Story Four
Home Up



Throughout the 2009 Conquest Cruise, two women who were not part of our group shadowed our group at the nightly dance events in the Atrium. I learned they knew several members of our group from different dance venues back in Houston.



In six out of the past seven years, we have had incidents where outsiders avoid signing up for the trip through Marla, then try to attach themselves in varying degrees to our group.

These events have taught me the hard lesson that there are people out there willing to exploit my wife's hard work.

I firmly believe that if I don't take a stand against the problem, it will just keep getting worse.  After all, it doesn't look like the Piggyback Problem is going away. 

This year it became clear to me the problem with the outsiders is being abetted by members of our own group who invite them in.

This year, three different men approached me to ask permission to include the two ladies in our activities. 

After the trip, yet a fourth man wrote to say he didn't see a problem welcoming these women into the group.

Therefore, the problem is not just with the Piggyback Club, it seems to include members of our own group.


Marla and I have a rule.  The Sign Up Rule says "Sign up through Marla or please leave us alone."

Rule or no rule, every year someone tries try to bypass Marla and still hang with the group.

At this point, I consider this to be a documented fact. I have been tracking the problem since 2003.  You can read the details of each incident on our Policies Page with the exception of an incident in 2008.

There have been eight documented incidents in six years.  There were three incidents in 2003.  There was a serious incident in 2004.  There was a minor incident in 2005.  There was a very serious incident in 2006.  There was a minor incident on the Hawaii Trip in 2007 that I chose not to document (3 people - one couple and one man from the studio booked the same cruise through someone else; since they honored my request to leave us alone, I didn't make an issue of it). The Incident of 2008 marked the most flagrant violation of our sign up policy to date. And yes, now we have the new incident in 2009.

I have identified three levels of the problem. 

"Tagalongs" are the uncanny number of people I keep running into from the studio on these trips who are not a member of our group. Their presence is a curious coincidence.  However, since they keep their distance from the group voluntarily, I have no reason to object.  They have just as much right to be on the ship as I do.

"Piggybacks" are people who sign up for the cruise through someone else, then make frequent appearances in the same public venues as our group.  They appear interested in joining the group. They respect the invisible line in the sand, but just barely.

I put the two women who joined us in the Atrium each night in 2009 into the Piggyback category. I believe they were there because we were there.

Then of course there are the "Party Crashers", i.e. people who sign up for the cruise through someone else and aggressively attempt to infiltrate the group. These people literally cross the line and invade our privacy.  This has happened three times.

Party crashing and Piggybacking are recurring business problems that require vigilance on every trip. We have a business to protect. Cruise trips may be a vacation for everyone else, but these cruise trips are work for Marla. She puts an incredible amount of time into organizing these trips and deserves her commission for her efforts.

If people can bypass Marla and still be allowed the benefits of joining our group, that sabotages her hard work. 

I have discovered that simply barring the door is not enough, especially when people in my own group try to let the outsiders into the party through the back door.



Before we take this article further, let me start by saying that Marla Archer is the best travel agent you will ever have.  Without Marla, all this amazing cruise energy that she has created will quickly go up in smoke.  Thanks to her remarkable organization skills and excellent reputation, Marla is the engine that makes these trips work.

Yes, Marla makes money off these trips, but when you compare the work she does and the benefit she provides to our group, I would hope you agree she doesn't deserve to have people take advantage of her in the process.

Before I continue my story about our ongoing problem with outsiders, I am going to take a slight detour.

In 2009, Marla did something remarkable. 

Marla sacrificed $4,000 in commissions in order to reduce the price of the two trips for her passengers. 

In so doing, Marla saved her passengers $25,000. 


Typically, prices go up on cabins the closer you get to sailing. Since the "supply" of remaining cabins is small, the cruise lines assume anyone who wants to go this late in the game is willing to cough up a little more dough. 

However, thanks to the strange 2009 economy, on both cruises that Marla organized for 2009, the original prices DROPPED.  Not only did the prices drop, they dropped quite a bit.  This had never happened before in the eight years Marla has been organizing trips.

Marla paled when she realized the people who had already signed up for her two trips were suddenly obligated to pay $100 to $200 more than the current going rate for their cabin. Her group discount price was much higher than the daily rate.  This was weird!

Thanks to the threat of the worst depression since the Great Depression of Thirties, people held on to every possible disposable penny they had and held their breath to see what would happen next.  As they worried about the economy tanking, taking a cruise was pretty far down on their list of priorities.

Carnival and RCCL soon realized that no one was signing up for the list prices

It is important that a cruise line be able to sell every trip out - the cruise lines make much of their money from the people on board the ship (tips, drinks, gambling, excursions, spa use, tux rentals, room service, art and clothing purchases, etc).

Since an empty cabin doesn't make them a cent, they begin to offer discounts the moment they see their cabins aren't selling.  So what if they sell the cabin for half of what they got the previous year... half-price is better than nothing at all.  The important thing is to fill the room.  They know the people in the discounted cabins are still going to spend spend spend once they get on board. 

Put another way, there are no cost savings whatsoever if the ship is half full versus 100% full.  The gas will still cost the same. The salaries will still be the same. Sure they would like to sell every cabin for top dollar, but the most important thing of all is to get the ship filled to capacity.

Selling the cabins at reduced prices is better business than not selling them at all.

Thanks to the economic upheaval at the start of 2009, Carnival and RCCL had to do something to fill their sailings. So both cruise lines significantly dropped their cabin prices for our trips. Marla typically gets marvelous discounts thanks to the large groups she generates, but for the first time in Marla's eight years, the prevailing rate being offered to the general public was less than Marla's original group rate.  This was not good news.

Marla was faced with a quandary. She had about 60 people (30 people on both trips) obligated to pay a higher price than the prevailing rate. Marla was not required to sell the trips at the new lower price.  However, as she gave it some thought, she decided it was the right thing to do.  I remember vividly the day Marla got on the phone with both cruise lines to renegotiate.  She was able to lower her group rates on both trips to reflect the changes.  Thanks to her efforts, someone who had already signed up expecting to pay $800 for a room now only had to pay $600.  She created these savings for every one of her 60 passengers already signed up.

In the process of doing this, Marla had to sacrifice $4,000 in commissions.  

But guess what?   By renegotiating her two cruises at the new lower rates, she saved her passengers $25,000 in the process.

That's right, Marla gave up $4,000 so her passengers could save $25,000.  To me, Marla's sacrifice is the travel agent equivalent of "taking a hit for the team".
 $4,000 is a lot of money, especially with a law suit hanging over you.

And so is $25,000 in savings. Marla put the interests of her customers ahead of herself.


My wife is the consummate professional.  I watch her in action every day, so I am in a position to know this for a fact.

As the commission story above proves, Marla will always watch your back.  That is just one part of the reason why she is worthy of your trust.

Marla is exactly the person you want to organize a cruise trip. Marla is scrupulously honest. You can hand her cash and not blink an eye. You can give her a credit card number and not lose sleep.  She is responsible. You can count on her to do whatever she promises to do. She doesn't make errors and she doesn't do stupid things. 

Best of all, you can always get a straight answer from her. There are all sorts of confusing offers on the Internet.  That's no surprise; they are trying to confuse you so you might think their price is lower than someone else.
Marla will not try to confuse you. Thanks to her experience, Marla sees the big picture and can explain any questions you might have. No matter how mixed up you are about about discounts, port fees, and hidden charges, Marla will not take advantage of you.  It is not in her nature.  Believe it or not, if Marla knows you can get the cruise cheaper somewhere else, she will tell you. 

Marla does not lie.
Nor does she exaggerate or fib in any way at all to make a sale. That's my wife; that's the way she is.

Based on my own experience, I have a suggestion for anyone who has a cruise question.

Learn to trust Marla.

If Marla tells you something, you can just take her word for it.  

So far, Marla has organized 14 trips.  She has so much experience at this, I have learned to accept her advice at face value.  Why not?  Sure Marla made a couple learning mistakes in the beginning.  We all do.  Marla makes mistakes once. And then she doesn't make the same mistake again.  At this point, she knows all the angles. You can save yourself a lot of time if you learn to accept what she says.

Don't even bother arguing; it just wears both of you out.  Marla knows her stuff.

Furthermore, as the Commission story above proves, Marla always has her customer's best interests at heart. This is something you can take for granted.  The word 'integrity' describes Marla's approach to her job perfectly.

In my humble opinion, Marla is the best travel agent I know.  I have been on all of her trips and can testify that, thanks to her, each trip is handled to perfection.  I have total confidence in my wife. Marla deserves your confidence too.

Marla expects two things in return for her work - 'Respect' is one thing. That doesn't seem to be a problem. Marla got a standing ovation on the last night of this year's Conquest trip. It made her very happy, by the way. I was very touched. I thought Marla deserved it.

The other thing Marla deserves is to receive her commission.  This is a form of respect as well.  It is the passenger's way of saying Marla deserves to be paid for the work she does.

By the way, we aren't talking big bucks here. 
Marla's commission for an Inside Cabin on this year's 2009 Conquest Cruise was about $30 a person.

Hang on to that number. 30 bucks.



During the 2009 Trip, I identified seven people in the Tagalong Category.

The question is: Are they there because we are there or is their presence a coincidence?  I have no way to know for sure, but
I have a growing suspicion that a lot of people notice what week we are taking our annual cruise.

During the trip,
I recognized five people who were not part of our group, but have taken classes at SSQQ.  There were two couples.  However, neither couple made any attempt to join our activities. I guess their presence was just a coincidence.

The fifth person was a former student that I had not seen her in years.  Her
presence was not an accident. She told Jeff and Danny she signed up specifically for this trip because she knew the SSQQ group would be along. However, other than being snippy with me for not remembering her name, this lady made no attempt to join our activities.

Side Note: One of the couples I mentioned above read what I wrote in the Newsletter and responded.

From: GF
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:35 PM
Subject: RE: September 2009 SSQQ Newletter 1 - what happened on the cruise?

Hi, Rick. You are right about one of the couples who said "Hi" to you on the cruise being on the same cruise coincidentally. I have not taken any lessons in a couple of months.

I guess I wasn't paying attention to your notices about the summer cruise date and did not sign up with Marla. I only registered the date as being the same when I saw the notice about the cancellation for one lady. I had signed up last minute on those dates because it fit nicely between two pre-season games of the Texans, and our 49th anniversary happened to fall that week. Jerry and I would have loved to join the group, but knowing and certainly understanding "the rules", we just did our own thing and left you guys alone. Maybe next year!  GF

Then there was an out-of-town couple who told us they were deliberately tagging along with our group.

One night in the Atrium, two people got out and danced very well.  I initially thought they were the ship's dance instructors because they clearly knew a lot about Ballroom dancing. One of our men asked the lady to dance. That is how he discovered this couple
specifically came on this cruise because they saw us on last year's cruise and liked our style.

For that matter, at Midnight this same out of town couple followed us into Alfred's Lounge. I didn't mind… all they wanted to do was dance and they didn't affect our boy-girl ratio. I tell this story as proof that I am not a fanatic on the issue of outsiders, but rather just cautious.

As for the seven people, I am well aware they have the right to sign up for any cruise they want. It's a free country. 

All I ask is to show the courtesy not
to crash the party if they are not a member of our group.  Of the seven people I have just written about, only the out of town couple tried to participate in our group. It happened once.  I didn't feel taken advantage of, so I didn't care.

Let me add that dozens of outsiders wandered into our dance classes to watch during the week.  Since they were there only to watch, I didn't mind.

The point I am making is this - the SSQQ cruise group attracts a lot of interest.  Thanks to our dancing, our group becomes a main attraction at night.  Our presence seems to make the trip more attractive to some people.  If people want to come on the trip because we are there, as long as they stay on the periphery, that's okay by me.

However, there were two women on the trip who came very close to crossing the line.  That is our next story.



On the first night of the trip, after dinner we headed over to the Atrium for dancing to Magic and Music.  I noticed two attractive redheaded ladies. In fact, I recognized one of them from a recent Saturday night Crash Course at the studio.  I was immediately on guard.

Judging by the behavior of the men in our group, they noticed these two attractive women as well.  They began to make a steady beeline to ask these ladies to dance.  About 20 minutes later as I sat on the couch,
SSQQ Man #1 came up to me and asked if the redheads could be included in our group activities for the week.  I blinked as a déjà vu feeling came over me. I hate that feeling!

I breathed deeply to relax, and then I said no. I said the Sign-Up Rule is that you have to sign up with Marla to be included in our group. 

Our group's late night dancing in Alfred's Lounge began at midnight.  As our group trundled over, I noticed the two women seemed to be tagging along with SSQQ Man #1. My mouth dropped open in surprise. Did that man fail to get the message?  What part of 'no' did he not understand? 

Both women proceeded to hang right outside the door to Alfred's Lounge for thirty minutes. They were five feet from the door that had the "private party" sign in front.  

I watched as they flirted with two SSQQ men in the hallway.  I honestly believe the two women would have dared to come in had I not been in there watching them like a hawk.  Finally they gave up and left.



During Dinner on Day Two, SSQQ Man #2 - a different man - came to my table to ask if both women could be included in our activities.

SSQQ Man #2 said the two women had told him they had tried to join our group, but Marla never got back to them. They said they had called Marla and emailed Marla. They claimed Marla had not returned their email or phone call.

I blinked. Sure enough, that same déjà vu feeling came over me again.  I have heard this before.  What is this, Groundhog Day?  Why does this keep happening?

For the record, I have 180 people on this year's cruises who know that Marla doesn't play games. She answers her emails as promptly as possible.  But why limit our sample to 2009?  Over the past six years Marla has booked 1,400 passengers on her different cruises.  I bet every one of them would back me up when I say that Marla doesn't play games.  I see Marla spend an average of four hours a day answering email or searching the Internet for answers to people's questions.  Trust me when I say I am not exaggerating.

I told SSQQ Man #2 the same thing as I told SSQQ Man #1 - The Sign-Up Rule says you have to sign up with Marla to be included in our group.  Otherwise, please leave us alone.

Then I asked him a question. Did these two women ask him to ask me if they could join? He blushed and more or less evaded answering the question.

After dinner the same night, our group went downstairs for a late evening of Ballroom Dancing to the singing duo "Magic and Music" in the Atrium. Both women were already there. I would guess they were waiting for us.

The Atrium is open to everyone. This was neutral territory and both women had every right to be there. In addition, both women had every right to dance with any man they wanted to in this situation - and they did.

In fact, they never left the floor. Both women were attractive and both women were friendly. They were also fun to dance with. Consequently, neither lady sat very much.



It was now our third night of the trip.  As had become our habit, the group met down at the Atrium after dinner. 

I was sitting on the couch by myself.  D
uring a rare song when someone from our group had not asked her to dance, the lady who I had seen taking a crash course at the studio came over to speak to me. It was very noisy and she talked too fast for me to understand her.  Perhaps she talked too fast because I made her nervous.  It seemed like she was trying to clear the air about them joining the group. Whatever she was saying, I couldn't follow it. The only thing that I understood was when she said she meant no harm.  Okay.  I also remember that she seemed friendly.  Truthfully, I had no animosity towards her.  The lady had not crossed any lines, although I was getting a little tired of dealing with her emissaries.  In truth, I was more irritated at the men who kept trying to get these women included in the group.    

Now that the two redheads were on my mind again, I watched them on and off for nearly an hour.  The entire time these two women were out on the floor dancing with men from our group.  I noticed that several of our SSQQ men seemed to completely ignore the SSQQ women who were forced to watch on the couches.

I sat there wondering how these women felt as they watched as their 'SSQQ Brothers' avidly pursue the outsiders who were trying to become 'insiders'.

I couldn't help but wonder how the men would react if the shoe were ever switched to other foot so to speak.  At the studio, the men are nowhere near as patient when there aren't enough women to dance with.  I recently had a guy demand a refund because there were only 5 women to every 6 men... that wasn't good enough for him!

Interestingly, not one woman in our group complained to me.  These ladies accepted their fate with the same grace they did when the same problem occurred last year. Of course my enduring memory from last year is watching an outsider hold court at the Cocktail Party with men swarming around her while the women who paid for the trip were left sitting on the couch.

On the cosmic scale of things, there is suffering in every part of the globe.  As Bogie would say, these problems don't amount to a hill of beans.  On the other hand, that makes 2 years in a row now that I have watched several SSQQ men act like puppy dogs over outside women while ignoring SSQQ women in the process.

Someone suggested to me I was being rude and unfriendly at not permitting these women to join our group. After all, what could it hurt to add two more?

It boils down to respect. Respect for my wife, respect for the single women on my trip. 

By refusing to let these two women into our group, I wasn't just showing respect for my wife, I was also showing respect for the women in our group who played by the rules. Imagine how our women would feel if they believed I would even dream of giving these outside women permission to join?  That would be an insult to them.

For the record, I was not rude to the two women; I was impersonal.  There is a big difference.  I avoided interaction with both women for a reason - they had no right to be part of our group.  I preferred to spend time with the people in our group.  That is where my friends were.



Before the trip was over, there was a fourth and final incident involving one of the two redheaded women.
I had promised to organize a long beach walk on Seven Mile Beach in Cayman (this walk went very well by the way - I will be writing about this event in a future article).

The night before the walk, SSQQ Man #3 - yes, yet a third man - approached Marla with a request. He had met a woman. She wasn't with the group. Would Marla mind if he brought her along on the long beach walk tomorrow?  He smiled and added, 'What could be more romantic than a long walk on the beach?'

His charm was pretty effective. Marla's first instinct was to say 'yes'. Why not?  Maybe the woman was from Louisiana or another Texas city. This would be a pretty neat way to get to know her. It promised to be a fun trip for both people. Besides, it was a really wide beach. Plenty of room for everyone. Best of all, it wasn't going to force some SSQQ girl to sit on the couch twiddling her thumbs.

Just as Marla was about to give permission, something occurred to her. Marla asked SSQQ Man #3 if this woman was one of our two redheads.

Why, funny you should ask, yes. Marla frowned.  Her hunch was correct.

That changed things. Marla said she didn't think this was a very good idea. SSQQ Man #3 said he understood.  He chose not to join us for the Beach Walk.



As I said, my enduring memory from the 2008 Cocktail Party was watching an outsider hold court.  The moment the attractive woman made her first appearance, a dozen men lined up for a chance to dance with her.  What I resented was watching every woman in our group disappear into the background in the heated rush to check out the new babe.  Granted, at that point our men had no idea she wasn't with our group so they can't be faulted for their behavior.

This year's group of men didn't have that excuse.  They knew full well these two ladies were on the outside knocking on the door to come in.  Even after I had made it clear the two redheaded women were not welcome to be with our group, I watched for six nights in a row as several of our men hovered around them like bees flitting around fresh flowers. 

For both of cruises, 2008 and 2009, there were more women than men (this year the ratio was better than 2008).  My heart went out to the women in our group who were shunted aside both years as the men made a mad dash to get in line for a dance with the outsiders.

What I could not figure out last year (2008) and what I could not figure out this year (2009) is why some of the men in our group disregarded the women in our group by giving these outside women the time of day.  Where was the loyalty?

Personally, I wouldn't dream of being caught dancing with an outside girl when there are plenty of SSQQ girls eager to dance. But not everyone shares my point of view. We may be a 'community', but to some of our guys, it is a community only when it is convenient.

The majority of our men are great guys, but this issue seems to be a blind spot for some of them.


Oddly enough, shortly after the cruise was over, I asked a couple people from the trip to comment on this issue. One of the men from the cruise spoke candidly to me. He said he preferred to chase outside women because if he got lucky, there would be no ties after the trip was over. He said to chase one of our girls might doom him for eternity at SSQQ if it didn't work out. The girl would always be mooning over him or talking about him behind his back with other women.  Besides, chasing an SSQQ girl would be like dating your step-sister. The women in our group were attractive, but they were more "buddies" at this point than fair game. It would make life easier to maintain a hands off policy with our SSQQ women and look for a stranger to fool around with.

As I listened to him, I was surprised at candor of this magnitude. To be honest, I had never heard this argument before. In his mind, our girls were his friends. They were off limits to chase for a brief fling.  Since the cruise ship seemed to be teeming with unattached women, he preferred to chase an outside girl for his fling because there would be no entanglements.

I bought his explanation for a while, then I remembered the two redheads were also from Houston. In fact, one of them had taken a class at SSQQ within the past year. So I pointed this out. He thought about it, then replied, "Yeah, but she's not at the studio enough to worry about it." In other words, if he fooled around and left her at the dock, he wouldn't risk losing his good standing at the studio. Interesting train of thought.




One woman said that if our guys didn't want to pursue anything romantic, that was okay by her, but why would the men prefer dancing with these outside girls over women they had taken classes with?  After all, these women might be good dancers, but so was she. Didn't she deserve the inside track on their dancing attention?

So t
his woman decided to ask a certain man in our group why he left her sitting all the time to go dance with the redheads.  She reminded him they danced all the time in class at the studio, at practice night, and at outside dance events such as Wild West. She was just as pretty and just as good a dancer as the redheads. Why was she being pushed to the background?

His answer, "Well, gee, I can dance with you any time back at the studio!"

From what I gather, that answer was not particularly satisfying to the lady in question.  I can see why women lose patience with men.

That makes two years in a row now where some of our guys have made our gals feel like second class citizens with their choice of dance partners.

I hope on the next trip our men pay a little bit more attention to our women on all the dance floors, not just the private ones. 



It is true that SSQQ is founded on the principle of openness and friendship.  We are known for our absence of cliques and our willingness to welcome new members into the group.  This spirit of friendship is something I take great pride in.

So now I am going to walk a tight rope and attempt to explain when it is appropriate to draw a line and exclude people. 
I don't know how to say this without sounding hostile, but catering to outsiders like the 2009 redheaded ladies ultimately does very little to benefit our group.

As an example, you own three cats.  You find yourself constantly wishing you had three arms because you can only stroke two at a time.  When you are busy with work, you feel guilty because you don't have the time to give the attention the cats are used to.

One day you come home and there is a stray cat in your yard.  Do you feed the cat?  Do you give it milk? 

Everybody knows that once you begin to feed the cat, chances are it will stick around. 

Soon enough, the stray cat will try to come inside the house.  Cats have a way of doing that, especially when you have already shown kindness.  Do you really want to assume responsibility for another cat?  You know that you are stretched thin to begin with. Is it fair to your three cats to divide your attention even more? 

Every time one of our men trots over to pay attention to one of the outsiders, he is sending an indirect signal to the women in our group.  Argue with me if you wish, but the man's actions are sending this message:  I see an outside woman who is more interesting than the women I came with. 

Yes, I admit that I am starting to sound like a chaperon at a junior high dance.  This sounds a bit like "dance etiquette" lecture to a bunch of eighth grade boys.  I realize I am writing to an audience of grown men and women. So forgive me if I offend.  However, please stay with my argument and see where I am going with it.

As the co-organizer of these cruise trips, I feel a responsibility to the community. As far as these cruise trips are concerned, we all have a good thing going here.  The spirit of friendship among a wide circle of people seems to grow deeper and deeper every trip we take. I want to protect this spirit. 

I believe that leaving the group to pay undue attention to outsiders hurts this spirit.


I see two immediate threats to this 'spirit of friendship'. 

The first threat is the danger of having Marla become discouraged over these cruise trips.  I am sorry to report that this is a real problem.

In the Fall of 2009, Marla was pretty discouraged thanks to the problems associated with the 2008 trip. Before the 2008 trip even started, Marla was already running on empty. Registering people for the 2008 trip had been a nightmare. The rudeness of some people leading up to the 2008 trip had taken a huge toll on her. It turns out that the rough treatment before the trip was a legitimate predictor of things to come... people who are rude on land remain rude at sea.

Marla and I were both deeply upset over the behavior of some of our guests on the 2008 cruise trip.  The inconsiderate behavior of a few people took all the fun out of it.  Marla was literally ashamed of the way certain people behaved.  She felt their negative actions reflected back on her.  Marla organizes these trips from her heart, not from her pocketbook.  If people could not act with decency on her trips, then maybe she should stop organizing them.

After the trip was over, Marla was very down-hearted.  One day she looked at me and said, "I don't even know why I do this."

The thing I want you to know about both Marla and myself is that neither of us organize the cruise trips for the money.  The commission money is appreciated, but it isn't the reason we try so hard to organize good trips.  If the money was so important, then why do I sing the praises of the 2009 trip with 90 passengers and decry the record-setting 2008 trip with 144 passengers?  If the money was so important, then why would Marla sacrifice $4,000 in commissions?

We organize these trips for one main reason - like everyone else, Marla and I like to travel with our friends.  We do this for the same reason I spend hours putting up the Haunted House Maze at Halloween... we both enjoy the satisfaction of throwing a good party. 

But when it stops being fun, at this point in our lives, both of us are willing to bring down the curtain.

Seeing how badly my wife felt about her 2008 trip, I felt like I had to speak up about what had bothered us so much. I had to address the behavior problems on last year's trip and make it clear that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.

So I wrote the Destructo story.  I think writing both stories did a lot of good.  Each and every person from the ill-fated 2008 trip who caused trouble either disappeared or were shown the door. 

What a difference a year makes.  This year in 2009 there was not one incident of irresponsible behavior.

Marla was thrilled to see that her guests had marvelous fun on this year's trip. Her faith in organizing these trips was restored.


The other threat to our 'spirit of friendship' is the age-old human tendency to care more about what is good for the individual than what is good for the group.

There is an old saying at sea, "Every man for himself".

In this regard, the 2009 incidents involving the two redheaded ladies hit a nerve.  Whenever our group visited the Atrium after dinner, we had at least four different men who regularly cut loose from the group to court these two outsiders. 

While I certainly understand why any single, unattached man would desire to ask these attractive women to dance, it was the "again and again and again" that made me uncomfortable.  Seeing the two "outsider" women dance more frequently with our men than women from our own group didn't feel right.  Their obvious preference for dancing with two women who were not part of group made me feel protective of the women in our group. 

As far as I am concerned, when we go to sea and it comes to DANCING, we should stick together as a group.  I said so last year and now I am saying it again.

Our cruise program is our own private business. 

Anyone who wishes to join the group is welcome, but let them come in the front door, not the back door. 

In the future, we need for the members of our own group to stop inviting outsiders to join in. 

Next year, if two more women hang around on the fringe of our dance activities, it would help if our men would stop treating them like Greek Goddesses. There is no reason why our men have to wear out the rug beating to path to ask the redheads to dance while we are out at sea. Every time one of our men dances with an outsider, he gives them reason to hang around.

Next year there will two more who will try the same thing and two more the year after that.  Our SSQQ women have been patient for two years in a row, but if they feel like this neglect is likely to continue, you guys may just end up with more women than men on next year's trip.  Then the shoe will be on the other foot.

I don't care how cute next year's stray kitty is.  Don't feed it.


One man pointed out these women are his friends and dance partners at Wild West.

Why shouldn't he be friendly to them on his cruise trip? 

That is a good point, one that is sure to come up again on future trips.

Here is what is harmful about that attitude.

First, these women chose to avoid putting $60 in my wife's pocket, but wanted to keep the privilege of dancing of with our men.  That is exactly the same thing as stiffing a waitress and leaving no tip.

Each time one of our men danced with one of the women, he was sending them the message that next year they can skip paying Marla again and
still expect to dance with our men

Mind you, Marla is not greedy.  Any woman who would voluntarily give up $4,000 in commissions does not deserve this label.  It is not about the money, it is about "Respect".  Marla has the same feelings as the next person.  She wishes to be compensated fairly for her work.  If someone wants to hook up with her trip, Marla wants to be paid what she deserves.  This Tagalong stuff needs to stop.

Second, every time our men danced with the outsiders, two of our women were forced to sit on the bench.  Come on, guys, put yourself in their place.  Our women played by the rules and paid the dance cruise.   They took dance lessons for months to improve their skills so they would be ready to dance with you.  They went on diets, they bought new clothes, and looked forward to this event for a long time.  These ladies came aboard expecting to be rewarded for their hard work only to discover they were second string to a couple of outsiders.  What a slap in the face.  They thought you guys were their friends.  Did it dawn on you guys that they want to dance just as much as the outside women do?  Why should the outsiders be given preference?  



The more time you spend with someone outside the group, the less time you spend with the group of friends you came with.

When you go to Wild West, you go by yourself.  When you go on a cruise, you are part of a Group.  There is a big difference.  When we are out at sea, there should be a sense of looking out for each other.  A major function of the Group at Sea is making everyone feel included.

Each time one of our men goes off on one of his 'Lone Wolf' tangents, he basically tells the Group he doesn't need them... but expects them to still be there for him if he returns empty-handed.  Now he's a "Lonesome Wolf".  He wants the Group to be his friends again.  That's what I mean when I say "
We may be a 'community', but to some of our guys, it is a community only when it is convenient".

I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but I just don't see how that behavior benefits the group.

I will never tell anyone who they can and can't dance with.  I certainly am not going to make a rule. It's a vacation.  Everyone has the right to dance with whomever they please.  No one has to answer to me.  Nor will I say anything. 

But from now on, the Lone Wolves will know what I am thinking.  

If my logic has made any sense, "Group Etiquette" suggests you show preference to the women in the group. 

s there any reason why a man can't keep his interaction with an Outsider to a discrete minimum?  

If the outsider is a friend from home, no one expects you to be rude to them. If you must, dance with the outsider once a night.  After the song is over, remind the lady that soon you will be free to be together to your heart's delight.  However, right now your conscience is calling you to return to your group of friends.  If the "outside woman" seems miffed, all you have to do is explain to them where you are coming from.  Treat it like a character test.  If they stomp their feet and make you feel bad, you are learning something about them.  If they smile and say they understand, you have met a winner.

Of course be cordial to the outsiders, but as they say, dance with the ones who brung you.  It's the same thing as the basketball court - yes, you can have friends on the other team, but during the game remember who your teammates are.  The dance floor is our basketball court. Right now, the outsiders are playing for their own team.  Tell your friends you will see them after the game is over.



Back in 2001, I met a woman on the cruise trip who took my breath away.

From that point on, nothing else on that entire ship mattered. 

Other than the ship capsizing or hitting an iceberg, I was locked in. Only a hurricane or tidal wave would have broken my concentration.

So, yes, I do understand the need to pursue someone you meet who could become special.

it is true that Marla was a card-carrying member of our group. But I will also admit I met her at a midnight "singles dance" sponsored by the ship. In other words, I was single and I felt no obligation to limit my search within the group. Furthermore, since this wasn't a group activity, I felt no disloyalty to the group. It is also true I was looking to misbehave. That said, my objectives changed in a hurry when I met Marla.

As for my "stick to the group" advice, if Marla had been an outsider, it would not have mattered.  Considering the feelings I had for her, to heck with the group. Some things are more important than the group. I fell in love practically from the moment we met.

With that in mind, I don't criticize the man in our group who hooked up with the outsider on last year's 2008 trip.  He met a woman he was seriously drawn to.  Even though she was an outsider, that's okay in my book.  I am glad he met someone he cared about. If someone is unavoidably drawn to an outsider, by all means, go for it! 
When romance knocks on the door, don't let anything stand in its way.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is fool around, I don't have a problem with that either.  I would simply prefer that you don't make the other people in the Group feel awkward.  There is a right way and a wrong way.

We are a Dance GROUP on a Dance CRUISE.  Therefore, the Dance Floor on a Cruise Ship - be it private or public - is Turf that belongs to our GROUP.

The Group can actually help you meet Outsiders. While you are dancing with someone from within the Group, don't be surprised if you notice that outsider women are drawn to you.  It happens all the time on these cruises. The only problem I had with the two redheads who dominated our men's attention is that our men didn't keep it to a discrete minimum.  Our men should have taken it elsewhere if they were that interested, but we will get to that in a minute.

A good dancer is attractive wherever there is a dance floor.  The dance floor is where you shine. People who are watching see you confident and energetic. They see you entertaining a lady and making her smile.  So they become intrigued. 

That explains why whenever you dance with someone inside our group, you stand a good chance of being approached or smiled at from female guests outside our group.

If you exchange glances, you have every right to pursue your own objectives.  In other words, go ask her to dance. One dance won't hurt.  If your dance provides no further sparks, then leave it alone and get back to the Group.  No harm done.  It is only when you overdo it that we mind.

It is watching you hustle right in front of us that creates awkwardness. Therefore, if your situation has promise, have the sense to take it somewhere else. It's a really big ship. There is always some obscure dance floor where you can avoid prying eyes.  If the girl digs you, she will leave. I promise.  Not only will you avoid the gossip, whatever you have going will immediately move to the next level by getting her alone to yourself. It could be the start of something big.

You have just made a good move.  Where the Group is concerned, your absence will avoid any hurt feelings from members of the group who aren't getting to dance very much.  As they say, out of sight, out of mind. 
Discretion is always the better part of valor.

And if she doesn't leave with you, you just saved yourself a lot of time.  Now ask one of our ladies to dance.  She will really appreciate the gesture. 

You can pursue anyone you wish.  It's a free country. Just learn to do the right way.



Who knows why the two women didn't sign up through Marla?  I am sure they had their reasons.  Maybe one of them is a travel agent.

The real question is this: What message did we send them this year about joining our group next year?

Let me say it again.  Every time a person in the group dances with an outsider, they are sending a message to the outsider that he or she doesn't have to buy a ticket to gain admission to this year's party or to next year's party.  

If anyone can just show up on the cruise and say, "Hey guys, here I am, come dance with me!", then what difference does it make to them who they sign up with? 

Let me ask you a question.  Would the two ladies have taken this cruise if our group hadn't been on this trip to begin with?  I don't know the real answer, but I am guessing 'probably not'.  They were there because we were there.  They were tagging along because they knew a cruise sounded like fun and they knew there would be a bunch of men who are good dancers. 

These two women got benefits from our Group...
but our Group got NO BENEFIT from them.  Nor did Marla.

Ironically, if these women had joined our Group, they would have given us a Cocktail Party. 
Marla sold 49 cabins. If Marla had sold 50 cabins, we would have had a free Cocktail Party complete with unlimited drinks and a wide choice of hors d'oeuvres.  Our party would have been so posh and elegant.  

Never has the message been more clear...
very single person makes the Group stronger.  



We have not heard the end of this Outsider issue.  People will continue to try to bypass Marla in search of price discounts, then turn around and look for a way to piggyback the group.  There is too much temptation to assume the problem will go away.

These cruise lines are so desperate for passengers that they throw discounts at their customers right and left. They make every attempt to encourage passengers to sign up through them directly. Remember this - the cruise lines make so much money off the people once they are on board that they will do practically anything to lure customers aboard, and that includes UNDERSELLING the same travel agents who help keep them in business.

There are cruise discounts all over the Internet. Plus air miles, credit card rebates, credit union points, you name it. Some people even get free or discounted cruises as business perks and prizes.  Remember, the cruise lines want to fill their cabins.  They will strike a deal with practically any organization in the form of discounts that will help lure more customers onto their ships.  So you fly a lot of miles for your business?  One day Continental or Southwest might say you have just qualified for a half-price cruise. 

The temptation is everywhere. 
The problem for Marla is that these discounts generally shove the travel agent to the side. The discounts tempt former SSQQ passengers to bypass Marla in the desire to take advantage of the offer.  For example, on this year's trip, one man told me he won a free cruise.  He asked me if he could apply it to next year's cruise. 

This situation is a perfect example of what Marla is up against. Fortunately, the man showed loyalty to Marla.  However, other people with less loyalty might just go ahead and bypass Marla, then look for the back door entry into our group. 

Is it legal? Of course it is. Is it fair? I suppose so, especially if you enjoy American capitalism in its "only the strong survive" form.

Marla is up against some pretty serious competition.  This cruise practice
of undercutting the travel agent seems ruthless in the same way that John D Rockefeller drove all the small oil companies out of business to create Standard Oil.


Personally, I think the cruise lines are shooting themselves in the foot with their behavior. People like Marla bring them a lot of business. We have people at the studio who wouldn't dream of taking a cruise by themselves, but if it is a "Delbert McClinton Blues Cruise" or a "Saint Anthony's Brewery Cruise", these same people line up to join the group!  

The impersonal email promotions from the cruise lines will never catch people's interest the same way.  I get a dozen a week from three different cruise lines.  Ho hum. Who wants to travel alone when you can join a group like ours?

The preference for the Group experience is Marla's only defense against these discounts. Most people at the studio express a strong preference for traveling with a group of their friends.

When they sit down for dinner, they want to chat with eight friends at the table, not eight strangers.  It really is that simple.

And since Marla is the leader of a large group of friends, she has a powerful ace in the hole - her control over membership to the group.

Most returning SSQQ cruise guests sign up through Marla through loyalty and trust. They know they can trust Marla and they know they will have more fun hanging with the group than they would have out on their own.

They also know from experience they are not losing any money. Thanks to the success of her previous trips, Marla is able to obtain prices that are competitive even when you compare her price against the discount temptations.

But Marla's bargaining tool is useless
if you don't help her enforce it.

Marla's bargaining power ultimately rests upon the shoulders of you, her passengers. If you allow the Outsiders to enter the Group through the back door, you are undermining Marla's control over admission to the Group.


The truth is that people who have taken one of our previous cruises are marvelous salesman for the future cruises.  We appreciate your help very much.  That said, I would appreciate it if you would go one step further in the future.

When you speak to your friends about coming on a cruise, please make sure they understand they MUST SIGN UP THROUGH MARLA.  Encourage them to join the Group no matter what crazy discount they think is more important.  I understand that a $30 discount or whatever has their attention is hot stuff, but ultimately they will have more fun if they join the group. 
That is Step One.

here are obviously outsiders who don't realize it is in their best interests to sign up directly through Marla. On practically every summer trip, we have had incidents where people try to gain entry to our group through the back door.  This is not a problem that is going away. I think I have documented this problem enough times now to make people believe me.

Step Two means that I need to guard the door. I can't force the entire world to read our policies or to respect them for that matter.  I believe the only way to discourage people from crashing the party is for someone to guard the door on the ship for every single one of our private activities. That is what I did this year and it seemed to work.

However, in 2010 we need to take one more step.

Step Three is to understand the growing need to stick together on the public dance floors as well, not just the private ones.  We must learn to keep the Outside on the outside looking in.  When we appear on the dance floor, we should do so as the SSQQ Dance Group, not the SSQQ Dance Group plus whoever decides to tag along.

This idea would be voluntary; no one can force anyone to cooperate.  Nor would I ever say a word to anyone who refused to cooperate. 

That said, united we conquer.


As I draw this article to a conclusion, let me remind everyone that these two women I have referenced did nothing wrong. 

They paid for the cruise just like everyone else. 

They were friendly to everyone they came in contact with. 

They had every right to be on the same public dance floors as our dancers did.

Furthermore, unlike the woman from last year, not once did they cross the 'private party' threshold at any time that I am aware of.

Their situation reminds me of pickup basketball in the gym.  There are players you really wish were on your team, but thanks to the luck of the draw, some days they end up playing against you for that particular game.

So, now matter how much you wish your buddy was playing with you, while the game is in progress, you keep it in mind that he (or she) is temporarily on the other team. 

You play to win and then you shake hands when the game is over.  Now it is okay to be buddies again.

Personally, I wish these two women had been members of our group this year.  That is the absolute truth.  Even though I rolled my eyes at the guys who wore themselves out chasing these two ladies around the floor, I never felt the slightest animosity towards either woman. They had every right to want to dance. 

For that matter, these two women certainly would have been welcome additions to our group.  If they ever wish to join us in the future, I would love to have them with us. They struck me as very nice ladies.

Let me add I have no hard feelings towards the guys in the group who approached me about inviting these two ladies to join us.  I completely understand why our men would have trouble seeing why two attractive, friendly women like these ladies would not be welcome.  It is hard to see the Big Picture when two pretty girls are smiling at you.

In the future, I hope this article helps everyone see why an "open arms policy" is ultimately detrimental to Marla and to the group as a whole.  From now on, when it comes to any dance floor on a cruise, I would prefer we close ranks and give priority to the people who are playing for your team.  When you return to Houston, the game will be over.  Now you can chase anyone you met to your heart's content.




Isn't that a great picture of Lia Tsimberidou and David Vining?  Did you know I have at least three dozen more pictures that are just equally wonderful in their own right?

I haven't previously said anything about Lia or David, but I dined with them on two occasions and learned they are both very fascinating people.  Did you know Lia is from Greece?  Did you know David has a daughter at the University of Texas in the same dorm as my daughter?  They are both Freshman.  Small world, isn't it?

For that matter I haven't said much about a lot of people.  One of the problems I have is deciding which pictures and stories make the yearbook and which ones don't.  I will be posting more pictures in the days to come.  I have many lovely formal pictures I wish to share. I have a story about this year's walk on the Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman as well.

The truth of the matter is that I could go on and on and on.  Oops, I just noticed I typed to the end David and Lia's picture. One simple way to continue any story is to add a picture.  No problem - I already said I had 36 other wonderful pictures to choose from (actually I have hundreds more!) 

Isn't that a great picture of Sharon Allen and Gordon Grant?  I haven't said much about either of these 'Usual Suspects' either.  Trust me when I say they both misbehaved a lot on this trip and had a great time in the process!

I suppose I can break silence and share one nugget.  Gordon in particular left me absolutely convulsed with laughter one afternoon.  Mind you, Gordon is quite a character to begin with.  I was busy teaching the Virginia Reel.  We needed an extra guy.  Gordon had just shown up, so we dragged him out on the floor. There is one point in the dance where a couple locks arms and "Reel" their way down a gauntlet of temporary partners. The maneuver can be very tricky at first.  To simplify matters, I always say to save your right arm for your "one true partner" and save your left arm for your new partners.  Yeah, I know this description makes no sense, but it's the best I can do.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Gordon wasn't really concentrating all that hard.  As he kept saying, "I'm on vacation. I shouldn't have to think."  When Gordon started his "Reel", he was in trouble from the start.  He didn't have a clue what he was doing!  Gordon was circling around in total confusion and literally sticking his arm out for every person in sight.  Suddenly he accidentally locked arms with two men simultaneously.  For a brief moment, Gordon was arm in arm swinging around the floor with two other men.  What a sight! They had so much momentum that they did a full 360 before Gordon could slow down long enough to escape.  The look of sheer mortification on his face was so intense that I completely lost it.  I was laughing so hard I had to sit down on the floor because I was too weak to stand up.

Gordon, meanwhile, said he would have to quit!  I mean it. 
After that incident, Gordon literally sat down and refused to participate any more. Gordon said he was too scared to dance with anyone. What if he stuck the wrong arm out again?  I think he was kidding, but who knows for sure?

Fortunately, Gordon got his mojo back in Cozumel. I heard some interesting stories about some pole dancing complete with video that may or may not appear on youtube (he is negotiating hush money as I type).  Oops, now I am out of space.  Time for another picture!

Isn't that a great picture of Caitlin Prescott and Edward Sanchez?  Steve took this picture one night at the Atrium.  I haven't said much about Caitlin or Edward, but from the looks of the picture they were having a lot of fun here. 

Do you see the ghost in the background?  That is Magic, the lovely singer who entertained us all week.  This trip marked the third year in a row this pretty lady has been on the ship to sing for us.  I have never spoken to her, but I saw her watching us all week long.  If I were to guess, I think the lady is very curious about our group.  After three years, she surely has seen everything under the sun. I think she likes us.  By the way, did you know that Karl Rorabacher asked her to dance one night?  It was her off night and she was hanging out with her husband watching another band that was performing.  So Karl asked her to dance!  He said she did not know how to Swing dance, but she picked it up pretty fast.  It helped of course that she had Karl leading her.  Or so he said.  Anyway, I was proud of Karl for crossing the barrier. Oops, out of space.  Time for another picture. 

I haven't said much about the lovely Webb sisters, now have I?  Mary, the taller one, was on last year's cruise trip for the first time.  So on day two of the trip she got sick some awful virus.  Mary was quarantined to her room.  For the next couple days we didn't see Mary at all.  Finally Mary began to feel better, but she was too weak to misbehave.  Not that she had much time left; her cruise was almost over. 

I guess Mary must have liked what she saw until she got sick because this year she talked her lovely sister Frances into joining her.  I had met Frances a couple times before at the studio when she would come by to say hi to Mary or perhaps to give her a ride.  Frances always seemed kind of aloof.  It probably didn't help that she didn't know how to dance, but kept finding herself out on the floor anyway.  However, on this trip, I didn't get that impression at all.  Every time I spoke to Frances, she was outgoing and very warm.  I can only assume she does much better at sea.

Time for another picture.  I do not know a single thing about Rachel Barzilau or her boyfriend Thomas Mrazek. Zero. Zilch. Nada.  Out of curiosity, I looked to see if they have taken any dance classes from us. Nope. I have no idea how they heard about our trip or why they joined us.  I don't know where they live or what they do for a living. I don't know if they enjoyed our trip.  All I know is that Rachel was knockout good-looking and Thomas was Tom Selleck handsome.  They were gorgeous together.  I also know they disappeared in the middle of the trip.  I didn't see them for two days.

I can at least say they seemed friendly.  Thomas shook my hand a couple times and Rachel waved to me in Jamaica.  And that's it.  Now you know just as much as I do about our mystery couple. 

As you can see, I can go on and on and on. I haven't said anything about Elizabeth Northcutt, one of my favorite West Coast Swing dance students who signed up for this trip. Nor have I said anything about Louie Cottrell, one of the studio's best Whip dancers.  Elizabeth and Louie have two things in common - they both like Whip dancing and they are both very quiet. 

As always, the troublemakers get the lion's share of the publicity.  I guess that's the way it is in life.  The ones who behave - Deborah Jenkins, Jo Ann McKracken, Susan Blome, Linda Fleischer, Carol Batson, Wendy Weston, Joyce Isiminger - they seem to fly under the radar. 

For that matter, Anne Wells doesn't behave at all.  I heard she did some wicked terrible things with her pole dancing in Cozumel.  But when I looked at Steve's collection, no pictures appeared to prove it.  There was just this one tepid shot that made me yawn.  I have to be honest; I think Anne paid Steve some hush money.  Based on what I heard compared to what I saw, there is no other explanation.

Another guy who never behaves is Danny Hurdy-Gurdy Man. But you know what?  I didn't hear one bad thing about him the entire trip.  From past experience, I know Danny is always trying to get into trouble.  But Danny has learned the secret - stay away from the camera, stay away from the gossips, and don't talk to Rick.  As a result, he got through this trip scott free. 

The only person who knows what Danny is up to is Jeff Plaster.  But Jeff ain't talking!  I cannot penetrate the veil of silence. For that matter, I didn't hear anything about Jeff either!  Oh well, time for another picture.

Now this picture is interesting to say the least.  What's going on here?  Bet you don't know, do you!?

That handsome fellow is Tim Francis.  Tim and his beautiful wife Anita accompanied Jerry Francis, Tim's brother, and Jerry's fiancée Amy Adams on last year's cruise.  In addition, Tim and Jerry's parents, Don and Linda Francis, were on the trip as well.  On this trip, Tim entered every sort of contest there was - trivia, sudoku.  Tim won seven trophies and two medallions for his prowess.  Is that impressive or what?  Yes, that is VERY IMPRESSIVE! 

Let me add that Tim dominated our Pente competitions and Trivial Pursuits contests.  The guy is completely brilliant.  It runs in the family - Anita won some Sudoku contests as well.

But did you know about it?  No. This is the first time you have heard about it.  There is a reason, of course.  When last year's trip ended, I was in such a bad mood that I was unable to write a word for several weeks. 

I was angry about the woman who trespassed on our activities, I was angry about the two women who put dents in the ceiling during the Champagne Party, I was angry at the lecher who tried to molest one of my friends in the hot tub, I was angry at the woman who screamed at the waiters to hurry up and give her more free booze, and I was angry at the man who ran to a table so he could get the last seat before a blind girl could get there.

In a nutshell, I was so damn angry at these people that I couldn't sit down at a typewriter without trembling as the memories came flooding back in. Then Hurricane Ike hit and I stopped thinking about the 2008 cruise.  Then I was sued and I sank into the deepest abyss of my adult life.  So much for any cheerful stories about last year's cruise!

By the way, I just thought of another wonderful story from last year that was omitted. I can't believe I failed to tell the story of how my wonderful friend Gerald McEathron turned 80 on our trip.

That is Gerald McEathron grinning underneath all those Hawaiian leis.  So what exactly is going on here?  I knew Gerald's birthday was coming, so I planned a little surprise for him.  I smuggled a box of plastic leis we use at our Beach Ball parties onto the ship. Towards the end of dinner, I organized every lady on the trip to come up one at a time and give Gerald a big smooch, then decorate him with her very own lei.  I will spare you any mention of the recurring jokes that accompanied such activity.  The ladies had an absolute ball.  Some hussies not only smooched him twice, they also got back in line to smooch him again and lei him again. The nice thing about being 80 is that each girl got several smooching opportunities. I think I got a smooch in too.

Pretty soon there were so many leis on Gerald that I started to worry he might suffocate!  Fortunately, Gerald sensed the threat to his safety about the same time as I did, so he transferred many of the leis to his arms.  You don't make it all the way to Eighty by falling asleep at the wheel!

Gerald and his lovely wife Virginia are much beloved members of our cruise group.  Did you know that to this day Gerald remains the one man in the history of the studio who proposed to his wife at the studio?   Gerald popped the question to Virginia in the middle of a Rumba class back in 1997.  I believe the teacher was Jill Banta. Thank goodness Virginia said yes!

Virginia and Gerald have enjoyed a marvelous marriage. Did you know that Gerald and Virginia were on our very first SSQQ dance cruise in 1998? Virginia constantly reminds me that Gerald is the finest man she has ever met in her life and that she loves him dearly. Let me add that Gerald is just as happy.

Gerald is a hero to many of us in the group.  We all secretly hope that when we make it to Eighty, we are just as light on our feet and as quick in our mind as Gerald is.  Gerald hasn't lost a step on the dance floor.  I marvel at his ability to dance to the fastest of songs without apparently tiring out. I should be so lucky!

In addition, I am deeply grateful to Gareld for introducing his lovely daughter Deborah (pictured) to the studio.  Deborah is just as intelligent as her father and she is also her father's equal as a wonderful human being.  They are both amazing humanitarians.  I thank my lucky stars these wonderful people have chosen to share a large part of their lives with me and the studio.

I often wish I was a stronger person.  I know that I allow myself to lose heart when things go wrong on my dance cruises.  I take it all much too personally.  The fact is, even though I felt like the 2008 Dance Cruise was a complete disaster, the guests told me they had a perfectly delightful time.

I was just so lost in my own problems due to the poor behavior of a select few that I completely failed to see the 2008 trip was a marvelous success.  Let me add I believe I owe the 2009 group a word of thanks.  It was through their healing power that I was able to put last year's problems behind me.

The 2009 group truly restored my faith in the Circle of Friendship that permeates every one of these trips. One feature of a group cruise trip is that "differences" between people don't seem to matter.  For example, within our group, age doesn't seem to matter. People of all ages can enjoy the trip.  Gerald and Virginia are proof of that - everyone adores them.

Furthermore, it doesn't matter whether you are single or a couple. Experience has shown that the couples enjoy the company and the shenanigans of the singles. The singles enjoy the stability and warmth of the couples.

The couples enjoy the chance to interact with friends. They also enjoy the chance to occasionally go off by themselves and be alone with each other for a while.  The singles enjoy the wide range of other singles to chase around the ship.  And when they tire of the chase, they all plop down in the hot tub and simmer for a while. Refreshed, they jump out and begin the chase again.

Best of all, when it comes to dancing, the couples and the singles all enjoy switching partners.  It is fun to dance with lots of different friends.

On each cruise trip we take, there is a growing feel that it is a "family reunion". A cruise ship is ultimately a huge floating hotel perfect for family reunions.  There is something for everyone to do. Marla's Cruise Trips have allowed people to create bonds of friendship much deeper than at any time I can ever remember at our studio before the Cruise Era began. 

The connections formed on these trips really are a thing of beauty to watch. Entire groups of people who connect on the sea keep that friendship going once they reach land.  And what do you suppose they like to talk about when they get together? You guessed it - last year's cruise and next year's cruise.

Tim Francis and his Michael Phelps-like trophy exhibition


From: Velma
Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009 11:59 AM
Subject: Note from Velma

Dear Rick,

As you know, I started dancing at SSQQ as the beginning of a recovery process after the death of my husband. Cher Longoria had suggested that I take lessons for some time.

The lessons, dancing and people at SSQQ have been a great addition to my life. You are a wonderful teacher in more ways than dance. And your choice of Marla as a mate lets me know that you are also a wise man.

Dear Marla,

I wanted to thank you for all your work planning, organizing and managing the Conquest Cruise. Since I had never been on a cruise I was apprehensive about the trip. However, it could not have been better.

Your selection of the people who sat with me at dinner was perfect. Not only did we enjoy the cruise, we have become friends. Everyone likes everyone.  Last night we all had a reunion dinner together two weeks after the cruise.

If you need a second career you can become a matchmaker.

I loved watching you and Rick dancing together. It is obvious you are still in love. You are both very special people.

Velma Roppolo



Thank you for your very kind letter, Velma.

I agree I showed a lot of wisdom in my choice of a mate!  Marla and I are definitely in love. I respect her on so many levels and for so many reasons.

As for helping you recover from the death of your husband, I know exactly what you mean. The studio has helped many people heal their wounds in a similar fashion. I am one of them.

You know, dancing doesn't come easily to you. You stumble, you fall, you roll your eyes and grimace with exasperation. But I have to hand it to you - you get back on the horse, you persist and pretty soon you get closer. The thing that matters to me, though, is not how well you dance, but the attitude you bring to it. You seem to understand that the dancing is simply a marvelous excuse for a bunch of great people to hang out together. Of course, let me add it helps that dancing turns out to be a lot of fun.

In a way, you are just like another friend of Cher's - Joel Konkel. He showed up here at SSQQ beaten down from his own disappointments. He didn't seem to have a lot of confidence. Making matters worse, when he first got here, Joel quickly discovered he couldn't dance a lick to save his soul. Learning to dance was a real struggle for him. But he stuck with it!

Now through the same determination as you have shown and plenty of practice, Joel is really smoothing out on the dance floor. Good for him! But the important thing to me again is not Joel's dance ability, but his 'heart'. Joel makes everyone around him happy. That is his true gift to this studio.

You seem to have a very similar gift, Velma.

I think you are better now. It has been fun watching you come back to life!  Now that you are strong again, you have turned into the same sort of 'giver' that Joel is. Marla and I loved watching you in action on the trip. You were definitely the leader of the pack, i.e. your what the hell club. What a hoot!  Good work!

It is true that I got this show started. Then Marla came along to take it to the next level with her cruise trips.

I am pleased to say the future of the studio is bright. Most people don't have a clue who this 'Daryl' guy is, but let me assure you, he is cut out of the exact same cloth as me. Daryl has talent upon talent with people skills that I believe exceed my own. You have no idea how grateful I am that someone of his caliber is willing to take over the reins. And I mean every word. I can't predict the future, but I know that Daryl has some amazing energy about him. I feel very good about his prospects for taking this circus way beyond where it is now. He has the leadership ability and he has people like you and Joel to help him take it there.

Best of all, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest to see him excel. I have the "George Washington" satisfaction of getting it all started and that is all I need to be happy.

On a very sad note, we lost two fine men on September 12 last year. Gary Schweinle in particular was one of our main 'lieutenants', a real shining light. He was an amazing guy. I knew when we lost him, we lost a huge leader. And yet this year on the first anniversary of the tragedy, this year's Kool Kat Swing Party turned out to be one of the most amazing dance parties imaginable.

From my point of view, what was remarkable about the party was how successful it was in comparison to how little I did. I barely lifted a finger, but the party exploded anyway. Why? Because the lieutenants took over and asked other people to help. So many people deserve credit for last night's success!

In addition to Joel helping, there is this guy named Charley who helped organize last night's party. He is a modest guy who would never dream of tooting his own horn. And let me add that Charley had his own experience seeing how the studio could help him recover from a great sadness.

Charley and Joel are just two of the obvious suspects, but I suspect many others. I loved it when I discovered that Marsha and Mona were doing steady business at the margarita factory. And all that food! Wow! I could tell there were a lot of people who put some real backbone into making last night's party work.

And the people responded - there was a huge crowd.  They were laughing, they were eating, they were dancing.  It was a sight to behold.

Consequently, last night was a real triumph for me. One year later after Gary and Michael's death, it is good to see that the studio has healed itself. A year ago, the studio was in deep depression thanks to Hurricane Ike, the destruction throughout the city, the loss of power, and of course the twin tragedies of Gary and Michael.  

Now look at all the happiness. The dance studio is a pretty amazing place.

These days the studio is blossoming again. I give much of the credit to our wide range of 'lieutenants', that is, people like you who help get the party started and keep the action going.

As for me, I enjoy watching it all go by. It is comforting to see that I don't have to do the heavy lifting any more. Thanks to people with tons of energy like you and Charley and Joel and everyone else, this is a very satisfying thought indeed.

Let me add one more thing - this trip healed me too.  For a long time, I have carried so much bitterness around with me from last year's trip.  The 2008 Conquest Trip was a true nightmare for me.  One night at the Captain's Reception, I was standing at the very back of the room talking to Kurt Wind.  Marla was out on the floor dancing.  I noticed a woman who was drunk out of her mind.  She wanted to get even more drunk.  So she parked herself right in the path where the waiters go to pick up new drinks and carry them to the guests.

Like a troll guarding a bridge, she was about to snatch two, even three drinks from every tray, guzzle them down, and prepare to attack the next waiter.  Finally one waiter had the temerity to suggest she move just a few feet so they could get by without spilling their trays. This woman screamed at them, calling them a bunch of Filipino fill in the blanks and much worse.  I cringed at her words.  I have never seen a more horrible public treatment of people who could not possibly retaliate. I nearly interceded myself!  Fortunately a ship officer took over.

I was so sickened by her behavior that I was seething with anger at her treatment of these defenseless men.  Then came the final blow. Marla came back and I pointed the woman out.  Marla said that woman was with our group.  I was incredulous.  I had never seen her before. The realization that I was responsible for bringing this creature on board to torture these men was more than I could bear. A depression came over me that was so dark I literally had to go my room.  I was not fit to be around another human being. 

The cocktail party incident set me up, the Destructo incident put me on the edge, and now this Cruella de Ville monster pushed me into the abyss.  On the spot, I froze up.  I had to go to my room.  That was the end of the Trip for me; I had shut down. I was barely civil for the remainder of the trip.  One night I didn't even come to dinner.  Marla had to go without me.   I stayed out of sight as much as I possibly could.  The depression I sunk into on that trip marked one of the lowest points of my career.

Consequently I approached this year's trip with the attitude that I was just going to do my job and get it over with.  Then to my surprise, I found myself smiling from the moment our first party.  That smile never went away.  It carried through all the way to the very end of the trip.  It was smooth sailing from start to finish. Even the stuff that used to bother me didn't bother me that much.  This year's group was so wonderful that all the bad memories of last year's trip just seemed to fade away.  I felt a healing that was pretty amazing. 

I might add this trip was so good to me that I couldn't wait to write about it. Unlike last year when I had to force myself to say even a word about that trip, this year I couldn't stop writing.  What a pleasure it has been to tell the tale of the 2009 Conquest Trip.

It is nice to remind people that the studio actually heals people. This is a good message indeed.  The studio has healed you.  The studio has healed me.  And we are not alone.  There are a lot of people who been healed by the studio's warmth. 

I still miss my friends Gary and Michael, but watching the studio heal itself and spring back to life is a joy to behold as well.  You have no idea how happy people were at that Kool Kat Party.  I can't help but compare this special moment to how miserable we were exactly one year earlier.

Life is indeed a circle. 

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
September 13, 2009


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