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In the First Chapter of our Essays on Reputation, Thomas Friedman warned that today's technology forced all of us to be more careful than at any other time in history lest we inadvertently send our Reputation down the Tubes, uh, down the YouTubes.

As you will see, this story will illustrate Mr. Friedman's point perfectly.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Written by Rick Archer, July 2007

This is the story of how the Reputation of an SSQQ assistant got badly tarnished when a very nasty trick was played on him. 

Here at SSQQ, we have three levels of teachers:  Instructors, Assistants and Volunteers.  To make a long story short, we train our future Instructors via the Apprentice System

Many students like to help us with our classes.  So we make them Volunteers. The Volunteers serve a valuable role.  Often when the beginning students dance with the more experienced Volunteers, the student gets to feel how the move is supposed to work.  Plus a simple hint on a lead can make all the difference in the world.  In addition, a Volunteer can help struggling students with extra attention which allows the Instructor to concentrate on keeping the group moving.  A good Volunteer is a marvelous asset indeed.

At some point, we promote our best Volunteers to Assistants.  Although they are not paid, they do become Staff Members. 

Each Volunteer understands that when they become Assistants, they are next in line to become Instructors if an opening happens to occur.  By helping the Instructor conduct the class, they are getting on-the-job training how to conduct their own classes when the time comes. 

The Apprentice System works like a charm.  Whenever we need a new instructor, there are often several excellent candidates to choose from.  Once a Volunteer gets promoted to an Assistant, I occasionally ask them to teach a Beginning Crash Course to get more teaching experience.  A Crash Course is a two-hour class that meets one time on a Saturday night.  It is the perfect opportunity for a future instructor to gain invaluable experience towards the day when he or she will be running their own ship.

With that in mind, I asked a young man named Alex to teach a Beginning Salsa Crash Course on April 28, 2007. Alex took his first opportunity seriously.  He even went to the trouble of recruiting and training a woman to help him teach the class. 

Afterwards, I asked one of our Instructors how Alex did at his Crash Course.  The instructor smiled and said she had heard several good things about the class.  I nodded and filed the information away. 

Alex himself was encouraged by the experience.  Shortly after, Alex emailed me to ask permission to teach a Crash Course of his own design, "Timing and Body Movement", at the next Salsa Party in June. I raised an eyebrow.  Not very many of my instructors approach me about teaching a new crash course of their own design.  In fact, it had been over a year since anyone suggested a new crash course to me.  So I was impressed by his initiative.  Alex seemed highly motivated.

At the same time, the thought crossed my mind that this was a tough course to teach.  Teaching body motion is one of the toughest tasks a dance instructor can tackle.  Just ask anyone who has ever taught Latin Motion to a beginning student and they will quickly agree that for every two people who catch on immediately, there is a third person who struggles mightily.  I remember my own ordeals from 30 years earlier trying to learn the hip motion of Merengue. 

Cursed by my over-analytical mind, I made a fool of myself trying to figure out which knee was supposed to lock at the same time as the other knee was supposed to bend.  Just like the cartoon, afterwards I could barely walk. 

Although I doubted Alex knew what he was getting into, I decided to let him teach the crash course anyway.  One nice thing about teaching dance is the consequences of a teaching mistake are usually quite minimal.  If we teach a move wrong, generally the worst consequence is impatience or frustration on the part of the student.  Yes, arms get twisted, feet get stepped on and there is the occasional bruise, but major accidents are few and far between. In other words, although Alex was clearly an inexperienced instructor, how much trouble could he get into?   Besides, the experience would do him good...

At first, it looked like Alex pulled off his class just fine.  Here is an innocuous email Alex sent me two days after he taught his body movement class.

-----Original Message-----
From: Alex
Sent: Monday, June 18, 2007 1:17 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: your instructor Alex

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to teach the timing and movement class. It wasn't a large class (I suspect the rain and a popular SSQQ student's birthday party had something to do with that), but everybody enjoyed it and they all said that they found the information very useful.

I hope if the opportunity arises again, the class will be even more of a success.

However, soon after that, in the following week events developed that turned very nasty. It turned out that Alex had allowed someone to videotape part of his dance class.  This was in direct violation of SSQQ rules.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 11:22 AM
To: SSQQ Staff
Subject: memo 12 - use of videotape cameras prohibited during, before, and after group classes

Videotaping dance patterns demonstrated in SSQQ Group Classes is strictly prohibited. Taking pictures in group classes is prohibited.

This includes Staff Members, Assistants, Volunteers, etc as well as Students.

Here is a simple reason… why should someone bother repeating a class if all they have to do is look at the tape?

I have other reasons as well that are deeper and darker.  I have personal experience that videotaping group lessons can be exploited for personal use.  The moment I permit videotape, I give away control of my studio's curriculum. There is no benefit to the studio, but great potential for damage. This is one issue where I am not going to wait till something bad happens, and then make the policy.  I can already foresee plenty of danger.

99 people out of 100 can be trusted not to hurt the studio in any way, but with 1300 people a month, at that rate we are pretty vulnerable.  Remember, it only takes ONE PERSON to cause a problem.  If I give permission to one person, I must give permission to all.

In addition to potential piracy issues, there are also privacy issues as well.  Other students who are inadvertently photographed in the video may raise serious objections to being included.

Don't do it and don't let someone talk you into letting them do it. Do not get into any discussion or argument with a student or another instructor about videotaping. You are not expected to defend this policy, simply to uphold it.

Make me the "Bad Guy". Tell them to talk to Rick about it and walk away.

Report any problems to the Hall Monitor or to me, Linda Cook, Marla Archer, or Jack Benard. I consider failure to cooperate with my wishes to be serious and I will take actions accordingly.

That said, Videotaping during private lessons is completely okay.  Here you have control of the content, so I do not mind.

I understand that videotaping is a great convenience, but dance moves can also be written down.

Gravity is said to be one of Life's great teachers.  Babies learn about Gravity from the moment they begin to walk.  Another one of Life's great teachers is "The Hard Way".  Almost all of Life's great lessons are learned "The Hard Way". 

Using "The Hard Way", Alex was faced with the real reason behind my No Videotape Rule.  Phil, the person who videotaped his class, gave the tape to a man named John.  John turned around and posted two short video clips on YouTube. 

In addition, John created an account titled "ssqq houston".  In other words, this video became living, breathing testimony to the quality of SSQQ instruction to anyone typing in the letters "ssqq".  Alex had inadvertently become the YouTube Poster Boy for SSQQ.

And then the fun started.  Links to the videos were sent flying around Houston. 

It didn't take long for the link to end up in my In-Box.  Curious, I clicked on it and took a look.  That's when I was treated to a grainy, poorly filmed six-minute video featuring Alex teaching his Body Motion class. 

Then I noticed that people had been leaving comments underneath the video.  As of June 27, here is what was listed.

01. jw152466 (1 week ago)
Wow, do you have to pay to learn this? If you are doing shoulder isolation, why does your hips move as well?  If this is a real class, people should get their money back! Not cool!

02. SmartAlx (5 days ago)
Did you get YOUR money back?

03. jw152466 (5 days ago)
Just a nickel. . . but hey you can have it, it seems like you need it - maybe get a better looking hat "dude"

04. cgutierrez00 (1 week ago)
OMG! "alex has been dancing for over 3 years and instructing at ssqq for over a year" Really???

05. SmartAlx (5 days ago)
Where exactly am I doing shoulder isolation in this video? Phil didn't film the strict shoulder isolation. All you see in this video is me combining the upper body with the lower body. Get your facts straight.

06. jw152466 (5 days ago)
On minute 4:10. It says Shoulder rolls. . . Maybe you got bored of seeing yourself. Your "shoulder rolls" pulls your hips. Here, check this video, you might be able to learn a thing or two

07. SmartAlx (5 days ago)
Say Phil, who is that in the mirror at about 1:30 and again at 4:15 filming this video? Kinda looks like you! Wow. Did you actually create a special account called SSQQ Houston specifically to post this video? Are you too ashamed to put the video on your own account, or are you trying to make me look bad? Classy. Verry Classy.

Phil put the "Shoulder rolls" in the video, not me. He got it wrong. As I said, Phil didn't film the shoulder isolation. He only filmed the parts where we were combining different groups.

08. philltx (5 days ago)
I will be happy to put this video on my own account to promote you as an instructor.

09. jw152466 (5 days ago)
Please don't!

10. SmartAlx (5 days ago)
Did you create this account just to abuse me JW? Care to reveal your identity? Or do you not want me to meet my accuser? Maybe you won't want the Houston salsa community to know what kind of a rude salsa snob you are.

11. jw152466 (1 hour ago)
I'm promoting you as in instructor. The regular dancers at Tropicana and Skybar know you now. You are famous my friend!

12. jw152466 (1 hour ago)
This movie should be "flagged as inappropriate" for salsa

13. nmarquez13 (13 minutes ago)
Poor Babies!!! I can't believe people are paying to get injured this way!! You must have time, knowledge and YEARS of experience in order to teach a class of this type and you have neither of those.

To the people on this video, PLEASE choose your instructors wisely, don't waste any more money, seek PROFESSIONALS!!! and to you SmartAlx, sorry but you don't have the tools nor the skill to teach this class.

14. jw152466 (44 minutes ago)
I could not agree with you more!  Sad that this is the material that they teach at SSQQ. I have never taken lessons there and i probably won't if the instructors are like this.

15. jw152466 (48 minutes ago)
This is the root of the very problem. There are people out there that think they can dance or sing because they have been doing this for a while, but in reality they dont - or are not born with that gift. Then they go about trying to teach things beyond their actual skills and in the end you produce mediocre dancers. Funds should be invested in the proper way with a trained, certified dancer.

Here is a perfect example of the expression Adding Insult to Injury.  John (jw152466) was having so much fun writing comments at Alex's expense, he decided to send me an email on June 27.  I can only assume John hoped at the least I would chew Alex out and demote him or - even better - fire him. 


-----Original Message-----
From: JW
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 4:10 PM
Subject: Classes and Instructor Quality

Dear Rick,

My name is John and I'm an active Salsa Dancer here in the Houston Area. I do not know if you are aware of this, but one of your "instructors' " classes is available via YouTube. I think his name is Alex and his is teaching Salsa Movement and Timing. Although the initiative is nobel (as to workshops like this should be offered on all dance studios), the technique and execution observed throughout the class is below average to mediocre.

As the owner of the SSQQ it should be in your interest to review the agenda of the class, and foremost the ability, experience, training, and certification of your instructors before offering special topics workshops such as this. This will prevent misguiding people into developing bad habits, or just plainly wasting their monies.


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 5:43 PM
To: JW
Subject: RE: Classes and Instructor Quality

I see you are busy having fun at Alex's expense, John.  And now you wish to cut him off at the cajones by running to the Boss and turning him in.

It seems clear you are looking for every possible avenue that you might be able find to embarrass him further.

However, I already read your responses at youtube.  It stopped being funny after the fourth or fifth time you slammed the guy.

At this point, it is obvious you are simply being vicious.

By the way, "nobel" is a peace price. The word you are looking for is "noble".  But then I doubt seriously you have even a clue what the word means, much less how to spell it.


A day later I went back to YouTube for another look.  As of June 28, the videos were gone and so were the comments. This picture shows what I found instead.

I do not know the facts behind the removal of the videos.  If the videos had been removed voluntarily, I doubt this comment would be posted.  My guess is that Alex was forced to contact YouTube himself and lodged a complaint. If so, good for him in cleaning up the mess.


Commentary written by Rick Archer

The story of Alex and the video goes straight to the heart of our discourse on Reputation.

QUOTE ONE (from the Thomas Friedman article):
 "When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone becomes a potential publisher. When everyone has a cell phone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo.

When everyone can upload video on
YouTube, everyone is a potential filmmaker.

When everyone is publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else becomes a potential public figure. We must get accustomed to the thought that we are all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer - and each of us so much more transparent."

POINT ONE:  By coincidence, the Friedman article appeared in the Chronicle the very same day Alex was being roasted on the Internet.  The timing was so perfect it was eerie.  I had just read the article at breakfast, then walked over to my computer to begin the day.  Ten minutes later, I opened the email with the link to the video.  As I watched the video on the Internet, the exact words posted above echoed through my mind... 
"When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is a potential filmmaker."

This embarrassing moment is the perfect illustration of what Mr. Friedman was trying to warn us about.

QUOTE TWO (from Rick Archer's memo on videotape): "I have other reasons as well that are deeper and darker.  I have personal experience that videotaping group lessons can be exploited for personal use.  The moment I permit videotape, I give away control of my studio's curriculum.  There is no benefit to the studio, but great potential for damage. This is one issue where I am not going to wait till something bad happens, and then make the policy.  I can already foresee plenty of danger.

99 people out of 100 can be trusted not to hurt the studio in any way, but with 1300 people a month, at that rate we are pretty vulnerable.  Remember, it only takes ONE PERSON to cause a problem.  If I give permission to one person, I must give permission to all."

POINT TWO:  As it turned out, my memo nine months earlier was prophetic. By ignoring my warning, Alex got himself in a pickle.  Obviously some people have to learn things "The Hard Way". 

One of my favorite sayings is "Experience is a comb that Life throws you after you have lost your hair."

During his class, Alex actually saw the man videotaping.  Rather than follow my orders, he allowed it to continue.  Alex has no one to blame but himself for the trap he fell into.

As you have read for yourself, various Salsa dancers in the community began to amuse themselves by insulting Alex's class and his teaching ability.  What a nasty little trick they played.

Alex didn't help matters any by responding, but some of those statements were very harsh and I am sure he felt compelled to defend his reputation.

And now I have to ask the question:

Was the criticism justified? 

I watched the video several times.  So did my wife.  We both came to the same conclusion - the entire video was boring.  It showed six minutes of Alex showing different movements while the students stood behind him copying the motions in Simon Says fashion.  There in the corner of the video, in the mirror you could actually see the reflection of Phil, the man making the videotape.  It was obvious what Phil.  He clearly wasn't dancing.  Instead he stood still while he taped the class. 

In my opinion, there was absolutely nothing in the video that would prove that Alex was a poor instructor.  Yes, the video dragged on, but in his defense, the material Alex covered was very dry stuff.  Lift a shoulder, move a hip, work a knee, do a head roll.  Alex was not trying to be entertaining.  This information was important only to the people who wished to learn more about Salsa styling.  There was nothing wrong with his class.

That said, I will agree that the video was easily lampooned.  You know the old saying, dance like no one is watching?  In fact, when people are learning to dance, they often look like klutzes.

In truth, you can make fun of anyone who is trying to dance or trying to teach.  As a result, Alex is practically helpless to defend himself from criticism.  Even very good dancers can look awkward in slo mo.  For that matter, if someone is determined to take a shot, any dance instructor could be teased or criticized.  People simply do not always look graceful in dance class.  That's why I insist that dance classes should be private.  No kids, no guests, no watching and definitely no videotape.

The mistake was allowing the class to be videotaped by a person who meant to do Alex harm.  Alex made the mistake because he thought the person genuinely wished to videotape the pattern he was teaching for practice purposes later on.  As they say, No good deed goes unpunished.


I studied the dance tape carefully.  Despite all the mean things said about him, Alex did just fine in his dance class.  His only mistake was getting caught in the headlights.

Gee, if you want see what a lousy dance instructor really looks like, you should have watched some of my first dance classes back in the Seventies.  You would have definitely asked for your money back!  You see, early in my career, I was an incredibly mediocre Disco dance instructor. 

Let me share a couple of excerpts with you.

The Disco Surge hit Houston like a tidal wave. I was one busy boy!  From two one-hour classes in October, by February 1978 I was teaching 18 group classes a week (three classes, six nights a week), 20 private lessons a week, plus I went out dancing after practically every class to boot.

However I was faced with a problem.  I didn't really know very much about dancing when I started in October 1977.  I lived in constant fear that a student would show up who knew more about dancing than I did.  With the pace Disco was developing here in Houston, there were nights when I was learning a move at 6 pm that I was going to teach at 7... and there weren't any other patterns in the cookie jar in case I got stuck.

When Saturday Night Fever hit, all I knew how to teach were line dances. I didn't have a clue how to partner dance.  But my students insisted on learning how to Partner Dance. How was I supposed to teach them something I didn't know how to do myself?  I had to make stuff up from what I saw out on the dance floor. For several months, I stayed barely one step ahead of my students.   It was so bad that I turned to a recent invention - the VCR.  Each Thursday, a new show called "Dance Fever" came on. After class, I would race home to see if there were any new moves I could steal to use in my next Advanced Disco class!!

In the middle of 1978 when Disco Partner Dancing became the rage, my weaknesses were in great danger of being exposed.  I was constantly worried that my inexperience would prove fatal some night.  No, let's change that. I was scared out of my wits!!     (From History of SSQQ)

A year and a half later, my mad scramble to stay one step ahead of my Disco students was repeated a second time.  As the Disco Era ended, Western Dancing came on the scene like a stampede of buffaloes.

In a situation that smacked eerily of
Déjà vu from my Disco charade, I accepted an opportunity to teach people how to Western Dance without ever having Western danced in my entire life. 

I heard the phone ring.  The woman on the phone said she was from the Meyerland Club.  I recalled teaching a Disco class there a year or so earlier.  Now with Urban Cowboy looming on the horizon, she was looking for a Western dance instructor.

"You do know how to teach Country Dancing, don’t you?"

If I hesitated I was dead. "Of course I do."  I had just lied through my teeth. I had never danced Western once in my entire life.

"That's good. A couple ladies in my group asked around but couldn't find anyone. That's when I suggested you."

Not only did I not have a clue, I hated Western music. Just as I was thinking of turning her down, Sandy's next words froze me. She said, "Would the price be the same?"

MONEY!? I couldn't resist; I had to ask!! "Refresh my memory. What was our previous arrangement?"

"The last time you were here you charged $5 an hour per person which I thought was reasonable. Would that be okay?"

Now I hesitated. Disco classes weren't as big as they used to be... but on the other hand, I could turn down a hundred bucks or so just to avoid the aggravation of fooling with Western dancing.

She responded to my pause by continuing, "This would mean $40 a person. I forgot to tell you, we want you to come out once a week for eight weeks!"


I could not help myself. I had to ask. I HAD TO KNOW. "Uh, how many people do you expect?"

"Maybe 40, 50 people. Here at the Meyerland Club it is being billed as the thing to do! All the ladies want to wear their new Western outfits!"

I felt my knees go weak. The math was inescapable. $200 an hour was a lot of money. Would I have the strength to resist "Temptation"?

The thought that crossed my mind was maybe I could start learning how to Western dance. I said yes.

That's when she added, "By the way, the first class is this Sunday!"

I gasped as she said it started this coming Sunday. The job was only five days away!

She felt my pause. She said, "Is this too short a notice?" Then she added there was one other person on her list she had heard might teach if I couldn't help....
"Uh no, Sunday evening will be fine. See you then!!"

What had I gotten myself into? I did not know how to Twostep. I did not know how to Polka. If you put on a Country song, I would not be able to tell you which dance to use.

I had never been dancing in a Western Club in my life.

I basically knew no more about Western Dancing than the people I was about to teach. That makes it interesting, doesn't it?

From Risky Business, Chapter One


In case you the reader did not follow my narrative above closely, let me repeat: I committed myself to teach an eight-week Western dance class starting in 5 days, yet I had never danced Western in my entire life.

When you combine my Disco struggles with my Western struggles for the first three years of my dance career, you see why I say I lived by the motto Fake It Till You Make It.

Do you suppose my students ever noticed my shortcomings?  I am sure some of them did.  They simply lacked the technology to do me any real damage. Any bootleg video of my classes vintage 1978-1980 could have ended my dance career on the spot. 

That's a major point of the Friedman article: today's mistakes are magnified and it is much more difficult to repair one's reputation from mistakes.     

My generation got to write its resume without today's spotlight.  In the beginning, yes, I fudged my credentials till I was able to figure things out.  Fortunately for me, I didn't get caught.

So what was Alex's mistake?  Alex was guilty of poor judgment. He knew videotaping was forbidden, but he didn't quite understand 'why'.  He figured, 'what can it hurt?'  And that's when he learned his lesson the Hard Way.  

Life has thrown Alex a serious curve.

Yes, it is correct that Alex is a rookie instructor.  Yet in every way possible, Alex is far superior in training to me at a similar stage. This young man is more than qualified to teach his Salsa class. 

But unlike me, Alex lives in a new and different world, a world where the slightest mistake can come back to haunt you. And thanks to a dumb mistake, now Alex's reputation as a dance instructor has been called into question.

Maybe it would help if I presented another side of the story.

For starters, Alex has been assisting with dance classes here at SSQQ for three years.  Not only does he personally share his music for our Thursday Night Salsa Practice, Alex stays to the end of practice each week dancing with the students.  He frequently spends his time helping the ones that are struggling.

His efforts have paid off.  Although his Salsa peers may treat him poorly, other people have a better opinion. Let me share a couple of unsolicited emails that people have sent me regarding Alex.

-----Original Message-----
From: A J A
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2007 1:42 PM
Subject: Your instructor Alex

To the SSQQ Studio:

As I am sure you know, your instructor, Alex (Salsa), is always very sweet to everyone. Taking advantage of his good nature, I asked him last night to do me a favor. I asked him to dance with my 17 year old daughter in beginning Salsa. I warned him that she was very unhappy about being in the class but that his assistance might change her mind some as she thought he was gorgeous. Alex went out of his way to look for her and comply with my request as soon as class was over. I am very appreciative of him making my request a priority, and wanted to let you know.

-----Original Message-----
From: S S
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2007 10:35 PM
Subject: The hat snatch salsa dance

Dear Rick,

Just had to tell you about the salsa party on Saturday and the enjoyable entertainment by Alex and Jamie with Alex's little hat. Jamie snatched it while they were dancing a hot salsa, then the fun began... Back and forth they went after that hat, all the while dancing a mean salsa without missing a beat.

Everyone roared with applause at the end of the song - I think Alex got it back but I'm not sure. 

Now compare those two letters with these words from John, the hatchet man who illegally posted the video of Alex's class.

"Although the initiative is nobel (as to workshops like this should be offered on all dance studios), the technique and execution observed throughout Alex's class is below average to mediocre."

No one asked Alex to teach that course.  Alex asked to teach it himself with the idea that he had something to share with our students.  Rather than simply gain some experience as a teacher with the idea of improving the class for the next time, instead Alex was subjected to vicious criticism far out of proportion to his actual performance.

As I said, No good deed goes unpunished.  Now he gets to live with the label 'mediocre'.

I say give the kid a chance.  I hope he has the guts to live this down and try again. Hopefully Alex's pride will heal.  He will realize that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you... unless you let them.  That which doesn't break you will make you stronger.

I will conclude this story with this quote.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed...

Who at the best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly...

So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
26th President of the United States


In July 2004, a woman named Cheryl ask for permission to teach Samba here at the studio.

Despite a world of talent and many good intentions, for a variety of reasons Cheryl could not find a way to find a niche within the framework of SSQQ schedules and traditions. 

We will study how this incident reflects on the theories brought forth in the Thomas Friedman article.

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