THE FINAL CHAPTER IN THE
HISTORY OF WESTERN SWING
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I wanted so badly for the chance to spin women
again! I wanted it so bad I practically drooled with
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
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
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
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
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
I was becoming obsessed. There was MONEY out
on that dance floor! If I could learn how to do this double turn
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
Fact Three: Both dances start on the Slow.
Fact Four: One dance travels (Twostep) and the other dance stays in one
Fact Five: The Western double turns I saw most closely
resembled double turns in Swing.
Conclusion: Same timing, same music speed,
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
made up an absolutely
ridiculous Swing-based dance where you turned the lady
once or twice and finished with a
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.
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
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...
THE BIG GAMBLE
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
(Bless their hearts - shouldn't there be a shrine for them
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?
LOST AT SEA
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 wasnt 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 that week I haunted
the clubs looking for the answer. I was in trouble.
Actually I was in Really Big
There just weren't that many dancers who
knew the secret. Half the nights there wasn't even one couple for me to
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
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.
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.
Starting on the
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
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 couldnt
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
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
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
UH OH - I GET CAUGHT!
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
Herbs 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 peoples 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
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
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
Amazingly, the new
moves worked like a charm. Presto!!
I had just pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
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!!
ESCAPE FROM THE JAWS OF
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
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
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?
LET'S GET IT STARTED!
I may have been
'Slow' getting started, but once I understood
the secret, everything fell 'Quickly' into place. I developed
system of patterns for my double turn dance that operated like a Programmers Flow
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
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, SSQQs 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
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. Todays SSQQ Pretzel
is step for step the same move we cooked up that night
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
The energy created by Urban
Cowboy helped to form a bond between Houston
and Western Dancing that should remain for a long
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
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
like to add that I wrote a longer version of this story in a tale
known as Risky Business.
The timeline in Risky Business is a little
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
September 2005 Footnote
(Editors Note: This article appeared in the
September 2005 SSQQ Newsletter)
Dance Crazes come. Some stay, others go.
Currently 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
Back in 1980
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
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.
From: Emmett Durham
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2005 2:32 PM
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
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
Boy, thanks for coming along and inventing kicker dancing.
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
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.
(Note: Mr. Durham did not
respond to my letter)