Western Swing 5
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Chapter 5: Disco Rises From the Ashes - Western Swing is Born!
Rick Archer, SSQQ, 1999
Last Update: January 2007

As Houston's Western craze began its second month in August, I was now well-aware that Western dancing clearly had its charms. For one thing, the constant presence of a woman in my arms was definitely welcome. Plus the dancing was easy to pick up and it was fun.

But I was also becoming increasingly aware that compared to the thrills I had known with Disco Dancing, Western Dancing was pretty "tame"

A night of Twostep and Polka consisted of two hours of walking or skipping round and round in a circular path. We would dance the same 4 or 5 steps over and over.  Once the initial challenge had disappeared, you could sleep-walk through each song. 

There were other unpleasant factors as well.  We were out there
on a hot, crowded floor constantly trying to avoid collisions with a bunch of sweaty people. The smoke in the place was often unbearable to non-smokers like me. And the constant presence of long neck beer guaranteed at least a few angry, rude run-ins would erupt in different parts of the club on any given night.

Now do I put this delicately?... Some of the rednecks were not the nicest people in the world. 

Multiply this times three nights a week and you can imagine why the new Western scene was quickly becoming a drag. 

I longed for the days when I could thrill a woman again with spins and make her smile with my never-ending supply of tricky moves... There was little doubt that Disco Partner Dancing had been far more intricate and challenging.

This frustration drove me to try to create new moves. There had to be more to this dancing, right?  I wasn't alone.  All my ex-Disco dancer friends were thinking the same thing... there had to be more to it than this. There had to be... there must be... there Better be or else...

None of us wanted to stop dancing. Dancing was in our blood. But we wanted Western dancing to challenge us like Disco once did. If we couldn't make Western dancing more interesting, then it would be time to look for a new hobby. This was the sentiment that chilled my heart - it would lead to my taking a ridiculous and unnecessary risk at the start of August.

Things were happening fast. After the July 1980 debut of Urban Cowboy it only took a matter of weeks for this restlessness I spoke of to surface.  The "curiosity for complexity" as I termed it led quickly led to an interesting development. Every night out on the floor I could see dozens of couples experimenting with awkward one-hand turns and clumsy side-by-side cuddle moves ala Disco.  Up to now, all the dancing had been done in each other's arms - not a bad thing, mind you - but "limiting". After all, Disco dancing was mostly in open positions with the option of bringing the lady to a closed position whenever the man wished. 


In July the amusement had been watching the newcomers crash and burn on the floor. Now in August the new entertainment was to watch people try to invent new moves. Each night you could see men playing with ways to lead under-arms turns with their ladies from an open position. They would separate from the girl as they traveled around the floor, cross under their left arm, then try some sort of turn.  To me, it seemed like a moving version of Aggie Jitterbug.

Aggie Jitterbug is a Texas dance tradition that goes way way back. A dance style especially popular up at Texas A&M University, Aggie Jitterbug is danced fast on one spot on the floor. In many ways this style resembles Swing and Disco dancing, except it doesn't use a back step or any systematic footwork. 

These new Western turns clearly resembled moves from Aggie Jitterbug but with one big difference - the men and women were looking for ways to turn and travel around the floor all at the same time. Most people used single turns at first (i.e., under the arm once), but a few couples even dazzled the crowd with a mysterious double turn pattern where the lady turned twice. 

I was mesmerized the moment I first saw those double turns in mid-July!!  Those moves were EXACTLY what I had been looking for. My prayers had been answered. Maybe there really was MORE to Western dancing than I first realized.

The couples who could dance the Double Turns were few and far between. They were envy of every person in the clubs because they looked so sharp. 

One night as we studied the Double Turns, my friend Bob Job commented, "You know, those turns remind me of Disco!"

I smiled as I thought about it. Bob was right. I had already thought the same thing. These turns did look a lot like Disco, except that Disco stayed in one spot while these turns Traveled. This was Disco on the Run!!  Now if we could only figure out how to do them!  

The cat was out of the bag!!  Now that we knew it was possible to add turns to Twostep, we were determined to figure how these other guys had put Disco-style turns into their Twostep/Polka without altering the timing. Nobody was content to simply go backwards and forwards any longer. 

Everyone wanted to unlock the mystery of these new turns!  The Race was on. 

And guess who was determined to be the first?

Unfortunately it was all trial and error. There was no way to avoid the "Comedy Stage". Out on the floor you might see a girl back-lead a spin without bothering to warn her partner what she was doing. He would lose his balance and stumble.  Just as in July, lots of couples would stop dead in the middle of the floor, but this time they would start to argue about the right way to do a turn. Or we might see some guy cussing up a storm in obvious frustration as he was unable to figure out how to turn his partner and Twostep at the same time. Or his partner might be chewing him out for hurting her in his vain attempt to figure it out.  Everybody in the place was confused. The ladies were falling all the time because no one knew what they were doing!

You could see men experimenting all over the dance floor. Everybody was trying to copy those double turns, but no one was having much luck. More than a few unfortunate ladies got semi-mutilated in the process.  I made jokes about disco-located shoulders and men with dis-arming personalities. I was advised to stick to teaching dance...

There were a half dozen guys in my circle of dance buddies who wanted to be the first to solve the mystery of the Double Turns. Every one of us were ex-Disco dancers desperate for the chance to spin women again!!  

The Double Turn couples were rare. There was maybe one good couple a night if we were lucky. When we spotted one, my friends and I would drop everything we were doing and run to watch like hawks. 

This led to an informal contest between us to become the first to figure out how to do those turns. None of us were bright enough to find the key. And don't think we didn't try! 

For one thing it was nearly impossible to figure out what they were doing just by watching. Like a firefly, you might catch a glimpse of their moves, but then they disappeared into the crowd. Plus the Double Turn couples seemed to be quite aware they had something everyone else wanted. Once I got up the nerve to ask a guy how he led those turns, but he ignored me and walked away. 

Any couple that could do the Double Turns were the best dancers in the club. They realized if everyone could turn like that, they would lose their edge.  As a result, these turns became closely-guarded secrets. When the Superstars saw someone watching too closely, they would deliberately float to the other side of the floor before they did the turns again. 

This wasn't going to be easy.  Sure enough, despite our best efforts, we weren't coming up with any answers

Since I was a dance teacher, my friends at the club would ask me about those turns as we stood at the railing on scout patrol.  They figured I must know something.  Unfortunately I was just as much in the dark as they were. I watched and wondered in frustration. I was determined to figure this new dance out. 

The stakes were getting higher - as the weeks progressed now some of the advanced couples were doing two-hand and crossed-hand double turns. This new style of dancing was starting to 'mutate' into something even fancier!!  

I wanted so badly for the chance to spin women again!  I wanted it so bad I practically drooled with anticipation. 


Before I could solve the mystery however, I had more immediate concerns.  Due to the incredible influx of students inspired by Urban Cowboy, my classes were growing huge.

This put a big strain on my relationship with my landlord.  He taught classes too and didn't appreciate being second fiddle in his own building.  So in September 1980, he told me to leave.

This put a two-month hold on any progress while I searched for a new place and prepared to move.  In October 1980, we moved to a new location.  Now I was free to pick up the search again.

My excitement motivated me to try as hard as I could, but when I couldn't find the answer no matter what I did, I began to lose my patience.  Every day my frustration grew as I continued to hit dead-ends with my ideas. It became a constant puzzle that haunted me everywhere I went.  Each night after teaching class, I hit the clubs hoping to get another glimpse of those double turns that might provide the key. 

I felt like I could not decipher the secret even if my life depended on it (and I might add my career did depend on it). To make things worse, each night as I stood by the railing watching the dancers go by, my students would come up and watch with me. They knew exactly what I was doing there. While they stood there they would bug me incessantly about those turns!!

But why couldn't I figure this stupid dance out !#?*!#?*!?   This bugged the living daylights out of me.

I wasn't alone.  My students wanted to learn these turns almost as much as I did and they were willing to PAY ME MONEY to learn them.  Their well-meaning inquiries only served to aggravate me even more.  As if that were possible...

I was becoming obsessed.  There was MONEY out on that dance floor!  If I could learn how to do this double turn dance...

Each day I tried all sorts of different patterns trying to get the hang of it. My problem was that I knew just enough about dancing to get myself in a lot of trouble. 

One day I decided I wasn't going to figure it out by watching. Maybe I could just make something up.  Hmm.

Yeah, just make it up!  What a great idea!

Here is how I saw the problem

Fact One: Twostep is a Slow Slow Quick Quick dance.  The dance most similar to it - Foxtrot - is also taught Slow Slow Quick Quick

Fact Two: Swing - formally known as East Coast Swing - is also a Slow Slow Quick Quick dance. The music used for both Twostep and Swing is approximately the same speed.

Fact Three: Both dances start on the Slow.

Fact Four: One dance travels (Twostep) and the other dance stays in one place (Swing).

Fact Five: The Western double turns I saw most closely resembled double turns in Swing

Conclusion: Same timing, same music speed, similar turns, and both dances start on the Slow.  Surely, I thought, the answer must be somewhere in this obvious coincidence.

I decided the secret was to find a way to make my East Coast Swing footwork move down the floor somehow.  In my twisted mind, I would not only be respected for solving the puzzle, I'd be rich!

This definitely seemed like a good idea.  Why not figure out some way to make Swing move down the floor?  Surely this is was what these people had to be doing.  What else could it be?  Based on these conclusions, alone in my laboratory I made up an absolutely ridiculous Swing-based dance where you turned the lady once or twice and finished with a back step. 

Somehow the dance traveled, but not very well. I called it "Traveling Swing" but a buddy who looked at it said it looked more like dancing Swing on a tilted floor. In retrospect it was a pathetic little dance, but I was certain I could improve on it soon. 

My students were pressuring me to teach these double turns, so like the fool I was I committed myself to teaching a course before I even knew what I was doing

Sound familiar??  Deja Vu?  Just one year earlier, I had gone through the same thing when the Meyerland Club.  Now here we go again. Some fools never learn...


I put it down in writing - in December 1980 I would offer a class in Country Swing.  ta da! 

So why did I take this risk?  Mostly because I wanted to start teaching the turns before some other teacher started offering the same course and took all my students away.  My ambition got the better of me as it usually did.  I gambled that by the time the course started, I would stumble upon the answer. 

However, just to show you Readers that I had learned at least a few lessons along the way, I did do one thing different. This time I tried telling the truth for a change (alright, don't act so surprised!) 

Well, I almost told the truth. I may have stretched it a little. Is it a lie to promise a Mustang when you only had an Edsel in stock?  I promised to teach a dance that I didn't even know how to do.

At the end of November 1980 I began to promote my upcoming double turn class that would start next week. I explained to my Advanced Twostep group I was putting the 'finishing touches' on a double turn system that was a "work in progress".  

Since no one else in the city was teaching turns and everyone was just as anxious to learn as I was, that was good enough for about 12 people to sign up as guinea pigs. Mind you, these were some of the same brave souls who cornered me into my Fright Night of Reckoning. (Bless their hearts - shouldn't there be a shrine for them somewhere?) 

Although they didn't know it, I owed this group a huge debt of gratitude for forcing me to start dancing in the clubs. Mind you this development soon led to my frustration over the double turn mystery, but surely a professional challenge is good for everyone now and then, right?  


This time I came amazingly close to a complete meltdown. By the time the course started, I still didn't have the answer!!  My little dirty dozen class met the first Monday in December

Classes were an hour long. We spent the first week practicing Double Turns using Swing in one spot. This information was accurate stuff. I bought time by saying the following week we would learn how to move these turns down the floor like they did in the clubs.

I approached the second week with a sense of dread. I still hadn't figured out what was missing. To buy time, I reviewed the Double Turns from the previous week. Then in the last 20 minutes I taught the moves from my Traveling Swing. They sort of worked, but I knew something wasn’t right. When it came time for the turns to Travel, they didn't move very well.  What a farce!  

I could tell my students sensed what I was teaching wasn't what was being done in the clubs, but no one said anything. Yes, the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes, but in their minds they thought maybe they hadn't understood it right. In other words they gave me the benefit of the doubt.

I was running out of time. I knew the third week would bring a showdown. 

Every night t
hat week I haunted the clubs looking for the answer. I was in trouble.

Actually I was in Really Big Trouble!

There just weren't that many dancers who knew the secret.  Half the nights there wasn't even one couple for me to watch.

What was the heck was missing?  Every day I would spend time cooking up new patterns. I kept beating my head against the wall. I hadn't come this far just to fail ten yards from the top of Mt. Everest. But with two days left before the imminent showdown, it was looking pretty grim. 

Then out of the blue I got the break I had been hoping for. 

The second Saturday in December I taught a Disco private lesson to a student named Herb Fried.  Herb worked with Bob Job, my close friend who was almost as obsessed with finding the secret as I was.  After the lesson we chatted about my stupid double turn dance.  Herb said Bob had told him about the search for the Holy Grail.

Herb added he had heard something, but hadn't had a chance to check it out.

"And what was that?" I inquired anxiously. 

Herb told me some guy in a club had heard from someone else he knew that the trick was to start turning the girl on the Quick-Quick.  Herb added for a second time he had not tried it yet, but wondered if I had thought of that idea yet. 

Herb's suggestion absolutely stunned me.  I couldn’t imagine… Starting on the Quick Step?  

You can't be serious! 

'No way!!' I thought.  Twostep starts on the Slow.  Everybody knows that!  

I have to tell you Herb's idea was as radical to me as the assertion that the 'Sun is the center of our solar system' would have been to a Medieval Man.  And don’t forget back in those days some people were actually put to death for making that suggestion!  Should I kill Herb now to save him from torture for speaking such heresy?

I kept mulling it over. After deciding to spare Herb‘s life, I wondered if it was possible those double turns really started on the quick-quick. Then I dismissed the thought. No way!!  Herb, you can't be right!  This suggestion violated one of the sacred Ten Commandments for Twostep.

God meant for Twostep to start on the Slow!  

I was convinced Herb was wrong.  But curiosity began to creep out from the corners of my brain. I wondered if it would work...

To me this suggestion was revolutionary!  I frowned.  Herb's suggestion went completely against my mind-set.

In those days, everything started on the Slow!  That is the way Twostep was taught to me and to everyone else

But on the other hand, none of my other tricks had worked.  That was the deciding factor.

Finally I decided I had nothing to lose by trying. In the spirit of an open mind, I asked Herb to turn me a couple times. I started my turns on the quicks and ended on a slow. 

Ohmygoodness, it seemed to work!!  

Never in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me to flip-flop the Quicks and Slows... I realized my preconceptions had blinded me from finding the answer. 

However now that my mind-set was shattered, it was obvious that Herb's suggestion was right.  The Double Turns worked just fine when they started on the Quick and ended on the Slow. 

My Universe had just been flipped. 
No wonder my ideas never worked!  Like any person who works on a puzzle and has to peek at the answers, I was very disappointed that I hadn't figured this out myself.  However I was vastly relieved to finally discover the Secret.


Unfortunately my next private dance lesson appeared so any chance to experiment further with Herb was lost. Nor was I able to get back to Herb's suggestion on Sunday or Monday.  This doomed me to face one final embarrassment.  

It was Monday night, time for my Advanced Twostep class - the guinea pigs of my ill-fated Traveling Swing system - to return for their third lesson.

I had been thinking non-stop about Herb’s ideas, but I had not had the chance to try dancing with a lady partner. I had hoped to have some time to experiment with the new ideas before introducing them to the class, but no such luck.  

My pride kept me from openly confessing I had completely wasted these people’s time and money for two weeks with my BS dance.  So like an idiot, I started class with my pathetic make-shift version of Traveling Swing. 

I had bluffed for two weeks. I should have known I would not be able to bluff my way through one more week.  I had sensed they were on to me the week before, but hoped I could get away with one more week.  Nope. The clock struck Zero.  Bong!!

The moment after we started our first pattern, a man named Ed spoke up.  Right in front of the entire class, Ed said he had been watching some people dance in the clubs.

Ed said he STRONGLY DOUBTED my way was the correct way.

The Dirty Dozen grew quiet. All eyes turned from Ed to me.

I breathed deeply.  How do I keep getting myself into these fixes??   By gambling...

Thank God I had an ace in the hole. I decided to come clean. What other choice did I have? 

I said over the weekend I had been experimenting with some new ideas and maybe we should try a new approach. I told my students I had hoped to give the moves some fine-tuning before introducing them, but maybe we could have some fun experimenting together... 

This was a huge gamble.

I had not had the chance to take another look at the dance since Herb's lesson.  This meant I was not sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Quick-based system was the way to go. But it was the only chance I had to crawl out of this hole. 

Amazingly, the new moves worked like a charm.  Presto!! Shazaam!! Abracadabra!!

I had just
pulled a rabbit out of a hat.   There were glitches, but for the most part the Quick-based moves worked well.  By the end of class, my Dirty Dozen group was so excited!!


At the end of the class, Ed, the guy who had challenged me, came over and shook my hand.  Ed slapped me on the back in front of everyone for good measure. He smiled and said this was exactly what he had been looking for. 

Good job, young man!!

That was the closest escape of my entire career.  A lucky break over the weekend had barely saved my skin.  And you don't believe I live a charmed life?

Thank Goodness!  I felt overwhelming relief.

Like the cat with nine lives, I had escaped to live for another day.

I was safe now. I knew I was on the right track.  All I had to do was put in the work and the mysteries of this new dance would be solved. I had cracked the code: this new Twostep with Turns stuff started on the "Quick" step, not on the "Slow". Amazing.   Now why didn't I think of that?


I may have been 'Slow' getting started, but once I understood the secret, everything fell 'Quickly' into place. I developed an entire system of patterns for my double turn dance that operated like a Programmer‘s Flow Chart... 

Y-Pattern Swing Out leads to the Double Turn Open Up which leads to the Cross the Line Wind Up which leads to Double Turn Step Right Up which leads to Wild West Shuffle... 

Do these names sound familiar?  You might be surprised to realize how little the dance has changed at SSQQ from the formative days of December 1980!  

Other than a major change in 1989 when we switched the way we taught the ladies to prepare for Double Turns, SSQQ’s Western Swing is the same now in the 21st Century as it was back in 1980.

I am proud to say I developed the entire SSQQ Western Swing system taught today from Beginner to Advanced on my own... with a little help from my friends like Bob and Herb, that is.

During the early months of 1981, every Saturday morning for about two months my friends Bob Job, Bill Sampson, John Montieth and his girlfriend Belinda would meet with me at the studio to invent new patterns.  We would make up a new move each week.

One of our first projects was the Pretzel.  In Disco the Pretzel had stayed in one spot on the floor. It was our goal to find a way to make the Pretzel travel. One night Bob Job stopped me in the parking lot of the studio.  He was arriving at the studio just as I was leaving. He said he had just been to club and had seen something that gave him an idea. How he couldn't wait to try!  Right there in the studio parking lot, we worked out steps to the Traveling Pretzel.

It was a great triumph when after several hours of tinkering we succeeded.  It was almost Midnight, but we didn't care because we were proud.  Today’s SSQQ Pretzel is step for step the same move we cooked up that night in 1981.

Drawing on our knowledge of Disco patterns, all we had to do was figure out a way to make them "Travel" like we had with the Pretzel.  In short order we developed patterns like the Wild West Shuffle, the Dishrag, and the Rope. 

Then came Crossed-Hands, Twisted Hands, Neck Wraps, Lariats, Cyclone Turns, you name it. We cooked them all up in January and February 1981.  In the years that followed we have added many more moves along the way, but except for the change we made in 1989, everything else has stayed the same.  We got it right on the first try.

After two months, I was ready to put everything onto a syllabus. That is when I created a series of 3 classes: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced. 

One day Bob Job asked me if I felt I had invented the dance. I said of course not. I said my only claim to fame is that I was probably the first person in Houston to put it down on paper. 

Then he asked me what I had decided to call the dance. I told him it was my decision to call this complex series of turns "Western Swing".  

In my mind, I didn't even have a second choice. Over the years I have heard other programs call these patterns "Twostep with Turns", "Double Turn Twostep," and "Advanced Twostep".  One of the problems all three of those names have is they ignore the obvious fact that Polka-rhythm music uses the same turns

Personally, I think the name "Western Swing" was perfect then and remains perfect now. 

The name "Western Swing" has a long and proud Texas tradition. It dates back to Bob Wills and his "Western Swing" music back in the 30s. Since the Double Turns resemble Swing and the Traveling aspect is pure Western, I can't imagine a better name for the dance.  

After all, people Swing dance to Swing music and people Salsa dance to Salsa music. With that in mind, Western Swing music is perfect for Western Swing dancing. 

I have a hunch if Bob Wills were alive today he would be pleased to see his wonderful music linked to this great dance. 

Before Urban Cowboy, Western Dancing in Texas consisted mainly of women dancing backwards with a Cowboy's arm around her neck and her finger stuck through his belt loop. 

Fortunately you the reader are in a perfect position to see for yourself what the dancing looked like back then - go watch the movie!!  You may be amused to see John Travolta dance perhaps the most primitive Waltz in history. Or perhaps you will catch a glimpse of him leading a Pretzel to the Aggie Jitterbug in an early dance scene.  

You may notice that 90% of the couples did Circle Turns to Twostep and Polka, but that was the limit of their ability.  Perhaps one couple in ten added Aggie Jitterbug-style Swingouts, Line Crosses, and Single Turns to their Twostep. These moves were the humble beginnings of Western Swing

11 minutes before the end of the movie there was a dance contest scene at Gilley's. All the dancers were quite ordinary until Couple #66 took the floor with smooth-as-glass multiple Circle Turns followed by Western Swing Double Turns. Although they only did two moves (Double Turn, Cross the Line, Double Turn) they were as smooth as anyone in a modern SSQQ Ghost Town class. Of course they won the dance contest. 

Their dancing was so far superior to anything else shown in the movie it seemed like they might have been beamed in from the future. Couple 66 danced just as smoothly in 1980 as anyone in 2000. This Alpha couple was far ahead of their time. In my opinion, they should probably be credited with helping to inspire the birth of the Western Swing, but I have no idea who they were.  Maybe their names are in the credits.

Partner Dancing had been dormant in America for twenty years when Saturday Night Fever started America dancing again like it had back in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Although Urban Cowboy failed to light up any national flames for Western dancing, it caught Houston's imagination in a huge way. The movie got the entire city out on the dance floor.  

And once those double turns appeared, the genie was out of the bottle. Things would never be the same because the ladies loved the Double Turns!  

In fact, the ladies enjoyed double turning so much that your basic redneck had to either learn to lead them or spend a lot of time watching from the rail. Talk about your basic incentive for a guy to learn to dance...

In a strange twist of fate, the die-hard Kickers were now forced to learn these double turns or take the chance some Disco jerk would run off with their women. Yep, the Disco people had the last laugh. Those guys with the "Disco Sucks" bumper stickers on their pickup trucks were the same ones who once enjoyed flattening Disco dancers while they danced the Polka. But now they had to join the fun too or stand by the railing... Everyone was learning the double turns. 

The look of Twostep and Polka had changed.  Western Swing was here to stay.  A new dance was born. 

Yes, it is true that Urban Cowboy prematurely put Disco to rest here in Houston and created a lot of disappointed dancers. However it was this same group who dealt with their loss by taking Western dancing to exciting new heights in the Summer of 1980. They wouldn't settle for the status quo, so they fiddled and tinkered and came up with something better.

Call it irony if you wish, but the amazing advances in Western dancing that Summer should be directly credited to the Disco dancers. It was these people who found ways to mix their knowledge of Disco moves and Twostep footwork to create a dazzling array of complex Western Swing patterns that never before existed.

The innovation of the Western Swing Double Turns meant no woman would ever again be stuck going backwards for an entire song as long as she lived in Houston, Texas. That style of dancing was permanently retired.

Disco may have died a premature death in the Space City, but it left a legacy that was transformed into Western Swing... Disco on the Run, a 25 year Houston tradition!

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

As we start the 21st Century, similar forms of Western Swing can be seen around the country, but rest assured the City of Houston is where this dance started in 1980. 

Furthermore if you go western dancing in California, North Carolina, or Florida, somewhere between the Line Dancers you may see a few couples here and there double turning, but nowhere will you find an entire city like Houston where practically everyone person on the floor does spins. Then as you drive through Texas, you will see not even Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio comes close to reaching the sophistication of Houston's entire city of western dancers. 

Individuals perhaps, but not an entire city...

So tell me again how Houston became the undisputed Western Dance Capital of the USA? 

Houston was the city that caught Urban Cowboy Fever. The movie created a huge surge of interest in Western Dancing. Inspired by the movie, the dancing dramatically evolved to become so much fun that the interest has never died down since. 

The energy created by Urban Cowboy helped to form a bond between Houston and Western Dancing that should remain for a long long time. 

Another major reason to note is Houston's constant and eternal love for Western music. Houston's western radio stations are always among the most popular stations in the city. Love the music, love dancing to it. 

A final reason for this popularity is SSQQ itself. Here at the studio we began teaching Western Swing practically from the moment it caught fire in a spontaneous flash. Since its inception the studio has helped keep the flame burning for a quarter of a century. Over the years our huge number of Western students have helped keep Houston's interest in Western dancing at a very high level.

SSQQ has trained well over 50% of the city's Western dancers. Not only that, every dance teacher in Houston teaches Western Swing practically the same way we do. Since we were the first and we copied no one, then I guess this is proof positive we got it "right" back at the very start of things.

Today SSQQ stands alone as the largest Western program in Houston. For that matter, I would imagine the SSQQ Western program is likely the largest in the country as well.... thanks to Students like you!

2010: A Personal Note from Rick Archer

I am sure you have already noted that the writing style of this article is autobiographical.  I wrote an earlier version that was more objective and fact-filled. May I add it was absolutely boring to read? 

This time I told the story through my own eyes. There is a saying that the surest sign of age is when you don't have to bother reading about history, you just remember it.  Well, in addition I decided to write about it as well.  Consider this my contribution to the history of the era.  I did my best to capture the crazy summer of 1980 as best I could since it was such an important time for me personally. 

I would like to add that I wrote a longer version of this story in a tale known as Risky BusinessThe timeline in Risky Business is a little more accurate.

The story of the Western Swing parallels closely the beginnings of SSQQ.  Disco got my career started, but it was Western dancing that got SSQQ started.  

Despite the fact that my story was full of ups and downs, I am obviously proud of the final product

Thank you for reading my story

Rick Archer



September 2005 Footnote

(Editors Note: This article appeared in the September 2005 SSQQ Newsletter)

Dance Crazes come.  Some stay, others go.

the first half of our new century has seen the unprecedented emergence of Salsa dancing to become the single most popular form of partner dancing in America.

Back in the late 1990s we watched as Swing Dancing came back with a vengeance not seen since the 1930s.  Sad to every neo-Swing Kid in the world, in 2004 Swing slowly but surely faded until it retreated to its former pre-1995 level. Still, you have to say the ten-year run of Retro Swing was better than Disco's three years of Glory. 

Back in 1980 Urban Cowboy took Western dancing in Houston to heights it had never seen before. Since I was there along for the ride, back in 1999 I wrote a lengthy story about how it all happened.  I have updated this story several times since.

My basic premise was that the Disco Dancing of the "Urbans" found a  way to combine with the Country Dancing of the "Cowboys" to form a unique new dance that I personally nicknamed "Western Swing" early in 1981.

The email below was from a man named Emmett Durham who seemed oddly grumpy about my story.

-----Original Message-----
From: Emmett Durham
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2005 2:32 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Kicker Dancing

I have taken a couple of classes in the past at SSQQ, but I've recently starting hanging out with a group of people in Clear Lake who are dancing fiends. Consequently, I find myself at your website looking at the schedule.

I've read your account of the history of c&w dancing a couple of times in the last 3-4 years, and each time I end up asking myself what that was I was doing back in the late sixties at rodeo dances and at places like the Western Club, Proctor Lake, the Melody Ranch, and the Ramblin' Rose (all in central Texas) and London Hall in London, Texas. Charlie Pride's classic album "In Person - Live at Panther Hall" is a true honky-tonk dance classic. It was recorded in the mid sixties.

Your article drops the names of George Strait, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Reba McIntire like there was no music to "polish belt buckles" by before they came onto the scene. However, I remember the tunes that would launch streams of guys to the first available women to be "Freulein" by Bobby Helms and "Faded Love" by Bob Wills. By the way, I thought Bob Wills was the father of Western Swing music, dating back to the at least the '40s.

So, I wonder what that was people were doing on dance floors across Texas then? And don't forget Joe Stampley, Jackie Ward, Charlie Walker, Stonewall Jackson, Conway Twitty, and Ernest Tubb.

I remember Gilley's (pre-Urban Cowboy,) and the Winchester, and Van's Stampede Ballroom. I also remember that up until Urban Cowboy and until Houston filled up with people from Michigan and the likes, that the dancing done in those places was the same as that I learned from my girlfriend back in 1969 at a rodeo dance in Gatesville, Texas (she learned from her dad, who had been reserve world champion calf roper in the fifties.)

I remember one of the best times I ever had was at a dance at the Bluebonnet, in Eddy, Texas, where Conway Twitty played and people danced; it wasn't a concert. This was in 1972. The Bluebonnet was quite a place. It was as big as Gilley's and the house band was Roy Robinson and the Availables, a local band that could cover anything. Every Friday and Saturday night we'd go there by the carload.

Anyway, I used to love to dance, but I've lost my joy for it over the years because those wonderful steps at which I excelled back then have been replaced by those that I have come to learn from reading your article are the very foundation of western dancing, invented about 1979.

Boy, thanks for coming along and inventing kicker dancing.

Emmett Durham


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Saturday, July 23, 2005 9:22 PM
To: Emmett Durham
Subject: Kicker Dancing

I am not quite sure why you feel the need to be so sarcastic.

I never claimed to invent Western dancing. I simply said I was present when the nature of Western dancing here in Houston changed from basic Twostep into Western Swing and that I contributed to the development of this new dance form at that time.  I assume that a thorough re-reading of my story will not turn up any disrespect for the original Twostep and Polka upon which Western Swing (as I call it) is based.

I may not have cared for the country music that dominated the airwaves pre-1980, but I certainly have no bones to pick with the dancing as you claim.  Furthermore, I would like to know where you get the idea I claimed to have invented 'kicker dancing' as you call it.

My story covered a specific era, i.e. the days when Western Swing (or Twostep w Turns) became popular during the Urban Cowboy era. I chronicled the events of those days as best I could.

Of course there was western dancing before I came along. I never said it didn't exist. I wonder how you expect me to write about the earlier days of Western Dancing of which I have no experience.  The story was called "The History of Western Swing", not "the History of Western Dancing" or the "History of Western Civilization". The distinction should be obvious.

I do know this: Western dancing was barely a blip on the radar screen here in Houston before Urban Cowboy. Thanks to the popularity of that movie 25 years ago, it moved Western dancing into mainstream consciousness for the very first time.

That movie did everyone a favor as it literally put C&W Dancing on the map throughout the country.

In 2006, a young man from SSQQ named Joel McCleskey won the UCWDC (United Country-Western Dance Council) World Championship for the second year in a row. The competition was held in Sweden. He repeated this feat back in the USA at Memphis in 2007. 

A point can be made Joel's international triumphs means Urban Cowboy helped make Country-Western dancing a world-wide phenomenon.  And it all started here in Houston, my hometown. I know it's true because I was there to see it happen.

Rick Archer
July 2005

(Note: Mr. Durham did not respond to my letter)

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