, and knew only one person in the entire place - me.  Then the first two things I had done was admit I didn't know who she was and then dumped her at an empty table she couldn't escape from.  But she hung in there.  


Melinda is a brave girl!  I was impressed. 


By the time we returned, two more men - Kevin and Joel - had just joined us.  They were both sitting next to Paul.  I smiled.  Melinda had just won the lottery.  She had picked the one night for her debut when we had more men than women.  Consequently throughout the night Melinda was rewarded for her courage. 


We were joined by Velma and Roberta who were in turn joined by Edward.  Velma looked terrific.  What a pleasure it was to see her out and about.  Roberta on the other hand paled visibly both times I asked her to dance.  I am not quite sure why.  Roberta is an excellent dancer.  Now that I think about it, I once traumatized the poor woman in a Tango class.  Roberta has probably never recovered.   All I know is that Roberta is so light-skinned that when she paled, I could actually see right through her.  That's when I noticed that Velma was shoving Roberta from behind to get out on the floor whether she liked it or not.  Such a friend!


Long-time friends Patty and Joe joined us.  Patty and Joe were all excited about Marla's 2013 Hawaii trip and immediately began to pepper Marla with questions. Patty is so excited she even wore a Hawaiian dress to the Chandelier.  When I teased her, Patty pointed out that Hawaii is actually the most Western state of all.  What better Western wear?   Touché.


Someone asked me what Patty's last name was.  I thought about it for a moment and couldn't remember.  All I could think of was "Patty and Joe, Patty and Joe".   That's when it occurred to me.... Patty's last name is "And".  I'll be darned.  That's not hard to remember at all.


Surprise surprise, Joe has just retired!  Congratulations!  And not just Joe either... I just found out that Charley Denton has retired as well.  Congratulations to both of you guys!


So naturally I asked Joe what he is doing with his retirement.  Joe replied, "Patty gave me a dog."


I smiled when Joe explained that Patty had given him her Labrador dog Abby as a retirement present.  Apparently this dog requires a great deal of attention.  Despite his own often painful feet, Joe somehow manages to walk this dog constantly.  That's impressive!   Obviously Joe has a skill that Patty And is keenly aware of.


Stop and think about it.  Now that Joe isn't working, what better use of his time than to dog-sit all day long?   Marla and I completely approve.  We don't want Joe to be bored so we are going to send Joe some of our dogs too.  Do any of the rest of you have any dogs for Joe to watch?  


The highlight of my evening came when Patty told me the story of how Abby wasn't obeying Joe properly.  Joe was so frustrated that he called Patty... Patty then gave Abby instructions to obey over the phone... and it worked!  Amazing.   Too bad that trick doesn't work with kids.


When I asked Patty And to dance, she immediately reminded me she had not been dancing in some time.  She then begged me to go easy on her.  I rolled my eyes.  I am so tired of this act.  Give it a rest, girl!


I have known Patty And since the Nineties.  Patty is so skilled that she follows 99% of my leads to perfection.  Of course I only know 10 moves and Patty has seen them all, so maybe that's not all that impressive after all.  Still, after dancing with me for 15 years, you would assume Patty would accept my offer to dance with more confidence.  Not Patty.  "Oh, Rick, I just don't know if I can keep up with you!!"   Oh please.  Think of some new lines.


Irritated, I asked Patty And a question. "How many times have I hurt you on the floor?"

She shook her head.  "Can't think of any."


"And how many times have I led patterns that are new to you?"


"I think you led a new one about ten years ago."


I nodded.  Exactly.


Now that I think of it, I pick on Patty because she is practically my sister.  After all, my name is Rick And.  Since we aren't married to each other, then we must be related!!


By the way, this should give you a good idea why people hate to talk to me.  You just never know what stupid thing might end up in print.  You just never know.  


Susan, Chris, Mara and Bruce were there.  If anyone knows the rule about not speaking to me, it is Mara.  She is latest person to scream to herself, "I can't believe I told Rick that!"


Mara had written me, "I wanted to share with you that Bruce spent a lot of time there at SPJST (Chandelier's other name) when he was a young boy.  He would visit with his Czech

 grandparents and other relatives.  They were very involved with Czech community. You can see a picture of his uncle on the wall who was a President of SPJST many, many, many years ago."


I thought that was a harmless tidbit to put in the Newsletter, so much to Mara's dismay, I said we would have a contest to find the picture on the wall of Bruce's uncle.  Mara was worried Bruce would be upset that she had revealed this burning secret. 


Fortunately Bruce didn't mind, but he did volunteer it wouldn't be much of a contest since the "Hanka" name on the picture would give it away.


It turned out to be even worse than that.  We were all heart-broken to discover that the famous picture of Bruce's uncle had been taken down from the wall at the Chandelier.  Before you think the wrong idea, lots of pictures were taken down, not just the one of the famous uncle.  Apparently they are remodeling or painting.  I was crestfallen at this news because the search for the picture of Bruce's uncle was going to be my highlight for the evening.  Oh well, I guess I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. 


Chris and Pam were there.  At one point in the evening, Chris looked me in the eyes and expressed his deep-seated desire to become a dance instructor some day.  At first I gave him encouragement.  I understand that the dual professions of law and financial planning cannot possibly be as satisfying as the joy that comes from teaching lost souls how to dance.


However, when I saw Chris dancing out on the floor with his forearm locked around Pam's neck... the old-time kicker style... I was appalled.  It looked to me like Chris was mocking the ancient belt-loop style of earlier generations of redneck dancers. 


We cannot have that.  So many people look up to dance instructors for inspiration!  Therefore in public, we must always dance correctly. 

I spoke to Chris harshly when we returned to the table.  Chris swore to me he was just kidding, but as a potential role model, we just can't have that.  This was a black mark. 


Chris will require a lot of soul-searching before he enters the noble profession of teaching dance.  The mark of a born dance instructor is the maturity to realize how important it is to look wonderful on the dance floor even when you think no one is watching.  We must be beautiful at all times.   Nor can we poke fun at the dance traditions of others no matter how hideous they might be.


If Chris accepts me as his dance guru... assuming I would accept him... doubtful after this indiscretion... he will need to meditate on the deepest meanings of my criticism.  He simply cannot be trusted to pursue such a serious public role without further spiritual development.


Let's see, who were some of the other people?  Two of my favorite couples... Jack and Jo as well as Jim and Denise were there.


There was a moment when both of our wives ditched us for a trip to the ladies room.  Alone together, Jack and I agreed - this was the best music ever.  We both love this old "done me wrong song" sound.  What a pleasure. 


There was a moment... just a fleeting second... when we were so caught up in the music...and we made eye contact... that Jack almost asked me to dance.  I won't lie to you... I was tempted.   Let's face it... there weren't enough women to dance with.  At that moment, I was clearly the only available option and the music was calling to us.  Plus Jack and I go way back... one night in class Jack learned to Cha cha with me as his dance partner.  We both remember that special moment.  But then I shook my head.  No!  Men do not dance together at Bobby Flores concerts.  This would be wrong. 


You see, I have the maturity to respect the ancient Western traditions that men do not dance with each other in public.  Are you paying attention, Chris?   You cannot succeed in this business without showing proper Respect.


I showed Denise a new dance style I developed.  There is a music speed around 140 beats per minute that I call "The Dead Zone".   At this speed, a Polka is too fast and a Twostep is too slow.  It is really hard to feel comfortable dancing to music at this speed.  The classic Eagles song "Lyin' Eyes" is a good example of a well-known song recorded in the Dead Zone.  "Peaceful Easy Feeling" is another one.


The problem is that a lot of the old-time music Bobby Flores played was written to be played at Dead Zone speed.  Don't ask me why; it is just the way it is.   Recently, however, I used my study of Ballroom Foxtrot to develop a footwork system that was perfect for this speed... but then I made the mistake of showing Denise how it worked. 


Denise exclaimed, "Hey, Rick, you're right; that footwork works really well!  I like that.  I can't wait to show Jim!"   When I heard that, I frowned.   No!!  Don't do that!   But it was too late.


Sure enough, the moment our song ended, Denise dragged Jim out on the dance floor and showed it to him.   Darn.  How I am ever going to make any money teaching a Dead Zone class if the women keep showing it to their men for free?   


I still can't believe we had more men than women.   I can only assume that the women just couldn't bear the thought of spending an entire night of dancing to sad songs.  Too depressing.


The men on the other hand could have cared less.  They never listen to the music anyway so they had a natural immunity.


Actually only one woman ended up crying.  But it wasn't the fault of Bobby Flores.  It was my fault.  I knew the words to "Pride" so well that I started singing along as we danced. 


You know that you're doing lots of things that ain't right

You're out with a different party almost every night

And you're making me look like a crazy fool

So why do I have these doubts about leaving you?


Because my heart tells me stay but my pride tells me go

But how can I leave you when I love you so

Which way should I turn I'd sure like to know

My heart tells me stay but my pride tells me go.


I think it was my singing that made her cry.  I have always wanted to be a song and dance guy, but I guess I should stick to dancing.  Of course, I could always be a writer, huh?   Or do you think I should stick to dancing?


Truth be told, we had a ball.  Our group had a great time all night long.  Great friends, great music, huge dance floor, lots of laughs, and, best of all, great fun dancing.... And singing too!


It doesn't get much better than that.


Before I wrap up this week's Newsletter, I would like to make a couple of points. 


First, Marla and I will be visiting Chandelier again this Saturday, July 7, for a night of Ballroom dancing to the sounds of the Moonglow Orchestra.   A lot of you may still have some ancient prejudices against Ballroom dancing, but I promise you it is very similar to Western dancing. 


Yes, the music is definitely different, but the dancing is virtually identical at times.  Best of all, this is another chance to hang out with your friends on a Saturday night. 


The point of "Encore" is twofold.  First we offer Western and Ballroom dance classes to prepare people to go out dancing with us.  Then we schedule evenings like Bobby Flores and Moonglow where an entire group of people can get together and dance the night away. 


In this way, we become a Community again.  Everyone is welcome to join us this Saturday at the Chandelier whether you take classes from us or not.  Membership to the community is based on your participation in our dance events.   That's all that matters.


In much the same way, Mario, Stephanie and Amanda... 'Fundance' if you wish... scheduled an evening at Addix that lasted four and a half hours.  No dance event lasts that long unless people are having fun. 


Mario and I totally agree on the same point - it our intention to get Houston dancing again. 


Come join us.  And bring a friend.


Thanks for reading,

Rick Archer


SSQQ Travel Newsletter
July 2012, Issue One
Written by Rick Archer

Don't forget:  "Sad Song Saturday" at the Chandelier to the Bobby Flores Band
Saturday, June 30, 8 pm.  Just show up!!   (details included in this newsletter)

Encore Dance Classes in July - We begin this Sunday, July 1 at 3:30 pm

I haven't said much about Encore since I announced its opening in June.  I did this deliberately because I wanted a chance to get comfortable in my new surroundings.

Marla and I are very pleased to be at Melody Club.  The owners, Trish and Donn DeGeorge, have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. 

We love the easy parking, the great air-conditioning, the large dance rooms, and the wonderful wood dance floor.  We have found Melody to be a comfortable, relaxed place to hold our classes. 

I can say without hesitation that Encore and Melody Club are going to friends for a long time. 

Our Tea Dance from 5-6 has been cute, but nothing exceptional.  I am biding my time on this event.  It is FREE.  When our classes get bigger and our program gets more established, I expect our Sunday afternoon event to become very popular.  For now, I am content not to push it too hard.  I have my eye on September.

Encore classes cost $40 for four Sundays of 90 minute classes.  To register, just show up at Melody Club before class starts.  We don't have a complicated registration process, so the wait in line is usually about one minute.  If you are patient enough to handle that, you will enjoy your class afterwards.

Our 3 Encore classes in July are as follows:

1 - Intermediate Foxtrot and Waltz with Marla.

This class had 20 people in June.  They enjoyed the class so much they requested a follow-up.

2 - Advanced Western Swing with Gary Richardson.

I would like to welcome my long-time friend and computer guru Gary to Encore.  Just so you know, Gary wrote a very important warning about computer viruses that you will want to read at the end of the Newsletter.  There is a new problem that you need to be informed about.

As many of you know, Gary has been teaching Western dancing at Westwind on Monday evening for the past two years.  In addition, Gary has sponsored weekly dance parties at Westwind on Tuesday and popular Friday dance events at the Pavillion on Gessner.  Gary is a welcome addition to our staff!

Gary will teach Advanced Western Swing patterns for Twostep and Polka.   

Gary's class will target the many dancers who have Western Swing experience.   Gary plans to start easy the first week with Polka Dot Profusion, a classic Intermediate Polka pattern that covers useful moves such as Crossovers, Lariat, Side Travel, Paddycake, and Russian Roulette. 


From there, Gary will follow up with Sweethearts of the Rodeo, a Western Swing pattern that combines Sweetheart, Cuddles, and Skaters dance moves into one continuous series. 


When we say "Advanced", that means this class will be tougher than Beginning Western Swing, but not as tough as Ghost Town.


Once Gary determines the median skill level of his class, he will adjust accordingly. 


Gary expects the ladies to know how to double turn and the men to know how to lead those turns in advance.  If you can do that much, then this class should be right up your alley.


3 - Beginning Western Swing with Rick. 

I learned the Western Swing during the Urban Cowboy Era back in 1980.  Over the years, the dance has changed little.  The guys still like to double turn the girls and the ladies like to spin. 

The only problem is that the dance is tricky to learn.  I love to teach Western Swing.  If you ladies want to learn to double turn without losing your balance or getting dizzy, please take the class.  If you guys want to learn the leads with precision and understand the fundamentals, I'm your guy.  A knowledge of Twostep would help, but I can catch you up.

I understand that my Newsletter goes out mainly to experienced dancers, but if you have a friend who is a beginner, bring them over to my Beginning Western Swing class and take it with them.  I can't make the same offer for Marla's or Gary's class, but you can my class for free if you take the same class with a friend who pays (assuming of course you have taken Beg Western Swing in the past).  I understand that your friend will surely be braver with you by their side.  Maybe this offer will help you talk them into participating.

4 - Intermediate Synchronized Polka with Rick on Mondays at Chapelwood

This class will start on Monday, July 9, 7-8:30 pm.

I taught a very successful Synchronized Polka class at Encore and Chapelwood in June.  We had 30 students. In July, I will follow up our June class with "More" Synchronized Polka. 

The nice thing about this class is you do not need to take the June class to participate.  You are welcome to start in July.  As long as you know how to Polka, Synchronized Polka patterns do not depend on taking the previous class.

Aloha!  The 2013 Cruise to Hawaii
September 23 - October 4, 2013

Marla's Note: 


Hello Cruise Friends! 


We have some very exciting news to share with you!  All the details for our return to Hawaii Cruise in 2013 are ready for publication.


I must tell you all that of all the cruises that I have sailed on, Hawaii is my all time favorite destination.  I have sailed on over 30 cruises, so I don't make this claim lightly.  There is no doubt in my mind which spot captures my imagination when I think of my dream vacation. 


We almost went to Hawaii in 2012.  When I did my poll of "Where Do You Want to Go in 2012?" I received 22 votes for Hawaii.  Russia and Hawaii finished in a virtual tie, so I gave the nod to Russia because we had never been there before. 


However, all year long I have had a heavy heart because I really miss Hawaii!  So do a lot of other people.  In fact, I already have 10 people signed up for the 2013 cruise!  In addition, last week following our "Save the Date" for Hawaii, I had another 8 people tell me they want to go too. 


Next year's Hawaii Cruise is very unusual.  It is different than any cruise we have ever taken before.  For starters, it is the longest cruise I have ever booked... 11 days.


The first five days of the trip are all sea days.  The next six days are spent cruising the Hawaiian Islands.


So what's going on here?  I had a choice between Pride of America departing from Honolulu or the Celebrity Solstice departing from San Diego (sort of). 


One ship is a Three Star.  The other ship is a Five Star.  The Solstice is hands down the best ship I have ever booked. Oh my, we will be living the life of luxury! 


One ship costs more money for seven days than the other ship costs for eleven days. 


And you aren't going to have to take out a second mortgage to be able to finance the trip.  This trip is very affordable.  You can cruise for as little as $100 per day.


We are basically getting a longer vacation on a better ship for less money.  The only drawback is that not everyone can get away for 11 days.  However, at least you have plenty of warning... you have 15 months to save up enough vacation time for the best trip you will ever take!


Here are some of the details:


1.      Fly into San Diego

2.      Depart from Ensenada, Mexico - Friday, Sept 23 at 11:59 pm (Celebrity bus transportation provided from San Diego)

3.      Cruise 5 days to cross Pacific - Saturday (Sept 24), Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (Sept 28)

4.      Hilo, Hawaii - Thursday, September 29th -Arrive: 8 am Depart: 6 pm

5.      Mount Kilauea - Evening Sail by to see the lava flowing to the ocean

6.      Kailua Kona - Friday, September 30th - Arrive: 8 am Depart: 6 pm

7.      Lahaina, Maui - two days! Sat., Oct 1st - Sunday, Oct 2nd, Arrive: 8 am Saturday Depart: 6 pm Sunday

8.      Honolulu, Oahu -- overnight stay on Monday, Oct 3rd - Arrive 8 am.

9.      Disembarkation on Tuesday, Oct 4th



Inside Category 10 Deck 8    $1150

Oceanview Category 8 Deck 3  $1240

Balcony Category 2A Deck 7    $1415

Balcony Category 1C Deck 8    $1435

AquaClass Balcony A1 Deck 11  $1840 (spa amenities included)


All rates are quoted per person double occupancy.  Air fare is additional.  Multi Destination air estimate is $800.  (Houston to San Diego and then Honolulu to Houston.)  Of course you can always come early and visit San Diego and stay on in Hawaii following the cruise.


For detailed information please click Hawaii 2013


Feel free to email or phone with any questions.


BTW, Celebrity has already raised the rates on this sailing to the general public.  Prices are anywhere from $100 - $200 higher than my group rates.  The good news is that I locked in the lowest rates available as soon as the sailing was released. 


The not so good news is that I was only able to reserve 90 spots.  If you know you want to go, please let me know early, so we can reserve the type of cabin you prefer. 


I hope you will join us for our return to Paradise!


Happy Sailing,

Marla Archer

713 862-4428



Sad Song Saturday at the Chandelier !!

8 - 11:30 pm, $20 person


Feel like dancing to some great old-time Western music?  Then put on your dancing boots and your party smile for these guys.  If you like the Western Swing Sound, you will love the Bobby Flores Band.  


I have been sitting here at my computer typing away with the music from the Bobby Flores website.  They play his newest album over and over.


I had never heard of Bobby Flores before, so I looked him up on the Internet.  In addition to his website, Flores has a ton of music listed on Youtube, so I clicked a few. 


At first I just liked the music.  Bobby Flores can really sing.  This guy is quite the Country Crooner.   Then I started to listen to the lyrics. 


Whoa!  Every song he sings resounds with heartache and loss.  I must be in a strange mood... these songs were so depressing I began to smile.  Is it really possible for people to suffer that much?  I can't wait to dance to these sad songs!!


Here's an old joke about Kicker Music:

"What do you get when you play country western music backwards?"


Answer: You get your wife back, you get your job back, you get your truck back, and you might even get your dog back. 


Just for fun, I tracked down a bunch of Bobby Flores songs on the Internet.  Just look at some of those titles!


1.      I'm Still Not Over You

2.      I've just Destroyed My World

3.      Just Someone I Used to Know

4.      The Last Letter Waltz

5.      My Shoes Keep on Walking

6.      Pride

7.      The One You Hang Around

8.      Too Many Rivers to Cross

9.      Way to Survive

10.  When your House is not a Home

11.  Big Shoes to Fill

12.  Faded Love


Guess what all these songs have in common?  Someone is miserable!!


Hey, misery loves company!  Let's have a big turnout!  Let's all get together and cry on each other's sleeve!   



Tonight I'm sad my heart is weary

Wondering if I'm wrong or right

To dream about you though you've left me

I wonder where you are tonight


The rain is cold and slowly falling

Upon my window pane to-night

And though your love was even colder

I wonder where you are tonight


Your heart was cold you never loved me

Though you often said you cared

And now you've gone to find another 

Someone who'll know the love I've shared


"I Wonder Where you are Tonight"


If you like dancing to classic "Done Me Wrong" songs, you are bound to be deliriously sad-happy dancing to this band!!  It is the perfect manic-depressive opportunity!


Bring a friend.  By the time this night is over, you might need a shoulder to cry on.  Beginners are welcome.  Who cares about a boo-boo when you are wailing boo-hoo?


I cannot wait.  What I like about the music is that it flows as easily as the tears do. 

Join Marla and me at Tables 27, 28, and 29.  Just show up.  Don't forget to bring your crying towel.  Might want to bring a bottle of wine as well.  I cannot imagine making it through a night like this completely sober.


I never caught you cheating; If I did I wouldn't say

It just wouldn't do for me to see you walk away

I just keep it to myself and never say a word
I know that's why you stay with me; that's what I heard.


Now and then I find you out where you shouldn't be

I have to find a place to hide; I don't want you to see

Someday I fear you'll find me out while I'm out finding you

Then I'll no longer be the one, the one you come home to.


I know what they're saying all over town.

I'm just the one you come home to, not the one you hang around.

There's always someone new for you, someone new you found
I'm just the one you come home to, not the one you hang around.


"The One You Hang Around" - Bobby Flores




7:30 - 11:30 pm, $5 cover


Mario Robau is sponsoring a night of West Coast dancing at Addix.  This location is a very attractive new bar in the Washington Avenue district.  Addix is located two blocks south of the corner of Washington Avenue and Waugh Drive on a little street called Raymond.  I assume the name of the club refers to Addicts, not Attics.   For dance addicts surely. 


I will be there.  I had fun dancing at Addix when they did this event in early June. 




8 - 11:30 pm, $11 person


Join Marla and me at Tables 27 and 28 for a night of Ballroom Dancing!


Huashan Vindication


A couple weeks ago a man fell to his death from a mountain I have been writing about.


Long-time readers of the SSQQ Newsletter may remember that I have been talking about a mountain in China known as "Hua Shan" for the past five years.  


If you type "Huashan" into Google, you will discover that my story about this sacred Chinese mountain is the third most read website in the English-speaking Internet.  Seeing as how the top two places go to Wikipedia, I will settle for Third.


The actual name of the mountain is 'Hua'.  'Shan' is Chinese for 'mountain'.  So 'Mount Hua' becomes "Huashan".  Huashan is a holy mountain in the middle of China that is about 12,000 miles away from Houston

And why is Huashan important to me?   During the Christmas Holidays of December 2006, I wrote an article about Huashan for the SSQQ Newsletter. 

One month earlier in November 2006, an SSQQ student named Milt Oglesby had sent me an email with images of people climbing sheer rock faces and cliffs without any kind of mountain climbing equipment.

Seriously, it looked like these people were committing suicide.  The pictures were scary.  Pretty soon I will tell you where you can see for yourself.

I was really curious about those pictures, but there was no explanation.  So I took it on myself to begin looking for the story behind those pictures.   I had one word to go on from the email - "Huashan". 

That was all it took.  I used Google searches on "Huashan" to discover that there was a hiking trail on this mountain that was rumored to be responsible for many fatalities.   After seeing those pictures, this came as no surprise to me.  That mountain trail looked like an accident waiting to happen.  I bet even the mountain goats couldn't climb that thing!!

So I published the pictures and wrote an article about Huashan to share with the Newsletter readers.

Then one day an American couple that had visited Huashan sent me an email.  Their letter contained the harrowing details of their visit to Huashan several years earlier.  I assume they found my web site using Google. 

I received permission to reprint their story on one condition - they were to be left anonymous.

It was a really good story.  Anyone who read it soon had their eyes bulging at the danger involved in climbing this mountain. 

Based on this story and the pictures from Milt's email, I came to the conclusion that climbing this mountain was dangerous. 

The problem was that I offered my opinion without ever having actually visited the place myself.  This would come back to haunt me.

Three things happened as a result of my article.

Since I was the first Western person to ever write a story in English about Huashan, my article instantly shot to Number One on Google.  Since the pictures were incredible and the story from that couple was riveting, throughout 2007 my story became an Internet sensation.  I think the term is "viral".  People from all over the planet were clicking in to my website because the SSQQ article was based the first in-depth story ever written in English about Huashan.  

Meanwhile, thanks to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, thousands of Westerners were researching China for places to visit while they were over there. 

Throughout 2008, especially during the summer leading up the Games, Huashan became a must-see visit for many of these people thanks to the hype generated by my article.  One Internet writer had this to say about the phenomenon:

"Hua Shan mountain gained some amount of notoriety years back when an article appeared on the internet sharing one hiker's harrowing experience.  The article might seem hyperbolic at times but it is believable for experienced China travelers.

Nevertheless, the original author has updated the site, saying that a number of people have reported the safety conditions vastly improved.

I visited the mountain in 2009. Although it is quite imposing for a tourist hike that sees large numbers of visitors, careful hikers in good condition needn't worry."

Take a guess who which "original author" they were referring to.  So there you have it - I helped make a Chinese mountain I have never seen in my life famous.   That was the fun part.

However, there was a very negative aspect as well.  To my knowledge, I have only been referenced in Wikipedia one time in my life.

That reference basically called me a liar. 

How did I ever get to be so lucky?   

Here is what the Wikipedia reference said:

Rumours of Deadliness


Rumours of the Hua south peak being the most dangerous hiking trail on earth seem to have risen from a story put on the web page of a person called Rick Archer with the title "The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail"[1].


The author claims it was written by an American couple who visited the trail in 2003.


The origin of the story is not known and is assumed by many Hua Shan visitors to be purely fictional. The spread and popularity of the story was aided by many videos showing the most dangerous parts of the trail[2][3].


In 2008 the website author was faced with criticism on the authenticity of the story[4], who in turn answered:

"I wrote absolutely everything based on accounts I found on the Internet (some of which gave contradictory information)."


"At the time, I never expected this particular page would be an Internet darling for thousands of Huashan fans.".


Thus, the story bears similarities to the KiddofSpeed story which rose big attention on the net until it was revealed to be fantasy, except for the fact that Rick Archer hasn't tried to benefit financially from the story on his site.


Nevertheless, it should be noted, that even though Hua Shan stairs are a popular tourist attraction and safety equipment is provided and obligatory, the trail is still risky due to strong winds, changing weather conditions and the physical condition required to pass some parts of the trail.


A man named Chong Dae Park put that listing in Wikipedia under Huashan in 2008.  However a year later I visited and it was gone.  Hmm.


From that point on, many Westerners who have visited Huashan have felt compelled to write me either in defense of my original claim of danger or to criticize me for my position.

One day I finally figured it out.  Practically at the exact same time that I wrote my critical story in January 2007, the Chinese were dramatically upgrading the safety features.  However I had no way of knowing this. 


So I have to admit my story was inaccurate to some extent.  My story was indeed correct before the safety features were added, but clearly the mountain was safer to climb RIGHT AFTER I PUBLISHED MY STORY.  It was this disconnect that led to all the criticism. 


The mountain was still "risky" to climb, but it was no longer "The Most Dangerous Hike in the World" as I had originally claimed. 


For example:


From: Louise Daniel

Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:21 AM


Subject: Mt Huashan




All I would say is you should go there yourself before writing about it... how can you write articles like this when can't verify the truth of what you write?


I did the hike in 1988 and it wasn't dangerous or scary.


On the other hand, maybe people shouldn't take this mountain for granted.


From: Meg

Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2012 8:53 AM


Subject: Hua Shan


Mr. Archer,


I am a 23 year old American recent-graduate teaching in Xi'an, China. I just came across your website and decided to write to you.


Yesterday I climbed Hua Shan for the first time and witnessed someone fall to their death.


I was on a school-sponsored trip to Hua Shan and made it to the top of the East Peak with another foreign teacher. There was a group of three Chinese people at the same spot. One wanted a picture with me and the second friend took it.

At the same time, the third friend, a man probably early-40s, was taking a picture of the view. We were in a completely-allowed tourist section of the mountain and the man was on the correct side of the rail.  He was just standing there.


Suddenly he slipped on the edge of a worn-down rock and I looked up just to see his feet go over.


The following is a morbid detail but I feel like I have to include it when I relate this story because it's the last thing I know about what happened. He didn't make any sound, but we heard his body hit the mountain three times a few seconds apart (I suppose only one second apart, it felt like a few), and then that was all.


From the east peak, the mountain is straight down. There is nothing to grab, nowhere to land except the bottom. It must be a full 10 second fall to the bottom. My friend and I left the peak almost immediately after ensuring the other two Chinese people who had come with the man and would make sure someone knew what happened.


An hour and a half later we had descended back down to where the cable car leaves from, where about seven of the mountain police staff were sitting around chatting and snacking.  I began to wonder if they even knew what had happened.  How many deaths go unreported?


I came across your website as I was trying to find news about the accident, but have found nothing. Probably nothing will be done, although to be fair probably nothing can be as it would be almost impossible to find the body. I will certainly never return to Hua Shan in my life or allow anyone I care about to visit either.


Although all of the letters about it being safe are reasonable, it's only safe until something happens--and things really do happen there.


Trust me I am not a crazy thrill seeker; I couldn't even be bothered to do the whole mountain but instead took the cable car. I was there in the middle of the day, doing what I was supposed to, with my school. This man was exactly the same. Tourists should absolutely not be allowed on that mountain.


Feel free to do or not do anything you want with my letter, but please don't use my name or email as I perhaps should not be writing this from China. I'm not interested in influencing your page but just felt like writing to a sympathetic listener. Hope all is well in your part of the world.


Regards, M.



The Dangerous Hiking Trail at Huashan


Those Were The Days, My Friend... Another Get Rich Quick Scheme

Rick's Note:  In last week's Newsletter, I wrote about George Ballas, the dance teacher who invented the weed eater and became a millionaire.

This week I have another story for you.  This story is about song writing.  Until I learned about this story, I had no idea how valuable it could be to write a hit record.   Write one good hit record and you are set for life!

As many of you will recall, a couple months back, when I was considering making my comeback as a dance teacher, the song "Those Were the Days" resonated loud and clear in the back of my mind.  "Those Were the Days" deals with the importance of maintaining friendships through the passage of time. One day I realized I had forgotten some of the lyrics to the song, so I looked them up on the Internet.  In the process, I discovered a very curious story that I will now share with you. During my two year break from teaching, I realized how much I missed my friends and the camaraderie we all once had. 

While I reviewed the lyrics, I noticed in Wikipedia that "Those Were the Days" had been translated from the old Russian folk song "DOROGOI DLINNOYU".

That title translates into either the "Endless Road" or "By the Long Road" depending on who is translating it into English.  Most people simply call the Russian version "The Long Road". 

"Long Road" indeed.  The story of how this song became an international hit is pretty much an "Endless Road" in and of itself.

The song first came from a song created by a Russian teenager named Boris Fomin back in 1918.  This means he wrote the song right in the middle of the Russian Revolution.  His soulful song about lost romance was impressive considering Fomin was a mere teenager at the time.  As it turned out, this song presaged a man with enormous talent.  Fomin was no flash in the pan.  He would become a prolific songwriter with 200 songs to his credit.  

I am not sure why, but apparently Fomin's first draft was then reinterpreted by Konstantin Podrevsky, a well-known Russian poet.  Fomin's original tune remained the same.   

Alexander Vertinsky was a leading Russian singer at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917.  He was as famous in Moscow as Rudy Vallee was here in the States.  Vertinsky was impressed by Fomin's song, although he preferred the slightly revised lyrics done by the poet Podrevsky.

Vertinsky first performed "The Long Road" at a benefit concert on October 25, 1917.  Vertinsky was not the only artist who liked the song.  Soon many different Soviet singers performed the song.  For example, a recording of the song based on Podrevsky's rewrite by Georgian singer Tamara Tzereteli sold over 10,000 copies in 1925.  That was an impressive total back in those days.

However, it would be Vertinsky who would introduce the song to the world outside of Russia, making it one of the few Russian popular songs to ever gain success in the West.

Vertinsky was no fool.  Russia had become a very scary place under the new regime.  He knew artists were regarded as dangerous gypsies.  It was hard to think of his peace-loving artist friends as enemies of the State, but no one wanted those dangerous "free thinkers" loose to share their degenerate influence.  Despite his popularity, Vertinsky knew all it would take would be some over-zealous apparatchik to send him to his doom.  Too many people were dying in Russia thanks to the Revolution. 

So in 1920 Vertinksy decided to sing his way across Europe.  He headed first to Poland, then to Germany, then on to France in 1926.  He quickly became a favorite in Paris singing Russian songs nightly to wealthy Russian émigrés.  Vertinsky's version of "The Long Road" became a much-requested song.  This lively gypsy tune with its nostalgic air would bring tears to the vodka-infused homesick boyars.  "Sing it again, Komrade Vertinsky!"

Encouraged by the song's popularity, during his stay in Paris, Vertinsky made a recording of "The Long Road" in 1926.  Although he sang it in Russian, his version sold very well in France nonetheless.  You can actually listen to Vertinsky sing the song in Russian on youtube.  You won't understand the words, but you will certainly recognize the tune.

Copies of Vertinsky's song eventually made it back to the homeland where it became very popular in Russia as well.  However, the song didn't stay long on the Russian pop charts because in 1929 a certain pjoophead named Josef Stalin banned all sentimental ballads for being anti-revolutionary.  At the 1929 All-Russia Music Conference the romance genre as a whole was banned as "bourgeois" and decadent. 

Interestingly, Adolf Hitler made a similar move about the same time by banning Swing music in pre-war Germany.  This story became the basis for the Nineties movie "Swing Kids".   Those fanatic dictators didn't appear to like anything that made people happy. 

However Stalin's reach didn't extend to Vertinsky.  He was safe in France.  So it was Fomin's fate to face the State's wrath instead.  Overnight Fomin found himself persona non grata for creating such evil and insidious music.

In 1937 Fomin was arrested on trumped-up charges of "slandering Soviet reality".  Fortunately, he was not sent to the gulag, but allowed to remain in a Moscow jail.  Fomin was released after just a single year in prison.  Rumor had it that Fomin got off lightly because the dictator Stalin was secretly fond of his music.  Seeing as how Stalin murdered approximately 20 million Russians during his purges, apparently 'good fortune' in Stalin's Russia meant you didn't suffer as much as the others did.   

On the other hand, maybe Fomin didn't get off so lightly after all.  Thanks to the frigid Russian winter and his cold jail cell, Fomin contracted tuberculosis during his year in jail.  He died in acute poverty in 1948.  It was a cruel fate for a man who had written 200 songs. 

Once Stalin passed away in 1953, his grip on the music scene was gone.  The song "Long Road" quickly regained its original popularity.  In 1953, the Russian song was featured in the movie 'Innocents in Paris' sung by the celebrated Russian chanteuse Ludmila Lopato. 

In 1958, the song appeared again in the movie version of "Brothers Karamazov".  "The Long Road" was sung in the movie by Maria Schell.  I am unsure whether Ms. Schell sang the lyrics in Russian or English, but since the movie was an English-speaking movie, I guess it is safe to assume she sang the lyrics translated into English.  

From here our story takes us to Greenwich Village and the Beat Generation. 


Greenwich Village is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City.  Home to upper middle class families, 'The Village' as it is called by the locals has long been famous as a haven for artists and as an East Coast bohemian capital.

Have you ever heard of Beatniks?  Greenwich Village was the East Coast birthplace of the Beat movement starting in the late Fifties.   The Beatniks were basically the precursors to the Hippies.  Greenwich Village served as the gathering place in much the same way that Haight-Ashbury would attract people with flowers in their hair ten years later.

You know how those artists resent hanging around normal people.  Fleeing from what they saw as oppressive social conformity, a loose collection of writers, poets, artists, and students known as the "Beat Generation" began to migrate to Greenwich Village. 

Many famous writers of the late Fifties/early Sixties called The Village their home.   The list is impressive - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, Rod McKuen, and Dylan Thomas.

Not surprisingly, Greenwich wasn't just home to the writers.  Musicians and singers found Greenwich Village an attractive place to live as well.  The Village played a major role in the development of the folk music scene of the 1960s.  Practically every well-known folk singer of the early Sixties called Greenwich Village their home. 

Leader of the Pack was none other than Village resident and cultural icon Bob Dylan.  By the mid-60s Dylan had become one of the foremost popular songwriters in the world.   If you were a musician and interested in folk music, the Village was the place to be.

Dozens of music icons got their start in the Village's nightclub, cabaret and coffeehouse scene during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.  The list is a veritable Who's Who of Sixties Music.  There was Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Bette Midler, The Lovin' Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Eric Andersen, Joan Baez, The Velvet Underground, The Kingston Trio, Carly Simon, Richie Havens, Maria Muldaur, Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro.  The list goes on.  For example, three of the four members of The Mamas & the Papas met there as well.  Even Jimi Hendrix, not exactly most people's idea of your typical folk singer, was linked to the Village.

Operating just beneath the surface of the Folk Music Superstar level was a man named Gene Raskin.  Raskin and his wife Francesca were fixtures in the Greenwich folk music scene, but their act couldn't seem to break through to the level of their better-known contemporaries.

Raskin (1909-2004) had once been an adjunct professor at Columbia University (1936-1968).  He was the author of three books on architecture.  However, it seems that Raskin's true interests were somewhere else.  The passion of his life was his moonlight job playing folk music.  He and his wife Francesca played all the small coffee houses in Greenwich Village during the Sixties.  

Apparently Gene and Francesca as they were known were pretty good.  Their shows were popular and well-attended.  However, was that enough?  Was Gene Raskin content being one of the lesser lights?  Imagine how you would feel being surrounded by so many famous artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.  If you have any sort of ego at all, you would burn to move up in the ranks to the first tier.  All Raskin needed was a song.  One great song would probably be all it would take to play with the big boys.

Raskin left no stone unturned in his search for inspiration.  One day in 1962 by chance he viewed the movie "Brothers Karamazov" with Yul Brynner.  After listening to Maria Schell's haunting version of "The Long Road" in the "Brothers Karamazov", Raskin was intrigued.   He knew this song.  Now that he thought about it, he realized he had grown up with this song.

Raskin had been raised in a tri-lingual New York household. His father was the artist Saul Raskin and his mother, a Russian-born Jew, was a journalist for the New York Yiddish Press.

Raskin recalled his mother singing this same tune to him as a young boy, but in Russian.  That's why it took him a moment to realize where he had heard the song before.

In a 1991 interview with The Morning Call, a Lehigh Valley newspaper, Raskin recalled, "I could speak English, Russian and Yiddish at the age of 3.  I got the inspiration for the song from my mother.  My mother would sing it to me.  After I studied the original Russian version, I tampered with it a little and wrote new words.  Francesca would make suggestions.  Together we came up with lyrics that were completely different from the Russian lyrics." 

Raskin's wife Francesca was a free spirit long before anyone had ever breathed a word about Women's Liberation.  Francesca Raskin heard her first Russian songs on a trip to Palestine in the 1930s.  Her mother, Rose Leonard, was an early Zionist, and often took Francesca and her younger brother Herman, a well-known jazz photographer, along with her.  Their first trip was in 1929.

"I attended Allen High (near Philadelphia) for a year, but Allentown was too stuffy for me," said Francesca Raskin. "I went to boarding school in Palestine, first in Haifa and then in Tel Aviv. I came back and went to Muhlenberg Prep before I left for New York. I remember when I was living in Palestine that there were a lot of Russian Jews and they always sang Russian melodies as well as Yiddish songs.  Among the songs I heard was the Russian version of 'The Long Road'"

The Raskins entered show business relatively late in life... Eugene was almost 50, his wife almost 40.  Taking the unconventional path was nothing new to them.  The Raskins had met in 1934 when Francesa was 16 on a cruise ship.  Francesca was crossing the Atlantic with her older brother Ira Leonard.

The following year (1935), Francesca moved to New York.  Five weeks later, she eloped with Raskin, who was a 26-year-old college professor at the time.

In the late 1950s, Raskin suddenly gave up his teaching position at Columbia University. "Life was too short, so I grabbed my guitar and my pretty wife, and ran off to the world of show business," said Raskin. "My mother was horrified.  Imagine what a blow it was for her son, the well-respected professor, to go off with a guitar.  Oy vey, my son the educator has become a gypsy! 

It was a good decision.  We had a wild time for more than 15 years.  We performed in London, Rome, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, and New York."

Once he became reacquainted with his childhood song, Raskin visited a nearby record store in the Village and found the original recording of Boris Fomin's song.  

Raskin immediately was struck by a desire to modernize the song to his own life.   Why not take the Russian song and place it in Greenwich Village? 

It was no accident that the first line of Raskin's rewrite said, "Once there was a tavern..."

The White Horse Tavern, a Greenwich Village watering hole that is still around today, became the inspiration for Raskin's revision.  

Raskin and his wife Francesca hung out at the White Horse Tavern all the time.  They were regulars.  According to one Internet article, singer Liam Clancey said, "We all hung out in the back room of the White House Tavern-- Bob Dylan, Richard Farina and Carolyn Hester, Theo Bikel, Tom Paxton, Van Ronk and Terry Thal, Logan English, Paul Clayton, Oscar Brand, Gene Raskin and his wife, Francesca."

Raskin visualized the sadness that would come if he were ever forced to be separated from this marvelous group of friends.  He wrote a complete new set of melancholy lyrics centered on the theme of keeping one's friends near at all times.   Despite the changes, Raskin also made sure to keep the addictive combination of mournful verses and singalong chorus for his adaptation.  He also had the sense to retain the original song's lovely gypsy melody.

However, if the melody wasn't playing in the background to give you a clue, you would never know it was the same song.  Compare the original lyrics to the remake.

Here are the lyrics of "The Long Road" sung by Vertinsky translated into English

You rode on a troika with sleigh bells,

And in the distance lights flickered...

If only I could follow you now

I would dispel the grief in my soul!


By the long road, in the moon light,

And with this song that flies off, ringing,

And with this ancient, this ancient seven-string,

That has so tormented me by night.


But it turns out our song was futile,

In vain we burned night in and night out.

If we have finished with the old,

Then those nights have also left us!


Out into our native land, and by new paths,

We have been fated to go now!

...You rode on a troika with sleigh bells,

[But] you've long since passed by!


Now compare the lyrics above to the lyrics to the song "Those Were the Days".


Once upon a time there was a tavern

Where we used to raise a glass or two

Remember how we laughed away the hours

And dreamed of all the great things we would do


Refrain - those were the days


Then the busy years went rushing by us

We lost our starry notions on the way

If by chance I'd see you in the tavern

We'd smile at one another and we'd say


Refrain - those were the days


Just tonight I stood before the tavern

Nothing seemed the way it used to be

In the glass I saw a strange reflection

Was that lonely woman really me?


Refrain - those were the days


Through the door there came familiar laughter

I saw your face and heard you call my name

Oh my friend we're older but no wiser

For in our hearts the dreams are still the same


Refrain -

Those were the days my friend

We thought they'd never end

We'd sing and dance forever and a day

We'd live the life we choose

We'd fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way!

La la la la...

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days


As you can see, thanks to Raskin, the song had undergone quite a transformation.  Gone was the 'troika', a carriage drawn by three horses. It was replaced by the 'tavern'.  Gone was the sad loss of a failed love affair, replaced by the loss of a group of valued friends. 


Raskin renamed the song "Those Were the Days".  Thanks to the rewrite, he considered it his song now.  Raskin made a shrewd move - he had his version copyrighted.  His experience with publishing his books had taught him the value of protecting himself.  Of course, at the time - 1962 - Raskin never dreamed his rewrite would become one of the hit songs of the decade.


Now Raskin and Francesca began singing their new song as part of their act.  The two of them could see people noticeably reacting to the sad sentimentality of the song.  They decided it would be their signature song, so they moved it to become their concluding song of each act.

Meanwhile the poignancy of the new song was not lost on the singers in the audience.  Raskin received lots of encouragement to record the song from his fellow artists.  In fact, he and Francesca did cut an album which included "Those Were the Days", but it didn't sell.  Raskin was frustrated.  So much for their big breakthrough attempt. 

Surrendering his dreams of being a recording artist, Raskin began to market the song through his agent to other Village artists instead.  A folk group known as the Limeliters did add the song to one of their albums.  Unfortunately they did a pretty lame job with the song and it went nowhere. 

If you wish, here is the Limeliter's 1962 version of "Those Were the Days".

Next up was a new British artist known as Engelbert Humperdinck.  He included the song on his 1967 album.  However, the two breakout songs on the album were "Release Me" and "The Last Waltz".   The number 15 song on the album, "Those Were the Days", remained hidden in obscurity despite the fact that Humperdinck did a good job with the song. 

Here is Humperdinck's version.

Raskin was bitter.  He thought the song was special.  "I wrote that song in 1962.  For four years I couldn't sell it to anyone," Raskin recalled during a 1990 interview in his New York City apartment.  

"My own publisher said it was unsellable, so I gave up trying.  One night in 1965, we were singing in the Blue Angel nightclub in London.  Paul McCartney of all people was in the audience along with his wife Linda and heard us sing it.  I knew McCartney was in the audience, but we didn't speak.  I had no idea he liked our song.  I didn't give it another thought.

Then a few years later in 1968 he wrote me a letter.  McCartney said he had just started his own record company, Apple, and wanted some unknown named Mary Hopkin to record it.  Out of the blue, lightning had struck.  It's still bringing in the royalties 22 years later."

An excerpt from the book "Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now", tells the same story from Paul McCartney's point of view.

Paul McCartney was determined to get Apple Records off to a good start.  After writing 'Hey Jude' for the Beatles' first Apple release, he looked around for other music and other singers.


McCartney was friends with the well-known British model Twiggy.  Twiggy and her manager had just driven up to Paul's house in Liverpoool in May 1968.  They were eating pudding when the conversation turned to television talent-discovery shows.  Paul smiled and wondered if anyone ever actually got 'discovered', really discovered on these shows. 


Twiggy opined that she had seen a great singer on "Opportunity Knocks".  There was a 17 year old Welsh girl that had a wonderful voice.  Named Mary Hopkin, she was pretty in a wholesome way.  Twiggy grinned and said, "The lass sang Pete Seeger's 'Turn Turn Turn' so beautifully on the show.  She's too young for the sexy stuff, but perfect for a ballad.   You'll like her, Paul.  She's good.  She's won the bloody show three times!"


McCartney took note.  The following week he turned on the TV to see the girl for himself.  On the screen was a shy, provincial girl.  With her long blond hair and winsome smile, McCartney agreed with Twiggy's assessment that she had both the voice and the looks to go somewhere, but that she should stick with folk music till she aged a bit. 


McCartney thought to himself, "Okay, quite right.  We should sign this girl for Apple; maybe we can make an interesting record with her."


McCartney brought her name up at the office the next day.  Several other people who had seen the program agreed the girl had made an impact.  McCartney was pleased they agreed with his initial assessment. 


Some in the office called to get the young woman's phone number from the television company.  Derek Taylor rang her up.   Apparently Mary Hopkin answered the call herself.  Taylor heard her say in a soft, quiet voice, "Yes?"


Taylor responded, "Paul McCartney for you.  He smiled as the woman gasped. "It can't be!  Oooh, is it really?  Well, I never!"


McCartney picked up the phone. "Paul here."


McCartney recollected, "So this beautiful little Welsh voice came on the phone.  I said, 'This is Paul McCartney with Apple Records here.  Would you be interesting in driving down here to record for us?"


There was a moment of silence.  Mary Hopkin replied, "Well, er, would you like to speak to my mum?"


Several conversations later, Mary and her mother came to London.  We had a nice lunch, then went to the recording studio on Oxford Street.  She sang for us and I thought she was great... she seemed to mean what she sang.  Most impressive.  I thought she was very Joan Baez.  A lot of Joan's influence showed.  We chatted and I said, 'Look, it would be nice, we should maybe sign if you like us and you like the look of the whole thing.'    Well, obviously we looked all right because she signed before she left."


Now McCartney needed material for the girl to sing.  He had always had a good ear for a catchy tune.  Once he had heard a song, it stayed with him.  Three years earlier he had heard Gene and Francesca Raskin, an amateur cabaret act, sing "Those Were the Days" at the Blue Angel cabaret club in Berkeley Square.  The song stuck in his mind.


McCartney had tried to get someone to record the song at the time because he thought it was so good.  He suggested it to the Moody Blues but nothing came of it.  Later in India he played it to Donovan, who loved it, but never got around to recording it.


McCartney decided it would be perfect for his new protégé.  He played it to her and she liked it.


McCartney didn't remember the names of the singers, so he called Blue Angel and they were able to look it up for him.  McCartney wrote to Gene Raskin and sent a tape of the tune to make sure he was talking to the right person.   Raskin was a tad chagrined to learn the song was going to be sung by an unknown rather than McCartney himself, but soon got over it.  So he phoned McCartney back to talk it over.


McCartney asked Raskin, "Who wrote that song?"


Raskin replied, "Well, we did (referring to himself and Francesca).  It's a Russian melody but arranged by us.  We put the words to it."


David Platz at Essex Music, publishers of the song, had no lead sheets or demos, so he contacted Raskin who quickly wrote a lead sheet.  Paul McCartney decided to produce the record himself.


They went to the studio in mid-July 1968.  Paul showed Mary how he thought the song should be done.


McCartney reflected, "I thought the song was very catchy.  It had something to it, a good treatment of nostalgia.  Mary picked it up very easily as if she had known the song for years.  I liked the arrangement so much I even volunteered to play the acoustic guitar in the background."


For years people have debated the different talents of the Beatles.  For all the criticisms aimed at Paul McCartney... too pop, too commercial, lightweight compared to Lennon... this story reveals that he had brilliant business instincts. 

In his role of producer, McCartney sensed the foreign 'gypsy' feel of the song's tune should be emphasized.  He immediately looked around for an "arranger", someone to put together the unusual instruments necessary to evoke a sound that few people were familiar with.

They settled on Richard Hewson.  Here is an excerpt from Hewson's memoirs:

"Apple was a funny old place," says Hewson. "It was very haphazard. Nobody really knew what anybody else was doing!  Peter Asher didn't know anything about arrangers. All he knew was he knew me, and that I'd been to the Guild Hall and studied classical music.  And he thought, 'Okay, so Paul wants some orchestra on this. Richard probably knows how to write classical orchestra arrangements, let's try him.' That's how I got the job, 'cause they didn't know anybody else. That was lucky for me. If they'd looked around, they could probably have found a real arranger."

To give "Those Were the Days" that "old Russian country feel", Hewson concocted a simple arrangement consisting of an acoustic guitar played by McCartney, upright bass, tuba, banjo, drums, a clarinet section, violins & violas, trumpets and an Hungarian instrument called a 'cembalon'.

"The cembalon was an unusual instrument played with hammers, like a dulcimer. There was only one guy in England who could play one - one of my professors, Gilbert Webster.  So that's who plays on the recording.

For good measure, I had the song topped off by the addition of a boys choir."

McCartney's decision to go all out on preserving the ancient Russian feel to the song really paid off.  This song had a much different feel to it than people were used to hearing.  The Russian origin of the melody was accentuated by an instrumentation which was unusual for a top ten pop record.  The recording including a clarinet, a hammer dulcimer and the boy's chorus to give a klezmer feel to the song.

Besides giving the song the finest background accompaniment possible, McCartney also had the sense to record Mary Hopkin singing "Those Were The Days" in four other languages for release in their respective countries:

In Spain, "Que Tiempo Tan Feliz"
In West Germany, "An jenem Tag"
In Italy, "Quelli Erano Giorni"
In France, "Le temps des fleurs"

The single was released simultaneously with the Beatles' "Hey Jude" on August 30, 1968.  Overnight Europe and the US were inundated with "Those Were the Days".

The results were shocking.  "Those Were the Days" instantly knocked the Beatles' "Hey Jude" out of #1 in the UK charts.  

Fortunately for the Beatles' pride, the situation was reversed over in America.  "Hey Jude" was #1 for nine weeks in the US with "Those Were the Days" right behind at #2 for four of the weeks.  Not a bad start for the first two single releases of Apple Records.

McCartney's saturation in different languages paid off.  For example, in the Netherlands it topped the charts for 2 consecutive weeks. 

The resulting single topped the U.K. pop charts for six weeks in the autumn of 1968.  "Those Were the Days" sold eight million copies worldwide.  It became Apple's biggest hit outside of the Beatles' own recordings.  "Those Were the Days" would finish as the #7 hit for all of 1968. 

The song went on to make millions of dollars, making a lot of people very wealthy in the process. 

Once the song did well, Mary Hopkin went back and recorded a rendition in Hebrew even though she didn't know a word of Hebrew.  Over time, the song would be recorded in over twenty languages.  The song became such a huge cash cow that it was subsequently released in many versions by anyone who could hum the tune or play a jew's harp or even stamp their feet and clap their hands in proper time.  

Every single recording would put more royalties into Eugene Raskin's pocket.

However, one company went a little too far. 

At the peak of the song's success, a New York company made a commercial using the melody to Raskin's version but used their own lyrics, "Rokeach Ga-filte-fish, Rokeach Ga-filte-fish"....

Raskin took them to court.

The company said that the tune was an old Russian folk tune and was in public domain. Raskin sued and won his case and a settlement, since he had altered the tune a bit to fit his lyrics and had taken out the valid new copyright.  It was an interesting decision given that Raskin had borrowed the song himself.  But according to the courts, now he owned it.

Indeed, only Raskin was given a writing credit on the single.  To this day the music is popularly attributed to him, as well as McCartney - just about anyone but Boris Fomin, who remains little more than a footnote.

Following the success of "Those Were the Days", almost immediately Gene and Francesca Raskin went into semi-retirement.  They had just become fabulously rich.

For example, one time, Raskin opened his mail and found a letter containing a check for $26,000.  These were the royalties just for the US mechanicals for that particular month.

Raskin gasped.  $26,000 in just one month.  Better yet, the money kept rolling in.  Pretty soon, he and Francesca could live off the interest. 

The Raskins bought a home in Pollensa, Mallorca.  Mallorca is a small island in the Mediterranean not far from the east coast of Spain.  This sun-kissed isle is next to the wild party island of Ibiza.  Both islands are legendary as refuge for the super-rich.   From this point on, the Raskins would split their time between New York and Mallorca.

With more money than he knew what to do with, Raskin next bought a Porsche "Spider" to drive around the island.  Soon he added a yacht so that he and Francesca could sail over to Rome or to the French Riviera whenever they pleased, maybe gamble at Monte Carlo or attend the film festival at Cannes.

Raskin was about 60 when his good fortune hit.  Francesca was 50.  They never worked another day in their life.  The royalties would continue to keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives. 

Gene Raskin died in 2004, Francesca in 2007.  Thanks to "Those Were the Days", the two had spent the final 40 years of their lives in total luxury.

As an interesting footnote to this story, I noticed hints of bitterness towards Raskin in some of the comments. 

Here are a couple of examples:

"The song written by Boris Fomin was stolen by Gene Raskin, who used the melody for the song 'Those were the days' for his own gain.  This song made Gene Raskin rich, but the true writer Boris Fomin died in poverty in 1948."

For "Those Were the Days", Gene Raskin had found a Russian tune of composer Boris Fomin, which he had grown up hearing and for which he wrote plagiarized lyrics in English, then put a copyright on both tune and lyrics."


I have heard the music industry can be a cutthroat business.  This story certainly lends support to that rumor.  Raskin was a man who took the tune and the theme from someone else, changed the words, and made a million dollars. 

As I wrestle with the ethics involved, I guess the lesson here is to put your stamp on whatever you create.  You never know when someone might come along and change some of your words.  Suddenly your creation becomes their creation. 

I think the only reason Raskin got away with what he did was that Boris Fomin, the original writer, had been dead for twenty years. 


Meanwhile, I noticed Marla has been writing new lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".   


I asked her what we would do if it was a big hit.  Marla said she didn't know, but she would try to write me a letter from Mallorca.



Comedy Routine regarding a Motorcycle Accident
Contributed by Leroy Ginzel

Ordinarily you would not think anything about a motorcycle accident would be funny, but the genius of Mark Lowry turns his wicked sense of humor on his own misfortune.  

I knew I was going to enjoy this when Lowry began to talk about not wearing a helmet. 

"What would it hurt if I didn't wear my helmet?  We have a law in Texas; you don't have to wear a helmet!  Texas doesn't care about its stupid people!  You're stupid enough not to wear a helmet, hey, go right ahead, ride that bike!!"

Mark Lowry Comedy routine

Well, that's it for today.  Only 26 pages.  Such brevity!

Thanks for reading,
Rick Archer


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