Group Classes
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SSQQ At a Glance History of SSQQ SSQQ Philosophies

Group Classes

SSQQ At a Glance  gives a quick overview on the many facets of the studio.

History of SSQQ  covers the events that led to the development of Houston's largest dance studio.

SSQQ Philosophies explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important to our dance program.

Group Classes covers the events that explain how we developed our Group Class Dance program. This section is actually something of a meditation on the nature of the Rights of an Individual Versus the rights of the Group. It covers in great detail the incidents that led to our policies and the reasoning behind the policies.  Why do we insist everyone switch partners?  Why can't people watch classes?  Why are children banned from the studio?

Group Dance Classes
Written by Rick Archer
January 2005

SSQQ Emphasizes Group Dance Classes

Over the past 50 years, the two most famous dance studios, Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire, have emphasized private instruction over group dance classes.

Unlike our famous counterparts, SSQQ has made its mark with our Group Dance Program. Due to the large size of our studio, we are able to offer 50 different group classes a week. I wonder if any other dance studio in America can match this number.

Before you get the wrong idea, please understand that we completely respect the value of Private Dance Lessons. For that matter our studio offers private lessons in addition to our group lessons.

We are simply unusual in that we put our Group Lessons ahead of Private Lessons. Over the years our Group Classes have been so effective (and so inexpensive!!) that when given a choice most of students prefer our Group Lessons to our Private Lessons.

Learning to partner dance is really not that difficult, especially if you are smart enough to stay after class to Practice.  The footwork, rhythm and patterns can all be acquired within a group setting as long as the dancers share basically the same ability and experience.

A Meditation on the Rights of the Individual Versus the Rights of the Group

Rick Archer, February 2005

I find it highly ironic that I of all people am writing an article that defends the rights of the Group to frequently supercede the rights of an Individual.  After all, I have been a rebel all my life.

I dislike unenlightened authority and I hate rules that seem to contain little wisdom. I hate being told what to do by people who mindlessly seem to follow rules that I don't respect.

I have paid for my rebellious attitude more than once, believe me. For example, I am the kid who spent half his Saturday mornings at high school Detention Halls because I refused to get a hair cut. I HATED Detention Hall!!  But did I cut my hair whenever they asked me to?  No.

Sometimes the consequences were even greater. I was thrown out of Graduate School in 1974 because I had a bad habit of arguing with my professors. Hmm.  In retrospect maybe having a big mouth wasn't such a good idea.

I also have a bad habit of drifting through red lights and stop signs at 5 miles per hour in the wee hours of the morning. I only do this whenever I don't see any headlights. Why stop if there is no threat?   Let me add that several times I have been caught red-handed and forced to pay a ticket.

Authority has a way of dealing with people like me.

So it is a cosmic irony that a classic non-conformer like me finds himself in a position closely akin to that of a high school principal.

Recently my daughter Samantha won a major city-wide writing award.  Before the ceremony, my daughter and I were invited to dinner by two of her teachers. In addition to Sam's English teacher, I met a Ms. Teague who is the Assistant Dean of Middle School.  Samantha lives in great fear of Ms. Teague. Any time she is out of uniform... which is a couple times a week... Sam spends every minute in terror of Ms. Teague sneaking up behind her and giving her a demerit. Many a trip home from school has been filled with tales of what horrible thing Ms. Teague did to Sam or another classmate that day.

As the dinner progressed, I was deeply amused to find that the Ogre known as Ms. Teague was in reality a delightful woman. She was kind, warm, outgoing, and carried a twinkle in her eye. I had a hard time connecting this gracious lady with the visions of Dragon Woman described by my daughter. Finally I couldn't take it any more. I asked Ms. Teague, "You aren't really as mean as they say you are, are you?"

She grinned and said, "No, Mr. Archer. It is a well-rehearsed act.  But please don't tell anyone!"

That said, I find myself in a similar position to Ms. Teague. For my dance studio to operate properly, I constantly find myself in the deeply awkward position of defending rules that in reality aren't very important.

If you speed, you could kill someone. If you bring a friend along to watch your dance class, no one is likely to be hurt.

If you drink alcohol and drive, you could kill someone. If you forget to bring your receipt to dance class, no one is likely to be hurt.

If you drive on the wrong side of the road, you could kill someone. If you decide not to switch partners, no one is likely to be hurt.

If you forget to put your seat belt on, you are at the complete mercy of the idiot who sideswipes your car.  If you bring your child along with you to class, no one is likely to be hurt.

And if you run a red light, someone could get killed including you.  But if you leave your cell phone on and it goes "ring ring ring" in the middle of class, no one is going to get hurt.

And since SSQQ Rules are cosmically inconsequential, this is why some of our students try to break them whenever it is convenient for them to do so.

Here are the things they say:

  • What difference would it make? 
  • Who cares?
  • Just this once. What if I promise not to do it again?
  • I saw someone else doing this exact thing last week on another night!
  • Rick said it would be okay.
  • Can't you make an exception?

SSQQ Rules by the very nature of our business are just begging to be broken by someone with a will to do so.

First of all, the consequences of breaking our rules is very small.  For example, I openly agree it would not hurt much to let your kid sit there and watch for one night.

Second, we are in the position of trying to please you because you are our customer and we depend on you to help us stay in business. We wish to keep your patronage.

So why do we insist on sticking to our guns?? 

The simplest explanation is the legend of the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the hole of the dike to prevent the mighty North Sea from collapsing the entire structure with erosion.
Sticking his finger at the source of the leak, he stopped the flow of sea water from slowly tearing down the dike until help arrived to patch it.

Of course the first little "drip, drip" of water will not matter.  But slowly the hole will widen until it becomes a difficult problem to stop.  Soon after that, the danger becomes magnified.

In our case, it becomes a problem of "RESPECT" for our Rules.

As it stands, our Staff and our Students all respect the Rules. 

Each time we make an exception, it is like poking a hole in the Dike. 

  • If there is a guest standing around or sitting there doing nothing else but watch a class, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?
  • If there is a person who starts in the third week of class and doesn't have a clue what is going on, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?
  • If there is a couple who refuses to switch, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?
  • If there are children in the room, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?
  • If someone is smoking, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?
  • If someone talks on their cell phone, don't you suppose every student in that room will notice?

The moment the students who have cooperated to this point see that our Rules can be broken by one person, first they get angry at us for not having the guts to stick to our guns, then they decide they too will challenge the same Rule or another Rule when the time comes.

"I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other manís rights." Ė Abraham Lincoln

Please try to understand our position. If we make an Exception for YOU, then we have to make an exception for everyone. When we make you happy, we end up making a lot of other people unhappy.
Let's face it: Having kids run around the studio, having cell phone conversations everywhere, having guests in every room, and having couples who don't switch partners would definitely
"interfere with the rights of our other customers".

The presence of people who are not part of our class structure would quickly alter the nature of SSQQ dramatically. This is exactly what will happen when we begin to bend the rules. 

Furthermore even if we give in to you, we lose your respect too. You know from this point on our Rules are meaningless.

Either way, we lose.  The simple thing to do is to just say no.  And if you decide to punish us for sticking to our guns by leaving the studio, then that is a risk we will have to take.

Why SSQQ has Different Class Levels.

In order for the Group Classes to work, the majority of the class has to be of similar dance experience. Here again, we have a situation where the rights of the Group supercede the desires of the Individual.

Back in 1986 I went on a ski trip to Colorado. On the first day I signed up for
Ski School at Copper Mountain.  As I waited for the class to begin, I watched as a man bullied his way into my upper-level ski class. He was an older gentleman used to getting his way. I watched in bemusement as he brow-beat a college age instructor into giving him permission.  Why this man felt it necessary to push his way into a class where he didn't belong was beyond my comprehension. 

I can report that he held the class up all day long. For starters, we had to wait for him at the end of every run. The waits were sometimes ten minutes long because he would fall on the difficult terrain and take several minutes to get himself back up. The terrain we were on was difficult. Once the instructor saw how much he was struggling, the instructor basically abandoned the rest of his class to attend to the "weakest link".

Frankly I was irritated at the guy.
 I resented the constant delays this man caused with his slow skiing. He basically ruined the morning for the 10 people in the class. And I cannot imagine what benefit he gained from forcing himself into a level beyond his skill.  He definitely paid for his mistake. I experienced more than a small bit of satisfaction at his expense watching his frequent falls and mishaps. He was clearly in over his head.

Similar to Ski School, SSQQ dancers are grouped according to their dance experience. Our 6 separate rooms allow us to teach 6 different skill levels at the same time every night. At SSQQ we let you make a reasonable guess as to which level you belong in, then if you feel you ended up in the wrong class, switching is as simple as walking to another room.

If you know you aren't a beginner, but you also aren't sure what level of a class to take, one good idea is to come early before your first class, dance with a teacher for 20 seconds, and get an "on-the-spot" recommendation.

Parallel Classes

A marvelous feature of our Group Classes is having the ability to take the same class on another night of the week. Many of our classes have a "Parallel" section - in other words, the same class taught on a different night.

For example, we have Swing classes 3 nights a week, Salsa 3 nights a week, and Western classes 3  nights a week. Our Whip classes are offered 2 nights a week and so are some of our Ballroom classes.

This means i
f you ever miss the night you prefer, you are welcome to switch to another night the same class is offered on. This allows you to make up a missed class

Many students
even double up and come twice a week to get extra practice if space permits (which it usually does).

In some ways, the Parallel class system is TOO popular.  Occasionally we get a complaint that all of our classes should have a "parallel".  Most of our higher level classes do not have parallel class since we simply do not have enough rooms to offer backups for every class offered.

Starting in the Second Week

Our group classes work on a 4-week cycle. Although it is better to start in the first week, we build enough review into our classes that you can start class a week late or miss a class and still catch up. For example, the first hour of the Second Week of class is spent reviewing the First Week.  Using our Parallel class system, you can sign up in the second week and perhaps come on one other night the same week for extra review.

Exception Policy

All Rules are made for a Reason, but we try to be understanding as well. In addition, we consider "Ignorance of the Rules" to be a Legitimate Excuse. Our list of Rules and Policies is so vast that flexibility is sometimes called for.

Therefore we have an Exception Policy. If you ask for something that bends our Rules, but doesn't threaten to put us out of business, we might be able to say, "This is the Policy and you can find it here on the Internet at, but if you wish, we will make an Exception for you in this situation."

Most people use our Exception Policy to make up missed classes without having to pay for them a second time.
Please email ssqq in advance to ask,  Warning - if you show up at the studio to ask for your Exception, we will say 'no'. Please email in advance.

For further information about Exceptions, click here: The SSQQ Exception Policy


The Parallel class system has been a very popular feature of SSQQ for many years. The biggest problem with Group Classes is falling behind due to reasons such as illness, working late, a hot date, or fill in the blank.  Having the flexibility of the Parallel classes has made all the difference in the world towards minimizing the problem of having to miss a particular class when a makeup is easily available.


No Smoking

SSQQ has been a "No Smoking" facility ever since I took over the lease back in 1987.  We were the first dance studio in Houston to prohibit smoking.

Whether someone chooses to smoke is their business, but one thing some smokers choose to ignore is how painful it is for a non-smoker to be subjected to second-hand smoke.  The fumes are so noxious that non-smokers literally cough, get headaches and even nausea from exposure to cigarette smoke.

It has been suggested we have a special room set aside for smokers only. Bad idea. The air-conditioning would quickly recycle the smoke fumes throughout the studio. 

This point was made clear in 1991 when a woman tried to sneak a smoke in the ladies bathroom. Within seconds people from all over the studio descended on the bathroom in outrage.  The smell had spread everywhere. It became obvious that having a smoking section at the studio would make as much sense as having a peeing section in a public swimming pool.

That said, the studio has provided a smoking area outside Room 5 complete with a circular table, four comfortable chairs, and potted bushes for anyone who wishes to smoke during Break or before Practice Night. We don't hate people who smoke; we just can't stand the cigarette smoke.  Please forgive.

No Children

Over the years we have had many incidents involving kids, mostly during our early years. One time we had some small boys get caught jumping up and down on a couch like it was a trampoline.  Another time a kid spilled his drink all over the couch. 

The incident that made us finally draw the line was not really that spectacular. It was simply the straw that broke the camel's back.

One afternoon in 1991 a man showed up for his first dance class at 4:30 on a Sunday with his kid in tow.  I said to him we did not allow children.  He said he had not been aware of our policies and could we let his son stay for the day. He said his son, age 12, was an excellent student and would read a book the entire afternoon.

I took one look at his son and sensed he was correct. The young man seemed quiet and self-contained. Finally I relented and gave permission. As promised, the kid was an angel. He read the entire time and gave us no problems. 

After class the man told me he would not be able to continue to take classes since he did not have a baby sitter. Since the boy had behaved so well, I said okay.

The following week went fine, but in the third week a woman in the class brought her teenage daughter and the daughter's girlfriend. The mother had not asked permission. I spoke to her and pointed to the sign that said "No Children."  The woman replied, "I assumed since that boy was here the first two weeks that you wouldn't mind."  And what was I supposed to say to that?

These girls spent the entire afternoon talking constantly. They were very distracting.  The young man continued to read quietly.

In class that afternoon I taught a minor acrobatic move known as a "Dip" where the lady falls into the man's arms and hits a dramatic pose.  The girls took one look at the demonstration and started to giggle. To them it was silly. Unfortunately their attitude affected the adults. Several women became self-conscious and said they would rather watch. The mother was one of those women who decided not to give it a try.

As usual, I had to learn my lesson the hard way. If you let one child in, you have to let the next kid in too. Where do you draw the line?   The only choice that makes any sense is to say "No Children" and stick to your guns.

Guests/No Watching

We are not totally unsympathetic to guests and to people who are curious to watch. We also realize that many people are indeed not aware of our policy ahead of time.

However, the problem is our students just don't like to be watched. 

Let me give an example. On Saturday, March 23, 2002, we had our first-ever Pajama Party. Many people came to the Crash Courses before the party already dressed in pajamas. Did we look ridiculous?  Of course we did. That was the whole idea.

Anita Williams was teaching a West Coast Swing 'Flirting With Your Feet' workshop. There were 10 women in the class all dressed in pajamas. One woman was in curlers while another woman had her hair spiked in little tuffs using rubber bands. I was taking the workshop too wearing a huge bathrobe

Anita made a reference that a certain movement resembled carrying a baby in the womb. All the women seemed to get it, but I clearly didn't and I was teased. In retaliation I decided to make a fool of myself. I put a big pillow inside my bathrobe to resemble being pregnant. As I hoped, I got some laughs so I left the pillow in there as I continued to dance. 

About 20 minutes into the class some man was walking through the room with his girlfriend en route to somewhere else.  Actually I think they were leaving early.  The man saw the ridiculous sight of 10 women practicing sexy Whip footwork while dancing in their pajamas. Even more ridiculous was the sight of a man prancing around in pajamas trying to dance sexy. He laughed. He guffawed. He pointed. And he decided to stay and watch a while. He talked to his girlfriend while the class continued. They decided to get comfortable so they sat down on the couch. I could see from the frowns on the women's face that they were clearly uncomfortable at his presence. 

Finally I decided that the man wasn't going to leave gracefully of his own accordI intervened and asked him to leave.  As he and his girlfriend departed, he even had the nerve to say he didn't remember me looking quite so heavy as he pointed to my hidden pillow.  What a charmer. 

Obviously the odd situation combined with this man's rudeness is the extreme, but the point is that having people watch makes at least some of the students feel self-conscious. 

Our studio is not a Zoo and our students are not there to perform or be scrutinized. They paid good money to learn to dance within the privacy of their room.  We prefer to respect that privacy.


Why We Insist That Everybody Switch Partners, Part One - The Creation of the Circle.

In order for our Group Classes to work, we use a system where everyone switches partners. This philosophy has proven to be controversial because some students would not switch if given a preference. Perhaps it would help if they understood the rationale behind the policy.

For the first several years, we tried to simply balance the class.  As long as the class was even steven, there was no concerted effort nor compelling reason to rotate partners.

Unfortunately one night in 1983 an event occurred that was so bizarre, it totally changed the way we taught our classes forever. That night
I arrived for my third week of a dance class to find 16 men and only 7 women in a class that had been perfectly balanced in Night One.

I was perplexed.  Just two weeks earlier the class had 16 men and 16 women. What was going on here

Never before had I taught a partner dancing class with such an unbalanced ratio. At first I assigned one woman to two men, but noticed if the woman had come with one the men, the other guy got ignored a lot. This wasn't working. The men were not sharing evenly.

This new problem forced me to come up with another plan.  In a flash, I decided for the first time ever to ask everyone to form a circle, do the pattern, then rotate partners. This change made a bad situation much better.  At least it forced the men to share the women evenly.

Then the mathematics side of me took over. When I was in the circle, the ratio was 17 to 7.  I noticed if switched over to dance the lady's dance part, then the ratio would improve to 16 to 8. This meant each man would only have to stand out every other time. This was the moment when I decided to dance the lady's part in class for the first time. As they say, Necessity is the Mother of Invention. 

Dancing as a "follow" was definitely a new experience.
I had of course walked through the lady's part in private dance lessons while learning to be a dance teacher so I was at least familiar with the footwork. Before I made my move, I thought it over carefully. Finally I concluded I had little choice but to dance the girl’s part since the ratio was so out of kilter. I carefully explained to the men what I was about to do and why.

As a rule men are not quite as open-minded about same-sex dancing as women, but I must say these guys were good sports about it.  Judging from their expressions, the men were not happy about this development, but they all agreed drastic times called for drastic measures. Yes, that is correct. Dancing with me was so distasteful that "drastic" was putting it mildly. But to their credit, they accepted the move after some fussing.

Now the men started to rotate through me.  Dancing as a "follow" wasn't as hard as I had expected. At least it wasn't hard at first. I had patted myself on the back too soon.

Next in line for me was Conan the Barbarian.  I had followed the first two men pretty well. But the third man I danced with used so much power to turn me that
I had to fall to my knees to release the tension on my arm. Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple hit him on the head and now I had a similar inspiration. The moment I hit the floor I had a strong idea why the class was no longer balanced. This dance class strongman had obviously been hurting the women so badly they didn't dare come back.

When Conan turned me, he was actually pushing downward at the same time!  That should give you an idea how clueless he was. This guy was obviously a body-builder.  No woman could put up with that kind of strength for long. No wonder they disappeared. The thought of dancing with this guy again would have chased me off too if I had a choice in the matter. But unfortunately it was my duty to try again. I couldn't dare let him move on to any more women!  Conan had already eliminated over half of them!

We tried again. This time I used my own considerable power to push my hand's back up. Nope. That didn't work either.  The third time I made my arms as relaxed as humanly possible and did not resist. It still hurt to dance with him but not as much and I was able to keep my balance. I was getting a worst-case scenario in what women have to put up with all too frequently out on the dance floor and I didn't like it one bit. Finally I explained to the man that his power was killing me and showed him what he needed to do to make things better. He literally did not know his own power.

To this guy’s credit once I explained what he was doing wrong, he began to improve. By the evening’s end he still needed work, but at least the women were no longer afraid to dance with him. My painful experience made me realize it is not enough to just show or tell someone how to lead or follow... the teacher must dance with the students to test their understanding.

This unusual evening marked the creation of three different SSQQ traditions. First, from this point on we began to teach all of classes in a circle. Second, we established the tradition of switching partners in all classes.  Third, by joining the rotation, the teacher and the assistants were now in position to correct mistakes on the spot. From now on, a man making the mistakes on the magnitude of Conan would never go uncorrected for the three weeks. We would catch the problem quickly before it became an issue causing 10 women to quit their dance class.

Although he made my evening a difficult one, Mr. Conan did the studio a huge favor. He changed forever the way our studio teaches dance classes.

The quality of our teaching increased considerably from this point on.

Why We Insist that Everyone Switch Partners, Part Two -
A Group Class Disintegrates Before My very Eyes.

I will never forget the sweet couple that pulled me aside one night back in 1987 to beg me not to make them switch partners. They told me they were getting married and needed to practice for their wedding dance. They asked so nicely that despite my misgivings, I agreed to make an exception for them. I told them to dance in the corner and just wave by anyone who tried to dance with them.

I was teaching a very large Beginning Jitterbug class. We had 40 students signed up. That first week, 38 people stayed in the circle and switched partners while the single couple stayed isolated over in a corner.

In the second week, another couple asked permission. What was I supposed to say ?   Now two couples were out of the Circle. It got worse - After the Break, two more couples joined them without bothering to ask. Now there were 4 couples not switching. I could see people whispering to each other what was going on. 

By next time the class met for their third lesson
, the class had separated into two groups. Half the class were the non-coupled people rotating in a circle on one side of the room while the other half of the class were couples who stayed at the other end preferring not to switch. I was totally caught off guard by this turn of events and did not have a clue how to deal with such an obviously divisive issue. No matter what I said or did, I risked alienating half the class so I felt helpless to correct the problem. What a mess. The morale in my class was pathetic.

he absolute nadir occurred when several ladies of the non-switching couples began to insist I give special attention to their partners. It seems their husband's leads and footwork were weak. They did not ask politely either. They were frustrated because they could see that their husbands were not improving like the "single" men were.  In their words, their husbands were simply "not getting it". These women were not the only ones who were frustrated.  I came very close to losing my temper at this point.  By not joining the Circle, these couples had literally taken themselves out of the Loop and now they expected me to give them special attention.

The lesson we learned from the Conan incident is that "Leads" are best taught to men by a female instructor who can spot a problem while rotating through the Circle. She is in a position to correct it on the spot and prevent bad habits from developing.  However since the non-switchers weren't in the Circle, they were not receiving the proper attention. 

he non-switchers were not improving at all and now the women were upset. So was I.  My class had fallen to pieces.  Reluctantly I took my female assistant out of the Circle and sent her down to concentrate on the couples. I worked with the Singles for the rest of the night while she helped the couples. It was a very long night.

By the fourth and final week of the Beginner class, attendance had dwindled to about 12 people. The wedding couple was nowhere in sight.  I had a feeling they sensed that my favor to them had been the path to ruin.  The class that night was not fun, but with so few people I was able to talk them into using the Circle again as a group... except for one couple that insisted on staying apart.  Just shoot me. 
Quite frankly, no one finished that course in a very good frame of mind.

The final humiliation came a week later.  Only seven people from the original group of 40 showed up for the Intermediate level.  Normally at least 20 and sometimes 30 people will go on to the next level.  I was furious to see that the problems created by accommodating the people who did not wish to switch had not only ruined my Beginner class, they had crippled my Intermediate class as well.

I was so disgusted I vowed that from now on
even if I had to ask people to leave the class and refund tuition, I would rather do that than have people refuse to switch.

Most people do not mind "sharing", but if even one couple doesn't switch, then the selfish side of human nature is tempted to appear. From now on I wasn't going to give anyone a choice.  This incident convinced me that for our Group Classes to work, switching is necessary. 

Even today once in a while a couple will ask permission not to switch, but after the teacher gently insists they switch it, this ceases to be an issue after they rotate a couple times. They realize that by switching partners they can learn a lot more about leading and following different people than they could by dancing alone.  They start to relax once they realize that dancing with different people is actually kind of fun. 

The term "Social Dance" implies learning to dance with more than one person. Dancing is literally a "social skill".  Someday you are going to have the occasion to dance with coworkers at a business-related party, with friends at a barbeque with a C&W band, with relatives and friends at a wedding, or with friends at a New Year's Party. These moments may be off the future somewhere, but the time to prepare for them is while you are taking our dance classes.

And when you get right down to it, isn't a big part of Social Dance learning to be "social" as well?  Switching Partners is not nearly as difficult as some people imagine. Once you get used to it, you will see our point.


SSQQ At a Glance  gives a quick overview on the many facets of the studio.

History of SSQQ  covers the events that led to the development of Houston's largest dance studio.

SSQQ Philosophies explains why don't we use Contracts, the advantages of Group Lessons, and why Practice Night is so important to our dance program.

Group Classes covers the events that explain how we developed our Group Class Dance program. This section is actually something of a meditation on the nature of the Rights of an Individual Versus the rights of the Group. It covers in great detail the incidents that led to our policies and the reasoning behind the policies. 
Why do we insist everyone switch partners?
Why can't people watch classes?
Why are children banned from the studio?

SSQQ At a Glance History of SSQQ SSQQ Philosophies

Group Classes

SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ