Controversy 1998
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HSDS-SSQQ Controversy 1998: 
The Harvest Moon Ball Incident
Written by Rick Archer  (Last update: May, 2007)

Any student of chess or military history will confirm the tremendous advantage of "getting there first." For example, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the North largely because the North got to the high ground shortly before the South did.  Despite superb tacticians and many brave soldiers, the South could never seem to overcome the disadvantage of fighting an "uphill struggle."

Back in 1998, SSQQ enjoyed a virtual monopoly as the place to go to learn how to Swing Dance.  All the credit goes to Judy Archer.  It was her pioneer work in bringing Lindy to Houston two years ahead of anyone else in the city that established SSQQ's credibility (read story).

However, before the year was out, SSQQ would lose its insurmountable position.  This is the story.

the 1998 Houston Press Award - "Best Place to Learn Swing Dance"

1998 was a year where HSDS and SSQQ pretty much stayed out of each other's way until October rolled around.  There was a good reason for that - this was the year that Swing swept the nation. 

Both organizations were swamped with people demanding to learn how to Swing Dance.  We were too busy to argue with each other.   We did our thing and they did theirs.  Carnell trained for the American Lindy Hop Championships and Judy formed a terrific new Swing team known as the "Swinging Skirts and Mugz." 

In the Spring of 1998, the Jump Jive and Wail  Gap Commercial took Swing Dancing to unprecedented heights.  Consequently both organizations enjoyed tremendous popularity. 

Our classes here at SSQQ were full to the brim. The studio's successful Swing program initiated SSQQ's sharp climb to become the city's largest dance studio.

In September 1998 SSQQ won the Houston Press Best of Houston award for being the Best Place in Houston to learn to Swing Dance.

We were very proud of the honor, but we didn't even know about the contest until someone brought the Press in one day and showed us we had won.  The award was much appreciated and the write-up was quite flattering.  Judy Archer deserved complete credit for the award.

As I pointed out earlier,  one very effective
way to become a leader is to get there first.  Thanks to Judy, SSQQ had a two year head start on everyone else here in Houston.

It was Judy's pioneer work with the Lindy in 1995 and 1996 that brought this dance to Houston well ahead of the pack.

The Houston Press Award was a much-deserved reflection of the 1998 strength of the SSQQ Swing Program.



Despite my public smile over the award
, I was aware of an ominous development.  Seemingly out of nowhere, we had acquired a serious rival to our Swing Monopoly of 1997.

Thanks mostly to the 1997 defection of one-time SSQQ Swing Instructor Carnell Pipkin to HSDS, seemingly out of nowhere HSDS had become a business competitor with alarming speed.  With Carnell as their leader, in only one year's time, the new kid on the block had managed to break SSQQ's 1997 stranglehold on the Houston Swing Dance market. 

Now thanks to a studio full of Swing students and the September Houston Press Award, spirits were high at SSQQ in October 1998.  Nonetheless, in my private thoughts I could not shake my dismay over losing SSQQ's Swing Monopoly.

At the time of the Houston Press award in September 1998, SSQQ still clearly held the upper hand, but HSDS had my full attention.   Where SSQQ once had 100% of the Houston market, by my estimate we now only had 70%. 


Despite the growing HSDS threat, SSQQ was in great shape.  Our cupboard was stock full. 

  • Judy still had the area's top Swing Program at SSQQ including the best classes and the most students. 

  • Judy maintained her reputation intact as Houston's leading authority on Swing and Lindy dancing. 

  • After Carnell's defection, Judy regrouped by finding strong new teachers to replace Carnell. 

  • After HSDS more or less confiscated her 1997 Swing Team,  Judy had replaced them as well by conducting tryouts in early 1998 for a new Swing Team.

October was the month Judy's much-vaunted new Swing Team would debut at the studio.   Judy's new Swing Team was something of a secret weapon.  Very few people at the studio - including me - had ever seen them perform. 

Judy had spent the early part of the year training them.  This past summer the new SSQQ Swing Team had performed several times around the city as a way to get their act down.

Judy was breathless with excitement as she described them to me.  This new team was good.  They called themselves the Swinging Skirts and Mugz.

Obviously you had to speak Swing jargon to appreciate their name.  Fortunately their dancing was a lot better than their name.

The team's acrobatics were phenomenal, their showmanship was excellent, and Judy's choreography was scintillating and clever.

This group of dancers was so talented that they were going to put Judy back in the game.  This team was definitely good enough to take on the Hepcats, Carnell's performing team over at HSDS.

At some point, there were would be showdown - the Hepcats and the Swinging Skirts and Mugz were on a collision course to meet at some point.  This would match the Mentor - Judy - against her former protégé - Carnell - to see just who had the better dance team.  This showdown would the Harvest Moon Ball in November. 

But first we had the October SSQQ debut of the Swinging Skirts and Mugz to look forward to.  SSQQ Swing students were chomping at the bit to see them perform.  They had heard the rumors of how good they were.  They wanted to see them with their own eyes!

Actually the Skirts and Mugz already had developed a following.  SSQQ students had figured a simple way to catch their act ahead of time - show up early for Swing class on Monday and go into Room One to see them practice.  As long as they kept quiet, Judy didn't mind if they watched.  If anything, it was good energy for her dancers to have this kind of support.

Wow!  Their daring acrobatics and clever formations were impressive!  The word spread.  More and more people showed up at the studio early just to see them practice. There might be 20 or 30 people who sat and watched the team practice all the time here at the studio before classes started at 7 pm. 

As their reputation grew over the summer, the whole studio clamored for the chance to see the dance team in action!  It was definitely time for a studio debut! 

Judy was very proud of her new group of dancers. They were the apple of her eye!   Her hours of hand-picking new talent, pouring over videotape and agonizing over choreography was finally paying off.  Judy had a right to be proud; these dancers trained hard and looked great together.  

Judy and I scheduled the Zoot Suit Riot Swing Dance here at the studio for Saturday, October 17, as the perfect time to feature the studio's first performance of Judy's second Swing team, the Swingin' Skirts and Mugz.  Finally everyone at SSQQ would be able to see them in action!


Thanks to the Jump Jive and Wail Gap Commercial, 1998 Houston was flooded with Swing Fever.

The Orchid Lounge become the place to go for the best Swing dancers in the city.  The Orchid played DJ Swing music during the week and hosted live Swing bands on the weekends.  It was the destination Mecca every night of the week for Swing dancers. The place was usually mobbed! 

The Orchid had opened in the Village which was conveniently located within walking distance of Rice University.  Consequently a lot of Rice students took up near-permanent residence at the Orchid to the dismay of their parents who would have preferred they study over Swing Dancing.  But you know how that is.

The excitement over the October SSQQ Swing Team debut was not limited just to SSQQ students.  Every night at the Orchid Lounge rumors were spread that the new SSQQ team was phenomenal.    This became a much-anticipated event throughout the Houston Swing Community as well. 


At my wife's insistence, I pretty much kept my nose out of her Swing affairs.  Why argue with success?  When it came to Swing, Judy waved the golden wand.

I was content to spend my time with the other side of the studio - Western classes and Whip classes.  I also helped by writing stories about the Swing phenomenon.  In 1998
I had developed an interesting new hobby - writing stories for my new SSQQ web site.  For example, one of my first projects was the History of Swing in case you are curious.

That didn't mean I was oblivious.  I taught some Swing classes too and kept an open eye.  And for good reason - I could not help but notice that HSDS would not leave us alone!  One reason for their rapid rise as a business competitor was their aggressive (and, in my opinion, unethical) business tactics.  The constant presence of HSDS representatives at our Swing Practice Nights continued to get under my skin.  Watching them hand out HSDS flyers when they didn't think I was looking, taking down email addresses, and actually trying to recruit SSQQ Swing students right under our noses was really getting on my nerves.

In all the years I have operated SSQQ, not once have I ever sent a teacher or students to another organization to spread disinformation or recruit students.  I could not understand why HSDS couldn't keep its hands off of our business. 

I guess I should not have been so naive.  When it came to meddling, there was no one superior to Carnell Pipkin.


On Friday, October 16, a dark cloud from the past reemerged at the worst possible time. That night Carnell Pipkin left a message on Judy's answering machine announcing he was planning to attend the party the following night.  He had her private unlisted number because they had worked hand in hand for over a year together.  And Judy hadn't seen any reason to change it.

In our house, the Pipkin name was synonymous with Benedict Arnold, the infamous Revolutionary War traitor. I was stunned at the sheer nerve of the man to think he would be welcome at our studio!  The Audacity of that man was something to behold.

Surely the timing of this call was no coincidence.  Don't you think he had his own agenda?  After all, in the past year and a half he had become the unquestioned leader of the Houston Swing Scene and the main man at the SSQQ spin-off organization HSDS.  Maybe he just wanted to check out the competition. Or perhaps he felt threatened by the return of his former mentor. 

Neither of us ever wanted to see this man again. I told Judy to get on the phone and un-invite Carnell. I told her to tell him he was not welcome at my studio. Fortunately Judy is more polite than I am.
The reason Judy gave was that she would not be comfortable with Carnell at the dance so she would much rather that he not attend. That was all that she said.

Since Carnell had a recording of Judy's message, I think it is safe for you to assume I am telling the truth. 
If I told anything but the truth, his tape would have contradicted me long ago.


October 17 - Zoot Suit Riot!!

One night later, the October 17 Zoot Suit Riot Swing Party turned out to be a tremendous success. As advertised, Judy's Swing Team was just fabulous.  Well over 200 people screamed in appreciation at their performance.

The house was rockin'!  

Sure enough, the Swingin' Skirts and Mugz were the unquestioned stars of the evening.

Everyone at the studio fell over each other trying to tell the various dancers what a great job they had done. The Swing Team members were instant studio heroes.

No one else knew about Carnell's threat to attend.  But believe me when I say I had an eye on the door all night. When the party was over, both Judy and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that Carnell had not shown up with his entourage.

We did not mind at all avoiding an ugly scene. 

Little did we know.

Next Up - The Harvest Moon Ball

Now that the Zoot Suit Riot dance was over, the next big event on the horizon was the prestigious Harvest Moon Ball Swing Dance in late November.

The Harvest Moon Ball was sponsored by Swing dancers over at Rice University.

Judy's dance team was very excited about being asked to perform at Rice. College campuses around the country were embracing the Swing energy with enthusiasm and Rice was no different. 

The Orchid Lounge was located just down the street from Rice in the Village. This meant the Swing Mecca was within walking distance of the campus. With this added incentive, Swing dancing became huge at Rice University. 

From what I gathered, the Rice students were heavily connected to everybody on the Swing Scene. Over at the Orchid Lounge, they spread the word about the HMB.  Everybody who was anybody in the Swing Community would definitely be there.

The Skirts and Mugz licked their lips with anticipation.  Most of the team members were academics themselves and consequently had many friends over at Rice.

Adding to their enthusiasm would be the presence of their main rivals - the HSDS Hepcats - at the Harvest Moon Ball.  Already the bets were being made on a nightly basis at the Orchid Lounge on which team was better.  Bragging rights were on the line!

What better place to show their Rice buddies and the rest of the Swing World what they could do!  The Swing Team was pumped and primed for action.  Fresh off their heroics at the Zoot Suit Riot Party, they could barely contain their excitement.

The Harvest Moon Ball would be their chance to show the entire Houston Swing community what they were capable of.


Four days after the Zoot Suit Riot Party, Judy received a bad surprise.

On Wednesday, October 21, she received a phone call from Ann Pan, a Rice University graduate student who was on the Harvest Moon Ball Organizing Committee.

Ann said she was calling to get Judy's side of the story regarding a very serious allegation made by Carnell Pipkin.

It seems Carnell had filed a complaint by email with the HSDS Board concerning our refusal to allow him to visit the studio for the October 17 Party.
 Carnell wasn't going to take this snub laying down!  He had decided to play hard ball.

Why was he allowed not to attend our party?   After all, everyone else in the city was there but him.  Carnell had been uninvited.  This was the classic definition of "Discrimination".


Discrimination is a very powerful word, especially when the word involves a person of color as it did in this situation.

I am at a bit of a disadvantage because I was never permitted to read or hear exactly what Carnell's complaint to the HSDS Board said.  I do not know if Carnell played the race card or not.  I do know that later when the rumors began to fly, the race card was used liberally and resulted in hurt feelings all around.

Carnell was definitely not welcome, but
it had nothing to do with the color of his skin.  That I can assure you.  Carnell had previously taken lessons at SSQQ and had been paid to teach here for two years without any evidence of racial prejudice. 

I would like to pose a question: How many people who are your direct business competitor phone you at home on an unlisted private number to ask if it is okay to come to your party?  Carnell knew full well in advance that he would not be welcome.  Does anyone smell a set-up?  This entire affair seemed to be a page torn from the Richard Nixon Cookbook of Dirty Tricks.

The real reason we asked Carnell to not attend the party was because he was the most formidable opponent we had ever encountered.  We had not even begun to forgive Carnell for the events of 1997. 

Judy and I could not have cared less about the color of his skin.  We 'un-invited' him for the reason that we considered Carnell to be our most dangerous business enemy. 

However, I can understand how people who are unfamiliar with SSQQ's reputation might have inadvertently wondered if race played a factor.  And even if the HSDS Board didn't consider the race issue, the fact remained that their leader had presented them with indisputable evidence that Judy and Rick Archer had deliberately snubbed Carnell. 

In order to truly grasp what was going on, you have to understand that only perhaps a half dozen people in the City of Houston had a clue about the bad blood between Judy and Carnell from the year before.

In other words, the entire city was flying blind on this event.

In my
1997 story about Carnell, I said I considered him "treacherous" and went into great detail to explain why I said that.  But that story did not exist in 1998.  All people had to go on was what Carnell said. 

And based on what Carnell said, Who wouldn't be mad?


Angered by Carnell's statement, the HSDS Board rushed to his defense.  They in turn put pressure on the Rice University organizers to "dis-invite" Judy's Swing Team in retaliation for the snub. 

At first glance, who can blame the Board members of HSDS?   We were almost a year removed from the date Carnell finally left SSQQ in 1997 under a dark cloud.  Judy told me she preferred to keep the matters quiet at the time.  What good would it do?

This meant SSQQ had never publicly addressed the problems we had in dealing with Carnell.  Therefore, on the surface, the members of the HSDS Board could not dream of a reason why their Star Dancer, Top Teacher and Fearless Leader was not permitted to attend the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot Party!

I doubt these people had even the slightest clue what the real story was. 

To my knowledge, only one person bothered to find out what the facts were.  That was Ann Pan.  As a Rice University Graduate Student, not only was she on the Harvest Moon Ball organizing committee, she was also an HSDS member (although I do not think she was a Board Member). 

Since Ann was the person from Rice who had originally invited the Skirts and Mugz to perform, she had the wherewithal to ask for the SSQQ version of the events before any action was taken.  

That is when Ann Pan, the woman from Rice who had originally invited the Skirts and Mugz to perform, decided to get involved.  She had the wherewithal to ask for the SSQQ version of the events before any action was taken.  Good for her.

Ms. Pan began her phone conversation with Judy by explaining the
alleged discourtesy towards Mr. Pipkin was cited as the main reason that the SSQQ Swing team was no longer welcome.  (Nice move, HSDS!)

As Judy listened to Ann's account of what had happened, Judy was aghast.  Was this really happening?

Finally Judy took a deep breath and began to explain her side of the story.  Judy admitted there had been an incident involving Carnell the past Friday, but there was a lot more to the story that Ann Pan was unaware of.

Judy told Ann that while it was true that Carnell wasn't welcome at our studio, it had nothing to do with race.  It had everything to do with the way Carnell had figuratively stabbed her in the back in 1997.  Because it was a long and complicated story, Judy and Ann Pan spent well over an hour on the phone discussing the problem.

After the phone call Judy broke down and cried.  She knew from past experience with Carnell that this meant real trouble.  I recall that Judy was particularly upset at the thought that the Board at HSDS was involved in an issue that should have been handled by the Harvest Moon Ball Committee.

Judy had originally been told that HSDS had "nothing to do" with the Harvest Moon Ball. John Covey, one of the Skirts and Mugz Swing team members, had specifically said that this was a Rice event put on by Rice students.  It was only after receiving this assurance that Judy had given her approval to have her team participate.

But now Judy discovered the hard way that quite a few people held dual memberships with the Rice Harvest Moon Ball Organizing Committee and HSDS including Ann Pan. 

Judy learned she would now have to receive HSDS permission to perform. Take a guess how Judy felt about that piece of information.

Judy offered to fall upon her sword. Judy knew how keenly the Skirts and Mugz wanted to dance at the HMB.  Judy said if it would remove the obstacle, she had no objection to let them perform without her.

I got angry when I heard Judy say that.  As I said earlier, it was Judy's preference that I stay on the sidelines through these battles, but I still cared a lot about the problems.  As Judy related the events of her phone conversation, I shook my head in disbelief.

In my opinion, Judy had done nothing wrong.  Carnell had already proven to be the most serious threat to our business we had ever come across.  Just because we didn't like him didn't mean we didn't respect his talent. After all, without his charisma, it is very unlikely that HSDS would ever have gotten off the ground. 

Before Carnell's defection, SSQQ had a lock as the Number One place to go to learn Swing dancing.  Now our market share had dwindled to 70%.  We had lost a lot of students to HSDS due to Carnell's great dance talent.  It isn't easy to replace a champion.  HSDS was a serious competitor and a big thorn in our side to boot.

And I am sure that in addition to supporting their champion, HSDS didn't mind a bit sticking a dagger to SSQQ by preventing our celebrated new Swing Team from performing at the prestigious Harvest Moon Ball.  What a golden opportunity!

It was our position that a business has the right to protect itself from a known predator.  That is the sole reason that we told Carnell to take a hike.  But now because Carnell was whining about his mistreatment, politics had reared their ugly head.  However, no one seemed to know the story behind the story.

Judy could see she was being set up as the fall guy.  What a nasty game.


I knew Judy was upset.  So was I.  But I wondered if Carnell even remotely understood the chance that he was taking.  This stunt of his could very easily backfire!  I thought he would be smarter than that.  

Too late.  Carnell had just opened himself to complete public scrutiny.  Carnell had behaved unethically in the previous year.   Now he had handed us an excuse to bring out all the dirty laundry.

I was bursting at the seams for the opportunity to write a letter to my own students and to the SSQQ Board!   It was time to turn the table on him.

I told Judy she didn't have to take that treatment from anybody. 

I explained to Judy that no one understood the problem.  They were all flying in the dark!

All Judy had to do was let me explain to her team and to the world what was going on.  I was certain when the facts came out, everyone would be just as offended as I was.  They would spread the word and the whole mess would die down.  Judy replied by saying she preferred to write the letter herself.  She wasn't sure Ann had completely understood her position, so she sat down and started to write a lengthy letter to Ann.

Meanwhile, immediately after the phone call, Ann Pan did some writing of her own. Ms. Pan did her best to chronicle Judy's version of the events that had led to this awkward incident involving Carnell.  Ms. Pan typed up her notes from the conversation and forwarded them via email to the HSDS Board. 

In May 2005, Ann Pan shared her notes with me as well

By chance, in 2005, Ms. Pan had Googled her name on the Internet and was brought to my original article  on the Harvest Moon Ball.  Surprised to see her name associated with my story of this event, Ann was upset that I had not gotten certain facts right.

If her name was going to be in the story, then I better get my story right! 

Suddenly aware of a new source of information, I imagined her notes had a great deal of relevance. That is when Ms. Pan offered to make them available to me.

In an email to Rick Archer dated May 2005, Ms. Pan had this to say:

-----Original Message-----
From: Ann Pan
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 8:32 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: hsds swing controversy.htm

Here is the timeline of events.

Saturday, September 26, 1998
* I personally invited the SSQQ performance group, which didn't have a name at the time, to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball through John Covey while at the Vapor Room.

Monday, September 28, 1998
* I once again invited the SSQQ group to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball via an email to John.

Friday, October 16, 1998
* The SSQQ performance group accepted the invitation to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball, via an email from John, and chose to call themselves the SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz.

* Judy Archer left a message on Carnell Pipkin's CallNotes stating that he was NOT welcome to attend the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot (SSQQ swing party) the following day. The reason she gave was that she would not be comfortable with Carnell at the dance so she would much rather that he not attend.

Saturday, October 17, 1998
* The date for the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot, the swing party that Carnell was uninvited to.
* Carnell notified the HSDS board via email about the uninvite.

Wednesday, October 21, 1998
* Ann called Judy on the phone and had a lengthy telephone conversation with Judy (and Rick) on Wednesday, October 21, 1998. The call was primarily prompted by Carnell being uninvited to the SSQQ Zoot Suit Riot on Saturday, October 17. I wrote down what was discussed in the phone conversation and forwarded it in a lengthy email to the HSDS Board members. In the phone conversation, Judy offered to not perform with the SSQQ group at the Harvest Moon Ball.

The opinion of the HSDS Board was that the SSQQ performance group (including Judy) was still welcome to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball despite the SSQQ incident with Carnell.

Wednesday, November 4, 1998
* I sent an email to John stating that the SSQQ group would perform at 9pm, followed by Carnell & Tena.

Sunday, November 15, 1998
* The SSQQ group told me verbally through one of their members that they would not be able to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball because a couple of their members could not make the performance time.

Monday November 16, 1998
* I received an email via John stating how the SSQQ group had decided to not perform at the Harvest Moon Ball. No reason was stated.

Friday, November 20, 1998
* The date of the Harvest Moon Ball at Rice University.

* Judy's team was not prevented from performing. The SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz chose not to perform. The only reason I was given was because some of their members could not make the performance time.

As you can see from the timeline above, the HSDS Board met the same night as the Judy-Ann phone conversation. As the result of Ann Pan's work, cooler heads prevailed.  Ms. Pan stated that the HSDS Board consented to sanction the SSQQ Swing Team's performance despite Judy's actions towards Carnell. 

Ms. Pan obviously went to a great amount of time and trouble to mediate through the discord at Rice and HSDS.  She is to be commended for her considerable diplomatic efforts. She did everything she could to create peace despite the obvious anger of the HSDS Board and the HMB Rice Organizing Committee.

Unfortunately, despite all the work Ms. Pan did, the damage was already done.

Carnell was "The Face" of the Houston Swing Dance Society.  Not only was Carnell a co-founder of HSDS, he was their number one teacher, he was the lead dancer and choreographer of the Hepcat Swing Team, and along with Tena Morales he was the reigning 1998 American Lindy Hop Champion.

In short, Carnell was HSDS!  And Carnell had officially told the HSDS Board that SSQQ had openly insulted him.

Only a small handful of people who had been there at the start of HSDS were still hanging around the Swing Scene.  It didn't matter anyway because most of them didn't know what had gone on between Judy and Carnell in the first place.

Therefore the vast majority of people on the Swing Scene had absolutely no idea what had gone on between SSQQ and Rowena/Carnell back in 1997. 

Carnell's accusation had stirred up some powerful emotions. Just like an Old West morality tale, the desire to punish someone - Judy and by extension her Swing Team - was mighty powerful. 


That is when Ann Pan stood up and said let's get the facts first.  Unfortunately her voice of reason was too little and too late.

Before cooler heads could prevail, someone leaked the news of what Carnell's email to the HSDS Board had said.
This initiated as they say a big brouhaha or should I say "a big stink".  Pandora's Box had been opened and the demons were free to do their ugly work.

Word of Carnell's accusations spread like wild fire.  The peace was broken.  The Feud was "On" again. The entire week the Orchid Lounge buzzed with rumors of all the mean things that Judy had said and done to Carnell.

Since no one outside of SSQQ had the slightest inkling of our history with Carnell Pipkin, there was no voice of reason to keep the rumors in check. 



On the surface our actions had to seem blatant and uncalled for.  It looked like we had deliberately insulted Carnell, quite possibly because he was black. 

Do you blame them?  What else were people to think?  They only had one side of the story.

We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a perception battle, a battle in which SSQQ and Judy were getting hammered because no one knew our side of it! 

Judy's intense desire for privacy was coming back to haunt her. I told Judy the best thing to do was explain the story on our web site.  By saying nothing, our very silence seemed to support Carnell's position! 

We had absolutely nothing to hide. Yes, our anger towards Carnell had been kept in-house till now, but since he made it public, we had no choice but to go public as well.


Confronted with these stories, I went to discuss our next move with Judy. 

This had gone far enough.  Carnell had taken a huge gamble.  This entire affair could boomerang on him badly just like the kid who calls "Wolf" in the forest.  I went to Judy and asked her if she was done with her letter.

She replied yes.  She had finished her letter to Ann Pan.  In fact, she handed me a copy to read. 

After I finished reading it, I looked at her.  I smiled and told her it was a great letter.  Judy had calmly laid out in logical order every lousy thing Carnell had ever done to her.

That is when I told Judy I wanted to publish her letter on my web site. 

Judy's face went white.  She shook her head no. 


Judy said she had decided to let Carnell off the hook.  Judy insisted that we not say anything further.

I stared at her blankly.  Finally I said, "Are you out of your mind, Judy?"

There ensued the first of what would be many serious debates on this issue.


I explained to Judy that Carnell had essentially stabbed her with what she and I both knew was a lie.  After all, the pen is mightier than the sword! 

Judy would not have any part of it.

I became very frustrated with Judy. I could not believe she had just refused to let me publish her letter.  Then I asked her if she minded if I wrote a story of my own.

Yes, she minded.  Judy did not wish for me to say one word in public.

I became apoplectic! 

Now that my SSQQ web site was up and running, it would take me all of 5 minutes to put her letter to Ann Pan on the Internet for the entire city to see at the click of a mouse. 

That was how easy it would be to clear up this ENTIRE STUPID MESS!

We could kill this publicity nightmare and stop the bleeding.

But Judy said no.

I knew Judy's usual reaction to problems was to retreat to a safe place.  She has an intense fear of anger and controversy.  But I I told her we were in the middle of a nasty smear campaign.  There was some serious mud-slinging going on because no one else but her and I and Carnell knew what had happened last year.

By not fighting back, we were making it look like Carnell had told the truth!

If you do not respond, you give the appearance that you have something to hide. 

But Judy would not give in. She told me I had no right to draw her deeper into this pain by publishing a story on the Internet.

Judy and I went round and round and round on this.  I was dumbfounded by her stubbornness.  I told her we would pay dearly if we let this pass.  This was not the kind of rumor to allow to stand to grow unchecked.  

This story could really hurt us!   I implored Judy to let me handle this my way.

But Judy refused to give in.

Curiously, it was my first wife Pat who had taught me my first lesson in dirty business.  Too bad the victim had to be me.  Pat showed me that in nasty events like this both sides of the story need to be heard

Pat had struck me three times in public with two dozen witnesses.   What was my offense?   Pat was angry at me that I wouldn't take pictures of her and me down from the wall at the studio.  Even though I never raised a hand in self-defense, Pat knocked me senseless and left me bleeding.  
(Read the story

I assumed that with 24 witnesses watching the blood stream down my face, a situation this obvious did not require an explanation on my part.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident" and stuff like that.  Bad move on my part.

Left to manufacture her own version of what happened, I was incredulous to discover Pat had managed to spin the story to her own advantage!  Pat's brilliant PR job had twisted the truth against me.  

That is how I learned first-hand that Perception is Reality

In Politics, it doesn't matter what the truth is.  It just matters what people believe the truth is.

I explained this to Judy.  But Judy wouldn't listen.  Judy may have been a magnificent dance coach, but her fear of public scrutiny was her Achilles heel. Judy said "NO."

Finally I gave up.  Judy was my wife.  She was the mother of our daughter.  She was a major part of the studio.  Judy was the reason that Swing had become so big at the studio in the first place.  I could lash out against Carnell on my own, but where would that leave my marriage as well as the most important instructor on my Staff?  

I was crest-fallen.  It was time to counter-attack, but her reluctance had completely muzzled me. I had a bad feeling about this.  

Afraid to stick out her neck, Judy retreated into her shell while I fell into a deep depression.  I felt helpless rage at her unwillingness to allow me come to her defense.

There had always been a legend of bad blood between our organizations.  Carnell had his side of it and we had ours.  But since Carnell was the only one talking, his version was the one that was widely believed.

What an incredible stroke of fortune for Carnell.  He had left himself very exposed, but had come out looking like a hero. I just shook my head in disgust.  I guess his nickname wasn't "Lucky" by accident.


Now as a result of our silence, unchecked rumors flew everywhere about what Judy had done to Carnell. Over at the Orchid Lounge, the great watering hole of all Swing Dancers, a lot of mean comments were directed at Judy by individuals from HSDS rushing to Carnell's defense.  SSQQ had deliberately snubbed him! 

Judy and I listened as our students would relay some of the comments back to us. I could see that Judy seethed inside, but she still refused to let me retaliate.   

I am aware that a well-known Christian virtue is the ability to turn the other cheek, but I have to say the way this incident played out does not appear to support that saying.  Maybe we should have tried the "soft answer that turneth away wrath."

At least say something!  Our silence was killing us!

For Every Action There is a Reaction - The Swing Team Fights Back

Nevertheless a backlash ensued. The unchecked bitterness directed at Judy provoked the members of the SSQQ Swing Team to rush to Judy's defense. They didn't know the whole story about Carnell, but people who had been around a year earlier like Maureen Brunetti filled them in.  Now that the Team Members knew what happened in 1997, they were outraged.

As a result, they in turn were deeply offended by what Carnell had done and by many of the things said about Judy. They knew first hand that Judy was not a monster and that Judy was certainly no bigot.

Nor did they appreciate the irony of now that they now needed HSDS permission to perform at Rice!

Although quite a few of the Swing team dancers visited HSDS on occasion and had no particular axe of their own to grind, they were all quite aware that Judy viewed HSDS as her greatest enemy. 

The SSQQ Swing Team members tried to tell the HSDS people what Maureen had told them about Carnell's activities in 1997.  The HSDS people laughed at them derisively and shouted them down.  Before this incident the Swing Team members weren't quite sure why Judy didn't like HSDS, but now the arrogance and hostility of the HSDS people over at the Orchid had given them a first-hand view.  Furthermore, they didn't like the way they were being treated either!  No one likes to be told to shut up.

Now a loyalty to defend their besieged leader developed.

In addition, the team members were also angry because they had experienced a lot of ridicule themselves due to their association with Judy and SSQQ.  Some of the taunts had been directed at them too. 

It was not a pretty scene... all because people remained ignorant of the truth.

The Swing Team felt disrespected by people they once thought were their friends.  In fact, they were even more caught up in the mess than Judy was because they were out on the front lines taking all the heat.  Now Judy's fight had become their fight too. 

Furthermore, what business did HSDS have telling them what they could or could not do on supposedly neutral territory over at Rice University? 

Originally they had been "invited".  Now they needed "permission".  It was a big difference.

The dancers were mad and wanted to lash back. Some of them wanted to tell the HSDS Board and the HMB Organizers to go to hell. The other half wanted to perform and hold their heads high as they displayed their talent.

Nothing could appease the dance team after they watched Judy being put through the wringer.  Resentments festered as the team debated for a month whether they would perform or not.

Everyone felt like HSDS was rubbing their faces in mud.  The level of contempt and disrespect towards them was more bitter than many of these young adults had ever experienced before.  Most of all, they were angry that HSDS was able to turn their friends over at Rice against them.  This had become personal for many people.

An US against THEM Mentality had spread throughout the Swing Community. 

Editor's Note: There is no doubt that HSDS treated the Harvest Moon Ball as their own event.  Carnell even said so himself.   Here is an excerpt from an email Carnell Pipkin sent me (April 28, 2000)

"The Harvest Moon Ball is an HSDS sponsored event.  NO groups are allowed to perform without first getting an okay from the board of directors and we determine the performance line-up.  That is the rule.  Although HSDS DID NOT extend an invitation to the now defunct Mugs and Skirts, we graciously welcomed them to perform.  However, your group did not like the time slot that was given and they chose NOT to perform.  Despite the fact that the Board of Directors were upset about Judy's nasty little phone call to me, we still had planned on letting them dance.  But, they decided not to.  It was their decision, not ours."

Well, more power to Carnell.  He clearly had his fun. 


Fed up with the taunts, insults and arrogance of HSDS members, five nights before the Harvest Moon Ball, the Skirts and Mugz Dance Team decided not to perform.  The true reason was that they had become furious at HSDS interference into their much-deserved invitation to perform at this prestigious event.  Now these young people felt just as snubbed as Carnell had felt earlier.  Carnell's ploy had worked to perfection.

Unfortunately they didn't get up on their High Horse and tell the world they weren't performing because HSDS had made them feel unwelcome on what was supposed to be neutral ground at Rice University.

Here is what Ann Pan said about the reason given:

"Sunday, November 15, 1998

The SSQQ group told me verbally through one of their members that they would not be able to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball because a couple of their members could not make the performance time."

Was this move handled well by SSQQ?  No, of course it wasn't! 

At least not in my opinion. This flimsy excuse did nothing to clear the honor of the Swing Team or its leader.  In fact, the decision was widely ridiculed.  What moron thought that one up?

Is this the gang that can't shoot straight?   Who was making these decisions?

This absurd decision not to perform was the worst thing they could have done.  It lent even more credence to Carnell's allegations!   Furthermore it opened the team members to more taunting.  Sissies.  Wannabes.  Afraid to perform?  Come on over to HSDS and learn to dance the right way.

It is my opinion that the team should either have performed or at least had the guts to tell the world the real reason why they would not perform.  Judy should have simply told everyone the team refused to perform because they felt HSDS and Carnell had no business interfering in a Rice University invitation. 

Even better, go out there and perform like the gifted performers that you are.

There is an old show biz axiom: The show must go on.

These people made a commitment, you honor that commitment, and you go out and perform to the best of your ability with your head held high and a plastic smile on your face if necessary.

But don't give some stupid excuse.  Act like professionals, not amateurs.

Instead, Judy and the SSQQ Swingin' Skirts and Mugz ended up looking like cowards by not performing at the Harvest Moon Ball.


The weakness of the Team's excuse opened up new doors for humiliation. 

First, it gave further credence that maybe Carnell had been right all along in his claims and that maybe Judy was too ashamed to look him in the face.  Second, it seemed to suggest that maybe the Skirts and Mugz weren't quite as good as they said they were or even worse that they were afraid to perform in front of an audience that might be openly or at least partially hostile.

I was furious over the entire affair, but I was helpless to do a thing.  First I acceded to Judy's wishes not to counter-attack Carnell's accusation. Then I was told by Judy that she would handle the problem with the performance.  I had no choice but to respect her position; it was my studio but it wasn't my team. 

The entire Harvest Moon Ball affair was handled poorly.  In fact, this entire month long incident was a Public Relations Fiasco.

The results reminded me once again that Judy was a lot better as a dance choreographer than she was as a political infighter.

This was easily the darkest single day in studio history.

A New Development in 2005:  Judy Never Even Sent Her Letter

As I mentioned earlier, in May 2005 Ann Pan contacted me to clear up some inaccuracies in a previous version that I had written of the Harvest Moon story.  As we exchanged emails, Ann stunned me with this request:

"Judy never wrote a lengthy letter to Ann.  Ann called Judy on the phone and had a lengthy telephone conversation with Judy (and Rick) on Wednesday, October 21, 1998.   If such a letter existed, then please send me a copy as I have never received it nor seen it."

Judy never even sent her letter to Ann Pan?   I could not fathom what this meant.  I had watched Judy write that letter!  In fact, she had handed me a copy of the letter and I had scanned it into my computer for future reference. 

I had simply assumed that Judy had sent the letter.  And I had also assumed that Judy's letter had fallen on deaf ears.  But in truth Ann Pan had never even seen the letter.  All these years, I had assumed that Ann Pan had simply ignored what Judy had said about Carnell.

Ms. Pan actually cared quite a bit!  Here is what she said:

"Judy's words did NOT fall on deaf ears. Making such a statement blatantly ignores the extensive amount of time that I especially spent on this topic.

Why, I asked myself, did Judy let Carnell off the hook?  Why didn't she send the letter to Ann Pan as she had promised? 

I would ask this question again many times.  In fact, I sometimes wondered if Carnell had something on Judy that I did not know about. 

So now in 2005, seven years too late to avoid the most embarrassing episode in SSQQ history, I have published the letter that Judy wrote, but never sent.

October 24, 1998

To: Ann Pan
c/o Rice University
From: Judy Archer

Dear Ann:

First of all I want to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts to hear our side of this story.  I admit your October 21 phone call caught me somewhat off-guard, although I enjoyed talking with you, and I began to think back about how all this started, remembering incidents I thought I had put aside. Because I, too, want an end to all the animosity I have enclosed the following letter with my explanation of what has happened over the last couple of years regarding Lindy, performance teams, etc. I hope you will take the time to read through this and perhaps gain an even deeper understanding of how, and why, we feel as we do.

Your efforts to unite the swing community are to be commended; however, there is one overwhelming factor of which you may not be aware. SSQQ, as the largest social dance studio in Houston, established 20 years, is the only dance studio recommended by Leisure Learning Unlimited. This means that we enjoy a steady stream of students who sign up through LLU. This, and word of mouth, allows SSQQ to stand alone in the dance community.  A united community would indicate that we all “share” common resources, that SSQQ would receive from HSDS as many students as we give.  This is simply untrue. (By the way, LLU receives the lion’s share of revenue for each new student who signs up at SSQQ; they don’t come to us free.)  Promoting HSDS at SSQQ would result in an obvious loss of revenue to this studio, and as you know, we are a for-profit organization. My husband and I are professional dance instructors, trained in our jobs just as other professionals are trained. Because we love what we do, we can achieve a comfortable, non-threatening, family atmosphere. Because we make a serious effort to stay current and continue our training, we can stay ahead of trends and prepare for them. Thus, being first to teach Lindy Hop in Houston.

I have a enclosed a copy of the original letter I sent to Rowena Young, dated February 24, 1997, which is an account of the incidents as I remember them. In reference to the letter, please note that my pregnancy did not prevent me from continuing to work with the team and provide choreography.

I received no response to my letter from Rowena, and as far as I can tell from reports from people who were there, she pretty much ignored my requests to give credit where credit was due. She continued to “exhibit” with SSQQ team members without consulting me. My hard feelings toward HSDS began there.

My husband Rick Archer was beginning to feel that I was getting the run-around from Rowena and chose to call her himself. During the conversation (I was in the room) he reminded Rowena that I had worked very hard putting the team together and that I deserved credit for my work. Her reply: “Do you own them?”  Rowena eventually hung up on Rick. He tried calling back but no one picked up the phone.

I told you on the phone about asking the team they were interested in forming a swing society, as recommended by Chazz Young.  Warren Sloane and Sarah McLean both thought it was a pretty good idea, I was neutral and willing to go along with the team if that was what they wanted. Carnell Pipkin was opposed to the idea: “I don’t want a swing society. I just want to dance.” Since I could not get enough people interested, I dropped the idea. Rowena Young then formed the Houston Swing Dance Society (HSDS) using members of my swing team to help get the swing society started. She then began to exhibit Lindy around town (see my letter to her, enclosed).

Carnell’s involvement with HSDS began to increase.  When Rowena began to teach classes, I was told Carnell was often there. When I asked Carnell about this, he told me Rowena alone was teaching the classes. Again, students who were there told me Carnell was also teaching. This is in direct conflict with our studio rules, which state that any teacher employed by SSQQ may accept outside teaching jobs only with our knowledge and approval; this is to protect us from providing extensive material to another studio. Before I hired Carnell, I sat down with him and discussed the possibility that Rowena would ask him to teach for her and I asked him to weigh his decision carefully before committing to the studio.  He was given a copy of studio rules to read at his leisure. He assured me this would be “no problem”. We eventually promoted him to teaching two classes a week for SSQQ.

Carnell has told you that his reason for leaving SSQQ was that we "dissed HSDS". As I told you on the phone, in private (not public) conversation I had little good to say after what had happened. I wasn’t bothering anybody, Hurricane Rowena blows into town and suddenly everything was my fault?  Come on. Carnell told Rick his reason for leaving was that he had increased his family responsibilities and would no longer have time to teach for SSQQ. Soon after, within a month or so, the HSDS newsletter announced that Carnell was forming a new dance team, the Houston Hepcats. He then began teaching for HSDS at the Magnolia Ballroom.

Dissing?  Carnell often, and loudly, put down our western program.  At that time, western dancing produced the better part of our revenue. No teachers are allowed to criticize the dance program to students.

Carnell would also, after my repeated statements to the team that SSQQ would not openly promote HSDS, wear HSDS t-shirts to class while teaching (and receiving payment from SSQQ). I was forced to ask him to stop.

A former team member, Tony Catalano, although not an employee of SSQQ, was found to be handing out HSDS flyers to our students. Rick had to ask him to stop. Team members would come to practice and, on my time, carry on HSDS business. I was forced to ask them to stop.  We feel we cannot trust HSDS officers to come to our studio and respect our wishes, since so many infractions have incurred.

We do not interfere with HSDS.  We do not publicly criticize HSDS to our students. We do not pass out flyers to HSDS students. Yet HSDS has done all these things to SSQQ, and now claims to know nothing about our “attitude”, our distrust?

You may ask, why did SSQQ not release Carnell from responsibility at the studio?  There are a couple of reasons: trained dance teachers come at a premium. We try to keep our teachers as long as possible, working through problems as best we can. We have several who have been teaching for SSQQ 10 years or more. Another, perhaps more important reason, was Carnell would occasionally assure Rick and me verbally that he was just about ready to leave HSDS. His reasons were vague, but the implication was quite strong that he was dissatisfied with the direction HSDS was going. (He heatedly threatened to resign when Rowena proposed HSDS include whip/west coast swing in the program). In other words, we were led to believe that Carnell considered SSQQ superior to HSDS and that he would soon resign. (“I’ll marry you, darling, as soon as I get a divorce!”)

I finally admitted defeat. I released the team and pretty much quit teaching Lindy at the studio. I redirected my energies to my certification process and my ballroom program. I swore I would never again form a student team.

Before long, students began to come to me to ask about Lindy. Requests for a regular Lindy program came more and more often. Students began asking about forming another dance team, which I initially and vociferously refused to consider. The Gap commercial changed all that. I formed the current team by hand-choosing the members from SSQQ students, and was quite clear in my stand regarding HSDS: members may belong to HSDS, they may attend any and all functions, dances, workshops, classes, but they may not train with me (free of charge) and dance on an HSDS team. Period.

Cut to 1998.  I have a splendid swing team, we’re having fun, I’m not bothering anybody. John Covey brought the “Harvest Moon Ball” to my attention, saying that we had been invited to perform and assuring me that HSDS had nothing to do with the ball. I accepted on those terms, meanwhile helping the team to prepare for their first performance here at the SSQQ swing party.

In my wildest dreams, I never considered that Carnell would even want to come to an SSQQ party. We have not seen or heard from him in nearly a year. When he called, both my husband and I were stunned. Before I called him, I consulted an unbiased professional (Joe Lozano, in the dance business over 25 years) on what my actions should be. He advised me to call and ask Carnell not to come to the party “for business reasons”. I am not attempting to shirk my responsibility for making the call; I am wholly responsible. I am only attempting to show that I did not make the call without forethought. It was not meant to hurt Carnell’s feelings; I was, and am, protecting the studio and myself.

Carnell wants an apology?  So do I.  I want an apology from Rowena Young for using her steam-roller tactics to appropriate credit for my hard work, for continually going around me and behind my back, never dealing with me face to face. I want an apology from Carnell Pipkin for misleading us while using my talents and resources to further his own means. I want an apology from them both for interfering in my life in general, for continuously causing chaos and disruption, for giving me even one moment of discomfort in this, my place of work and my haven.

So, Ann, please consider this:  if you own a dance studio (or work in sales, or as an agent, or a head-hunter or any business where people are the primary resource) and this business, whatever it may be, is how you earn your living, how you pay your bills, how you save for your child’s education, and how you eventually hope to be able to afford to retire, and someone from the outside suddenly shows interest in appropriating this primary resource, how would you react?  SSQQ is our lives, Ann.  This is it for us. We live and breathe this studio. We do a good, no, a great job here. All we ask is to be left alone. HSDS has the entire outside world to promote their program.  They cannot do it here.

Thanks for your time. I’m sorry you got in the middle, but there it is. We do, truly, appreciate your efforts.

Judy Archer

Post Script January 2000

 The following statements are true:

  1. Carnell Pipkin took his first formal partner dance classes here at SSQQ.
  2. Carnell took his first Lindy classes at SSQQ.
  3. Carnell danced on his first dance team at SSQQ.
  4. Carnell danced his first performance (for Frankie Manning) at SSQQ.
  5. Carnell taught his first dance classes for SSQQ and was paid standard teacher’s salary for his efforts.
  6. Carnell enjoyed referrals to teach classes outside SSQQ from SSQQ, thus showing that we trusted him.
  7. SSQQ put Carnell on the front of a Leisure Learning cover.  Leisure Learning Unlimited magazine is distributed throughout Houston. This cover was eventually picked up by a national dance magazine in a small article regarding Zydeco.
  8. Carnell was one of two chosen models for the original SSQQ Lindy Hop T-Shirt, an artwork commissioned and paid for by the studio.

Carnell Pipkin was at SSQQ, as student and teacher, for over a year. He gained invaluable knowledge during this time, not only in dance and dance technique, but in how to teach and pace a dance class.

SSQQ has had an enormous influence on the success of HSDS; yet, we have received virtually no thanks or recognition for our efforts.

Judy Archer



Based on the experience of the events surrounding the Harvest Moon Ball, I reached the unmistakable conclusion that you have to stand up for yourself when you are unfairly accused of something and speak the truth at the top of your lungs. 

If you don't, then people will believe the other guy. 

Otherwise, your reputation will suffer irreparable damage.

Judy had something valuable to say that would have made a vast difference in the eventual outcome.

Her letter to Ann Pan made it very clear "why" Carnell was not welcome at the studio.  Had she posted it, this story would have had a different ending.

I believe Judy would have been cleared of all charges. 
I think the vicious rumors at the Orchid would have subsided.
I believe the Skirts and Mugz would have felt comfortable performing.
And I think Carnell's reputation would have been badly wounded. 

But that is not how the story wrote. 

Judy was publicly humiliated while Carnell was treated by his HSDS buddies like a hero for putting that arrogant woman in her place.

  • The incident did Judy's reputation enormous damage. 

  • The incident damaged Judy's relationship with her Swing Team

  • In street credibility, HSDS was now superior to SSQQ.   This event was such a slap in the face that HSDS gained the upper hand in our business competition. 

  • This incident helped HSDS get an advantage that they never relinquished...  all because Judy didn't send the letter or allow me to publish it.


1)  At the very least you publish your side of the story on the Internet.
2)  You send your letter to Ann Pan as you promised to do
3)  Then you ask Ann Pan to arrange a meeting with the HSDS Board of Directors and demand - as is your right - the chance to tell your side of the story to their faces. 
3)  You show up at the Harvest Moon Ball and perform.


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