The SSQQ Lifetime Achievement Award for Individuality
Story written by Rick archer
Tom Easley is a long-time friend of mine. His presence in my life goes
all the way back to the early days of our studio. Perhaps it is my social work background
that has led me to guide SSQQ with an eye towards group dynamics. However it takes many
individuals contributing to make a group work. I can't
think of any other man who has done more than Tom to bring a lot of
individuals together at the studio and help them merge into a group.
Tom is pictured here with his beautiful wife Margaret. Tom met
Margaret here at the studio back in early 1987 and were married later that
Today Tom and Margaret have two children, Tommy (age 15) and
Ashley (age 11. I will be sure to put the whole family's picture up the
first chance I get to find a current one!!
When it is time to speak of
individuals, Tom Easley is without a doubt
most individual "Individual" I have ever met. He is
truly a unique
character. More than any person I have ever met, Tom always has
danced to the tune of a different
drummer. There has never been anyone else I can even begin to compare him to.
As you will see, Tom is a rare bird, a one of a kind penguin.
The 2004 version of Tom Easley is a
handsome, fit, highly successful businessman, proud father, and good
husband. He has DEFINITELY come a long way. As you will
discover, 20 years ago Tom had shall we say a somewhat different
personality. In fact, Tom was SO DIFFERENT that he became the inspiration for the best practical joke I have ever
pulled in my entire life, the
infamous Tom Easley Look-A-Like Night in June, 1986.
Tom started classes at SSQQ in 1983. He quickly developed a
well-deserved reputation for having an off-beat sense of humor. Just to give you an
example, he had a wonderful friend named Carol Gafford
(pictured at right with Diane Head seated).
Carol and Tom were buddies. They
dated other people, but acted like brother and sister towards one another. Tom had a pet
nickname for Carol, "Dogface". Now Carol is an attractive lady.
What on earth
prompted this ridiculous nickname is one of life's
Even stranger, Tom
didn't just call her this behind her back
or just when the two were alone. Instead Tom called Carol "Dogface" in front of
everybody whenever she was around.
You the reader already sense this is not a normal man.
I imagine just looking at the bizarre outfit was your first clue, right??
If so, you are starting to catch on we are dealing with a different kind
Back in 1986, Tom was a card-carrying member of a very close group of
friends, many of whom had met through the SSQQ Martian Whip classes.
The name "Martian Whip" had been
inspired by another Strange Character known as Mike Fagan (pictured w
Carol at right). Mike had asked a leading Whip dancer to evaluate
his dancing. The man rolled his eyes and told Mike he had good leads,
excellent timing, good footwork, but his style of dancing was straight
from the Planet Mars. (Mike
Fagan) This odd
put-down led to the unusual name of the class.
Mike and Tom were always in competition to develop off-beat moves.
Why they didn't bother inventing stuff girls liked is beyond me. For
example, one day Tom developed a bizarre new
move. Tom would hold Carol's
right hand, then rotate his body 360
degrees clockwise without letting go. This brought Carol's
hand up to his shoulder level
just below his chin. Tom would rub his nose
all over her trapped arm and
make a huge
snorting sound. Then he
pretended to sneeze all over her arm which of
course grossed everyone out big-time!!
Tom proclaimed he had just
demonstrated the "Snot Step". In his very own words, "It's Snot a Step,
it's a Snot Step". Say it fast a couple times to
begin to fully appreciate the total stupidity of the move. Do
you now agree this is not a normal person we are discussing here?
Tom started to learn the Whip in 1983. After
3 years of practice, Tom
had become a great dancer as
the fateful year of 1986 rolled around.
Unfortunately no one ever noticed that he could dance a lick because we were always laughing
too hard. Tom could tell stories so cleverly. Whenever
he told a tale, we would lean forward and listen carefully. No one could keep a straight face around this
There was a lot more to Tom than his
comedy. Although he loved to clown around, he was also a born social
worker. Tom was was always
finding ways to contribute.
He was always busy organizing events and helping his
friends with a project or a problem.
For example with the
help of his friend Carol Gafford, once a year Tom would
organize a wonderful weekend trip for
the group down at the beach in Freeport. In addition to the people who rented rooms
at the beach houses, many other people would drive down for the day. The event might be attended by 50
to 100 people!! This is something Tom did for
10 years in a row despite the fact it
was an enormous undertaking.
Although in life many good deeds go unrewarded, as a
side note I would like to point out it was at his 1987 beach party
that Tom met the woman he would marry. I might add it was Margaret who
finally settled him down.
But Margaret's eventual steadying touch was a year away in 1986. It was up to us to
keep Tom from going over the edge, no easy task because Tom was growing
nuttier by the moment.
Personally, I always thought it was a good thing
Tom found ways to stay
popular because with his odd sense of humor and taste in clothes it was never love at
first sight when the Fair Sex viewed him for the first time.
For Tom to get a date with
that personality he had to grow on you the way mold might grow on some leftover bread. But
he was funny!! Ohmigoodness was he funny.
Tom's Rodney Dangerfield-style of "I Get No
Respect" humor would paralyze us with laughter.
The Group loved to hang out together.
Often we would meet for dinner after a dance class, then go dancing
afterwards. One day
Tom showed up for dinner with a plastic toy
Parrot on his shoulder. Tom
went around the table introducing the Parrot to each person as his
"Agent". Tom said he was trying to get a little more
notoriety and his Agent was in charge of his career. The Parrot
went everywhere with Tom and sat on his shoulder as he ate his dinner.
Periodically Tom would talk to this parrot in the restaurant.
It was very similar to a bizarre Jimmy Stewart movie called "Harvey" where
Stewart would constantly talk to a giant invisible rabbit. Tom
talked to his Agent constantly. Everyone at the table would roar
with laughter. Before I forget, let me mention
that people from other tables would point and stare. Tom had a way
of drawing Everyone's attention, not just ours.
Tom had been having way too much fun
at our expense for some time. Are you beginning to see why he deserved
what we did to him? Further seeds of the Tom Easley Look-A-Like Night can be traced back to
1983. Tom is a pretty fair banjo player.
In fact he is good enough to have recorded a CD of his own music.
Back in those days
all of SSQQ would meet at the Winchester Club once a
month for a huge night of Western dancing. Each
Wednesday was Talent Night where any act could enter. Tom won several
times with his banjo playing, but
all he could talk about was one especially irritating
defeat. Tom was particularly bitter about losing to a
fiddle player named Yogi. He got his nickname from his ability to cross his
legs Yoga-style at the same time as he continued to play the fiddle.
knotting his legs, then he would lie on his back playing the fiddle while he lifted his
impossibly-crossed legs up in the air for everyone to see.
Tom's friend Ted Jones (pictured right) pointed out
that the guy could really play, but Tom said he didn't enjoy
getting beaten by a Freak Show. I believe the pain of this defeat may have set the stage
for the breakdown that ensued a few years further down the road.
Everyone agrees that the event that pushed Tom over the edge
was the Night of the "Vertically-Challenged
Individual". It all started with a trip to the
Ramada Inn one night in 1986.
Seven of us piled into one car
to go Whip dancing to a
band playing live blues music.
We had to beg Tom to go since he had just broken up with
girlfriend. Tom used to have a temper and tonight
he was in one of his famous "Irish Moods". The moment he walked
in, Tom knew he had made a mistake coming with us. The band was
dreadful. The guitarist looked like a Beach Boys-reject, the
keyboard player was 15 years old, the drummer was a Grateful Dead
wannabe, and the Lead Singer (to whom Tom took an instant dislike)
was a "Vertically-Challenged Individual".
The "Vertically-Challenged Individual" was at most five feet tall, maybe shorter. The rest of us were able to tolerate the Lead
Singer, but Tom hated him and didn't mind telling anyone in our group
how he felt. Besides the fact that the "Vertically-Challenged
Individual" had no talent for singing, there were
other things that irritated Tom no end. The "Vertically-Challenged
Individual" had the annoying habit of insulting
people. At one point or another, the
"Vertically-Challenged Individual" insulted Blacks, Jews, Arabs, Hispanics,
and Aggies. His humor was
always in bad taste.
Another thing Tom objected to was the
habit of wearing a different hat for each song. Believe it or not,
before each song the "Vertically-Challenged Individual" would put on a new hat: a hard hat, a
cowboy hat, an Indian headdress, plus the Lawrence of Arabia outfit
which was my personal favorite.
Obviously the "Vertically-Challenged Individual" was a big fan of the Village People
because he wore all five of their hats. I
suppose the "Vertically-Challenged Individual" was doing whatever it took to get attention.
While the rest of us were able to
ignore the "Vertically-Challenged Individual's" antics, Tom absolutely detested the little guy. Breaking up
with his girlfriend combined with the "Vertically-Challenged
Individual's" hats and bad jokes was more than he could
take. Tom refused to
dance due to his bad mood. Instead he just sat at
the table alone while the rest of us danced. He spent his
time brooding. From the dance floor I would catch a
peek of Tom. He just sat there glowering at the
When one of us would sit out a song, Tom would
fill us in on the latest stupid thing
the "Vertically-Challenged Individual" had said or done to make him mad. Tom
was serious, but we were in stitches!!
Even in the Gotta-have-a-Gimmick world of ShowBiz, the
"Vertically-Challenged Individual's" Danny Devito Act was
pretty ridiculous. The rest of us were too busy dancing to give it much thought,
Tom. He was mesmerized!! He
would not take his eyes off the
"Vertically-Challenged Individual" to save his soul!
Tom was obviously something of an "attention-seeker" himself, but
usually had quite a bit more panache than this character. One
thing was obvious - the dwarf was hitting some nerve in Tom that the
rest of us didn't quite understand.
An older lady named Pat from another Whip
group came over to ask Tom to Slow Dance with her. This lady was nearly a head taller and
25 pounds heavier than Tom. She was a large woman. I knew
Tom didn't want to dance with her, but
he accepted because he couldn't think of a graceful way to say no.
Tom was still a gentleman despite his bad mood.
into his depression, Tom was hard pressed to even get his arms around the lady. He was
also having a hard time breathing... don't forget the lady was a head taller so imagine where his nose was.
Hating every moment on the floor, Tom somehow managed
extricate his face from the Twin Peaks long enough
to check on his friend the "Vertically-Challenged Individual". Instantly Tom
froze. He stopped dancing as
his partner stood beside him bewildered.
Tom had suddenly noticed that the
"Vertically-Challenged Individual" was standing on his
head at the same time as he was singing "Feelings". That was one stunt too
many for Tom! He
immediately stomped off the
floor and announced it was time
for us to go! He couldn't take any more
of this. All the way back to townTom talked non-stop
about the "Vertically-Challenged Individual". He was obsessed.
As you can see from the picture, on Tom's Look-a-Like Night, I decided to tease Tom by standing on
my head in memory of the "Vertically-Challenged Individual". Fortunately Tom was in a much
better mood by then.
However at the time I think the pressure was too much. Something inside of him
"shifted" because after the
"Vertically-Challenged Individual" Nightmare, Tom was never the same. Tom had always been a little
off-center, but now he was at least 30 degrees more peculiar than he had ever been before.
And he became increasingly touchy.
One night at Wild West, Tom did a fancy slither move with a beginning Whip
dancer. The lady took a step back and said, "I've seen that move before!! I bet
you learned that move from Mike Fagan!!"
This made Tom bristle. Tom had actually
learned how to Whip long before Mike.
This woman's off-hand remark insulted him.
Tom retorted, "Lady, I was doing slithers back
when Mike Fagan (a former break dancer) was still dancing on his hands."
Defensive, unappreciated, a chip on one
shoulder, a parrot on the other, Tom
developed a very strange personality. He NEVER
stopped talking about the "Vertically-Challenged Individual". Each week Tom
would regale us with a new episode in his hysterical "Tales of the
series. Tom should have been a writer for the Simpsons.
But the development we found difficult to handle was Tom's new habit of
wearing the absolutely
most garish clothes imaginable any time
we went out dancing. His clothes were so UGLY
that if I didn't add these pictures no one would even begin to UNDERSTAND
just how wacko Tom looked. His favorite outfit included an
unbelievably ugly pair of madras pants and a bright red Hawaiian shirt.
Tom wore this outfit EVERYWHERE we went!!
It's a good thing we loved him because he sure was hard to look at.
After the "You learned that move from Mike Fagan" remark, Tom developed a bizarre repertoire of new whip steps in a
desperate attempt to establish an identity separate from Mike Fagan.
Tom invented moves
such as the Face Off, the Head Stuff, the Moose Call,
and of course his beloved Snot Step
("It's Snot a Step!").
developed a bizarre hand-dance ritual he would perform with Mike Fagan. The ritual closely
resembled two bullmooses bashing antlers together in a fight for mating privileges
(see the picture). Maybe
it was the grunting that made the ritual seem so primitive,
but I remember women running for
safety just in case one of them somehow managed to
win mating rights.
Okay, you've read the story now. See if you agree
with our thinking. You are an amateur
psychologist with enough background in psychobabble to be dangerous. Tom is crying for attention, right? He needs an
We have a guy who is a walking loony bin, yes? And it's up to
his friends to help
him, yes? Thus the stage was set for the Infamous Tom Easley
It was Margie Saibara
who set the spark that lit the fire. One
night she made the mistake of complaining to
me about Tom's unique dress style.
Although she will tell you she was jesting, between you and me, I
think she was completely shocked by Tom's lack of sartorial taste.
As you can see from her picture at right, Margie is a Swan.
Graceful and lovely,
I doubt Margie has ever worn an un-matching outfit in her life.
Tom was driving her crazy!! She said that
Tom had gotten in the habit of wearing his Hawaiian shirt and Madras pants every
place the group went.
Margie said that last night as Tom walked
into a restaurant with his group of friends, every person in the
room had turned to stare
at him. She said she wished she could get Tom to wear bathrobe in public places.
And she wished Tom would get rid of that
stupid parrot that sat on his shoulder while they ate. Margie saw Tom
as pure Fright Night.
Furthermore Margie said
it always seemed to be her that ended
up sitting next to Tom. She accused the others in the group of driving
quickly to the restaurant to grab the furthest seats away from him
before he arrived. With a frown on her face, Margie
admitted she was embarrassed to be seen next to Tom.
With a little tear in her eye, Margie confessed
that when people would gawk at Tom,
she just wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear
rather than be seen next to him. I laughed myself silly
at her description, but I knew she was serious.
Margie is so shy and polite. For her to talk as boldly
as this was clearly a plea for someone to make a powerful "Fashion
Intervention". Well, I got the hint. As she spoke, a wicked plan
took form in my mind. Why not have a Night where
everyone would dress just like Tom? Give
him a taste of his own medicine! But it had to be a complete
So with Margie as my co-conspirator, we contacted everyone in our large
circle of friends. I began to set the trap.
I knew that Tom helped Carol teach a Twostep class
every Friday night at the dance studio. Since he would
automatically be at the studio, we would ambush him on this night.
everyone to find the ugliest, brightest clothes they could muster
and wear them to the
studio. Most of my friends later told me they had to buy articles of clothing for this
event because they didn't actually "own" anything as ugly as what Tom wore on a
regular basis. Several people said they went to resale shops. I believe every story because I did
the same thing. I went to Foley's to buy what I
thought was the most hideous clothing imaginable. As you can see
from my picture with Diane Head up on my shoulders, I bought garish beach shorts
plus a Hawaiian shirt
brighter than the sun for the occasion. Like Tom's outfit, this combination was
hideous beyond comprehension. The difference was
I knew it was an
eyesore. Tom was oblivious.
Earlier in the week I called Tom to tell him I had been invited to a
Hawaiian Party on Friday. I told Tom how much I admired that red shirt he liked to wear
and asked if I could borrow his shirt for the party I was going to. He was so proud to
have been complimented on his shirt!!
The truth is he loved to help people and I knew beyond a doubt he would lend me the
shirt. Sure enough, delighted as always to help, Tom even went to the trouble of having
the shirt pressed and dry cleaned. Bless
his heart, inside the plastic wrapping you can see the two Hawaiian "Leis"
he added just so I would look even better at the party I had fibbed
But I couldn't allow myself any "Old Yeller" softness - Tom had fashion
rabies; he clearly deserved what was coming! Once he handed
the shirt to me as he arrived at the studio
that fateful Friday
night, the Trap was set.
Carol Gafford was in on the joke too. It was her job to keep the
door to Room 1 closed. Shortly before the end of
her class, I excused myself from my own class
to go the restroom and change. Taking a hint from
Margie, I wore an enormous bathrobe to hide my Foley's outfit.
I led thirty people into
Carol and Tom's classroom. All of us we wearing the ugliest, brightest
clothes in God's Creation.
The first thing I did was hold
up The Shirt as
in the room cringed at its ugliness. Everyone
that is except Tom. There was Tom
staring at the shirt with pride, not shame. I
don't think he "got" it.
Then I let
my bathrobe open to the shock of the crowd.
People screamed in horror.
Tom's students were not
in on the joke. No one had warned them.
A gang of bikers could not have frightened them much more than we did! Isn't it a shame that
people had to suffer?? Even people
who had been forewarned had to shield their eyes!! If I had been Medusa,
I would have had a room full of students
turned to stone.
In the picture you can see me reading a sensitive poem I
wrote for the occasion, but
alas Tom showed no regret! 30 friends stood
dressed as hideously as
Tom appeared on a regular basis, but in his mind, they had
to their senses and decided to dress as attractively as
was beaming with the biggest smile I have ever seen.
Never has anyone felt so clearly
that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Instead of taking our surprise as an insult, Tom was thoroughly delighted!! His
friends had come to honor him! Alas, our Intervention backfired
completely - From that night on Tom continued to wear the same ugly clothes wherever we went
no matter what the occasion.
The Ode To Tom Easley
In Honor of the
Friday, August 15, 1986
Well, Tom, it's snot a step,
But I'm willing to bet
That we owe you a debt
For the rhymes and good times.
We think you're a peach
For doing the beach,
But when it comes down to taste,
You're a serious waste!
If clothes make the man
I can't understand
How someone like you
Can stay in demand.
Those clothes that you wear
Make decent folks stare,
Drive your friends to despair,
But what do you care?
Just give us a break
For heavenly sake.
Please stop this mistake
Before it's too late.
When you wear those damn shirts,
Oh, my God, how it hurts!
Please hear our sad cries…
In that hideous disguise,
You're a threat to our eyes!
When you think you're a prize
You're actually unwise
And we look to devise
Your final demise.
So here's to you
As we fill up a shoe.
We know dancing comes Easley
With effort so Measley,
a face off,
a snot step,
What have you.
But the women complain
With obvious pain
You treat sugar and spice
With savage disdain!
When it comes to the girls
And dancing those twirls…
You better be nice
and take our advice.
Your charm is so crude
It turns a vamp to a prude!
So stop being rude
Or see your love life unglued
If the ladies conclude
An animal like you
Should be sent to the zoo!
Tonight is your night
As we do what is right.
You're an eye-sore to sight,
Causing ladies to fright
And men to turn white.
Let vengeance be ours
As we head to the bars.
Our hearts will be light
As we watch your bad plight!
Your time has come,
Your fate is under the gun,
So let's have some fun,
To the Safari we'll run.
And here is our toast
To the man that we roast:
You better not holler,
You better not cry,
And we're telling you why…
If you hassle and fidget,
We'll make you dance with the midget!
Oh, and by the way, Butamous,
I was doing poems
When you were
Still learning to Slither.
The Safari Bar Club
After the Intervention at the
studio, the plan was to go Whip dancing at a place called the Safari Bar
Thanks to me, Tom already had his favorite shirt at the studio, but he
felt naked without the accompanying Madras pants. Immediately after I
my beautiful poem, Tom
raced home to fetch them.
In addition to the madras pants,
Tom brought along another
friend as well. He showed up at the
Safari Bar with his sunglasses and favorite stuffed parrot on his shoulder.
The parrot had on sunglasses too.
Not everyone had met the parrot so Tom patiently introduced
his "Agent" to an entire
new group of fans and admirers.
I looked around nervously in case
any psychiatrists might be present. There were times like tonight when
Tom was beyond a doubt more extreme than any of us really wanted to
admit. Even more embarrassing, it's obvious he was rubbing off on us.
Collective insanity? Group psychosis? Yes, that's what I'm
A funny thing happened to Mike Fagan
(pictured at right). Mike came closer to matching Tom for the
evening than anyone else, no surprise because Mike was pretty extreme
in his own right. Mike wasn't able to meet us at the studio
for the poetry reading, but promised to meet us afterward for dancing
at the Safari Bar. He arrived there shortly before the rest of the group.
Although our group were regulars at the Safari Bar, none of us had
thought to warn the management we were coming. The door person
took one look at Mike and wouldn't let him in the club!!
Mike was fit to be tied as he stood there trying to explain the
"Concept" of the evening to the highly unsympathetic guardian of
Fortunately the rest of us began
to show up. The door man finally man backed down when a waitress came by,
took one look at Mike and said
with a straight face, "Oh, you look
really ugly. You must be with that group over there!!"
But did Tom get the message? No, of course not.
Soon Margie joined us for the dancing.
As you can see from the picture, Margie wore a lovely coral red and lagoon
blue Hawaiian shirt tied at the waist with matching blue shorts.
Did you notice the shade of blue in her shorts
matched the blue in her shirt perfectly?
As I gazed at Margie's pretty outfit, I smiled at the
irony of it all. Even on
the Tom Easley Look-a-Like Night - the one night where
she had permission to take a fashion risk without losing anyone's respect
- Margie could
not bear to wear an outfit that was not perfectly
color-coordinated. This Beauty and the Beast picture
captures the spirit of Tom and Margie's Polar-opposite natures to a T.
That night several women complain to me behind Margie's back how mad they were
These ladies were furious that
Margie had cheated by dressing nicely on a night when they looked hideous.
One lady threatened to pull out a marks-a-lot pen and help
Margie "blend in".
I carefully explained
to each woman that Margie couldn't help herself any more than Tom could help himself.
them that somewhere deep in Margie's mind there must
be some imperfection in her outfit
that the rest of us mortals could not see or
I said that although we would never know what it was, deep down Margie was
in terrible psychic pain over some flaw in her outfit that was not right.
The women calmed down when I added that in her own way, Margie was just as
nuts as the rest of us, it just wasn't quite as obvious.
Now that I think back, maybe we were all kind of
Tom may have been the lead Wacko, but we were all a little crazy. A
review of the pictures proves beyond a doubt that Mike Fagan was nuts.
Ted Jones was nuts. And now that I look at the pictures, maybe I was a little nuts too.
But only "a little"...after all, I get to write the story, right?
Diane Head, Michelle Collins, Carol Gafford and Judy Price each told
me that beyond a doubt those were the ugliest clothes they had ever
worn in their lives. They couldn't believe they had allowed themselves
to wear those outfits in public!! And when they saw the
photographs, each woman gasped and said, "What was I thinking?!?"
What a group.
What a mess we were. So what? We sure had a lot of
fun. Gosh, how I miss those days!!
I am happy to report that Tom eventually
from his "Vertically-Challenged Individual"-inspired insanity. Maybe this special
Look-a-Like evening in his honor made him feel more accepted for who he was.
After all, what a pleasure it must have been
to have his 30 best friends dress worse than zombies and act like
complete idiots in Tom's honor!! Fortunately he never did figure
out we were making fun of him.
About this time
Tom was having a little trouble finding the right girl. If you asked
me, I thought Tom had been listening to the wrong people.
Whoever was giving him advice on women was strictly for the birds.
The event that changed Tom's life was meeting his future wife nine
months after the party. One Saturday morning in Spring 1987 I
was giving a private lesson to a lovely woman named Margaret Eicke.
By coincidence, Mike Fagan and Tom Easley dropped by to say hello.
Fortunately Tom was wearing gym clothes or this relationship would have
gone nowhere from the start. Until then my best suggestion to Tom had been to date
any blind woman who could dance. Wearing this "disguise" was definitely a huge stroke of luck.
Someone up there was watching out.
One look at Margaret and
Tom was instantly smitten. Margaret is a beautiful woman.
Tom felt the thunderbolt!! He quickly gathered his wits about him and
invited Margaret to drive down to his 1987 Freeport Beach Weekend to join him and the group.
Tom carefully drew the best map of his life to give to
Margaret and showed a charming side that hadn't appeared in some time.
Margaret gave Tom a million reasons why she couldn't make the trip. She
definitely said she doubted she could come. Obviously she changed her mind.
The next weekend she drove down. Margaret hadn't planned on
staying very long,
but she had such a good time she ended up spending the entire weekend
with the group!!
Her conscience bothered her all weekend long because back home her
poor beloved dogs Trixie and Grumpy were stranded. Amazingly they were so well housetrained they didn't do Number One
or Number the whole time she was gone! Now that's impressive!
So how did a barbarian like
Tom land a babe like Margaret?? Every insider knows the answer
to that: Margaret never saw him with his clothes on!!
After all, down at Freeport Tom looked a heck of a lot better in
his bathing suit than he did in his usual outfit. God obviously tries to take care of everybody, even
stray sheep like Tom.
Tom and Margaret got married in the
Fall of 1987. They now live in Sugarland with
their son Tommy (born 1990) and daughter Ashley
Did I mention Tom is a terrific athlete? Ask him and he won't
hesitate to tell you he was the fastest white guy in Philadelphia growing
up. Even in his late 40s he is a perennial Sugarland ice hockey all
star despite playing men half his age. Plus Tom is quite a
Tom and Margaret generally invite the studio over once a
summer for an afternoon of water volleyball in their backyard pool.
In this picture, I am embarrassed to admit that
it is me getting my spike stuffed by Tom. Humbug.
And what ever happened to the Shirt?
It was our fondest hope when Margaret married Tom that she would put her
foot down and vaporize his more exotic clothing.
But Margaret was too shrewd for that. She knew the pressure of
giving up his wardrobe was just too much to ask at the start of a
Instead she gradually weaned Tom away from his clothing. As you can see
from the picture, amazingly she even found ways to color-coordinate the
guy. Miracles do happen.
These days with the joy of his
family and lots of responsibility in his job,
Tom almost seems normal. But I know it's
just an Act. Tom Easley will never be normal. Nor would I ever want to him to be. The
world would become too boring if that ever happened.
Around Comes Around
Let's fast-forward to a new Tom Easley
afternoon in late 2000 Tom called to
invite me along on a ski trip as his roommate. He
already had plans to take his family skiing over
Christmas. He look forward to helping
his two children Tommie and Ashley improve their skiing. However after doing the "Daddy" thing he wanted a
second ski trip to
ski hard and ski fast. Tom also wanted to look better than
at least one person on the
slopes, so he called me.
So I went skiing with
final week in January 2001. It was the first time I had been skiing
since 1996. There were about 40 people on the trip. It turned out
25 of them had taken lessons at SSQQ at some point in their lives.
People kept saying "hi" to me throughout the first day and I kept
saying "hi" right back, then I would turn and ask
Tom who that person was! How
The Big Chill Week with
The Look A
Also along on the trip were Ted Jones
and Margie Saibara who at the time were teaching the Twilight Zone Whip class here at the
studio. They have been close friends with Tom just as long as I have.
During the trip the four of us hung out
Margie still carries a little wound in her soul from Tom's barbaric
outfits. I watched her carefully. Outwardly she seemed to have forgiven him. But no one
can ever forget...
In fact this trip was a
sentimental homecoming for me. I ran into a lot of friends I had not seen for a
long time. You see, I used to organize ski trips for the studio back in the 80s. Many of
the people on this year's trip went on my trips and got to know each other.
After I tired of organizing the
trips, a dance student here at the studio
named Burt Eschenfelder took over and ran the annual trip for about 5
years. Then he too got tired of it - organizing ski trips is a lot of hard
work! A couple who had met at the studio named
Charlie and Beverly Roberts decided to take over for Burt.
Charlie and Beverly were good at this. Since the
early 90s they
have been running the annual trip that Tom and I went
on. Their experience showed;
trip was extremely well-organized!
Tom and Charlie weren't the only guys on
the trip who met their wives at SSQQ. Also along on the trip was Gary
Kryzwicki who met his wife Linda at SSQQ. Doug and Sharon Hollingsworth were
on the trip along with their close friends Irving and Sharon Carter.
a guess where these four people all met their future
spouses. These marriages all date back to the
80s. And there were some unmarried couples as well that had met
through the studio.
That old ssqq slow dance and romance magic has been working its wonders
for a long time, folks.
Those Were the
Days My Friend, We Thought They'd Never End...
I was stunned to see
many friends for the first time in over five to ten year. Among the friends I ran into
on the trip were
Ken Schmetter, Michele Collins, Dan Taft, Tom Edens, and Jim Ponder. All
five of these people were a big part of the studio back in the mid-80s. In
fact this whole week was sort of an SSQQ version of the "Big
Groups of close friends develop at SSQQ
all the time. My pet name for them is "Generations".
Today the studio is so big we have Western groups, Whip
groups, Swing groups, and Salsa groups so it is a
little tougher to identify all the key players. It was easier in the
old days. There was only just one group.
This particular group
on the Ski Trip formed during the Tom Easley LookaLike era.
Most of the key players were already on board when I began my infamous
Streak when I went Whip dancing 201 nights
in a row in 1986. This bizarre 7-month period actually served as a huge
catalyst that brought us all even closer together. By the time the
LookaLike Night rolled around, we were as close knit a group of people as
you will ever find.
By combining with some of the 2nd Generation and the 4th Generation, the LookaLikes had an impressive six year run during
My first Group of Insiders were formed during my Disco Days
in the late 70s. My Second Generation formed during the "Urban
Cowboy" era. The Fourth Generation never really assumed an
identity all their own since they mostly followed the leadership of the
many LookaLikers who signed on for an SSQQ Life Membership. So many
people from the fourth SSQQ Generation merged with the LookaLikes that I
often think of them as a sort of "Double Generation".
The 2001 Ski Trip was a perfect example of the Double Generation. For
starters, it was filled to the brim with 3rd Generation types like
Tom Easley, Tom Edens, Ted Jones, Jim Ponder,
Michelle Collins, myself and Margie Saibara. The Fourth Generation was
well represented with people like Ken Schmetter, Dan Taft,
Charlie and Beverly Roberts, Doug and Sharon Hollingsworth, Gary Kryzwicki
plus Irving and Sharon Carter.
Over the years, there have been many generations of In-Crowds at the
studio, but as you can probably tell the Double Generation is the one I identify with the most. Back when they were active at the studio, they kept
the place rocking for six long wonderful years. I was always right
there in thick of things stirring up trouble. It is true I enjoyed a
special status as their Teacher. And people looked to me to get
things going - I was usually in charge of saying, "Let's get it started!"
But at the same the time I loved being one of the crowd. Sock Hops, Halloween
Parties, Ski Trips, Charades Parties, Trips to the Bahamas, Beach Trips, Pool Parties, Labeling Parties,
Volleyball parties, camping
trips, Renaissance Festivals, you name it, we had fun and I had fun.
And these people were more than just "fun". When I was recovering
from my divorce in 1986, every one of these people gave me all the support
and love anyone could ever ask for. They got me back on my feet
after some rough times. It is easy for me to say the LookaLikes became the
closest group of friends I have ever had.
I wasn't the only one who felt that way. There were so many deep
friendships made that it isn't surprising these people still connect
twenty years later. I made a count. Over 60% of the people on the
Tahoe Ski Trip
originally met through
the studio back in the mid to late 80s.
They grew so close together that for the past twenty years, this group has danced together, partied together,
gone on Beach trips together, and
obviously still meet annually for ski trips.
Frequently here in Houston the group will meet for
a birthday party or
show up at Tom
and Margaret's house for a summer water volleyball game. And
I don't mind saying how fortunate I feel to have been a part of this
(PS - You can read more about this group in an article
I wrote called "Where the Creatures Meet".)
All good things must come
to an end.
By the late 80s slowly but surely people began to drift away
from the studio. Many of them grew tired of the single life.
Just like an active group of college seniors that have been together since
their freshman year, many people began to pair off
within the group. Social dancing for the most part is a singles
activity. Each time a couple got married, dancing slowly but surely became
less important and the couples disengaged. For example, Stan Clark and Pam
Silverblatt were a big part of the LookaLike Generation in 1984.
They were also one of the first to pair off and get married. By the time
of the LookaLike Party in 1986, Pam and Stan were long gone. We lost at
least 10 couples via the marriage route.
Several others - Tom, Mike, Carol, Dan Taft, Steve Racey, Michele Collins,
plus Ted and Margie for example - decided
to get involved in competitive dancing. Almost en masse they moved on to another dance
program taking several Fourth Generation friends like Scott Allen, Mark
Matthews and Jeannie Haynes with them. Not only
did Mike, Ted, and Margie win individual honors as State Whip Champions,
they became key members of a dance team that had a lot of fun times together.
Unfortunately for me, I was the odd man out. I was unable to join
them in their new adventure because I worked every night.
Others like Jim Ponder (3rd Generation), Craig Mason (3rd Generation),
Diane Head (3rd
Generation), and Jim Smith (a huge 4th Generation leader
and a big loss), Hilary Mears, Debbie Oswald, Chuck Clayton, Rilla and
Valerie Ryan, Juan and Julia Olkin (2nd/3rd Generation) plus Bob Job and
Louise Campodonico (2nd/3rd Generation) all moved
to other cities for love and career reasons. The shaky Houston
economy in the mid-80s didn't help much. The need to find new jobs
in other cities cost the studio many important friends.
And to my mind many other key members like Judy Price, Alan Brown, Ken
Schmetter, Aimee Atkinson, Tom Edens, Diane Stotz, John Cowen, Jeri
Hartman, Risa Beckham, Rose Brown, Michelle Keating, Debbie Anglin, and
Lester Buck drifted away simply because most of their friends were gone.
I actually studied the group dynamics carefully. I often saw things
in terms of Physics. The Core group was the magnet that held
everyone together. Various people would leave, but the Core of the
3rd Generation was so strong it absorbed all the 4th Generation people
into its center, thereby keeping its "Pull" strong.
First we lost Jim Smith and Diane Head back to back in 1988. These
charismatic teachers were much loved and their loss hurt a lot.
But it was the late 80s transfer of the dancers over to Southwest Whip
that was the death blow. So many leaders left at once, the Core was
weakened. Suddenly it was not large enough to attract new
"Particles" nor maintain the loyalty of the previous "Particles".
For example, an individual member of the group might drop out for a couple
months intending to return. Then one day he or she would show up for a
party only to do a double-take at all the new faces. "Where did everyone
go?" was a complaint I heard all too frequently in 1989. I knew what
that lost look on their face meant - it meant they would not come back.
Whatever the reason,
one by one they all left
the studio. Sometimes I call 1989 my "Dinosaur Year".
By 1989 practically the ranks of all the Third Generation and most of the
Fourth Generation were completely decimated. All the Dinosaurs were
I confess it broke my heart to see them go. I
was pretty lost that year. My painful experience with the Breakup of the Double
Generation forced me to learn some tough lessons
the hard way. I was forced to realize that some dancers will be forced to
find new teachers in order to progress. Another lesson I was forced to
accept is that for most people
"Dancing" is just a phase in their lives. I
might keep them for a year, maybe even two, but the clock is ticking.
Therefore one of the darkest decisions I have ever made came after the group
had moved on. I decided I would never let myself get this close to my students again. The pain
of losing another group was just too much for me to risk.
The closest thing I can compare it to is losing all your friends from high
school when you leave for college, when you graduate from college, or when
you relocate to a job in a new city. I lost practically every friend
I had in the space of a year. Don't misunderstand - all these people
still weave in and out of my life to this day and I am always happy to see
them. But this was the year when I forced for the very first time to see
that I am only given these people for a limited time.
My role had to become that of a Teacher, not "One of the Crowd". By
coincidence, I also turned 40 that year. I still look back at 1989 as one
of the longest years of my life. This was the year that ended my youth.
Sometimes my modern era students will say, "Come to Wild West" or "Come to
Dallas Dance" or "Go Dancing with us Saturday" or "Come to the Barbeque"
or "Why didn't you come to the Reception?". I know these requests
are sincere. I know these people must think I am a snob. But how do
I gracefully explain my reluctance? It is a fact that I turn down
most requests for the simple reason that I never want to go through the
misery of losing an entire circle of friends in my life again.
This story actually has a happy ending. Fortunately the
studio became home to a real-life "Charlotte's Web" scenario. The movers
and shakers may have moved on, but into the void an entire new generation formed around
new leaders. I give Sharon Crawford a lot of the credit. I think she
practically ran the studio that year. Sharon had help. Current and
former instructors Susie (Allen) Merrill, Ben Liles, Linda Rooks, Maureen Brunetti, Donna Ruth, Debbie Reynolds,
Judy Archer and Linda Cook took up the slack and made enormous
contributions in their own right. These were the people who were the
Leaders of the
Fifth Generation. They may be the "Old Guard" today, but it is a
fact that these people were the ones who helped me guide SSQQ into today's
era. The LookaLikes had a great run of 6 years, but people like
Sharon, Ben, Susie, Maureen, Judy, and Linda can claim a run of 15 years
and still going. Not bad!!
With their help, in the early 90s the studio began to grow and so did the
ssqq staff. I learned to focus my friendship on members of the Staff
rather than students. And like my friends before me, eventually I grew
sick of the single life as well. I married
Judy Archer, had
my daughter Sam, and
focused more energy on running the business.
I didn't have as much fun, but I did appreciate
the joy of watching the studio expand.
Eventually the wounds healed. Life goes on. And I smilingly point out that
SSQQ became a huge success once I
got rid of all those trouble makers. And I will always miss them.
Tom Easley Gets Even
Having read the story above, you can imagine how nice it was
during my 2001 Lake Tahoe Ski Trip to reminisce
with my many friends about all the good times we had together. Just
like the old days I even helped organize a Charades Night and a romantic
night of dancing on a dinner boat that circles the lake. Naturally I
misbehaved while dancing with every woman I could get out on the dance
floor. It was fun making them laugh and smile. Husbands? Who
cares? I can swim.
I enjoyed my skiing a lot.
I am not a bad skier for a Texan. Considering this
was my first ski trip in five years, I thought I skied pretty well. I was
able to keep up with the group and not hold too many people back
made me feel good.
One thing that didn't feel good was
a misadventure on my first day of the trip.
In 1996, I bought myself a brand new pair
of expensive skis. I used them for one week, then stored them in a ski bag in my
closet and didn't see them again for five years. Make
sure you read this right - I used those skis ONE TIME.
When Tom invited me on this trip, the skis may have been five years old,
but as far as I was concerned, they
were practically brand new! So naturally I brought
them along with me for my trip this year, lugging them all the way
from Houston to Lake
Tahoe, California. A boy and his expensive skis.
So here it is the first day of the trip, everyone
is strapping on their skis and getting in the lift line.
They all called for me to hurry up and join them. I clicked one ski onto
my ski boots just fine, but the second ski refused to snap. Finally I
leaned over to see what was the problem. I frowned when
I realized the boot binding was
broken and just barely hanging onto the skis by one
screw. Thank you very much, United Airlines.
Now I understood why all the people in my group were using fiberglass ski
carriers. Don't you ever get sick of having to learn everything the
I had no choice but
to rent some skis that day. After missing
the first lift, I didn't even see my friends again till late that
afternoon. I was determined not to get left behind again so that evening I
my broken ski to be repaired at a ski shop. Since our
rental car was in Tom's name, I asked him to drive me over
there and hang out till I made up my mind what to do.
The young man (17?
18?) tried to fix them, but finally gave up. With
an air of disgust, he said I needed new
bindings. Fine, how much is a binding? Well, $100 for two bindings.
But I only need one... Uh oh, they don't sell single bindings. You don't
sell one shoe, now do you? Ski bindings work the same way.
Then I asked how much
skis were worth...Oh, $30 maybe. I was nauseous!!
I felt like my skis were sticking their tongue out at
me for neglecting them for FIVE LONG YEARS. To hell with them.
I told the guy to euthanize my skis and to rent me another pair for the week.
I was really pissed
me off! Brand new skis...
Meanwhile Tom Easley was
watching the entire tragedy. I
noticed him over in
the corner laughing pretty hard at my irritation over the
expensive broken skis, you
know, the ones that broke after being used
just one time. Thanks, Tom. I
was not in a very good mood at this
point. I decided to go to the restroom before
subjecting myself to my second ski rental. What a pain in the butt
this was!! I needed to calm down.
When I came back, the young man said he needed to get
some information from me to outfit these skis. First of all, how old am
This question irritated me. Actually I
grumpy just about anything would irritate me, but this really irked me.
Does the ski care whether I am 30 or 50? Or do they do have AARP
settings for older people? This reminded me that I
since turning 50 four months earlier I hadn't
about aging to be funny for some time. Humbug.
I was feeling
I lied about my age and said I
was 48. I was stunned
when Tom butted in and told the guy the
right answer, adding some stupid wisecrack, "The guy is
too old to remember his name, much less his age!"
Now the young man asked me
for my height.
Apparently believing he can no longer trust me, he actually made me stand
against the wall to measure me. He said it was for my own protection,
statistics were computerized and all settings
were based on a precise
logarithmic ratio determined by the sophisticated software the ski shop
I could not believe the level of California-speak BS this kid
rattled off. I bristled
at the attitude in his voice. I decided he
was a smart-ass kid, probably a snow
boarder. Now the Kid asks for my weight. I told him 208. I worked hard to
lose weight before the trip and actually knocked off 6 pounds ahead of
time. I was quite proud of myself for this accomplishment. But the Kid
didn't buy it. Up on the scales, Mr. Archer.
I am aghast that the first reading pegs
me at 225. The Kid looks at me in disgust. Can't trust anyone over
50. I started to complain bitterly.
"I am NOT 225 lbs," I insisted
The Kid rolled his eyes and
got up on the scales himself. Then he got off and got back on, repeating
his move. He stepped away and declared it
accurate. He pointed to the scale
and told me to get on again.
I blanched as the scale indicated I
ballooned to 235 lbs!!
Tom, who was standing right
next to me, let out a surprised whistle and shook his head. No one likes
I was crimson with frustration. I
exasperated! First my skis break due to the
stupid airline, then I get yelled at by my friends
at the lift line who end up leaving me behind, then the skis aren't worth fixing,
and now I am standing on the worst scale I have ever seen!
With great precision the Kid typed 235 lbs into the computer, then had the
gall to stop what he was doing
to give me a lecture. He looked me in the eye
and with the serious
expression doctors reserve for explaining a deadly disease, the Kid
intoned, "Mr. Archer, you need to take the
measurements seriously. If we don't measure you precisely, you could get
hurt. If we give you the wrong skis or the wrong settings
based on inaccurate information, you could be stuck in settings above your
ability. Furthermore I
believe your weight gain is the likely reason for the binding failure on
I was apoplectic. I started coughing
violently. I didn't even know where to begin putting this kid in his place.
Didn't he realize I haven't even skied on these stupid skis
once since my
weight gain? Then I remembered I hadn't even gained one
stupid pound!! In
fact, I lost six pounds!
All these angry thoughts raced through my head.
There I stood like an open-mouthed moron not knowing what to say
when out of the corner of my eye I noticed Tom
was laughing his head off. He
thought this was the funniest damn thing he has ever seen.
I grew suspicious.
My eyebrows narrowed. Tom
was having way too much
So I asked him, "Tom, why do you think this is so damn funny?"
Tom told me to get back on the scale.
It immediately stabilized at 210... that is until Tom put his foot on the
scale behind me and sent me soaring up to 240. He could
not stop laughing. Showing how easy it
was to fool me made him laugh even harder.
Then I saw the Kid having a difficult time suppressing a grin. When
he saw me looking at him, his expression quickly changed as his guilt
caught up with him. He began to
apologize for what he said to me about my weight.
when I went to the restroom, Tom
asked him to needle
me about my weight and the broken skis. Tom said he would do the
rest. Tom had his foot on the scale the whole time. They worked
Now Tom nearly busted a gut. He
kept laughing so
hard he had to sit down.
A convulsion or a seizure was a real possibility. Enormous apple-sized tears rolled out
of his eyes...
suppose after the Tom Easley Look-a-Like Night
I had one coming. We are even now.
However don't be surprised if fate sends me another opportunity.
Life is long.