The Last Waltz
Home Up Last Waltz 01


The Last Waltz

April 24, 2010

We closed our doors at Bissonnet with a huge party, thus bringing a bittersweet end to the remarkable
30 Year Era of SSQQ
at Bissonnet.

Story written by Rick Archer


Story written by Rick Archer
April 2010

The SSQQ location on Bissonnet is now a memory. The floor at SSQQ is gone. Along Bissonnet Street, the hospital construction has already begun. It is time to seek closure on a remarkable era.  It won't be easy.  Losing something this good is hard to take.

At the Last Waltz Party on Saturday, April 24, I was bouncing off the walls. Most of the time, I was very happy because I enjoyed seeing so many friends. And occasionally I was miserable.  I probably cried a half dozen times.

For some reason, I cried the hardest when my buddy Meg -- Megathon to me -- gave me a hug on the way out. Meg is such a sweetheart.  I was sad because I was afraid I wouldn't see her again soon. I need to do something about that... a reunion is definitely called for.

Mostly I smiled. How could I be too sad surrounded by so many friends?  It was a huge party. Marla estimated a crowd approaching 500 people.  My goodness.



No story about the end of our great studio can be complete without at least a cursory look at the reasons for its end.

If you are familiar with this story, you are welcome to click here and go straight to the Recap of the Last Waltz Party.

On the other hand, if you are curious about the reasons why our Bissonnet program was forced to shut down, here we go.





Once upon a time, the magical mystical land of SSQQ had parking as far as the eye could see. There were plentiful parking spots pretty darn close to our front door.  In those ancient days of yesteryear, the SSQQ Landlord enjoyed having us as tenants. 

Alan and Rosie Kwan came to the United States in the mid-Nineties.  They were leaving Hong Kong to escape the Chinese takeover in 1997.  These two people bought the Bissonnet Shopping Center as one of their first investments.  It was a lucky break for me.

Mr. and Mrs. Kwan were without a question the easiest people to do business with I have ever met.  They were polite, they were considerate, they were intelligent, and they were fair.  And get this - Mrs. Kwan made sure my roof was fixed within two days anytime I ever reported a rain leak above.  Better to fix it fast than let it develop into a major problem!

I liked the Kwans a lot.  They liked me too.  SSQQ paid its bills promptly, never complained, and ran a tight ship.  Business was good and the dancers were happy.

And then one day the dragon showed up. You may begin to hiss here.

The beginning of the end for the Bissonnet location was February 2004.

Mr. Kwan informed me that he had just sold the Bissonnet Shopping Center to a group of doctors. I was shocked.  I didn't even know the building was for sale.  My blood ran cold. I instantly guessed these were the same people who had previously bought the building next to Charlie's Barbeque.  If that was the case, I knew the studio was in trouble.  These were the same people who had turned the next door parking lot into a virtual fortress.

This medical group bought the building next to Charlies BBQ in 2003.  Renaming it First Street Surgical Center, they turned it into a facility for rich plastic surgeons. The very first thing they did was put up a tall iron fence to close the parking lot off to any outsiders. Forty prime parking spots went poof.  Gone.  We would never use those parking spots again.

Sadly, before the medical people bought that building, SSQQ students had been parking in that spot for 24 years. You didn't know that, did you?  For the past six years, all we ever saw were the iron gates that keep our cars out.

By the way, have you ever noticed that this parking lot is EMPTY all night long?  Every one of those 40 parking spaces goes to waste each night of the week... that parking lot is the perfect metaphor for the dragon's attitude towards our studio's customers.

So when Mr. Kwan told me the same people had now bought our shopping center, I had a dark premonition.  SSQQ was in trouble.  Big trouble.

You know, I actually did ask the landlord for permission to allow our students to use that parking area at night.  After all, the place just sat there empty every night of the week.

They replied their insurance prohibited it.


Cracks developed in the studio's roof.  No one did a thing.  The new landlord would not repair the leaks.  Those cracks grew bigger.  Small leaks became big leaks.  One month after another passed and the landlord would still not fix the roof.  I emailed constantly, but they kept saying they were taking bids on a new roof, so why bother fixing this one?

I was going crazy!  I explained I had a dance floor worth $100,000 that was at risk. Every time it rained, water would pour in during dance class.  Whenever it rained during class, we could only dance on half the floor. 

People would scramble to put trash cans underneath to catch the water.  However, one night after the studio was closed, the dance floor was badly damaged by rain.  Uh oh.  We had forgotten to put out the trash cans at the end of Practice Night 'just in case'.

The floor was damaged in several spots. People had to dance on a warped floor for three months until Christmas when the studio was closed long enough so we could refinish it. 

I got tired of putting out all those trash cans.  In exasperation, I had my carpenter build huge 4 by 8 ft tubs lined with plastic to collect the rain water.  Each night we would carefully place those large wooden tubs under the leaky areas in case it rained that night.

The comics saw those enormous tubs and asked if they were swimming pools.  Were we going to start giving swimming lessons too?  Synchronized water dancing?  I failed to see the humor.

This problem went on for NINE MONTHS.  That's right.  NINE MONTHS.  July 2005 till March 2006.  It took this new landlord nine months to do something.  Back when the problem started, we just had discolored ceiling tiles.  Then came the drip-drip-drip days.  However, the leaks eventually became enormous.  Occasionally it rained during dance class.  First entire ceiling tiles  would crash to floor.  Then a steady little waterfall would develop.  A couple smart alecks even danced with their umbrellas open.  Ridiculous.


2006 was even worse. My worst nightmare came true when the medical group tore down a second building they had bought at the edge of our parking lot to build a new hospital.

First, half of our parking lot was taken away.  Then while the hospital was being built, the heavy trucks systematically destroyed what little parking lot we had left to use.  The landlord allowed the parking lot to deteriorate to sheer rubble.  There were several potholes half a foot deep.  One woman - Diane M - asked me if SSQQ would consider buying her a new tire after she ruined it in a pothole. 

Once the hospital was finished, they finally repaved the parking lot.  After they finished repaving it, they announced that since the hospital needed parking, one-third of the original area was now off limits to SSQQ. 

I wasn't surprised.  That's why the medical group had bought the Bissonnet Shopping Center in the first place. All along they intended to vampire our parking space to serve their expensive hospital which had no parking of its own.  What bothered me was they kept those spots off-limits at night even when they weren't being used.  SSQQ students had used those spots for over 20 years.  Not any more. They hired a guard to enforce it. 

Just to rub it in a little bit, they passed a major part of the repaving bill on to me.... I assume that bill included the part they had just taken away.  I asked them that same question, but they refused to answer to answer me. 

Then I protested the spaces they had confiscated.  I pointed out my lease said we could use all the parking spots in that area.  Their lawyer said the lease gave them the right to re-designate the parking spaces at will.   No matter what I said or did, I lost every dispute.  The Red Area of that picture to the right was gone forever.


Students began to really struggle to find new places to park. One solution was to park on First Street.  It was a bit of a walk, but there were plenty of parking spaces on First Street. However, suddenly the City of Bellaire declared half the street off-limits to parking!

This decision was incomprehensible. First Street was completely deserted at night.  There was no traffic!  However some engineer decided for 'safety reasons' to prohibit parking in perfectly good spots.  I protested to the City Manager and he just laughed at me.

To compound the problem, the City of Bellaire put up 'no parking signs' that no one could understand, especially not at night in the dark.  It was the perfect trap.  There was no Grace Period.  Our students simply kept parking in the same spots they had always parked in.  They had no idea these spots were suddenly illegal.

One night, the Bellaire Police came out of nowhere and towed a dozen cars!   The panic was unbelievable. It cost people over $200 to go to the towing lot and get their cars back.

The Bellaire Police Towing Era had begun. It was terrible. For several weeks, on a nightly basis the Bellaire Police towed the cars of one or two on unsuspecting students from First Street!  That was one of the lowest points of my entire career. 

I hate towing with a purple passion.  The inhumanity of this action infuriates me.  One night I drove a woman to retrieve her car.  The Bellaire Police had ordered it removed from First Street.  It was impounded somewhere off I-45 near the University of Houston.  She cried the entire way.  She could not even get her car back because her purse was in the truck and they wouldn't let her retrieve it to get her money.  Their attitude angered me no end.  I ended up paying for the woman; she paid me back later.  I will never forget her words

"Rick, all I did wrong was park in the same stupid place on First Street I have been parking for the past two years.  How was I supposed to know that spot was suddenly illegal?  It was nighttime.  It was dark.  It never even dawned on me to check the signs.  Couldn't they have just given us a warning or something?  Now I have to pay $200 to get my car back plus they gave me a goddamn ticket!"

Finally I couldn't take it any more.  I complained to the BPD and set up a meeting.  At that point, a certain person inside the department agreed this was wrong.  This person put an end to the towing by insisting the police come inside our building and give a warning first.

This insider even took the trouble to confide in me that a certain Bellaire resident had been responsible for the problem.  This resident was calling the BPD on a nightly basis to report illegally parked cars.  The police department was forced to respond and take action.  The officers did not have the authority to look the other way, so they had to tow.

I later found out that one of my Staff members knew this "resident" quite well.  His sister had once dated this guy.  After the sister ditched this guy because he was a jerk, he blamed SSQQ!  This entire towing episode was his idea of 'civic duty', but it was really just a sick form of revenge.  Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.


Meanwhile, now that First Street had become a danger zone, our students were forced to find other places to park.  Several students noticed a nearby parking lot about 100 yards west of the studio.  One night for some reason the owner got mad at one of the people who parked there. He declared his parking lot off limits and started towing cars as well.

There's more. Wait, there's lots more!  This stuff is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven't even told you the worst moment!

One day the Salsa crowd was bigger than usual. Some lady who came late tried to park in the dentist's office across the street. Meanwhile an accountant who worked in the dentist's office came out and asked her to leave that final spot open.  There was a delivery man scheduled to drop off some new computers in a few minutes who needed that spot.

The woman cursed this man upside and down. She screamed she had no other place to park.  She was late for class.  She said he better not touch her car or she would make his life a living hell.  She added a few curse words for effect and walked off in a huff.

Now the accountant was furious!  Enraged, he came across the street and demanded to see the owner... me.  He screamed at me about the way my customers acted. He said he would make sure no one from my blank blank studio would ever park there again!

I turned pale at this threat.  The sins of this single idiot dance student were about to cost us the use of the one remaining source of convenient parking we had left.

I literally began to cry. That's right. I began to cry. First the roof leaked. Then the hospital came. Then the City of Bellaire took away half our street. Then some resident called the police every night.  Then Radio Shack started towing our cars.  And now thanks to someone from my studio cursing this man out, we were going to lose 15 more spots! 

How the heck was I supposed to stay in business with hostility in every possible corner?

I just couldn't take all the bad news. Trying to brush away the tears, I begged the man to reconsider. I told him that 99% of my customers were really great people. Please don't judge the rest of us by the rude behavior of this solitary person.  I told him I would find her and get her to move.  But please don't take the parking away.  Please!

The man stared at me in shock. I don't think he was used to making grown men cry. He rolled his eyes at my weakness and said he would give us one chance. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. Then I went to my car and cried some more. I had a complete breakdown.


Do you see those orange cones?  Every one of those spots used to belong to SSQQ.

Thanks to our landlord confiscating 65 parking spaces that our student had traditionally used over the years (25 spaces at the hospital plus 40 more behind the iron gate), our studio was in turmoil.  The actions of my landlord combined with the strange rezoning of First Street forced our students to walk preposterous distances to get to the studio.

The word was on the street. If you take dance classes at SSQQ, you will have to walk a mile.  And you will probably get your car towed too. Imagine what these rumors did to my business.  Imagine what these problems did to my heart.  Like the leaking roof that lasted for 9 months, the landlord turned their back.  I was totally helpless to solve this problem.

Theoretically, landlords are supposed to help their clients stay in business, yes?  Not my landlord. The medical group could have cared less. I think they wanted to get rid us. I have no proof, but I believe their negligence might have been deliberate.  They said we could leave any time we wanted if we met certain "considerations".  In other words, I think they not only wanted us to leave our lease early, they wanted us to pay them for the privilege.

The finishing touch came when they decided to move all three of their handicapped parking spaces right in front of SSQQ.  Mind you, SSQQ has no handicapped customers.  It felt like we had been specifically chosen. 

Then they put up signs that any SSQQ customer parking in front of another business would be towed.  Not only had we lost 3 parking spaces to the handicapped, our students were not permitted to park on the front row at all.  One day Radio Shack actually towed someone without warning! 

I got the message. So did my customers.  We weren't wanted here.


The nice thing about a lease is that it locks in the rent.  Sort of like a house payment, the rate is the same every month.  The landlord does not have the right to increase the rent until the lease is complete.  Or so I thought. 

Soon after the current Landlord acquired the Bissonnet property from the Kwans in 2004, I was told by my Landlord that my current rent was well below market price.  Maybe so, but the Kwans had always been perfectly content with the price I paid. 

Back in 2005, once they finally fixed the roof, I asked to extend the lease.  Of course at that time I had no idea how ugly things would become.  They turned me down flat.  I had five years to go on the lease and we were sitting ducks.  They could bill us to death and care less.  Without any incentive to keep us around, they keep adding improvements to the building and let SSQQ help pay for them.  I cannot begin to explain how bitter I felt.

CAM is an acronym for Common Area Maintenance.  The landlord is responsible for maintaining the exterior premises: roof, garbage pickup, parking lot, etc.  The new landlord used CAM as a backdoor trick to increase my rent.  My monthly CAM payments began a dramatic climb.  Typically this bill fluctuates a bit, but no more than the typical 5% cost of living increases we all expect. My CAM increases bordered on 30%! 

One reason for my ever-rising Common Area Maintenance costs was a gigantic rise in property taxes.  And why did the taxes go up so much?  Because the hospital made the adjoining Bissonnet property more valuable.... and the landlord passed these increases on to the dance studio.

Another reason for the increase was repaving the parking lot.  Building that hospital had destroyed the parking lot.  So once the hospital was finished, they made the parking lot beautiful and passed the bill onto me... then took away one-third of my parking for good measure.  Even when the spaces were empty at night, they were off-limits.

I will never forget my shock when I first saw the 2005 CAM overcharge.  I nearly passed out.  They said we owed them $5,000 extra for CAM charges. It seems that the "Electrical Mechanical Maintenance" costs had risen from ZERO in 2004 (old landlord) to $5,793 in 2005 (new landlord).  It seems that the Landlord had installed a light fixture and passed the cost onto SSQQ.  In effect, this bill raised my monthly rent $500 a month.  

Here was what the Landlord said about the new light fixture in 2005: 

"As many of you requested, new lighting was installed to illuminate the parking lot, showing in the statement under electrical for over $5000, which was the best proposal we received".

That light fixture bill was weird.  I never noticed any lighting being installed.  To this day, I still don't know where it is. The funny thing is, who were all these people requesting the added light?   At the time, SSQQ was the only business that operated at night.  I certainly never requested any extra lighting.  Oops.... I forgot about the new hospital.  You guessed it.  My dance studio was paying for the hospital's new light fixture in the parking lot.

Amazingly, the Landlord turned around and pulled the EXACT SAME STUNT two years later.  The 2007 CAM bill (see picture) carried with it a bill for $11,000!

That's right.  ELEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.  See the picture.

I was helpless to prevent the Landlord from using my CAM payments as a way to pass on many highly expensive costs onto my dance studio.  Although I suppose they had the legal right to do so, it felt to me like they had no conscience. I had no say-so whatsoever in these rising costs.  Thanks to the out of control CAM charges, in 2007 I was forced to raise student tuition.  Here is what I said in the studio newsletter as explanation:

"In January 2007, student tuition will rise for the first time in three years. 2006 was one of the most successful years in studio history. Why then do we need to raise our prices?  Because our Landlord has raised our rent by nearly $8,000 a year.

Following a veritable Biblical Plague of problems - the leaking roof, potholes the size of craters in the parking lot, loss of parking space, car towing incidents, and constant headaches - this rent increase is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.

Much of the increase can be traced to a clause in our lease that gives the Landlord the power to pass on practically any shopping center cost they wish on to the tenants. According to their lawyer, SSQQ has little or no say so in any of these matters."

The sad thing is, every cent of the 2007 price increase went straight to the Landlord to pay for their CAM charges.  There was no discernible benefit to SSQQ whatsoever.

Before the medical people first showed up, my rent was between $5,000 and $6,000 per month.  By the end of the road, my rent had ballooned to between $8,000 to $9,000.  

Oddly enough, people saw our crowded dance classes and assumed we were rolling in dough.  Truth be told, thanks to the Landlord, my studio had become a non-profit organization.  Once the economy tanked in 2008, I couldn't raise tuition again... my students would have just walked.  So for the next two years, the studio just barely broke even.   Things got so bad, in December 2008, the studio lost $20,000 in one month!

SSQQ was being beaten into the ground by the Landlord.  I was losing students thanks to the parking problems.  I was losing students thanks to the price increases.   The roof leaked.  Towing signs appeared everywhere I looked and were no idle threats.  SSQQ vehicles were indeed towed.  Meanwhile my rent kept skyrocketing.   Every spare dollar was spent just to finance their rising taxes, their expensive light fixtures, and repaving the hospital parking lot - one third of which had been confiscated for their wonderful hospital. 

I protested, but it did me no good.  Their lawyer threatened to sue me every time I complained.  They had me under their thumb. I have never felt so bullied in my life. 

Nothing could be worse than this place.


The parking problem was choking us to death, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.

We couldn't even leave.   The Landlord reminded us we would face a huge penalty if I tried to break my lease.  He called it "special considerations".  I would have to buy out my lease.... $100,000.  Unless I paid that penalty, my program was stuck here.

Once I realized there was no future, my will to maintain the attractiveness of the studio dwindled.  The studio was being called a dump.  One by one, my students left.  Affected by the hostile business climate, I was forced to watch in despair as our attendance slowly deteriorated.  The toll on my spirit was devastating.  But what could I do?  I was trapped!

My lease forced me to stay and live with these problems for six long years. I knew that SSQQ would thrive again if we could only restore our supply of available parking.  Instead we had to stick around and suffer more headaches than a proverbial Biblical Plague. 

So you ask, "Were there any locusts?"  Believe it or not, one night we were infested with bees!  That's right, hundreds of bees starting flying through the studio.  Fortunately no one was stung, but that huge swarm of bees was felt like an omen from hell.  That's when I knew for sure we were cursed.  The similarity of our situation to the Jewish suffering in Egypt was not lost on me.  I idly wondered if the Landlord had sent the bees.

It was time to escape. It was time for Exodus.  I had just made up my mind we going to move the studio before the end of lease.  To heck with the penalty.  Then Fate stepped in.


It was now 2007.  I couldn't stand it any more.  Maybe the Landlord would relent and let me leave for less money.   After all, my studio was getting in the way of their expansion plans.  So I asked Jackie Benard, a realtor and SSQQ friend, to look for another location.  Jackie found all these wonderful spots, but at that exact time I realized something was wrong with me.  I had developed a mysterious exhaustion.  I barely had the strength to teach.

It kept getting worse.  I had a ski trip planned that Christmas.  During the day, I fell down constantly. Ordinarily I am not that clumsy.  I also had trouble catching my breath.  At night I laid awake with my heart thumping frantically.  I was scared.  When I got back to Houston, I went to the doctor.  No one could figure out what was wrong with me. It took six months to diagnose I had developed an unusual thyroid problem known as Graves Disease. 

Then it took another year to slowly correct it.  Thanks to radiation treatment and lots of thyroid pills, the situation finally stabilized. However, I wasn't the same person any more. My energy level had dropped.  I felt like a zombie.  I had to force myself to do everything.  That's when I knew the future of the studio would have to be carried on by someone else. My reduced energy level would never again permit me to continue the same pace. 

Fortunately my Staff was comprised of veterans.  The studio just sort of ran itself thanks to Marla and my talented teachers, hall monitors, and registrars.  But the whole time I was miserable... physically, spiritually, mentally.   It was about to get even worse.


Fortunately for SSQQ, there are a lot of die-hards who love this place enough to brave the long walk.  Over time people got used to the walking.  My business briefly bounced back at the start of 2008.  Then gas prices began to soar.  People were strapped for cash.  Not surprisingly, attendance dropped.  They said it was dance class or gasoline, but not both.

August 2008, Marla and I experienced the worst behavior we had ever seen on our annual summer dance cruise.  It wasn't just one person - it was six different people!  There were five separate instances of incredibly rude behavior.  Marla screamed when she saw a drunk woman try to explode champagne corks into a TV monitor.  Panic-stricken, Marla called to me to do something. I had to wrestle the woman for the bottle.  There are now dents in the ceiling of the ship's lounge thanks to damage caused by this person. 

Marla and I were horrified. We were so embarrassed by the way these people acted, we were actually ashamed.  For some reason, their behavior reminded me of the woman who nearly cost the entire studio the use of the Dentist's parking lot across the street.  I couldn't believe people who represented my studio would ever behave like this.  It hurt me deeply.

Just one month later, Hurricane Ike brought with it the shocking news that the studio had lost not just one, but two of our favorite people. Two men - Michael Friedberg (heart attack) and Gary Schweinle (electrocution) - had died during the hurricane.  The studio went into deep mourning. It was so painful.  Plus the Hurricane traumatized everyone.  Attendance fell off so badly we lost $20,000 in December 2008.  This was the worst year ever. 

Then came the insanity of the 2009 economic woes. We were all worried to death that the economy would completely cave in.  Who cared about dance classes when the world was about to collapse?  Leaking roof, no parking, cars towed, raising rent, falling attendance, my own students bringing shame, Hurricane, Death, worldwide economic panic, and my thyroid illness as well.   Was there no end to this plague?


It was April 2009.  I was 59 years old.  The lease had one year to go.  Did I have the resolve necessary to look for another studio?   The thyroid problem was under control now, but I was weakened.  Running the studio was all I could handle. It was a full-time job that took every ounce of spare energy I had.

My spirit said yes, let's try again.  However, I could not get the Landlord problem out of my mind.  Given the abuse I had taken from the medical group, I was reluctant to ever trust another landlord again.   Signing a new lease would obligate me to run a studio for another ten years.  Yuck.  Fighting the losing battle with my Landlord had taken the joy away. 

Maybe if I were younger, I might have had the courage to try again, but not at my age.  Just the thought of it made me shudder.  What if I got another landlord like these people?  

I shook my head in disgust.  I fought the Landlord and the Landlord won.  I felt beaten and discouraged.  There was no way I was going to subject myself to more rounds of humiliation at the hands of another landlord.  I would never willingly set myself up to be treated like this again.  When the lease at Bissonnet expired in April 2010, this would be the end of my career as the owner of SSQQ Dance Studio.


The landlord and I kept our distance the final year.  As the end of my lease approached  in in April 2010, they didn't say a word.  There was no love lost between us.  They definitely didn't want me around considering my bad attitude.  However, I at least expected them to let me leave in peace... you know, let sleeping dogs lie, etc.

I was wrong.  I soon learned they had a major issue with me.  They were furious that I had the nerve to take the studio's removable dance floor and give it to Daryl Armstrong, the man who had agreed to carry SSQQ to the next generation. 

Once the hospital was completed, the red zone was declared off-limits to SSQQ.   We turned to First Street for parking.... and started getting towed when Bellaire put up new signs.

To this day, no one has ever explained why all those perfectly good parking spots were made off-limits.  In all my 30 years, there was never an accident and there never any traffic, especially at night.  Yet Bellaire designated over 30 perfectly usable parking spots as "no parking".... then started towing.

2005 CAM Statement above: $5,000 surcharge

2007 CAM Statement above: $11,000 surcharge

This picture was taken in our studio parking lot. An SSQQ Student is getting his car towed because he parked in front of Radio Shack.  My lease specifically gave my students the right to park anywhere they wanted, but the Landlord said otherwise.  He put up towing signs and encouraged the other businesses to tow SSQQ cars any time they wanted.

Mind you, SSQQ students shopped at that Radio Shack store for thirty years... but the manager didn't even bother to warn the student.  Fortunately the Hall Monitor noticed.

Look at the arrogant smile on that jerk's face.  Isn't this fun!  He charged this man $150 just to lower the car back down.  I should know.  I contributed $20 to help.

This kind of stuff went on for SIX LONG YEARS

On the 2008 Summer Dance Cruise, one woman in our group got so drunk she began to fire champagne corks at TV monitors!  She thought it was funny to be destructive.  There are still dents in the ceiling from her target practice.

Sometimes when it rained, ceiling tiles would get so wet they would literally collapse on the heads of dance students. 


From: M
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 12:44 PM
Subject: Flooring

Mr. Archer, I went by the center Today and I saw that a larger portion if not all of the flooring had been removed.

I haven't had a chance to review your lease but normally any items that are attached become part of the leased premise.

it say somewhere in your lease that you can take the flooring once you vacate the premises?

Please let me know about this and I will review the lease this afternoon as well.

Rick Archer's Reply: "Yes, my lease permits it.  Besides, what difference does it make?   I was told you were going to destroy the entire building."

From: M
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 1:19 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Flooring

What section in your lease so I can show the owners?

And they are only planning to tear the center down to about Radio Shack.

Rick Archer's Reply: "All I know is that Rosie Kwan and I specifically addressed the issue when I signed the lease eleven years ago."

From: M
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 1:47 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Flooring

I will check your lease and get back to you

Unbeknownst to the Building Manager, he was totally off base.  As this snippet from my lease shows, I was telling the truth.  When I negotiated my lease back in 1998, just like I told the man, I had specifically addressed this issue.

"Tenant may on the expiration of the Lease remove the said flooring."

No one even bothered to check my lease first.  Instead, they simply fired away.  In fact, the Manager even demanded that I prove what I was talking about! 

There is not one bit of doubt in my mind that they were already considering legal action. Why not get their pit bull lawyer to make me reimburse them for a floor they had never spent a single dime on? 

The Building Manager's arrogance reawakened all the anger I felt towards these people.  For two days I drove around seething till I finally cooled off.  

However, I did learn something interesting from his email.  We had asked for permission to stay one extra month while the new SSQQ was being built to ensure a smooth transition.  Daryl Armstrong desperately needed one extra month... just one month... to complete building out the new studio.  Mind you, we were sick about the interruption.  We were more than willing to pay extra in May 2010 to maintain the continuity of our program. 

However, they told me our building would be torn down.  This gave them the perfect reason to refuse to give us one more lousy month in the center. (Note: every other business but the cleaners continued to operate in May). 

However, now that my precious dance floor was gone, the building manager inadvertently let the truth slip out.  As I had suspected all along, the SSQQ space was being set aside to become future office space for doctors.  And they wanted our $100,000 dance floor so the doctors could practice their Plastic Surgery Salsa steps when moving from room to room. 

You know, in the end, it is too bad they didn't just tell me they wanted the floor for their own purposes.   As you can see from the pictures, it took a lot of hard work to remove the floor. In the process, we were forced to damage that beautiful dance floor much more than I expected in order to take it apart. It was a huge headache for the whole gang.

Trust me, it would have been much easier just to leave the floor where it sat.

I believe if the Landlord had offered to pay for the floor, Daryl would have been glad to sell it to them. He could have then turned around and reinvested the money in a new floor at the new place.   That would have been win-win.  But then negotiating isn't their style, is it? 



I did not hear back from anyone on the floor.  I suspect they found the clause I had told them about.  

However, they weren't through with me.  On the day I was to leave for my SSQQ Oslo cruise trip, I got a desperate email.

Gary Berridge

Charley Denton, Gary, Sam Lathrum, Russell Chapman,
Lee Ann Parkinson, George Sargent, Mitch Istre, Daryl

-----Original Message-----
From: M
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 11:08 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Studio keys

Rick,  Yossi needs to get into the space today at 2:30 PM.

will someone be there?

or how can I get a key?  Pls let me know

Thanks, M
President, KPG, Inc

This was a weird message.  The studio lease had expired three days ago.  I had assumed they would change the locks the first chance they got.  If they had wanted the keys, why didn't they simply ask for them at the appropriate time? 

I was leaving for Oslo, Norway, on a two-week cruise that day.  I didn't have time for this.

------Original Message------
From: Rick Archer
To: Mark
Sent: May 3, 2010 11:49 AM
Subject: Studio keys

I am on a plane.  Maybe Linda Cook can help.  Here is her phone number

Rick Archer

-----Original Message-----
From: M
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 11:55 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Studio keys

I spoke to Linda but she told me to call the new owners

Can I have that number?

------Original Message------
From: Rick Archer
To: M
Subject: RE: Studio Keys
Sent: May 3, 2010 12:29 PM

I have a friend who said she could drop off the keys at 230.

Rick Archer

Actually I wasn't on a plane quite yet.  We would be leaving shortly.  I quickly finished packing, got in the car, and drove over to the studio for one last time. 

To my surprise, the door was locked.  My keys were no good.  I had wasted an hour of my time trying to help this guy.

When I got back home, this message was waiting for me.

-----Original Message-----
From: M
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 1:04 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Studio keys

Thank you but the owners just wanted to rekey the space anyway

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 2:15 PM
To: M
Subject: RE: Studio keys

Thanks, M, for telling me so promptly.

Actually, I already knew that. I found out the hard way.

I just got off the phone with a very angry friend who drove across town to drop off keys at my request only to discover the locks had already been changed.

She left the three useless keys in the studio mail box.

Meanwhile I am sitting here in an airport answering your emails and phoning people trying to give you a hand... only to find out you set me up... and my friend too. 

Rick Archer

Of course, it wasn't a friend who tried to help them.  It was me.  As much as I thoroughly disliked these people, I was still willing to extend a courtesy.

So I gave an hour of my time in the middle of the day to do a favor to the same people who had dragged their heels for nine months before repairing the dozen water leaks in my dance studio roof a couple years earlier....

Only to find that someone had already changed the locks...

An idle thought crossed my mind.  What kind of building manager doesn't even know when the locks to his building are changed?

So did the building manager at least offer an apology?   Here was his response.

-----Original Message-----
From: M
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 4:04 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Studio Keys

There is still alot stuff in the space, it may be all be junk, I assume you want the owners to throw this away?

I fought the Landlord.  The Landlord won. 

Throughout the entire six years of our business relationship, I cannot recall one single occasion where they made even the slightest attempt to help me stay in business.  No concessions, no favors.

And, as this incident with the keys clearly demonstrates, no courtesy either.  



Yes, I feel bitter that my time with SSQQ had to end on someone else's terms - in this case, the Landlord.  In a few months, the space we know as "SSQQ-Bissonnet" will be torn down to become a hospital parking lot for a bunch of plastic surgeons.

As I write, they have already begun construction (see picture).  An annex to that hospital will be built in the fenced off area in the picture.  After that, our beloved dance studio is destined to become a parking lot (or at least that was what I was led to believe).  

As thoughtful and considerate as my first landlord was, the medical group was the exact opposite.  They made the final six years here a constant nightmare.   I fought back as hard as I could - Landlord Disputes - but it did no good.  Using the threat of lawsuits, their lawyer constantly pushed me into a corner. 

Every time I protested, I was amazed to discover how easily my lease could be re-interpreted by the lawyer to the owner's advantage.  I would have to fight expensive legal battles with just an average chance of success.  How in the world is a dance teacher going to out-spend these guys?   I felt absolutely crushed into submission, not a pleasant feeling.

In the end, I was worn down by their constant bullying. I accepted there was no use clinging to any hope we could stay here.  Besides, who would want to?

Along the way, the landlord crippled my business by taking away precious parking spots.  They deliberately removed parking spots that had once been available to SSQQ students and dedicated them to their hospital.  They refused to share their private parking space hiding behind the iron gates to help alleviate my studio's crippling parking problem.

To add insult to injury, they even slapped three handicapped parking spots in front of the dance studio.  Then they lined the entire front row with "No Parking Signs" directly aimed at preventing SQQ students from parking in those spaces.   

Once the towing began, the climate surrounding the Bissonnet Shopping Center grew so hostile that many SSQQ students simply disappeared.  My business was never the same.

Only the good die young.  We had a good thing for a long time.  Our program would have flourished here permanently given any sort of positive leadership. 

Instead our doors at Bissonnet are closed permanently. 

Turn out the lights.  The party's over.  This chapter has ended.

SSQQ in its prime was undoubtedly the most widely attended social dance studio in all of America.  No one has ever suggested another place to rival our studio for numbers of students. 

And what caused the premature end of our great dance studio?  

They paved Paradise to put up a Parking Lot… and paid for it with boob jobs and liposuction. 


"Rick, I was reading about how awful the owners treated you at the end. As a Christian, I can feel sorry for them, but as a human being, I hope they get all of the bad karma that they can possibly receive.

I don't know why people treat other people badly and for absolutely no reason. Not that there is ever a good reason to treat someone badly.

You have to be happy knowing all of the positive ways you and your staff have touched so many people. I am a testimony that there are many, many more people who you influenced that you probably never even knew about.

Thanks again for everything. I am really looking forward to your e-newsletter and, hopefully, some day a cruise."

Carrie A
Monday, May 03, 2010




My main regret -- and I mean this -- is that my SSQQ will no longer be around to touch lives. Through all these years, SSQQ was a dance studio on the surface. However, deep down the studio was destined to create happiness, marriages, and friendships.

The easiest way to explain the true legacy of SSQQ-Bissonnet is to start with the married couples. For example, Larry and Pam Thomas, 2006, dropped by the studio on Friday the night before the party. I think their main reason to come over was to get one last memory of the place where they met. They were practically the last people to leave.

My close friend Tom Easley felt the same way. All the way back around 1982 or so, I was giving a private lesson to Margaret Eicke in what we call Room 3 on a Saturday morning. Tom and Mike Fagan had come down to the room to say hello to me, but when Tom saw Margaret, he was hit by a thunderbolt. Tom didn't want to leave, so he went and sat down and watched the rest of our lesson. I doubt he took his eyes off of Margaret once.

As the legend goes, after the lesson was over, Tom invited Margaret to visit Freeport that following weekend. Tom and his friend Carol Gafford had rented a couple beach houses for the SSQQ group to hang out.  Margaret was undecided.  Finally at the last minute she decided to go "for a couple hours".  Margaret discovered a wonderful group of people... including Tom. She ended up staying for the weekend despite feeling guilty that her two puppies were in pain from not being able to youknowwhat. If those dogs really did hold it all that time, then Margaret is welcome to come train my three dogs any time she wants!

The old joke is that no good deed goes unpunished. However, more often than not, good deeds have a wonderful karma about them. In this case, Tom had gone out of his way to organize a terrific event for his friends… and was rewarded by meeting the love of his life.

At the party, Tom pulled me over to say this was the exact spot where he first saw Margaret (right where this picture was taken!).  This spot still has importance to Tom. And it makes complete sense to me. Tom and Margaret have been married 25 years give or take. Both of their children, Tom and Ashley, are practically grown up now.

wonderful family serves as a powerful testament to the everlasting magic of SSQQ.  How could I not be sad to see something this good put to rest?


Rhonwyn Baker, Lou Weissman

Laura Graber, Steve Casko

Meg Hada, Rick Archer


Besides Tom and Margaret (1983), there were at least twenty married couples at the party. When I get Steve Gabino's pictures I will know for sure, but I can remember quite a few just off the top of my head. Bob and Ana Graham (2010), Andrew and Candi Gordon (2001), Wil and Karen Uecker (2006), Mike and Ann Harrah (2003), Gonz and Claudia Guerrero (2006), Dennis and Karen Clawsen (2001), Gary and Cheryl Davis (2004), Laura and Tim Bell (2003), Gerald and Virginia (1994), Gus and Fran Zandstra (2009), Chad and Allison Bryant (2009), Carl and Angie Hruska (2007), Bruce and Mara Hanka (2008), Anton and Peggy Solovyov (2000), Dave and Jamie Hathaway (2007), Imre and Eileen Kondor (2003), Gary and Linda Krzywicki (1986), Daryl and Jo Anne Armstrong (1998)… and of course Rick and Marla (2004).

Then there were people like Ben Liles (1999) and Gerry Frances (2009) who met their wives Diane and Amy at SSQQ, but came alone. Add to that list Wendy Lee (2008), Mack Warren (2007), Loni Gephardt (2009), Jack Myers (2009), as well as Keith and Betty Baker (2006) and Ruth and Joel McCleskey (2005) who said their hellos during the week before the party. So many couples!

I should add there were engaged couples in attendance: Richard Greason and Toni Maciel as well as Tom Huddleston and Bette Polishak.

Among my many friends, there are about six or seven couples who had been "dating" for over ten years. I have long given up ever closing the deal on these characters, but the bottom line is I know SSQQ is just as important to them as it is to the married couples.

Let me add there were yet a dozen more couples in attendance who are in serious relationships. I would name names, but that might destroy the magic.  After all, they just might be walking that road…


Marla, Rick, Patty Harrison, Joe Lachner

Dan and Judy Bates, Rick, Pat and Jess Carnes

Daryl's idea - sign the door!

For the record, since I have been keeping score, I have listed 163 marriages in eleven years. To my way of thinking, that is just remarkable. And there are so many more marriages in that total that aren't listed!

For example, I grinned at the party when I noticed my favorite "secretly" married couple at the party. They met in a Tango class about three years ago and have kept it a secret all this time! About three months ago, the lady was dancing with me. Right in the middle of our dance, she said she had a confession to make. That's when she told me she had met her husband at the studio. I was floored… they don't even take classes together! God forbid anyone should know!

Nor was my "secretly married" couple alone. A very funny part of the evening came towards when one couple after another made a point to confide to me they knew some married or engaged SSQQ couple whose names have never been reported.

People have a right to privacy, so I won't push. The deeper message is that SSQQ has always been a happy place. Cupid has done wonders with this place.

So who all came to the party? Beats the heck out of me! After all, there were nearly 500 people in attendance. When Steve Gabino hands me the pictures, I am sure my memory will improve dramatically. Speaking of Steve, our popular SSQQ Swing Instructor, other SSQQ instructors who shared their evening with us were Maureen Brunetti, Scott Ladell, Lani Hutto, Ben Liles, Mary Jane Covington, Ana Moreno, Marty Shea, Gary and Cheryl Davis, Rhonwyn Baker and her friend Lou, Linda Cook, Gerry Frances, Noe and Ulyses Rojas, Becky Bratton, Daryl Armstrong and Jo Anne, MG Anseman and Gay, Steve Casko, Laura Graber, Tom and Jo Tucker, Jamie Mabry and Matthew Boehm plus my favorite Theresa Chardola, known to me as TBA.

There were people I missed seeing last night who have been important to SSQQ for a long time. I was really sad not to see Sharon Crawford Shaw (and husband Bill), but she had an out-of-town visit with her three sisters that had been on the books for some time. I was sad not to see Jack and Jackie Benard, but they are on a cruise to London. I also missed Cher and Robert.

Most notable in her absence was Phyllis Troublemaker Porter. Phyllis and I engaged in a month-long running battle over my insistence that everyone make an effort to look nice. Phyllis demanded to be allowed to wear jeans to the party. She said she didn't wear dresses and didn't have any nice pants that fit properly. I suggested she wear something she wears to work. Phyllis works at MD Anderson. I assume they wear professional attire there, but Phyllis claimed that she wears jeans to work. Hmm. I was pretty skeptical. Troublemaker that she is, Phyllis would not back down. She insisted I let her wear jeans to the party. Instead I offered to take up a collection to buy her a nice outfit. Phyllis didn't like that idea so she left in a hmmph. Silly girl that she is, Trouble didn't realize I would never dream of shutting her out over something as silly as wearing jeans. When all was said and done, we had at least six or seven people who wore jeans anyway. Mostly I assumed Phyllis was bluffing so I played along. I was having fun seeing how far Phyllis would take her bluff, never realizing that she would actually skip the party. Phyllis wasn't the only one who acted weird. There are a lot of hard-headed people around this place.

Karen and Dennis Clawsen, 2001

Candi and Andrew Gordon, 2001

Chad and Allison Bryant, 2009




I am sure you have heard and read many, many stories about your classes, but I wanted to let you know how much the classes meant to me. I was in my 20's, in the mid 80's and took the first 2 C & W classes.

I went by myself (very unlike me) and was intimidated at first. I LOVED your style of teaching and found out very quickly that it was fine to come alone. I had always wanted to take dance classes as a kid and never had the chance, so I loved taking them then.

I distinctly remember one time that you pulled me out of the class to demonstrate what we had been practicing and you never knew what that meant to me. I always thought I was uncoordinated and would never be a good dancer, but that day I really felt differently.  Of course, that day I also realized that a good lead makes a big difference. More than 20 years later, I still remember that feeling and still appreciate those classes and that you took time to help me.

Later on, I married and divorced a non-dancer. Now am seeing an old boyfriend who is also a non-dancer. He says he would not be able to learn, but I am sure that he could learn at your studio if he just gave it a chance.  I am hoping to take one of your group's cruises and get him into some classes.

I am sure that your studio has touched many, many lives and you were not told about it just like I was touched by it. I really will be forever grateful for you and your studio.

Carrie Arnold

Jo and Tom Tucker


I heard Mario Robau, the famous Whip instructor stopped by with his lovely girlfriend Stephanie and his friend Amy Carter.

I am embarrassed to say I never saw Mario to say hi. Good grief. I was really sorry to miss him.

Mario joined the SSQQ Staff a year ago. At the time, the move was a real surprise to a lot of people since we were supposed to be bitter rivals.  

Now it is true we were both suspicious of each other.  Mario and I had never had a single conversation lasting more than a minute in 25 years.  In addition, there were a lot of nasty rumors out there about what Rick said about Mario and vice versa.  However, once we got to know each other, the rumors were dismissed and the walls came tumbling down. 

One of the satisfying features of the past year has been making friends with Mario.  It was actually a sort of 'Reagan-Gorbachev' experience.  Once I actually began to talk to the man, it turned out we had no differences.  Imagine how surprised I was!. 

I ended up learning a valuable lesson - keep an open mind and don't base opinions of people on hearsay. 


It was touching to visit with my wonderful friend Kerry P (pictured).  Kerry flew all the way in from Arizona just to be at the party.

No, Kerry didn't meet her husband Kelly at SSQQ, but she does credit the studio with keeping her sane during the unhappy final days of her first marriage.  I wish I had more time to speak to her, but I did at least manage to keep an eye on her throughout the night. Kerry seemed to have a of fun catching up on memories with her many friends at the party.

Kerry had some very kind things to say about the studio.  I am going to share them with you because I think what Kerry says about the studio speaks for a lot of people.

From: Kerry P
Sent: Saturday, February 20, 2010 2:47 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Achy Breaky Heart

Hi Rick-

It's been a while since I said "hi". Receiving yesterday's newsletter has compelled me to write, though. Things are going really well in my life, but I want you to know that there is not a Friday that goes by that I don't miss SSQQ and feel a deep longing to shuffle across it floors. For me, Friday was the best night at SSQQ. As you may recall, I was always one of the last people to leave even though I had to work early on Saturday mornings. My butt would drag all day long at work, but I didn't care. After a night of dancing I was so high I couldn't get to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. It was SO worth it! You have no idea how much I miss that.

Please forgive my nostalgia, but I am deeply upset about the Bissonnet studio closing. I know that moving away waives my right to feel like this, but alas. The thing that set me off was learning that they are going to tear down the shopping center and turn it into a parking lot. The people who dance at SSQQ are truly what make the studio so special and that will never change. But to think that the location that holds more than 10 years of special memories for me is going to be razed has me all choked up. Thirty years, Rick. And now you are passing the torch. How are you doing with all of this?

I was sharing my thoughts with Kelly tonight, and he asked me about how I found SSQQ. As I was telling him the story about how back in 1997, SSQQ rescued me from a debilitating depression after the second in a series of four miscarriages (did you know that?) and quickly became my second home, I realized that I need to come back to Houston and pay my respects to the old studio before it closes forever. I was looking at the party schedule in March to see what would work. Is there an April schedule? Do you really think they'll try to tear the studio down before May?

It sounds like things are uncertain, but if you could help me nail down a date for my trip I'd be really grateful.

I hope you are well. Please say hello to Marla for me and write soon.

Warm Regards, Kerry

From: Kerry P
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 2:02 PM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: Picture, please?

Hi Rick-

Thanks for the mention in your Last Waltz newsletter. Although being at the studio was tough in a lot of ways, (I kept choking up all weekend, especially when I walked out the door Saturday!) I had a wonderful weekend and am SO glad I came.

One thing that's particularly sad for me is that everyone who lives in Houston will have a new SSQQ to move to. Not that it isn't sad to leave the old building because I know most everyone feels like that, but it is also kind of exciting to be a part of something new. I will not having that experience. For me, a beloved one passed away and will never return. Damn! There I go again.

Thanks again, Rick, for all the wonderful experiences at SSQQ. I will never forget them, or you.

Take care, Kerry

And while I didn't get to spend time with long-time acrobatics instructor Paul Foltyn - who came with his dancing buddy Libby Ingrassia - it was a joy to have both of these wonderful friends there.

Paul is one of those people whose loyalty is as constant as the Northern Star.  He has always been there through thick and thin.  Paul is a bit on the quiet side, but not all people were meant to be big talkers like me.  All I can say is this: Paul is the kind of human being I would want as my brother. 

It is not a coincidence that Paul and Libby became friends.  They are both cut out of the same cloth.   Here is a note from Libby:

From: Libby Ingrassia
Sent: Saturday, April 24, 2010 11:16 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: The Last Waltz

Dear Rick,  I hope you are getting many email messages like this (in terms of the appreciation you're about to experience, if not the maudlin babble). Since I know you want everyone to be cheerful and celebratory tonight (Paul and I will be there - how could we miss it?), I thought I'd get my maudlin and melancholy out now.

Even though I've had many months and years when I've had to be a stranger to the studio, from my first time at SSQQ in 1994, it's had a huge impact on my life that might not be apparent. I've never thought of myself as being graceful or pretty or talented at physical things. I was always the smart girl, but also the klutz. In my first few months of dancing, I think I was pretty awful, in fact.  Luckily, you collect great people - good teachers (although I've taken the majority of my classes from the best - you), and great volunteers/assistants/students who'll help a struggling dancer get some more advanced practice.

Then I made a friend at the studio - Paul - and suddenly everything clicked for me with dancing. There was a time in the mid 90s when I was at the studio 3 or 4 nights per week and staying for practice all the time. In some ways, it led to my first marriage - I lost so much weight that Brian decided maybe I was good enough for him after all (I know, I know - what was I thinking?). Still, dancing (and yoga) are just about the only times in my life I feel tall, slim, and graceful. Even though I'm once again married to a man who doesn't dance (I know, I know), he sees the joy that infuses me when I come home from the dance studio and loves that. So while he doesn't dance with me, he supports my dancing because of the happiness and confidence it brings me.

I've never seemed to make a lot of friends at the studio. Oh, over the years I've brought folks to the studio the way my friend Kat brought me - my friends Julie and Wil, my friends Jami, Cindy, others... And I've been friendly with lots of people (even dated? one or two), but mostly I'm pretty shy, and I've almost never been truly single during my time at the studio (which made me even more reserved and unable to do the other social stuff), so I've had acquaintances, and people I like to talk to, and a few dates(ish), but I guess I never managed to get into the big social groups. In some ways, that always made me feel like an outsider. Still, through SSQQ, I met two of the people without whom my life would be immeasurably poorer - you and Paul.

Every time I went away (California, grad school, unemployment), you welcomed me back. You made me believe I was a pretty good dancer. You have been unfailingly kind and gentle and encouraging to me. Thank you, Rick.

And Paul. Gosh, what can I say about Paul? He's one of the nicest human beings on the planet - I'm convinced. And man, what joy in dancing together. We've figured out over the last few months that our friendship is driving (16 years we've been friends) and that we've danced to San Antonio and back (at least) in our mileage over the years. I know I'm so lucky to have him as a friend, a dance partner. And I owe that to you and SSQQ, too.

I don't know what the future of SSQQ will bring. I've chatted at the studio with Daryl a time or two and I hope that I will continue to be part of the studio, even if just as a student when I can afford it. And I have great hopes that SSQQ of the future will be a great place. But it won't ever be the same without you. Every time I'm in someone else's class, I'll have the cognitive dissonance that comes from hearing your words - or a pale copy of them - from another teacher. They're all good and trying hard and lovely dancers, but you've got a way about your teaching that particularly speaks to me. I'm glad I've gotten to spend so many cycles in your classes - if I ever get to teach a class of my own, I know it's you I'll be emulating and trying to channel. :-)

Thank you for what you built at SSQQ. I hope you know I wish you all the joy in the world in your next steps - cruising and dancing and and everything.

Geez, I'm supposed to be a professional writer, but I know I'm babbling only slightly coherently here.

I'll see you tonight with all the cheerful exuberance I can muster to celebrate the great community you've created, but know that I'm shedding a tear or two, too, for what I'll miss.

Of course, I have to mention all the other wonderful folks at the studio who've been sweet to me - Cher, Ben, Daryl, Jack, Maureen, etc.

The party was wonderful. I'm sorry we didn't get to visit more (and that you didn't get to visit with Paul) - we just didn't want to stop dancing. I think the only time we weren't on the dance floor was when you and Marla danced (which was beautiful!!) (oh, and one small water and bathroom break during which Marla snapped Paul up for a dance).

I'm crying again just reading your story about the party and re-reading my letter. You created something special, Rick - you can know you added something happy to the world.

Hugs, Libby






There were lots of people I missed seeing last night who have been important to SSQQ for a long time. I was really sad not to see Sharon Crawford Shaw (and husband Bill), but she had an out-of-town visit with her three sisters that had been on the books for some time.

Most notable in her absence was Phyllis Troublemaker Porter. Phyllis and I engaged in a month-long running battle over my insistence that everyone make an effort to look nice. Phyllis demanded to be allowed to wear jeans to the party. She said she didn't wear dresses and didn't have any nice pants that fit properly. I suggested she wear something she wears to work. Phyllis works at MD Anderson. I assume they wear professional attire there, but Phyllis claimed that she wears jeans to work. Hmm. I was pretty skeptical.

Troublemaker that she is, Phyllis would not back down. She insisted I let her wear jeans to the party. Instead I offered to take up a collection to buy her a nice outfit. Phyllis didn't like that idea so she left in a hmmph. Silly girl that she is, Trouble didn't realize I would never dream of shutting her out over something as silly as wearing jeans. When all was said and done, we had at least six or seven people who wore jeans anyway.

Mostly I assumed Phyllis was bluffing so I played along. I was having fun seeing how far Phyllis would take her bluff, never realizing that she would actually skip the party. Phyllis wasn't the only one who acted weird. There are a lot of hard-headed people around this place.


So who all came to the party? Beats the heck out of me! After all, there were nearly 500 people in attendance. Thanks to Steve Gabino and his pictures, my memory improved dramatically.

The list of visitors is practically endless.

Daryl Armstrong was the person who came up with the brilliant idea to let us sign our names to the two doors that will someday hang at the new SSQQ.  Very thoughtful!

Daryl says he is going to hang the two doors up at the new studio.  That would be a very nice touch.

There were so many special people there last night. I loved seeing Marty and Adele Raber, Jess and Pat Carnes, Dan and Judy Bates, Vivian Gufstafson, Liana Jungle Waldberg, Peggy McElroy, Mark Stevenson, Iqbal Nagji, Ann McKenzie, Pedro Martinez, Jim Scott, Lacy Crary, John Safos and his fiancée Jenny delaFuente, Brent Barker, Laury Adams, Harriett Daniel, Lisa Mallett, Deborah Jenkins, Judy Walsh, Joyce Isiminger, Susan Bloome, Sam Lathrum, Theresa O'Donnell.

Karl Rorabacher, Russell Chapman, Deborah Taylor, Ann Wells, Gareld and Virginia McEathron, Trent Taylor, Kristi Fuzzball, Tim Bailey, Nora from Bora Bora, Tim and Anita Frances, Leroy Ginzel, Susan Blome, Ann Faget, Enchantee Vavasseur, Nancy McCormick, Charley Denton, Rowena Roche, Jim Colby, Marlane Kayfes, David H, David Young, Carl and Margaux Mann, Sorrell Warren, Ashleigh Chavez, Jenny Baumgardner, as well as longtime SSQQ instructor Rachel Seff and her husband Dave Koenig.

Then there was Milt Oglesby, Paul Eustace and Linda, Ed Anderson, Patrick Grant and Rebecca Piper, Bill and Linda Evans, Dennis Krueger, Rick Reynosa and Laurette McDonald, Roberto and Judy, Sylvia Watuski (great name for a dancer... do the Watuski), Dessie Pierce, Rhonda Bowles, Emily Parkinson, Sol Eisenbaum, Keith Rein, Geanna Rossman, Jeanne Tobin, Cheryl Davis, Philip Stern, Bill Toliver.

Bob Wingardner, Carol Batson, the two sisters Gina and Joy, Chips and Tina Deeds,  Rick Shallenberger, Lorraine Cull, Robert Shuler, Kirby, Kenneth and Laura Klare and son Eric, Cindy and Gary Berridge, Rey Velasquez, Jerry and Nancy Easterly, Sharon Allen, YJ, Richard and Annie Byrd, Fernando and Miriam Rodriguez, Angelica Verjan, David Crawford, Mike Wilhelm, Karen Estep, Bert Bernabe, Delores Mora and her husband, Chester Kronke, Alan Wolf, Phyllis Harrison, Kelly McLachlan, Joe Pikas, Ted Weisgal.

Mary Trapp, Will Rios, Carol Alvarado, Nick ?, Randy Piniola, Karen Eggert, Pravane ?, Alana Bailey, Lynwood Jones, OJ Bowman, Kris Rendon, Alex Schamenek, Beth ?, Cheri ?, Jim Reed, Frank ?, Nancy Munro, Joan Korpal, Vinay Mathias, Allison Labbe, Philip ?, Rick Elizondo, Marsha Bauxman, Ash Ahmed, Terri Beeler, Alena Oetting, Ken Robeson, Viola Hernandez, Tim Crist, Lisa Kang, Ed Aiken. 

Unfortunately these are just the people whose names I know.  There were probably 200 more people whose names I didn't know.  The pictures are lined with nameless faces.  That said, if you want your name added to this list, just let me know.


So were there any engagement announcements at our party?  

No, darn it.  I admit I was secretly hoping someone would step forward and propose at the party.  Oh well.

Don't worry, when the story of SSQQ gets made into a movie, in the Hollywood ending I will be sure to include a wedding proposal. 

I grinned when I noticed my favorite "secretly married" couple came to the party.  This was the first time I had ever seen them at the studio TOGETHER. About three months ago, the lady was dancing with me. Right in the middle of our dance, she said she had a confession to make. That's when she told me she had met her husband at the studio. She said they met in a Tango class about three years ago and have kept it a secret all this time!  I was floored… they don't even take dance classes together!  God forbid anyone should know!

Nor was my "secretly married" couple alone in keeping secrets. A very funny part of the evening came towards the end.  One couple after another stopped to talk to me.  In hushed whispers, they made a point to confide they knew some married or engaged SSQQ couple whose names had never been reported.

People have a right to privacy, so I won't push. For the record, since I have been keeping score, I have listed 163 marriages in eleven years. To my way of thinking, that is a remarkable achievement.  And there are so many more!  I estimate the real number is close to 200.

The numbers are impressive, but the deeper message is that SSQQ has always been a happy home.
Cupid has done wonders with this place.




Besides Steve Gabino, our photographer who moonlights as a popular SSQQ Swing Instructor in his spare time, there were many other SSQQ instructors who shared their evening with us.

Maureen Brunetti, Scott Ladell, Lani Hutto, Ben Liles, Mary Jane Covington, Ana Moreno, Marty Shea, Gary and Cheryl Davis, Rhonwyn Baker and her friend Lou, Linda Cook, Gerry Frances, Steve Casko, Laura Graber, Patty Harrison, Joe Lachner, Tom and Jo Tucker, Mona Nashad, Jamie Mabry and Matthew Boehm, Noe and Ulyses Rojas, Becky Bratton (pictured), Daryl Armstrong and Jo Anne, as well as MG Anseman (pictured) who came with his lovely wife Gay.

Salsa instructor Theresa Chardola was also with us.  Theresa was officially an SSQQ for about two months... the last two.

However, Theresa was an unofficial instructor for SSQQ for about three years.

Theresa is a real favorite of mine.  She always makes me laugh. 

For example, Theresa is known to me as TBA.  So where did that goofy nickname come from?   One day I saw Theresa and pulled her over to ask how a Saturday Night Salsa Party had turned out.  Theresa said the party was great and that she had enjoyed teaching Beginning Salsa. 

I furrowed my brow.  I thought Theresa was just a volunteer. I had never heard of a student teaching a class before.  "I didn't know you were scheduled to teach at the party."

Theresa smiled.  She said she had been teaching at practically every Salsa Party for the past year.  Whenever the schedule said, "TBA", Theresa usually ended up teaching it.  Then she grinned and added that "TBA" stood for "Theresa Be A-teaching."

Too funny.

Theresa started as a student in 2005.  Her class history lists 50 Salsa classes! Wow!  Then Theresa became a volunteer.  And then in March 2010 she became an official instructor. 

Theresa's story is the same as a lot of SSQQ instructors.  That's how they all started. 
Beware the free agents.  With the exception of Debbie Reynolds back in the Nineties, every instructor we have ever hired from outside the studio has given us nothing but problems. 

SSQQ is successful because it grows its instructors from within.  Theresa is a perfect example.  She is SSQQ Blue through and through... and there are many others just like her.

Rick, I don't know if you are a spiritual person, but I am.

I still remember the first time I knew about SSQQ about 8 years ago. I was so happy to finally find I place where I could learn how to dance and overcome my limitation of having two left feet. Me, and my peers in class where so excited about being able to learn how to dance country music...It was a magic moment in our lives...and I can assure you that we all were feeling the same way...we, Louis and Gloria Romero, Mercy, Mary Cioffi, Jack, Cindy Ramirez, Helen Anderson, and many others were so happy about learning how to dance at SSQQ and practice a little more at the Longhorn Saloon...

I felt specifically blessed with the opportunity to be there at SSQQ, and I often thought that it was an opportunity granted from above...from heaven!

I can not imagine the overwhelming feelings that you might be having right now, having to let go of a lifetime of hard work and many ups and downs, rights and wrongs, genius ideas and some mistakes that you went through to build the best dance studio in Houston, in Texas and probably in the USA...

But in my belief system, I believe that Angels in heaven are right now giving you applause for a job well done, for touching so many lives in a positive way, and for bringing happiness to so many people...

Rick, thank you for touching and improving my life and the lives of many other people...consider that for every thank you message that you get, there might be another hundred people who didn't have the time or couldn't find the words to thank you for changing their lives, so when you read these messages multiply them a hundred times to give you an idea of how many people you have touched...and blessed!

Yes!... a new chapter of SSQQ is going to be written, but be assured that your legacy is already written in the book of life in heaven...congratulations!...for a job well done!...and I wish you and Marla and all your family many, many blessings...a thousand times the blessings that you have brought to us...

Good luck in your future enterprises!...and receive our many prayers for your well being in the near future...  Pedro MartinezA happy dancer....thanks to SSQQ!

PS: Please, please, please, extend this thank you message to all your wonderful instructors...Linda, Scott, Maureen, Steve, Jill, Martin, Mario, MG, Theresa, Noe, Ulyses, Sonja, and all their awesome assistants!

Pedro Martinez pictured with Kristi Fuzzball

In addition to being beautiful women, Phyllis Sullivan and Mona Nashed have something unusual in common.  They have been loyal SSQQ assistants for many years and yet SSQQ has never paid either woman a single penny that I know of. 

Their situation is not unique.  There must be thirty, forty, fifty people just like Phyllis and Mona who volunteer their valuable free time to help teach classes at SSQQ. 

As Pedro pointed out.... "please extend this thank you message to all your wonderful instructors... and all their awesome assistants!

There are unsung... and unpaid... heroes throughout the studio.   Mind you, it is not just the volunteers who continue to serve whether they are paid or not.  My entire staff of instructors is the same way. 

With the exception of one person, my entire staff acts like they could care less about the money.  You might be surprised to learn the paid people on our Staff have gone five years without a raise.  And yet in that time, I have received just one single complaint that we weren't paying people enough. 

It is a shame this situation had to even come about.  SSQQ wasn't always a non-profit organization.  Despite the ever-present parking problems and the constant landlord money grabs, 2007 was a pretty good year for SSQQ. 

At the start of 2008, business was good here at the studio. Consequently, I was just about to give everyone a raise.   I had just made the decision to give the entire staff an across-the-board raise when suddenly the gas prices start to rise.

Everyone panicked.  So did I once I realized how drastically the gas problem was affecting my business.  I decided to put the raise on hold until things stabilized.  We all know how that story turned out.  Things just got worse. 

For the past two years and a half years, SSQQ has operated at break evenAny chance of a raise was long forgotten.

And yet only one Staff member quit during this time, but that was only because we wouldn't let him have more volunteers to help dance with his other volunteers.

Actions speak louder than words.  I realized the many people who work here teach not for money.  They do it because they like to teach. The money is secondary.  They understand the concept of service - helping others is a way of life. 

In a way, I feel guilty when people give me credit for all the good that SSQQ has done over the years.  Yes, I played my part, but so did a lot of people... most of whom won't get much credit at all in this story.

This entire army of people with big hearts is just as important to the legacy of this studio as I am.  The SSQQ Staff and their assistants and the volunteers all help make this place tick.

These people are the major reason why SSQQ feels like a family to many.


Continuing my intention to praise people who don't get enough credit, I would like to give two examples of people I consider to be the unsung heroes of the Last Waltz Party. 

One of my unsung heroes of the evening was Whitney Mahaffey. Whitney gave up her entire Saturday night to watch the door for us during the party.  Whitney didn't dance, she didn't hit the food tray, and she certainly didn't get to spend the evening with her college buddies. 

Furthermore, Whitney got the privilege of staying at the studio to well after 1 am to help clean up.  Did I mention we set an all-time record for most trash?   You didn't need to know that, did you?

Fortunately Whitney wasn't too lonely - she was joined by her boyfriend Ryan Bagley. Graduates of Bellaire High School, Whitney and Ryan are now students at the University of Houston.  I had always assumed that Whitney and Ryan had met at Bellaire High School.  Here at the Last Waltz Party, I found out there was a twist to this story.

Ryan inadvertently brought a big smile to my face.  Ryan overheard me talking to a group of eight people about Tom Easley.  I pointed out that Tom had been reminiscing with me during the evening about the "exact spot" at SSQQ where he first met his wife. 

Then I told the story of how Jim Colby and Marlane Kayfes had an "exact spot" of their own.  During that crazy night  when 30 of us were stuck at SSQQ thanks to Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001, Marlane and Jim staked out a spot on the couch opposite me and laughed themselves silly all night long.
  I didn't get a wink of sleep thanks to those characters, but you know what, I didn't mind that much.  At least someone was happy!

That is when Ryan let something slip.  Without really thinking about the consequences of his words, Ryan blurted out that he had first gotten the nerve to ask Whitney out on a date in the SSQQ Parking Lot.  Then to emphasize his point, Ryan pointed to the parking lot right outside the door.

Immediately the eight people standing around turned their eyes to Ryan.  They began to inquire about the "seriousness" of their relationship. Poor Ryan turned eighteen shades of pale. Seeing his plight, I came to his rescue and pointed out that both Whitney and Ryan were still in college and maybe weren't quite ready to be put on the spot.  Ryan's grateful look of relief let me know I had done the right thing.

Nevertheless, you never know, I have a hunch SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance Magic will continue to be alive and well long after our doors have closed.   For example, Marc Cortez proposed to Dana LeDoux just days after the party.  Congratulations!

I don't think Marc and Dana's announcement is the last.  Throughout the night, Marla and I spotted a lot of romances that seemed like they were headed somewhere good. When you get to see Gabino's pictures, I am sure you see what I mean.  Tongues will be wagging!

Another unsung hero… or should I say 'heroine'… of the evening was Toni Maciel (pictured with her fiancé Richard Greason).  It was 1 am in the morning and I looked over and saw Toni with a broom.  Then I looked at the floor and gasped.  Toni had already swept up a ton of trash on the floor.  No one asked her to do this thankless task.  Nor was it a casual effort.  It was a lot of work!  Toni singlehandedly swept the entire Room Three... all while wearing her pretty dress and Richard's coat to keep warm. 

Let me add that Richard's coat ended up with lots of party souvenirs smeared on it, but I don't think he minded.  Richard just kept beaming at his remarkable lady.  Toni is pretty special.

Toni wasn't the only person who contributed throughout the evening without being asked. Her story is just one that I happen to notice.  It isn't just the Staff that pitches in.  Much of the time the students are more than happy to help.  That is really the way it has always been at the studio… lots and lots of people helping without any expectation of credit... or money for that matter.  We are a Family.

Ryan and Whitney


Richard and Toni




During the evening I couldn't help but notice the lovely Tracy Schweinle had a big smile on her face. Isn't she beautiful in that picture with Ed Aiken? 

Tracy, of course, is the gracious woman who tragically lost her husband Gary in a 2008 accident related to Hurricane Ike.  Tracy was a newlywed when Gary died.  She had only been married for three months when she lost our friend Gary Schweinle.  Gary, aka Mr. Hat to me, was easily the most popular man at the studio upon his death.  His loss was hard for all of us to take, so I can't imagine how Tracy ever got through that kind of grief. The poor woman was miserable. 

I am honored to say that Tracy in her grief turned to her friends here at SSQQ to help her heal.  Believe me, watching the studio help put this wonderful lady back to pieces will always be one of the highlights of my career. Two years have passed.  Now I can say how heartwarming it is to see Tracy able to move on from that terrible moment.  And I am grateful to all the people at this studio who helped Tracy recover. 

At the Last Waltz Party, I also saw Sherry Thornton, one of Tracy's friends.  Sherry's presence at the party reminded me not only of Tracy's hard times, but also of Mary Cioffi.  Mary is another SSQQ lady who tragically lost her husband in 2008.

The story of Mary Cioffi is not one I have said much about, probably because I felt she was too vulnerable.  Back in 2008, Mary lost her husband to illness.  She was absolutely crushed.  Sherry Thornton and Gary and Tracy saw how much pain Mary was in and begged her to go on the 2008 SSQQ Cruise to Rome.  They were determined to help Mary overcome her grief.  It wasn't easy!  I watched Mary out of the corner of my eye and saw many a tear. 

However, I do think that trip worked.  Gary, Sherry, and Tracy ... and Gabino and Vivian too... all wrapped this lovely woman in love throughout that trip.  Mary began to patch up her heart... only to be devastated AGAIN two months later when Tracy lost her husband too.  What a strange twist of fate. 

Recently I ran into Mary at a restaurant.  She was there with a date.  When she saw us, Mary got a big smile on her face. Mary got up and hugged Marla.  I was touched at how pleased Mary was to see Marla and me.  If I remember correctly, Mary then said, "What a funny coincidence.  I was just thinking about you guys!"

The very next day Mary emailed Marla to say she wanted to join us on our Labor Day Cruise to the Bahamas.  That's pretty neat.  And guess who else will be on that trip?  Tracy Schweinle.

There was a third person at the party who reminded me of loss and healing.  I was happy to see Sharon Michaels (pictured) and George Rahbany drop by.  Last year Sharon saw her lovely mother Marjorie, a wonderful friend of mine, pass away.  Sharon asked me if she could have the old blanket Marjorie always used at the Halloween Parties to keep her warm. That was the easiest request to grant of all… of course.

Tracy's husband Gary Schweinle and Sharon's mother Marjorie weren't the only people whose memories crossed my mind Saturday night.  I wish… I wish I wish I wish… I had remembered to say something about Gary Schweinle -- Mr. Hat - during the party to the entire group. And I wish I wish I wish I had taken the time to say something about Michael Friedberg and Marjorie Michaels and Donna Ruth and Tim Green and Doug Peabody and Elizabeth Eaton and all the other important SSQQ friends who have passed on. I intended to say something about these people, but I cannot believe how I spaced out when the time came.

In particular, I wish I had said something to the group about John Jones, my friend who brought the Waltz to SSQQ. John is the man who inspired me to learn to Waltz. Indeed, I began a project with Marla over six months ago to dance a lovely "Last Waltz" at tonight's party. Given my personal "Dance Curse" that I have alluded to, I wanted my final dance here at the studio to be absolutely beautiful and absolutely perfect.

I got one out of two. Our "Last Waltz" was lovely if you will permit a little immodesty.  Danced to the Engelbert Humperdinck song from the Sixties, the Last Waltz was a fitting song indeed considering the sad theme for our evening.

However, although our Waltz was indeed very pretty, I can't say it was "absolutely perfect". About halfway through the routine, I was dancing along happy as a lark when I suddenly realized I didn't know what the next move was. I had completely blanked out.  Now what?

Unsure what to do, I simply reverted to a Waltz Travel Step, the basic step of a traveling waltz.  There I was just waltzing along without a clue what came next.  My mind raced. Okay, I screwed up. Now what do I do?  I decided that even though I messed up, I didn't have to throw in the towel. Why not go ahead and complete the dance?  So that is what I did. I skipped a couple moves and picked up the routine in progress. Marla and I finished the dance just fine. I am sure someone noticed, but I doubt that they minded much.  After all, it was a lovely Waltz Basic, albeit a tad boring.

Marla was very cool.  She knew I had messed up, but didn't say a word.  Other than the fact that we were dancing a Beginner's move for about twelve steps, that would have been the only clue that something was wrong.  Marla just followed along flashing her lovely Vanna White smile until I came back to my senses.  Actually, now that I think of it, she did stop smiling.  Once I picked up the routine again, I reminded her to smile.  Suddenly the lights came on for both of us.

For lack of a better explanation, I think I had a "Senior Moment"… for a brief second a synapse missed its connection and there I was left wondering what went wrong. On the positive side, fortunately I knew the routine well enough to ad lib and continue our dance without any awkwardness. For that I am grateful.

I couldn't get over that I just blanked out. I wasn't really that nervous and nothing had happened to distract me. Furthermore, I knew the pattern very well. I just shook my head.  I had been practicing for six months just so I would know the routine like the back of my hand.  How many times do I have to practice till it is automatic?

After Marla and I finished our dance, this would have been a nice time to address the crowd about John Jones and Gary Schweinle and speak about all our many wonderful years here at Bissonnet.  It did not happen.  I tried to say something nice to everyone over the microphone, but I choked up. For someone who usually never shuts up, I found that I was completely unable to say anything. Oh well.

I think everyone understood this was a tough night for me. It isn't easy accepting that something as wonderful as my studio has to come to an end.  However, I did bounce back.  For the rest of the night I was happy thanks to the kind words of the many well-wishers.  I cannot begin to say how much I appreciated all the kindness... but I can write twenty pages about it.  As you know, Brevity is my specialty.




Newlyweds!  Bob and Ana Graham 2010

Mona Nashed and Rick

Carl and Margaux Mann


Throughout the night, there were two people who really made the party happen. Steve Gabino (pictured with Alena Oetting) took pictures for us at the party.  As you will see, he did an exceptional job.

Mr. Gabino, incidentally, does professional photography for weddings and other events. Contact him at

Then there was Mitch Istre who played all the wonderful Swing, Twostep, and Waltz music throughout the night. Mitch did a wonderful job.

Mitch received many compliments all night long.  The dance was packed!  I especially liked his selection of Waltzes, the theme for our party.  I was so impressed by the job he did that I donated my studio's CD collection to him.  It is nice to know my CDs went to someone who will appreciate them.

Mitch does his DJ work professionally.  
Contact him at


My very good friend Mike Fagan once said my greatest contribution to the world of dance was the Monster Mash.   I don't know if I should admit this or not, but yes, I created the Monster Mash.  

Back in 1991, I noticed a lady named Stacey doing a silly dance move where she rolled her hands and pointed her fingers in the air.  She said she was imitating a California Raisin.  Amused, I borrowed that move to create a Sock Hop line dance known as The Raisin Dance.  I got so many compliments on this cute little dance that I was inspired to do something similar for that year's Halloween Party.

Throughout the month of October, I worked on a dance to go with the classic Halloween song The Monster Mash"They did the Mash!  It was a Graveyard Smash!"

First came the Igor Shuffle.  Then came the Monster Attack.  Then came the actual Monster Mash move complete with the Monster Stomp.  Carefully I weaved each move precisely into my choreography. 

All month long people saw me working on this dance, but they only saw snippets.  They became curious.  Someone said they wished I would have a class to teach it before the party.  Sure, why not?

Word of mouth spread.  Someone must have been pulling someone's leg, but somehow the rumors got out of hand.  People began to believe this was quite a dance.  This was the Halloween dance to end all dances! The pre-game hype was impressive to say the least, but don't blame me.  It wasn't my fault!

So on the night of the 1991 SSQQ Halloween Party, I offered a "Monster Mash" crash course at 7 pm.  To my amazement, over a hundred students showed up.  They were could barely wait to see the dance of all dances finally revealed!

My buddy Mike Fagan strolled in about halfway through the lesson.  Mike had come early to help me set up for the party.  But as he drove up, Mike couldn't figure out why the parking lot was so full an hour before the party started.

Once Mike took one look at how goofy the actual Monster Mash dance was, he broke out in a huge grin.  Taking note of the stomping feet and the clumsy motions I was so carefully explaining to my students, Mike couldn't believe I had students asking me questions on how to dance poorly.  He immediately began to heckle me. "Hey, Rick, isn't it supposed to work the other way?"

Mike was always a bit of smart-ass.  He could get under my skin faster than anybody.  But I won this round.  I told Mike that not only were these 100 people hanging on my every word in their desire to learn my masterpiece, they were each paying me $10 for the privilege!!  

Mike was stunned.  His eyes grew wide.  He didn't know I was charging for this.  OMG!  Mike shook his head in obvious consternation.  Then finally Mike grinned.  Mike said he had underestimated me.  I had somehow found a way to get people to pay me $1,000 to learn how to dance like spastics.  Didn't people know how to look this bad on a dance floor for free? 

Mike said I had to be the greatest dance businessman he had ever met.  To this day I am still not sure if he meant that as a compliment or not.  


Amelia, Miriam and Fernando Ramirez, Rick, Angelica Verjan

Jim Colby, Marla, Rick, Marlane Kayfes



My evening was definitely enhanced by the presence of a current "Generation" consisting of my Friday Night friends. A special thank you to Steve Casko, Laura Graber, and Jami Jaime Jamy Jamie Mabry as well as Becky Bratton is long overdue. These four people were the ones who tacitly volunteered their time to keep the energy alive on Friday Practice Night for the past year.

They did so without being asked. For some mysterious reason, about a year ago my enthusiasm for "dancing" at Friday Practice Night disappeared. I didn't mind being there. After all, I love my studio and the people who come here!  I just didn't want to dance any more. I suppose Linda Cook put it the best. One night while we were doing a puzzle, some guy asked Linda why she wasn't practicing. "Why should I practice?  I already know how to dance!"

I nodded my head at that reply.  Made sense.  But I felt guilty too.  I took it as a very bad sign when I realized I simply didn't want to dance any more "for the fun of it". If dancing is no longer fun, then what I am doing here?

On the other hand, I wanted to be at the studio as long as I didn't have to dance. So I looked for a compromise. For about six months I started a Jigsaw Puzzle club. Linda Cook was the clear superstar of this bunch.

Then my interest changed to a goofy but deeply satisfying board game called 'Blokus'. Last Christmas I was staring at our wonderful Dickens Village with the train actually RUNNING thanks to my friend Hans.

While I was admiring the beauty, a lady whose name I have forgotten came up beside me and struck up a conversation. She told me about Blokus. I was intrigued. So when I noticed the game for sale in a bookstore, I bought it as a Christmas Present… for myself.

For the past four months, Blokus has been my favorite Friday Night pastime.  We often play till two in the morning!  I don't even know where the time goes.

My Blokus friends included Phyllis Sullivan aka Slick (in black),  Rachel Killer Instinct (in green),  Marty Shea (holding the game) and Priscilla Ray aka Kimberly (in red).  Other regulars who joined me for our marathon Blokus nights were Susan Arevalo, Tim Crist as well as my beloved Holly Jolly who managed to find something arousing in every Blokus shape.   Meanwhile Priscilla was ready to administer the Rorschach test to her.

It was great to have this whole gang there at the "Last Waltz"In a very powerful and kind of bittersweet way, these were the friends formed my final "SSQQ Generation".



What a wonderfully written farewell letter!  How do you say farewell to 33 years?  How do you say farewell to your life blood, your heart and soul; to all the staff and people along the journey?  It cannot be easy even if you feel on top of the world or feel sick and tired and weary!!

What a WONDERFUL legacy you leave. SSQQ a true original. Affordable group lessons, a place of refuge, a new beginning when life has trampled on you.  SSQQ - A new "family" when you need it the most.  SSQQ - Self esteem when you thought you could never have any.  SSQQ - A place to make new friends and possibly find love and a mate.  SSQQ - a safe and wonderful place to learn to dance.  SSQQ - Where hundreds and hundreds of lives have been touched and changed by you!

The building is old and has been a nightmare of problems for you and Marla, but to the rest of us it was "our place".  We accepted and loved like an elderly loved one, wrinkles and all.

I loved your quote, "As we prepare to pull down the curtain on this grand adventure, we can hold your head high and say we created the greatest Social Dance studio of all time!  Perhaps someday other programs will surpass us, but we got there first."  I doubt anyone will ever surpass this studio.

I honor, respect, love and thank you and Marla for what you two have given to Houston and to me personally!  It has been my wonderful privilege to learn from and to work with you both!  I can only hope the future holds more of the same!!

Your road ahead may seem a little uncertain, but I think the best is yet to come!  Time has given you much wisdom and a life mate to complete you.  Savor that!!

Wake up to that like the smell of a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. Hold it like a precious jewel. God is good and life is good. Purpose to enjoy all that lies ahead because you deserve it, you have earned it.

I pray for blessings of peace, joy, and rest for you and Marla in the coming days. I pray God will bless you financially and meet your needs in a way that only He can.

Your life friend!  Phyllis Sullivan

Rick, Michelle, Craig

Theresa O'Donnell, Sam Lathrum

Rick, Laura Jean and Tim Bell 2003



Two people who were a huge part of the Last Waltz Party were Daryl and Jo Anne Armstrong. Jo Anne designed a lovely "Last Waltz" tee shirt to commemorate the evening.  All night long Jo Anne patiently sat out at the front desk selling her tee shirts.  

As you might expect, I bought several. I wore one to Andy's the day after the party.  As I paid my bill, the man checking me out said he had taken classes at SSQQ and loved the place.  I have been eating at Andy's for fifteen years and it took this tee-shirt to finally bridge an obvious gap.  Thank you, Jo Anne.

Throughout the party, Daryl did what he does best - meet and greet the people.  I just wish I had Daryl and Jo Anne's amazing people skills back in the days when I started.  I was an introvert in a job that calls for an outgoing personality.  It is true I have improved with time, but Daryl is a true natural.  When it comes to schmoozing, Daryl is so far ahead of me it is ridiculous.

Daryl and Jo Anne will be the leaders of the next generation of SSQQ.  They are both very talented people.  I think they are going to do a great job.


Wil and Karen Uecker (2006), Mike and Ann Harrah (2003), two lovely couples who are members of the SSQQ Wedding Club. 

There is something about that SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance Magic that the Internet match making services will NEVER quite duplicate.

The Last Waltz Salsa Gang.  These guys were sitting outside the studio at 1:30 am when Marla and I left to go home.  They were just getting ready to party!  Ashleigh, Jenny, Ulyses and Noe Rosas, Alex, and J.C.  Those identical twins drive me crazy.  I wish one of those twins please would get a tattoo so the whole world can finally tell them apart!  



As you have read, SSQQ helped form many marriages.  There is much more to the studio's legacy. The studio helped many people form deep and lasting friendships.

These ties are so powerful that they will last long after their place of origin is gone. 

In particular, throughout the night I was thrilled to see so many of my "old" friends drop by to say hello. A very touching part of the evening came when three of my favorite Generations showed up. Every now and then a group of dancers taking a class together suddenly "click". These people show up at the studio as strangers, meet in dance class, become dancing buddies and go on to form groups of lifelong friends.  

This phenomenon doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it is special to watch.


Of course my most famous Generation is the Tom Easley Look a Like Group from the Eighties. Tom was definitely the leader. Tom and his lovely wife Margaret were here with their wonderful SSQQ kiddos Tommy and Ashley… both all grown up now. There was Ted Jones and Margie Saibara, Michelle and Craig, Judy Price plus Gary and Linda Krzywicki (who are going on our Oslo Cruise next week!).  Missing in action were Mike Fagan and Carol Gafford … I can't believe they skipped this evening!   Another guy from this Era who couldn't be with us was Jim Felker... he and his wife Wendy Weston, another Oslo Cruiser, were in Austin.

It was wonderful to see Judy Price.  Judy is quite a character.  Some things never change!  With her red hair and bold personality, Judy was in perfect character... Miss Scarlett, always the hussy (I would be Professor Plum... always the nerd).  Judy is now a well-known Ballroom dance teacher over at Melody Lane. Judy taught here at SSQQ back in the early Eighties before the place even had its name. Judy played a huge role in getting the studio started. Tonight Judy kept us all laughing from the moment she got to the party.  It was very special to share memories with her, especially one particular memory Judy swore me to secrecy on.


Another Generation that is special to me is my Millennium Group led by Glen and Paula Morris. They were joined at the party by Stevie Wonder Bahnsen and his girlfriend, Judith Hijack Williams, Tim Bell and Laura Jean Bell, as well as Gary and Betty Richardson.  Sad to say, there were some MIAs.... Paul and Donna Motard, John Hall, Mickey.  We sure had fun together. 

The best story about these characters was the time Steve and Judith got stuck in a flooded car during Tropical Storm Allison (2001)!  The water was rushing in and they were having fits getting the door open.  As the water level inside the car rose, they barely escaped.  It really was that close.

(for a picture of the group, Halloween Best Costumes 2001 ... look for the picture with the fat red lips!)


Six people who were part of the Millennium Group - Bruce Hanka and Mara Rivas, Gary and Betty Richardson, as well as Patty Harrison and Joe Lachner - went on to become part of another special Generation, a more recent one.  

Let me add that Marla and I consider ourselves a big part of this group.  These people are wonderful.

For some reason, many of the people in this group like code names. Besides Kurt and Jean Wind and Ken and Dawn Oakley as well as Rey Velasquez and Joan Korpal who are still willing to go by their god-given names, we had Mister Handsome, Ms Terry, Marsharita, Zorro, Vivacious, and Desdemona in attendance. Must be a Facebook thing.  I would put tonight's photographer Steve Gabino in this group too.  Not only is he close to everyone in the group, no one bothers to call him Steve.  To us, he is simply the Great Gabino!

Like the other two groups, this group started as Whip Dancers.  However, thanks to Marla's Travel Magic, in later years the people in this group have also become quite the Band of Travelers.  So let's call this group the Barcelona Banditos.  Most of these characters were on our remarkable 2009 cruise to Barcelona and Italy.  

MIAs from this group included Albertina Argentina and Louie Louie as well as Robert Goins and Cher Longoria.  Wish they could have been with us tonight. 
I was also sad not to see Jack and Jackie Benard, but they were on a cruise to London.  

Margie, Michelle, Margaret, Judy, Linda,
Ted, Rick, Tom, Gary

Paula, Glenn, Patrick, Rebecca, Laura,
Betty, Gary, Patty

Mara, Bruce, Jean, Kurt

Handsome, Marsharita, Vivacious, Zorro, Mysterri



When it comes to "Generations", one thing that has been great about SSQQ over the years is that I don't necessarily have to be involved for the phenomenon to develop.  This is a good thing. After all, I can't be everywhere.  


One excellent example of this were the Swing Kids of the late Nineties.  When Swing Dancing hit it big, Judy Archer formed an excellent dance team that became very close knit.  Carl and Margaux Mann were on the first edition of that Swing Team. 

Maureen Brunetti and Steve Gabino were card-carrying members of the SSQQ Swing Kids.  You can see her grabbing the knee of Neal Pellis... who should have been here.

Allison Labbe (garter belt) from that group was here at our Last Waltz Party tonight. 


Another example of an incredible Generation would be Daryl Armstrong's Band of Crazies.  To see Daryl today, he is clean cut and buttoned down.  However in the late Nineties, Daryl was quite the young rebel complete with long pony tail.  His Margarita Tours and Tattoo, Leather and Lace Parties were the stuff of legends. 

n addition to Daryl's lovely wife Jo Anne, the Daryl Armstrong Experience was represented at the Last Waltz by Ben Liles, Sorrell Warren and Rachel (Seff) Koenig. 

And where exactly was Rocky, Gillian, Chris, Verla Dean, and Laura Wild!?


And how can I leave out the remarkable Heartbeat Dance Team?  Led by charismatic Susie Merrill, this was a band of western dancers that formed a dance team in the late Nineties.  Before they finished, they were World Champions.  They were quite gifted.  This group was represented tonight by Ben Liles, Martin Anderson, Marty Shea, Jim Colby as well as Andrew and Candi Gordon.  

It is a shame Susie couldn't be with us.  In addition, I missed seeing Ben's wife Diana (7th from left), but I imagine she had to be with the kids. Unexcused absences included Jill Banta and Anita Williams.  I am going to kick both of their butts when I see them again.

This was quite a group.  I think five different marriages developed!  When we say that Slow Dance leads to Romance, Heartbeat proved that Fast Dancing has the same effect!



Generations continually form at SSQQ.  All it takes is a Charismatic Leader. 

Leaders come in all sizes and shapes.  They each have their own style.  Some leaders are Rah Rah, some Leaders are funny, some are just natural organizers.

Over the years, SSQQ has been blessed with many talented Leaders.  Just like any All-Star team, there are some names of people who are going to get left off.  Please forgive me if my memory fails me here.

Jim Smith, Bob Job, Diane Head, Ted and Margie, Mike Fagan, Rachel Seff, Jann Fonteno, Maureen Brunetti, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Benard, Becky Bratton, Cher Longoria, Mara Rivas, Jean Wind, Ben Liles, Linda Cook, Phyllis Porter, Judy Archer, Iqbal Nagji, Gary Richardson, Phyllis Sullivan, Steve Gabino, Tracy Schweinle, Glenn and Paula, and V-Ann Noblitt.  These are just some of the people who made outstanding contributions to SSQQ. 

And now for the SSQQ Dream Team.  When it comes to forming my Pantheon of Leaders, Tom Easley would be on the team.  Daryl Armstrong would be on the team.  Judy Price would be in there.  And of course Susie Merrill would have to be in there. 

In the earliest days of the studio there was a woman named Cindy.  Despite our tortured relationship, if I ever see her again, I would immediately prostrate myself at her feet and say 'Thank You, Cindy.'

Although we had our problems, I can't imagine how this studio would have ever attained its greatness without her.  Cindy was the person who literally showed me how it is done.  I will always be in her debt.

I suppose I should include myself in this list.  I certainly took my turn as 'Leader of the Pack' on a few occasions. 

And of course I have to add our modern day marvel Marla Archer, the love of my life.  What a blessing Marla has been not just to me, but to all of us. Through her Travel ability, she has opened up a whole new world to the studio.

However, there is one more person I need to add to my List.  That would be Sharon Crawford.

Sharon had a prior commitment to be with her sisters in another city.  Although Sharon had to miss being with us, I absolutely must remind everybody of her importance to me and to this studio. 

We of course know her as Sharon Shaw.  Sharon and her husband Bill met through SSQQ.  They were married in 2005.  Bill and Sharon are wonderful together. I am tinkled pink they will be joining us on our Oslo Trip this week. 

Sharon's contributions to SSQQ go all the way back to 1987.  Sharon has played an incredible role in developing this dance program.  Sharon brought Death Valley to SSQQ.  Sharon taught Martian Whip.  Sharon brought us Western Waltz and Western Cha Cha.  Sharon is the finest dancer this studio has ever had.  Plus she adds such a touch of class to everything she does and every person she meets.  Such a dear woman! 

Sharon is one of the kindest, most considerate people I have ever met.  If there is one person who should be considered the "Mother of SSQQ", I would have to say Sharon is that woman.  Sharon will always be part of the Soul of SSQQ.   I am blessed to have had Sharon in my life.



SSQQ - Bissonnet is gone forever.  But out of the ashes, the Phoenix is bound to emerge.  We all hope that Daryl and Jo Anne's daunting project over on TC Jester will be a huge success. 

It will take a lot of work.  First they have to get the place open.  Then they have to figure out a way to get the Bat Signal out to all the SSQQ students who are scattered to the winds and lure them back.   I am not quite sure if all the SSQQ - Bissonnet instructors can be persuaded to return.  We will see.  There will definitely be new faces.... and from what the grapevine suggests, some Bissonnet Exiles as well.  It should be interesting.

I do not know what my role will be in SSQQ Dance, the name of our Bissonnet successor.  I am now past the point where I have the energy to play a daily role, that I know.  However I plan to contribute just as soon as I figure out where I am needed. 

I am guessing an entire new Generation of Leaders will emerge.  Leaders usually show up out of the blue... and turn out to be marvelous.  You may not see them coming, but then one day you will know.  There they are.



Did you know I am an only child?  If Sharon Crawford is the sweet sister I never had, then I would have to say Phyllis is the rotten sister I never had.  Phyllis is my Evil Twin.   If Phyllis didn't go out of her way to aggravate me at every opportunity, I would admit I love.  Phyllis is always a thorn in my side, but she makes me laugh as well. Actually, maybe I should admit I enjoy aggravating Phyllis too.  In that regard, we probably have more in common than either of us care to admit.  That's probably why we are both so wary whenever we are together.  We have the proverbial love-hate friendship.

I admire Phyllis.  I have never seen anybody get people worked up like Phyllis.  When it comes to Troublemaking, no one does it better than Phyllis Porter.  This woman was born to prod and provoke people into having fun whether they like it or not.  Phyllis is so good... so bad.... she is actually legendary for her evil skills.  Phyllis has gotten more people in Trouble than any other single person I know... and they all thanked her for it.

Phyllis Porter is the best example of someone who became a Leader that I never saw coming.  Phyllis Porter is definitely charismatic, but she was definitely off my radar.  I would have never picked Phyllis out of a line-up and said she would become the next great leader of SSQQ. 

Phyllis pretty much kept a low profile for her first year and a half at the studio.  She was funny, but well-behaved for the most part.  It wasn't until my Wedding Cruise in 2004 that Phyllis emerged from her shell to become the greatest force in SSQQ Dance Cruise history.  That is the year Phyllis snuck up on me and became a Superstar.

That was when I discovered that Phyllis is a Born Troublemaker.

Underneath her occasionally gruff exterior, Phyllis is a special person. Phyllis is especially effective at sea.  When it comes to helping people formed the bonds of friendship, no one does it better than Phyllis.   Once she started coming along, our cruises truly began to hop and bop.   

Phyllis definitely goes about things a bit differently.  I suspect that Phyllis is a witch.  Fortunately for us, she is a nice witch. Phyllis created an entire Cruise Generation of her own using a special blend of her personal Black Magic.   

Do you know how Phyllis gets people to become close?   She throws them all in a boiling pot and cooks them.

Or she gets them drunk out of their minds and hypnotizes them... "You are an SSQQ Zombie.  When you wake up, you will obey me and do whatever I tell you to do." 

Her good friend Gary Schweinle gave Phyllis all the credit for getting him married.  Gary said Phyllis made him a star on the cruise trips.  Gary once told me if it wasn't for Phyllis, he wouldn't have been famous enough to get girls to go out with him.  That is probably the strangest tribute imaginable, but in an odd way, I see his point.

One of the main reasons our cruise trips are so popular today is the energy Phyllis stirred up on our dance cruises.  When it comes to forming an entire Generation of Dance Cruisers, Phyllis deserves a lot of credit.




Generations continually form at SSQQ.  Not only do they form on land, some of our Generations form at sea.  Like I said, all it takes is a Charismatic Leader or a Born Troublemaker.  I didn't see Phyllis Porter coming.  Nor did I see Velma Roppolo coming either.  Like I said, you may not see them coming, but then one day you will know.  There they are. Velma is a born leader.  Like Phyllis Trouble, this lady has Magic too, but definitely a different style.  On the 2009 Conquest Cruise, Velma worked her dinner table into a nightly frenzy.  I could barely hear myself talking over all the ruckus from Velma's table.

People like to belong to groups.  The nice thing about a cruise is you can find a remote corner of the ship or just go to your own cabin when you want to be alone.  However, most of the time people prefer to hang out with their friends.  So when a natural leader like Velma showed up on last year's trip, a bunch of individuals recognized her talent.  They willingly began to play 'follow the leader'.  These people didn't know each other from Adam, but suddenly they had a dozen best friends aboard. And they adopted a name for themselves - "What the Hell Club" 

In the year since, these same people continued to hang together.  Not only did they take classes together, they met for dinner and margaritas.  Some of them even "dated"!  Amazing.

That is how SSQQ works.  We create bonds of friendship wherever we go.  We are a Family.  Friendship is the foundation of the SSQQ Spirit. The studio is gone now, but the Spirit will continue.  It will continue at TC Jester. It will continue at Wild West.  It will continue on cruises.

From: Velma
Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009
Subject: Note from Velma

Dear Rick,  As you know, I started dancing at SSQQ as the beginning of a recovery process after the death of my husband. Cher Longoria had suggested that I take lessons for some time.

The lessons, dancing and people at SSQQ have been a great addition to my life. You are a wonderful teacher in more ways than dance. And your choice of Marla as a mate lets me know that you are also a wise man.

Dear Marla,  I wanted to thank you for all your work planning, organizing and managing the Conquest Cruise. Since I had never been on a cruise I was apprehensive about the trip. However, it could not have been better.

Your selection of the people who sat with me at dinner was perfect. Not only did we enjoy the cruise, we have become friends. Everyone likes everyone. Last night we all had a reunion dinner together two weeks after the cruise.

If you need a second career you can become a matchmaker.

I loved watching you and Rick dancing together. It is obvious you are still in love. You are both very special people.   Thanks for being there.  Velma Roppolo

Velma and her friend Lisa

The noisiest people on the 2009 Conquest Trip
definitely sat at this table.  It was all Velma's fault that I
couldn't hear a thing Marla told me to do.



I have very few regrets, but I do have some.  One regret that I have is missing out on the Salsa Group.  For many years, Salsa paid the bills at SSQQ.  And yet I was nowhere to be seen to show my appreciation.

In many ways, the SSQQ Salsa Group was the most amazing Generation of all... and I missed it.

A day or so ago I was sitting at Guadalajara Restaurant by myself waiting for Marla to meet me.   By chance, Gonz and Claudia Guerrero and their young son were just leaving.   I had just seen them at the Last Waltz party a few nights earlier.  Claudia and Gonz were just as nice to me as they could be.

As I watched them leave the restaurant, I couldn't help but think about them some more. Claudia and Gonz met at SSQQ.  They were married in 2006.  I imagine that the story of Claudia and Gonz is just as unique as my earlier story about how Tom Easley met Margaret... except that I never knew Claudia and Gonz well enough to tell their story.  That made me feel guilty.  It is also made sad.  I wish I could be everywhere.

SSQQ has been an eight night a week job for as long as I can remember.   Back in the Nineties I made the decision to leave the Salsa classes to other instructors so I could have a few nights of rest a week.  But after meeting Gonz and Claudia, I couldn't help but feel sad that I missed out on an entire group of pretty neat people.  

Take for example this group of Salsa dancers in the picture.  I don't know any of them. But you know what?  It looks like they were having fun at the party. 

Julius Caesar was important to Rome, but Rome was bigger than Julius Caesar. 

The same can be said for SSQQ.  The point is that SSQQ is much bigger than me.

Thanks to the wonderful people at the studio... the Staff and the Volunteers and the students who constantly pitch in, the Legacy will continue.  SSQQ will always be a family.... whether I am there or not.  Just find the leaders and follow them.

Frank Ybarra, the man who lost his SSQQ wife Elizabeth Eaton last year, put it this way:

I sympathize with anyone who loses a loved one. But, life goes on. Took me a while to get to where I could say that. But it's true. Actually it was one of Liz's sisters who told me "Frank, only one person died that day". She told me that if it had been the other way around, Liz would have been out doing whatever it took to live. She loved life that much. So true. I wouldn't have wanted her to isolate.

Liz said people were like little atoms. Zooming around, bumping constantly into one another. Every now and then two of them were compatible and stuck together, a molecule. (she was so scientific). We made a good molecule according to her.  How scientifically romantic.  She was a nice lady.

Enjoyed hearing from you. Thanks for sending the newsletters. They are not too long. Maybe those who don't like them just have a short attention span.

You know, Rick, Liz and I always said that there was an indescribable "feeling" here at ssqq.  I can't describe it, but ssqq was fun, nice, friendly, comfortable?, and a lot of other things I'm sure. 

You're a nice man, Rick, best wishes to you. Thank you and your studio for giving me the opportunity to meet the most wonderful woman I ever knew.  You taught me to like dancing too, now that's an accomplishment.

Here in Cuero, no one here knows what the Whip is. Liz and I only had two of your classes, but it was enough to get us out on the dance floor. Just enough to make me THINK I knew what I was doing.

Thanks again, buddy, and if you're ever around Cuero or Victoria, remember, you have friends here too.  

Claudia and Gonz, 2006


Frank and Elizabeth 


The Last Waltz

On April 24, 2010...

we closed our doors at Bissonnet with a huge party, thus bringing a bittersweet end to the remarkable Thirty year Era of the first SSQQ.

I would like to Thank you so much for the memories... 

Now let's go see the pictures from the party.     RA


The Story of the Last Waltz

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