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The Conquest Dance Cruise 2009
Story written by Rick Archer

This year's trip was beyond a doubt the most pleasant summer dance cruise that Marla and I have experienced to date.

I say this with a bit of hesitation because two of my best friends - Gary Richardson and Phyllis Porter - were not on this year's trip. As anyone who has read my accounts of previous trips knows full well that over the past seven years, both Gary and Phyllis have been a huge part of the success of each year's trip. So I would prefer that people not draw any conclusions that their absence had even the slightest reason for this year's smooth sailing.

Gary has been wonderful at taking pictures and playing the dance music on our past cruises. Not surprisingly, I was pretty worried when this year Gary said he felt a need to keep a closer eye on his computer business (he doesn't have a person he can count on to run his store when he is gone).

On a personal level, I missed Gary and his wife Betty because they are my friends, but fortunately Steve Gabino was able to step in to handle the photography and DJ work. No disrespect to Gary, but Steve did a great job.

Betty and Gary Richardson


Another Gary who was missing this year was my friend Gary Schweinle. Gary was a huge part of our SSQQ cruises. Gary went on so many trips that he, Iqbal Nagji, and Gareld and Virginia MacEathron were in a virtual tie for the most SSQQ cruises.

Unfortunately, Gary died of a tragic accident during Hurricane Ike last year.

That said, even though Gary wasn't along for this trip, he was definitely along in spirit. I thought of him many times during the trip, especially at dinner. Gary was famous for hosting the tables that made the most noise during the trip.

Gary was definitely a rowdy, raucous, big-hearted guy who loved people and loved getting the party started. I will never forget the peels of outrageous laughter that would emanate from his circle of friends. I never had the slightest idea what they were laughing about, but I swear Gary had his buddies rolling on the floor! Every head in the dining room would be staring over in curiosity, but he couldn't care less. Gary and Company were having fun! I miss him.

Gary and Tracy Schweinle


Somebody else I missed on this trip was Phyllis Porter, My Favorite Troublemaker. Phyllis was literally the MVP of last year's trip and many trips before that as well. She had to miss this year because she switched jobs and did not have vacation privileges established yet at her new job.

One of Phyllis' greatest talents is getting people involved. She loves recruiting newcomers to join the cruise, then works hard to make sure they are quickly adopted into the family.

There is no such thing as a 'lost soul' on one of our trips and I give Phyllis a lot of the credit. Her major technique for involving people is 'cooking'. Phyllis makes sure all the newcomers get in the hot tub, she seasons them with George Sargent's special hot tub Gatorade (he should market the stuff), then she tells Carnival to turn up the heat. Then Phyllis gets out a big broom, stirs the hot tub around like a witch's cauldron, and pretty soon everybody has blended in just fine. They are now SSQQ Cruise Zombies… and they like it.

My nickname for Phyllis is "Troublemaker" and I say that as a compliment. Phyllis is best known for creating chaos and insanity during our cruises. As far as I am concerned, this is a good thing. No one creates energy like Phyllis. Trouble is always up to stuff that keeps everyone amused. She makes sure everyone is included in the activities and makes everyone laugh. Not surprisingly, Trouble is always responsible for my best stories. This year, however, things were different. Sad to say, there was no one who could possibly take her place. Hence we had a much quieter cruise.

Phyllis Porter


However, "quieter" is not necessarily a bad thing. We had a total absence of headaches. The alcohol abuse and the incidents of rudeness that plagued last year's trip 2008 were totally gone.  Thank goodness.

Some people suggested the trip went more smoothly because there were fewer people (90 in 2009; 144 in 2008). Nonsense. The size of the group had nothing to do with it. Throughout the trip, people would ask me what I thought the difference was.

That is pretty easy to explain - there were six people on last year's trip who caused all the problems. They were all newcomers in 2008 and not one of them returned for this year's 2009. Draw your own conclusions.

Now that I have given it some thought, I think I have to accept partial responsibility for last year's problems.  I believe that my cruise write-ups had something to do with attracting the wrong people.

Richard Greason, Peggy McElroy,  Penny Warren, Tim Bailey


Now it is true that there is misbehavior on our trips, especially in the hot tub and at the designated Cozumel watering hole. Since this stuff is fun to write about, that's exactly what I do. Anyone who has been on one of our trips knows I exaggerate my recollections from time to time, but that's also part of the fun.

Unfortunately, I think I make the trips sound a lot more 'wild and crazy' than they really are. I think in 2008 a few outsiders read the stories and figured our trips were more "Club Med Party Boat" than they were "Family Outings". In other words, I suspect the newcomers in 2008 who caused all the problems were people who actually believed my hype.

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Our group is hardly "Frat Party at Sea", but then again we aren't saints either.  We misbehave, but just a little. The absolute truth of the matter is that until 2008 came along, we never had people out of control.  This was a disturbing new development.

I for one did not miss the drama one bit this year.

Picture from the 2007 Trip.  This year the hot tub was much quieter


As always, the dancing was very popular on this year's trip.

In particular, each night the Atrium was a beehive of activity thanks to nightly appearances by "Magic and Music", a husband and wife song duo.  Or was it Music and Magic?  Whatever their name was, this talented couple played one great dance song after another.  Their music made everyone in our group very happy.

"Magic" was a pretty Filipino lady with a golden voice. "Music" was her husband who played keyboard while his lovely wife entertained us with her smile and silky moves.

After I finally was able to tear my eyes away from the pretty girl, I noticed her husband could sing as well. In particular, Mr. Music did a terrific job on Elvis tunes like "Jailhouse Rock" and "Now or Never".  

I also enjoyed hearing their Santana hits such as "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va". Both songs are excellent Cha-Chas.  For the past year, I have been watching Joel Konkel (pictured with Deborah Jenkins) practice his cha cha.  I think it has to be one of his favorite dances.  Sure enough, Joel was in Cha Cha Bliss out there when these songs came on.  It was fun watching Joel in action with his big smile.

Their music appealed to the versatility in our dancers. They covered the spectrum from Fifties Swing music to Cha Cha, Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Slow Dance standards. As I keep telling people, Ballroom Dancing was alive and well on this cruise. Let me add that East Coast Swing Dancing was far and away the single most 'practical' dance to learn ahead of time since it can be adapted to such a wide range of music.

As has happened many times in the past, our dancers became a show unto themselves. People would line the levels above to stare down at the Atrium and smile with approval at our dancing. I think we all enjoyed feeling special.

And that includes me. At a party for returning guests on the last day of the trip, Marla and I got to dance on stage all by ourselves to the accompaniment of the ship's orchestra. We had two hundred people in the audience watching us parade around up there. That was fun!


There was plenty of Slow Dance and Romance on the trip. We had two honeymoon couples.

One honeymoon couple was Chad Bryant and Allison Crunk. Allison is Scott Ladell's dance assistant in his Friday Ghost Town class. Seeing how happy they are together, I would love to claim them as an 'official' SSQQ wedding couple.  However Allison told me she met Chad at a western dance class over in Beaumont about a year ago. Now it is true that Allison brought Chad over to take classes and keep her company at the studio during their courtship. That indicates the studio did at least play a positive role as their romance developed.

What is most important is that "dancing" brought them together. I can settle for that. After all, Allison learned her Twostep right here at the studio and it came in handy when the right guy came along. So you might say her dance lessons paid off big-time. I know you all tire of me saying the same stuff over and over again, but even with all the modern Internet Dating sites, an old-fashioned technique like "Dancing" seems just as effective as ever at bringing people together.

Chad and Allison were married in early July 2009. I didn't realize they had just gotten married till Allison mentioned something to me at the pre-cruise meeting in early August. It was fun to watch how happy Chad and Allison were during the trip.

As you can see from the pictures, Newlyweds have a glow about them that they share with everyone.

Our second honeymoon couple played a game of 'I've got a secret' with me. On Monday morning at breakfast, Gary Catalan and Dina Burton announced to me that they had gotten married one week earlier. Prior to the trip, I had noticed that both were smiling more than the average guy.  I assumed Gary and Dina were smiling at the studio because they were happy, but now I know their grins concealed their big secret. Both Gary and Dina are well aware how seriously I take "SSQQ Wedding Couples". I think they were looking forward to their chance to spill the beans and surprise me. Well, it worked! I started to smile from ear to ear at the news. I was completely taken off guard.

That said, this news didn't totally bowl me over. In fact, it gave me the chance to figure out what I had been feeling for some time. I had been noticing for several months just how much both of them always seemed to be grinning when I would see them at the studio. Most people seem glad to see me at the studio, but Gary and Dina seemed unusually happy to see and I couldn't figure out why. Now I had the explanation that allowed me to make sense of the special rapport I had been observing for some time.

What I did not expect, however, is when they said they had met at my dance studio. This was something I didn't know. I first met Gary and Dina in a West Coast Swing class. They showed up as a couple. I assumed they had met elsewhere and were coming to the studio to learn WCS. What I did not know is that they had originally met in a Salsa class. After class, along with a group of friends they would go out dancing. Over the next several months, the size of their group dwindled slowly but surely, but Gary and Dina would go dancing anyway. The group was no longer necessary - Gary and Dina had connected. I have heard SSQQ Romance stories EXACTLY like this so many times before, but I can assure you I still get goose bumps when I learn what an important contribution the studio can make to people's lives. I was very touched by Gary and Dina's story.

I noticed this couple from the very start. Gary is an accomplished Argentine Tango dancer (in fact, his Tango teachers Martin and Natia Palaez accompanied Gary and Dina on this year's cruise!) I don't think Dina knew much Argentine, so Gary set about teaching her. Even though they were at the studio on Sunday nights to learn Swing, whenever the opportunity came along they would practice Tango. During Breaks and Practice nights, I would see Gary working with Dina on her Ochos and leg whips. Argentine Tango has a neat look about it… as Gary would stand still, I enjoyed watching Dina wrap her legs around him. I have a hunch Gary liked it too. Gary and Dina looked really good together, so I went out of my way to praise them. They deserved the praise, believe me.


As you can see from the stories of my two honeymoon couples, dancing was the common denominator that brought Allison and Chad together and Gary and Dina together. As these two couples took classes together and practiced together, the dancing allowed their friendship to turn into something special. Salsa, Tango, Western, Swing, Ballroom... if all roads lead to Rome, then all dances lead to Romance.

Another SSQQ specialty that creates Romance are the Cruise Trips we organize. Yes, shades of the old TV show Love Boat, people really do meet on cruises and fall in love.

As a veteran of 16 cruises, I have used my vantage point to observe powerful forces at work during these trips. Yes, it is true that some people have their flings. We are all adults; hanky-panky is just as much fun on water as it is on land.

And yes, sometimes these small romances do end when the cruise is over. Most of the time everyone knows exactly what they are doing and are prepared to break away clean.

However, it isn't always a 'clean break', so to say.  Sorry to say, sometimes people do get hurt. That is one of the dangers of fooling around.  I can recall two past situations in particular where someone was crushed to see it end at the dock.

Fortunately, those two stories are the exceptions.  Usually, if the feelings are real at sea, they get past Customs just fine.

Mary Ann and Stephen Veregge

I am pleased to report that most SSQQ Romances that begin at sea have a way of making it back onto land. One of the beauties of an SSQQ Cruise is that someone you meet within the group will be heading back to Houston just like you will.

Marla and I are a prime example of that. Marla and I barely knew each other before the cruise started in 2001. Once on board, that changed in a hurry.

On the very first night of the cruise, we met on the dance floor. From that point, we were inseparable. Two people who got on the ship alone left the ship together.

As we drove back to Houston, we were thrilled with the knowledge that our new romance could continue forward so effortlessly.

Marla and I have never been apart since.



Besides my own romance at sea story, I met a delightful couple on the cruise who had a story very similar to our own.  We were fortunate to welcome Vickie and Joey from California to our group.

Joey first met Vickie on a Baja California dance cruise. I am not sure if Joey was on the cruise as a dancer or a civilian. If forced to guess, I think Joey was a participant, but also a beginner. This dance cruise was his way of trying something new.

He was attracted to the dancing, but not ready to draw attention to himself. Consequently, Joey stayed more around on the sidelines and did some watching. That's when he spotted Vickie, a very stylish dancer, out there dancing.  As Vickie smiled and moved those eye-catching hips, Joey sat up and took notice. Vickie was way out of Joey's league on the dance floor, but he was smitten nonetheless. There's an old dance saying, "Never make your move too soon!"  Joey decided to bide his time.

Although Joey didn't have the courage to ask her to dance during the cruise, he wasn't giving up. When he returned home, Joey immediately signed up for Salsa lessons. Joey practiced and practiced. He was encouraged by his progress and decided to sign up for a second dance cruise. He crossed his fingers he might see Vickie again. Sure enough, as luck would have it, Vickie was back again. Aha! 

This time Joey was ready.  The moment Joey spotted his dreamboat, he didn't hesitate. Now it was time to make his move!  Thanks to the dance floor, they connected!  From that point on, the relationship progressed nicely.

People say the Love Boat plotlines were pure fantasy, but they are wrong. The Myth of Romance at Sea actually has a substantial basis in fact. Vickie and Joey's story plus my own are just two examples that the power of dancing and cruises is a mighty powerful combination.  For matter, a casual review of our other past cruises will bring up more stories along the exact same theme. 

So how did a California couple end up on our trip?

Since "dance cruises" serve as their common bond, Vickie and Joey set their sights on taking several trips a year. Vickie was trolling the Internet one day when she ran across the SSQQ dance cruise. Since we were hitting some ports that were new to them, Joey and Vickie were intrigued.

So, based simply on some of the stories and pictures, they signed up for this year's Conquest cruise. I am pleased to report their gamble paid off. Vickie told me they had a great time with us. The last time I saw them, they were talking about joining us for the Oslo - Northern Europe cruise that Marla has scheduled for next May. I hope they do - Vickie and Joey are a fun couple!


Besides couples that meet at sea, there are SSQQ couples who meet ahead of time at the studio and use our cruises as a way to get to know each other better. I counted at least a dozen couples in this category. However, I won't say a word!

Using a baseball analogy, no one is supposed to say a word in the dugout when the pitcher is throwing a no hitter. So I prefer not to jinx anyone by commenting further.  Nor will I jinx anyone by adding their picture here either!

A cruise trip is an excellent way to learn a lot about a person in a short period of time. Romance is especially powerful at sea because people have seven complete days to devote to deepening relationships in beautiful, comfortable settings.

If the couple wishes to interact with friends, that's great, but the beauty of a cruise is the couple can disappear and be alone anytime they wish. 

There is something about watching those beautiful sunsets from your balcony accompanied by those wonderful sea breezes that helps people relax and open up to one another in ways that rarely happen at home with all the distractions.

There's is one thing I can say for sure - Romance is definitely alive and well on these trips.  I have the pictures to prove it!


Back in the old days of SSQQ, people would marry and drift away. These couples might make an occasional reappearance at an occasional Halloween Party, but by and large they were gone for good. It hurt at first because these people invariably had become my friends as well as students. However the same thing kept happening again and again, so eventually I had no choice but to grow philosophical about this development. I didn't like it, but I learned to accept it. Their priorities had changed and importance of dancing in their lives had diminished.

That phenomenon has changed quite a bit here in the 2000s. The nice thing about the SSQQ cruises is they give SSQQ wedding couples a pretty neat way to stick around after the ceremony. These days, SSQQ wedding couples discover our cruises give them a way to hang with the studio and have fun in the process. Whether dancing is still important or not, everyone enjoys taking trips with a great group of people.  I might add, to their surprise, once they are here they frequently discover dancing is still fun!

I might add, to their surprise, once they are here they frequently discover dancing is still fun!  Marriage might be the Death of Dance, but Cruises bring Dance back to Life! 

That's a new phrase, by the way.

In 2009, we had 15 SSQQ Wedding couples join our two cruises.  That is quite a number!  On the Barcelona Trip, we had 9 SSQQ wedding couples. For the 2009 Conquest Cruise, there were six couples who originally met through the studio.  Besides Marla and myself, there was Gareld and Virginia MacEathron (seen smooching above!), Larry and Cathy Leising, Keith and Betty Baker, Richard Greason and Toni Maciel (engaged!), and Don and Jean Taylor.

In particular, it was fun to see Don and Jean again. Don and Jean were married in September 2007.  They took their honeymoon on our 2007 Conquest trip. Shortly after the wedding, they moved to Oklahoma and began their family.  As you can see, Don and Jean had to come a long way to join our cruise, so I was especially happy to see them.  As you can see, they are a lovely couple indeed.

                     Larry and Cathy                                                                                   Richard and Toni                                                                     Betty and Keith



While it is true the Romances are the highlights of every cruise, ultimately just as important are the friendships. Again I repeat myself from previous stories about SSQQ cruises, but these trips are incredible at creating a sense of "Community". The energy at dinnertime was special to watch as the room lit up with stories, pranks, silliness and laughter. I witnessed an odd phenomenon - back in the early days of the cruises, there was a big emphasis on switching tables. On this trip, I got the feeling that people liked who they were already sitting with. Even though rotating tables was completely okay, I noticed most people preferred to stay at the same table the entire week.  

I attribute this development to two things. One, Marla has learned to assign people by common dominators - singles tables, couples tables, and families. Two, there are large pockets of returning guests who have ties from previous trips. Marla puts these groups at the same table. Sure enough, these cruises have begun to feel like one big family traveling together. I suspect we will see the exact same group spirit on our upcoming Barcelona trip.

One table in particular got my Gary Schweinle Award for Noisiest, Happiest Table. I have absolutely no idea what they were laughing at or what the subject was (probably making fun of me), but the table next to mine was so noisy I had to cup my ear most of the time just to hear what people at my own table were saying. Did I mind? Oh, heaven's no. Just like with Gary in his prime, their joy was infectious. From what I gather, the ringleader was Velma Roppolo. I am not quite sure what magic Velma used (probably a little dose of wine helped), but along with her buddy Mark (James Bond) Sellers, her gang of crazies known as the "What the Hell" Club filled the room with peals of laughter every night of the trip.

Sometimes when the decibel level cranked up, at my table we would just stop talking and watch in smiling admiration as Velma's group literally rocked the boat.

Edward Sanchez, Mark Sellers, Susan Bloome, Joanne McCracken,
Velma, Lisa Mallett  (plus Carol Batson, Roberta Burns, Gene Garner)



We had a new wrinkle this year - a Scavenger Hunt. At the last minute, Marla and I decided the most natural "instant rivalry" we could think of was boys against girls. Worked like a charm. Both teams immediately wanted to win in the worst way.

I felt sorry for the boys. The girls seemed to have all the advantages. For one thing, at the start the ladies seemed far more interested in being there than the men. This sounded like fun to the fair sex. Meanwhile, judging by the looks on their faces, the men showed up either for lack of anything better to do or because their female counterparts told them to or else. Their lack of enthusiasm didn't bode well for their chances. Second, the men were outnumbered. To be honest, I didn't give them a chance.

To my surprise, the men won handily. For one thing, I had forgotten that men have some serious "hunt and gather" DNA in their makeup. If you can just get them to stop thinking about sex for a moment or two, they can be mighty effective at searching and collecting.

My big surprise was that the men seemed to be better at delegating than the women. As Marla put it, the ladies all went off by themselves and didn't work as a team. Meanwhile, each guy had a list of separate things to look for to avoid duplication of effort.

The men were also a crafty bunch. For example, I was highly amused by the gentleman who used a condom to count as his "balloon".

One of the major reasons for the men's surprise victory was their super-hero - Karl Rorabacher - and his super weapon - his Blackberry.

Before the trip, Karl had cleverly asked his company to authorize his Blackberry for roaming Internet service during the cruise. Karl smiled to me as he whispered he didn't have to pay a nickel.  That Blackberry proved invaluable during the Scavenger Hunt.  As a result, Karl was able to find pictures of Sponge Bob, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley on the Internet to gain valuable clues the women couldn't duplicate.

Karl was definitely the Rookie of the Year on this year's cruise trip.  Karl, who I suspect possesses a deep-seated Gothic Streak, is usually seen dressed in black or wearing tee shirts covered with smart-ass slogans that drip with sarcasm.  That said, Karl surprised me no end by showing off his heretofore unseen clean-cut side.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  As you can see, Karl cut quite the dashing figure out on the dance floor.  In addition, Karl was seen on stage singing Sinatra's "New York, New York".  At the time, I thought that was very un-Goth-like behavior.  Indeed, Karl was so frequently charming, light-hearted and cheerful, it made me almost wonder if he had a twin brother on board!

However, no matter how charming he was, I don't know if the ladies will be able to forgive Karl for singlehandedly stealing their expected victory.
Naturally the ladies claimed foul. They didn't appreciate Karl's technological advantage one bit. It isn't much fun to show up for a contest with bows and arrows only to discover the other team has rifles.

Furthermore, it didn't help that the ladies ran into a bad break - I had a lot of scavenger clues that could have been accessed in the Library. Unfortunately, the Hunt started at 1:30 and the ladies found out to their chagrin the Library didn't open until 3 pm. The men won the game at 3 pm. Oh well.

The ladies fussed and fumed it wasn't a fair fight.  I was sympathetic at first, but then came the allegations that 1) the boys cheated and 2) I cheated. My sympathy level began to ebb a bit from that point on. For the record, I didn't cheat. The boys found their clues fair and square. They won a fair victory.

By and large, the participants seemed to have a good time.  In fact, once they got into it, I discovered there were something highly committed people.

Only Gareld MacEathron remembers this event, but I tried another Scavenger Hunt back on the 2001 trip. One of the clues in 2001 was to find a picture of someone naked. I figured that was good for a laugh. 

To my surprise, someone actually came up with a picture of a naked woman from a magazine.  As you can see for yourself, in the picture the woman was sitting down and discretely covering her breasts with her hands. It was naughty, but nice. Finding that picture was an excellent job of coming up with an obscure clue.

For this year, I assumed someone had brought a Cosmo or a Playboy along that might have a naughty picture or two, so I asked for a picture of a woman's bare breasts and a picture of a man's naked butt.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.  Our searchers had other ideas on how to collect this clue. Why bother wasting time looking through a magazine? One woman pulled up her top for a cell phone picture.  Well, now.

Not to be outdone,
one man pulled down his shorts for a cell phone picture of his butt. That really cracked me up. Him too, I guess.  Ah, the wonders of technology. You learn something new every day. Meanwhile I was very impressed with the lengths our players would go to win this contest!

Considering the Hunt was a new adventure for this trip, it won a fair amount of praise. The Scavenger Hunt turned out to be a lot of fun. We had about 30 people participate. Despite the good-natured grumbling, most everyone said they enjoyed it.

I was very encouraged and learned all sorts of ways to make it even better for next year. So maybe next year the girls can get some revenge. Then they can have the last laugh.

Charlie Denton and Rowena Roche helped me organize the Scavenger Hunt.  Then on the day of the event, I surprised them a bit by naming them Captains.

Karl dancing with Veronica Sauceda

Wendy Weston was one of the women stunned by the men's victory

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