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Tales of the Rhapsody 2004 Cruise
Chapter Five: Dancing Aboard the Rhapsody!

Written by Rick Archer

Rick's Note: I had quite a bit of help writing this particular story from Stefani Callihan, Don Schmidt, and Stephanie Barrow. 

Several other people who were kind enough to contribute their thoughts included Gary Richardson, Maureen Brunetti, Leroy Ginzel, John Frierson, Stella Moore, Lorraine Cull, Ken Proctor, Gareld and Virginia McEathron, plus Pat and Jess Carnes. Thank you very much for your help!

And thank you Gary Richardson for all the great pictures!

As most of you can figure out without much help on my part, Dancing is always a big part of every SSQQ cruise.  Dancing is, after all, the bond that unites us.

The Rhapsody 2004 trip was certainly no different. There was dancing everywhere and we have lots of pictures to prove it!! 


Dance Dance Dance!

There was dancing by the pool, there was dancing during the day in the SSQQ dance workshops and there was more dancing during the evening in the Shall We Dance Lounge.  

There was Disco dancing during the evening at the Viking Crown Disco and Ballroom dancing in the Centrum.

And if that wasn't enough, there was dancing in the Shall We Dance Lounge with Gary Richardson as the deejay into the wee hours of the morning.  And when we say the "wee hours", that means 2 am, 3 am, 4 am!

And we exported our dancing as well. We danced in the bars of Key West, we danced to the sounds of "Tequila" at a bar in Costa Maya, and I think there was even some pole dancing at Senor Frog's in Cozumel.

And let's not forget all the fun we had dancing at the Wedding Reception, the Captain's Reception, and the Crown and Anchor Reception.

Everywhere we went, it was Dance Dance Dance.

In the first picture at right, we have three of the Usual Suspects dancing in Key West.   The Great Gabino and Maureen Brunetti are dancing the Whip at Sloppy Joes.  Sloppy Joes had a sign on the wall that said it was Ernest Hemingway's old drinking hole in Key West.  At first we were impressed until we discovered that EVERY BAR IN KEY WEST has a similar sign.  After much debate, once we learned that Hemingway drank a lot, we decided that every bar was probably telling the truth. 

Maureen has been on every SSQQ cruise except the Mardi Gras trip earlier in 2004.  Normally Maureen would be a prime candidate for our Usual Suspect list.  After all, Maureen has misbehaved many times in the past.  However, if Maureen was up to no good on this trip, she definitely did it under my radar. 

Maureen was able to maintain her status as the best dancer on the trip with her victory in both the Twist Contest and the Hula Hoop contest, an amazing double triumph.  Maureen and Paul Foltyn also made us laugh - right in the middle of a song, Paul and Maureen shocked the band so much with an amazing acrobatic trick that they lost their place in the middle of a song. 

Maureen had some competition.  I thought Joanie Grossman appeared to be ready to step up and give Maureen a challenge for 'best dancer'.  Joanie definitely held her own out on the dance floor. Seen at right dancing with Gary Richardson, Joanie moves very gracefully on any dance floor, even outside by the pool.

I might add that Gary seemed to have a lot of fun dancing.  He is a marathon dancer these days. Gary likes to needle me that he dances to practically every song while I dance to one or two songs a night. Unfortunately I have to admit he is right on that score. Although I did my fair share of dancing, when you count all the trips he made around the dance floor, I would guess that Gary out-lapped me by several miles on this trip.

The difference of course is that Gary does computers for a living and dancing is his beloved hobby. I play basketball for my hobby.  Did I mention our Alaska ship in 2005 has a B-Ball court?  Can't wait!

Ballroom Dancing is pretty quiet on land back in Houston, but you wouldn't know it after watching the SSQQ Gang down in the Centrum.  Ballroom Dancing comes alive on cruise trips.

Dating back to the earliest days of the cruise industry, Ballroom Dancing has always played a prominent role on cruise ships.  Every ship has an excellent band... who can forget the band played on as the Titanic slowly sank?

Our cruise trip was no exception.  Every night the Centrum was a beehive of dance activity.

Practically every night anywhere from one couple to ten couples filled the marble dance floor to dance Foxtrot, Waltz, Swing, and Cha Cha. And guess who their biggest fans were?  You guessed it - The Band.  Normally this floor stays pretty empty, but thanks to our group, this week it was busy.

The Band was very pleased to see their music appreciated so much.  One humorous quip came from the singer named Tammy who exclaimed, "
"You guys can dance to anything!"

That's true, we really can dance to anything, but we probably could have passed on "Achy Breaky Heart" which we heard practically every night. Ouch.

We forgave them for "Achy Breaky" when they followed up with a Tango.  That made the crowd happy.  Then they surprised us again with "The Girl From Ipanema" which worked nicely as a Rumba. 

Looking Glamorous

I am not quite sure why, but I am starting to enjoy Ballroom Dancing more than at any other time in my dance career.  I definitely appreciate the variety of the different dances.  I also enjoy dancing all dressed up to a live band!  The elegance appeals to me. 

Our group loves Halloween parties. I pretend that dressing up is the same thing as wearing a costume at Halloween.  It is fun to put on a coat and tie, suck in the tummy, square up the shoulders, put on the smile, then move around the floor to lovely music.  I try to be as graceful as possible and look classy out there. It is definitely a fun fantasy. 

Am I the only one who thinks this way?  Definitely not. The ladies love to get all dressed up and show off. It is the height of sophistication to be seen dancing gracefully in a beautiful gown with high heels and a bemused look.

It is fun to see the ladies smile while they dance.  In the picture at right, the beautiful Wendy Chuang clearly enjoys Swing Dancing with Don Schmidt. 

Let me add that Don was VERY popular on the dance floor throughout the trip.  Not only is he a versatile dancer, he is gentle and very smooth. Best of all, I never see him leading moves that might be considered over his partner's head. 

Another male dancer with the same reputation for combining smooth dancing with gentle dancing is the sophisticated Iqbal Nagji. Pictured at right dancing with Leslie Goldsmith, Iqbal is a source of great fascination to everyone. He is a perfect dancer and a complete gentleman at all times.  One thing I have always found interesting about Iqbal is that he is capable of talking with great intelligence on any topic imaginable. One night I brought up a story about a cruise liner that sank in its own shipyard. To my surprise, Iqbal knew more about this obscure story than I did!

Born in Tanzania, Iqbal has probably seen more of the world than all the rest of us combined. He loves to travel and he has been on many cruises in addition to the ones he has shared with our group. However despite his obvious worldliness, Iqbal is extremely down-to-earth and quite approachable. Everyone respects him so much.

Iqbal was also quite the leader. He organized the bar hopping at Key West that led to many great dance scenes in unexpected places!  (See James Bowling and Sherry Thornton dancing at right)

Another man in demand was my friend Paul Foltyn. Paul of course was the Hero of my Wedding when he loaned me his shoes after I forgot my own.  But Paul didn't need the notoriety to be popular on the dance floor - he is a great Swing dancer!  Paul teaches Acrobatics for us at the studio. As I mentioned earlier, he and Maureen Brunetti shocked the Band when he flipped Maureen over his back in the middle of a song. The band was so surprised they lost their place in their song!  I wish I had been there to see that one!  Afterwards, no one dared take their eyes of off Maureen and Paul just in case they tried another trick like that!

All week long our dancers were treated as celebrities. As I said in another story, back home all of our dancers pretty much think they are maybe beginning/intermediate dancers or perhaps slightly above average. They can quickly point to a dozen people they know who are "So Much Better Than I am!!"

But aboard this ship, even the complete beginners still know so much more about dancing than the other guests that they receive tremendous amounts of attention whenever they dance.

Any time there is music, SSQQ dancers become the "Entertainment".  Even the Rhapsody Staff sits up and takes notice.  Here is a quote from a letter that Stefani Callihan shared with me (Stefani is pictured at right dancing with Ramon Banea.)

"I received a compliment I will treasure from one of the ship's main song and dance performers. She stopped me on the last night after I had been dancing with Don Schmidt in the Centrum. Just before we left to head over to the Shall we Dance Loungem she leaned over and said, "You are an excellent dancer."

(Of course, we know my dancing ability is directly related to the great lead Don is!) Her compliment put me over the top!"

Stefani's cute story was repeated time and time again by many dancers in our group. We took over the trip and captured the imagination of so many people who had never seen dancing like this before in their lives.

The passengers loved watching us. The players in the bands loved watching us. The Rhapsody staff loved watching us.  We added so much energy throughout the ship every day and night of the trip.  And we of course appreciated the attention very much.

The only sad note of course is that I wish we could add this sort of energy on every trip. For example, we could DEFINITELY help the Rhapsody improve their Sock Hop Night. Instead of a Hula Hoop Contest or a Twist Contest that barely involves a few passengers, we could have the entire room dancing to SSQQ-flavored Line Dances. Maureen Brunetti made this exact same point in her letter:

"I talked to cruise director Julie who seemed very receptive to more involvement from us on future Rhapsody trips. Especially on "Sock Hop" night!! Nobody knows how to Sock Hop like SSQQ. We could do all kinds of fun line dances. The Stroll, Raisin Dance, Cha Cha Hustle, Twistin the Night Away, etc. The Rhapsody passengers would have a ball!  I just know they would."

I imagine the Rhapsody Staff had to feel something of a let-down the week after we left.  Usually they have to beg to get people to dance.  Not our group. 

Oh well.  Maybe someday the Rhapsody executives will arrange a way that we can export the same dance magic on every trip. I will cross my fingers and hope!

Of course many of us fussed about the sticky floors and music that was played way too fast or way too slow. When it comes to complaining about the dancing, maybe we should realize it isn't completely fair to compare dancing on the ship to dancing at SSQQ.

Truth be said, of all the ships we have been on to date, the Rhapsody is by far the best dance ship ever.  The Rhapsody is a huge improvement over the other ships.

Steve Gabino and Maureen

Gary and Joanie poolside

Ballroom dancing in the Centrum

Another Centrum picture

Wendy and Don

Lesley G and Iqbal

Sherry and James Go Wild in Key West

Stefani and Ramon

The Great Gabino and Gina Lollobridgida

This picture of Fred and Ginger is just one of many beautiful
Ballroom Dance paintings that line the walls.

The Shall We Dance Lounge

I have been a passenger on three different cruise lines.  Thanks to the remarkable Shall We Dance Lounge, the Rhapsody is clearly superior to the other.  In addition to its wonderful circular dance floor, the unique Ballroom murals that line the walls are an inspiration indeed. 

Any time I wasn't dancing, I would sit and admire the beautiful scenes of a bygone era and wistfully dream that maybe that Era of Dance Elegance could return someday.

Nor am I the only one who feels this way.  Here is an excerpt from a letter by Gareld and Virginia McEathron:

"Of the three different cruise lines that Virginia and I have been on, the size of the floors, the beauty of the Ballroom paintings, the quality of the music, the variety of dance venues we experienced on the Rhapsody would make it improbable that we would be interested in returning to the other lines."

I completely agree.  I am sold on Royal Caribbean.  We had a marvelous time aboard their ship.  Take a look at some of the smiles in the pictures below if there is any doubt in your mind.

And maybe... just maybe... someday SSQQ will be allowed to share some its own special magic with ALL of the Rhapsody passengers. Wouldn't that be fun?


Dancing on the Rhapsody Letter One
Written by Don Schmidt

The line dances the ship taught were ok, but only a very small number of people participated- mostly ladies. The SSQQ classes were so much better because they were partner dances. The ship should seriously consider offering a number of dance classes for their guests, preferably using the SSQQ model for social dancing. If you want to get most any man out to learn even a few simple steps, it has to be a dance that he gets to hold the lady in his arms for at least part of the time. With this incentive, it will be easier for the lady to cajole, encourage, and/or beg her gentleman to try learning a little, then she can cajole, encourage, and/or beg him to dance a little to an actual band after the class.

With a little humor tossed in with the instruction, all that is needed is to introduce the basics and a couple of simple moves and a surprisingly good time can be enjoyed. Using the SSQQ model of rotating partners is also a good idea because if you don't have a partner, it is easier to ask someone to dance if you have seen them dancing. Plus the ladies can be encouraged to ask the men to dance, which I personally find very flattering. I saw a number of ladies in the Champagne Bar who looked like they wanted to dance. I did not ask any of them, because the lovely ladies from SSQQ kept me dancing to most whatever the band played (I even learned a little basic Tango from one lady who wanted to keep dancing).

I know the bands really liked to have people on the floor dancing to their music. Even when the arrangements were played a little too slow and the phrasing breaks were muddy or non-existent, it was fun to dance.

The ship has gambling, spas, nightly production shows, bars, and shopping to entertain, occupy, and separate guests from their money in a relaxing environment. While dancing is not a direct and immediate moneymaking activity for the cruise line, I believe promoting dancing will result in more smiles and greater satisfaction with the overall cruise experience. This will result in a long term financial benefit to Royal Caribbean as returning cruisers encourage first timers with talk about all of the activities "including dancing and lessons". The line will also see financial benefit from guests who become repeat guests because good memories of a previous cruise include dancing.

Don Schmidt

Dancing on the Rhapsody Letter Two
Written by Stefani Callihan

I'm grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts about the dance issue on the cruise. As one of those who searched for dance venues on this trip quite often, I feel qualified to offer my point of view on this subject.

I looked for places to dance on the ship from early afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. It was more of a challenge than I expected on an SSQQ cruise. During the times that a band/music was available, there was a core group of us who danced as much as was possible. And when those places closed down, we hunted as one would for food if one was starving, and we remained unfed.

When Gary was finally able to DJ for us in the Shall We Dance Lounge, it was as if yet another banquet was laid out for us. And we feasted.

I am not one to lay around and vegetate, and I would have welcomed more dance opportunities during the daytime hours while we were at sea, and much more dancing opportunity every night than was available.

The Shall We Dance Lounge was lovely and very comfortable for resting and viewing the dancers, but the floor was somewhat sticky. The Centrum area was beautiful as well and had a better floor, but the dance area was rather small. The Viking room at the top of the ship was great, but the cigarette smoke was lethal and the music was too loud. I danced two dances in there and left, never to return.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment on the Rhapsody. It is an incredibly beautiful ship with a nice layout. The bands and the music were really great. I enjoyed the amenities on board and I truly enjoyed the dance opportunities we had, AND I would have welcomed more.

As far as the idea of more involvement with the studio goes, my imagination wants to go wild with that idea, as I envision dance taking a much greater role in my life than it does presently. I'll be quite interested to know how this possibility plays out.

I had so much fun on the cruise, I still find it hard to believe. And although there seemed to be issues around available dance venues for us, I still danced every night to my heart's content.

Little did I know how valuable the lessons I have taken would be, or the joy I would experience on a daily basis out there on all those lovely dance floors on the Rhapsody. And the third article written by Rick about Rhapsody 2004 captures the essence so was a spectacular feeling to dance and enjoy myself AND offer spectators their own form of enjoyment at the same time.

It was also surprising to me how much the different bands enjoyed our "performances". I lost track of how many times I heard one of the performers say "You guys can dance to anything!" And the group that played most often in the Centrum seemed to absolutely light up when a group of us showed up to dance.

I also received a compliment I will treasure from one of the ship's main song and dance performers. She stopped me on the last night after I had been dancing with Don in the Centrum, as we were headed to the Shall we Dance Lounge. She leaned over and said, "You are an excellent dancer." (Of course, we know my dancing ability is directly related to the great lead Don is!) Her comment put me over the top!

How can I not follow this great cruise with another one! I have no doubt that it will be at least as great and most likely even better because I will have had another year of fabulous classes and will have built upon the many new friendships created on this first cruise, and so will be sailing with good friends I didn't have before.

Thank you both for putting together a spectacular vacation opportunity for me, and everyone else who chose to take advantage of it. My first cruise ever could not have been better.

Yours truly,
Stefani Callihan

Dancing on the Rhapsody Letter Three
Written by Stephanie Barrow

I wanted give some feedback about dancing aboard the Rhapsody.  This was my first time on a cruise, so I do not know how dancing accommodations compared to other trips, but I do have a few thoughts I'd like to share.

First of all, there was too much emphasis on line dancing.  I understand they are supposed to be an ice-breaker for people without partners or prior dance experience, but I haven't met anyone yet who did not feel silly doing them (and not in a healthy YMCA/Macarena way).  Maybe they should have reserved the line dancing for a children’s activity.

I noticed in the Daily Compass that several attempts were made to unite the singles onboard.  They could have used one of those activities as an opportunity to teach some basic dance steps (foxtrot and waltz for formal night, two-step and polka for the Texas night, etc).  Then, they could have maintained the dinner theme well into the night by coordinating a dance theme as well.  If they taught the dance classes with the same format of switching partners, like you have done, then the singles would all eventually meet and maybe get the courage to dance together later.

Ok, one more criticism before I get to the positive . . . The DJ in the Viking Crown Lounge should try and play a wider variety of music from night to night.  I heard the same songs every night, and it got to the point where I asked on Friday "Didn't they just finish playing this song?"  I wasn't trying to be clever; I actually thought they played the song twice.

Despite the musical deja vu, I did enjoy the Viking Crown Lounge as a place to show off my freestyle lessons.  And the Shall We Dance Lounge was beautiful.  My only concern was that I wanted to be in both places at once for one event or another.  So, perhaps they could stagger or even extend the times of the dance opportunities?  You know how it can be, when you have a great dancing experience, you don't want it to end.

I really enjoyed the music by the pool.  If the Captain feels that there is not enough dancing going on, perhaps crew members can be planted on the dance floor to boost confidence.  Shy folks like me don't like being the first one out there.  The crew could even ask passengers to join them (one on one rather than shouting it over the microphone).

I'm curious about how occupied the dance floors normally are without our stunning talent gracing the ship.

On a side note, wouldn't it be great publicity if the dance crew aboard the Rhapsody were trained by SSQQ?  There are pros and cons to that, of course, I'm just thinking "out loud".

Well, that's all my input for now (ha ha sorry for being long-winded).  I'll let you know if I think of anything else.

Thanks for the lovely experience, and I look forward to the party on the 15th.  I e-mailed you and Marla some pictures that I thought you'd enjoy, but my e-mail server failed to deliver them.  I'll try again tonight (it's just some wedding shots and the pic I took of you and George shaking hands before the "Smack Down").  Have a great day!!

Stephanie Barrow


Rick Archer's Note from the Future:

Looking back on 2004 from a 2010 perspective, the one thing that made the 2004 trip a little more special than all the others was watching our guests become a Unit. 

SSQQ had taken five previous trips - 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, and a trip to Mardi Gras earlier in 2004. 

This was the first trip where everyone started to let down their hair and act crazy.  If you think the dancing looks like fun, wait till you see Phyllis and the insanity of her hot-tub stuffing!

You could see friendships being made right and left that would surely carry over on to land after the trip.  I am not even referring to romance here.  I mean "friendships", the kind of bonds that would make people conscious of SSQQ in a way that far transcended dancing and finding a girlfriend or boyfriend.

This trip was not necessarily the birth of the SSQQ Community, but it was definitely a milestone. 

I have spoken many times of SSQQ Generations - people that come to the studio as individuals and integrate themselves in a circle of friends that stay together for many years.

Over the years, the Cruise Trips have played such an integral role in creating a group consciousness that I often refer to the people on this trip as the SSQQ Love Boat Generation. 

Marla organizes the cruises which serve as the meeting place and I write the stories which remind everyone of what a great time we all had.  However, the Magic of our Group is something that can't be forced. 

Marla and I do our part, but let's give just as much credit for the success of these trips to the Usual Suspects. It takes the antics leaders like Phyllis, Gabino, Mr. Hat (Gary Schweinle), Gary Windjammer and even goofy Mr. Handsome to help people loosen up and start to act crazy. 

People come on these cruises as strangers and leave as members of a tight-knit pack of friends.  This trip was definitely the places where many of the SSQQ Cruise Traditions began. 

RA, 2010

Center of Attention and Don. Look up in the sky,
it's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's a Disco Ball!

Maureen and Iqbal

Mara and Mr. Handsome

Gary and Joanie Struttin' their Stuff.
Reminds me of a scene from "Shag"
where they dance in shorts and swimsuits along
the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk!!

Stephanie Barrow and the Great Gabino

Rick and Marla's Wedding Waltz

Next: Chapter Six

Mr. Windjammer


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