Rick Archer


Rick Archer - Biography

Written by Rick Archer in third person
Last Update: July 2010

"Rick Archer openly admits he is not a natural dancer, has never won a dance contest, does not like to perform, put on dance exhibitions or do choreography.  Rick has never received any teaching awards nor any professional recognition whatsoever.  It is, of course, a cosmic absurdity that a man with so little natural ability somehow managed to create the largest dance studio in Houston, Texas, and quite possibly the most famous dance studio in the entire United States."  

Rick Archer, 2003


Rick Archer is best known for operating SSQQ, Houston's largest social dance studio, for 33 years (1977-2010).

There is reason to believe SSQQ was not only the largest dance studio in Houston, but in America as well.  At its peak in 2000, SSQQ averaged 1,600 dance students a month, an amazing total.

Unfortunately, SSQQ was forced to shut down its longtime location on Bissonnet Street in April 2010.  The landlord chose not to renew the lease in favor of building a hospital extension instead.  It was a shame to see this happen since SSQQ was still as popular as ever.  At that point, Rick sold the studio and retired.  [Note: The final days of SSQQ-Bissonnet are explained in The Last Waltz].

The intriguing question, of course, is how someone who was given so few dancing skills to begin with managed to create a dance studio that will remain a Houston legend for many years to come.

Curious?  If so, here we go.


Early Years

Rick Archer was born in Pennsylvania in 1949.  He was the only child of OJ and Mary Archer.  Rick's father was trained as an electrical engineer.  His father was transferred to Houston in 1955.

1955 wasn't a very good year for Rick. Shortly before the move, Rick cut out his left eye with a knife.  It was his own fault. Although having only one eye was never a major handicap, it did prevent him from participating in sports throughout his school years (a major regret). 

Rick's parents had a rocky marriage to say the least.  They sought the help of a psychiatrist.  One day Rick's mother complained that her son was at best an average student in elementary school.  Worried that her son had a learning disability, she asked the psychiatrist to have Rick tested.  The psychiatrist reported back that Rick was actually a pretty smart kid, but full of anger and bored out of his wits in public school. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop."

The psychiatrist recommended sending Rick to a private school.  The idea was that a strong challenge was exactly what the boy needed.  That is how Rick ended up at Saint John's School as part of the divorce settlement between his parents in 1959.

Rick's time at SJS turned out to be a remarkable stroke of fortune.  Saint John's not only gave the young man an excellent education during his nine years there, they also helped him stay focused despite all his problems at home.  Thanks to a good school and a lot of hard work, Rick was accepted at Johns Hopkins University, a well-known Eastern university.  He received a BA in Social Sciences from Hopkins in 1972.

Recalling how the psychiatrist had been so instrumental in his own life, after college, Rick decided to become a clinical psychologist.  He was accepted as a graduate stuent at Colorado State University in 1973.  

Unfortunately (or 'fortunately' depending on your point of view), Rick was unceremoniously dismissed from the program after only one year. He was told his personality was far too aggressive to make it as a therapist... so he was sent packing.  It was a devastating blow.

The Curious Paperback that Changed Rick's Life

Getting thrown out of Graduate School was a major setback.  There was no Plan B.

Unsure what to do next, Rick spent the next four years working for Harris County Child Welfare (1974-1978) investigating child abuse and neglect.  Although Social work was definitely a field Rick was interested in, this particular job was pretty depressing. Most of these people were set in their ways and resistant to any suggestions on how to improve their lives.  Rick did the best he could, but realized this was a pretty tough job to succeed in.  Rick was frustrated at just how little he was able to accomplish.  He felt his efforts were like putting a tiny band aid on gaping wounds. 

Meanwhile, Rick was not doing very well in his personal life either.  After getting tossed from grad school, Rick spent the summer of 1974 in a constant state of depression.  Rick realized he had failed at graduate school, he didn't have a job he liked and he had little confidence when it came to women.  

Of course, the problems with women might have had something to do with the Prince Valiant hairstyle.  What do you think?

Feeling pretty lost, one day Rick drifted into a used paperback book store.  Browsing the aisles, he noticed a beat up $1 book on the subject of "How to Meet Women". 

Leafing through the chapters, he noticed that "dancing" was one suggestion on how to break the ice. Ready to try anything at this point, Rick began taking dance classes after work to learn how to dance freestyle.  More details of this particular chapter can be read in Learning to Dance

Unfortunately, Rick soon realized he had little natural ability at dancing.  Rick had no sense of rhythm and was far too self-conscious about his awkwardness.  He also "thought too much".  Cursed with an over-analytical mind, Rick agonized over the slightest mistakes.

Dismayed by his obvious clumsiness and slow improvement, Rick decided his only hope was to practice.  So he bought 15 mirror tiles and pasted them to his apartment wall.  To the strains of a popular song at the time called "Year of the Cat", Rick practiced for hours at a time every night after class.  As a true testament to the power of persistence, slowly but surely Rick began to improve. 

Oddly enough, the dancing didn't help his social life very much. Due to a phobia about looking spastic while dancing with a pretty girl, Rick refused to go out dancing until he was satisfied he was "good enough"... and that was definitely going to take a while.  However, to his great surprise, Rick discovered he liked learning to dance.  This was a good challenge for him.  So Rick made it a point to sign up for every dance class he could. Rick took dance classes three or four nights a week for three straight years (1974-77).

It took quite a while, but his eventual success serves as unshakeable evidence that anyone can learn to dance if they put their mind to it.

Dawn of the Disco Era

One day in early 1977, Rick noticed his interest in dance class had shifted. He was beginning to pay more attention to "how" his teacher taught than to "what" his teacher taught.  A few weeks later, he got up the nerve to ask his teacher, Rosalyn Lively, if he could substitute teach for her some time.  Rosalyn smiled and said sure.  This led to a one-night opportunity in April 1977

Rick was so excited after teaching his class that he began to daydream non-stop about teaching dance classes. He spent an entire week developing a syllabus for a two-month class... even though he didn't have any idea where he would actually teach. 

Oddly enough, just days after finishing the syllabus, Rick's dance teacher surprised him after class.  Rosalyn asked if he would consider taking her class for the summer while she went on vacation.  Interesting coincidence.

Suddenly Rick was a dance teacher.  Given his pathetic start, who would have imagined?  Now, after three
years of pursuing social dance as a hobby, Rick's dance project had magically led to a part-time job as a Disco dance instructor.  

Rick made his debut at Houston's Jewish Community Center on Braeswood in June 1977.  To his delight, Rick discovered he was pretty good at explaining the patterns.  He liked teaching his class a lot and dreamed his friend would not ask for her job back.  But she did.

Although Rick's teacher reclaimed her job back at the end of the summer, fortunately he had done such a good job that an administrator at the Braeswood JCC recommended him for an opening at another Jewish Community Center located in the Memorial area. 

He started in September 1977.  There were all of five students, but Rick didn't care.  He was excited about this new opportunity. 

His students liked the line dances just fine, but they sure were fussy!  One night after class, two ladies came up and said they wanted to learn some partner dancing as well.  Unfortunately, Rick didn't know a thing about partner dancing to Disco music.  He could teach freestyle and line dances, but dancing with a woman in his arms was out of the question. 

However, now that he thought about it, maybe dancing with a woman in his arms wasn't such a bad idea.  In an attempt to make his students happy, Rick signed up for a Disco partner dance class at Stevens of Hollywood Dance Studio on Westheimer and Shepherd. 

By coincidence, the Line Dance teacher at Stevens of Hollywood had just quit.  When Rick's teacher discovered Rick taught line dances at the Memorial JCC, he asked if Rick would be interested in teaching at Stevens of Hollywood as well. 

This was yet another curious coincidence... the third so far in this story. One thing was leading to another. In October 1977, Rick began his second part-time job at Stevens of Hollywood Dance Studio.  Read Big Break for more details.


So here you have an obscure young man with very limited dance skills teaching two small Disco line dance classes each week.  What Rick did not know was that he was standing at the crossroads of a enormous phenomenon.   

One month later, November 1977, a movie about Disco dancing was released.  Rick noticed a writeup in the paper.  It was about an obscure young man from a working class section of Brooklyn who used dancing to seek his fortune.  Rick felt an immediate connection.  He was literally the first person in the theater that afternoon... only to discover that no one was joining him.  There were maybe four people total in the audience. 

It was a modest little movie, yes, but nevertheless, Rick liked it.  He thought the story was interesting and the dancing had him inspired.  It didn't take long for a lot of people to come to the same conclusion.  This unheralded movie created a tidal wave of interest in Disco dancing. 

Rick was one of the few people teaching Disco in Houston when the surge hit in January 1978.  The phone at Stevens of Hollywood began ringing off the hook.  Rick soon realized he was standing directly in the path of an enormous cultural trend.  It was an amazing coincidence. 

It took just four months after
Saturday Night Fever hit town for those two little line dance classes to expand into a full-time, six night a week job teaching dance to hundreds of people.

Rick had been in the right place at the right time.  Obviously that dancing hobby had panned out a lot better than Rick could ever have anticipated.


Love of Teaching

Right from the start, Rick realized how much he loved to teach dance.  Ever since high school, he had long been interested in teaching, but had never found a subject he was qualified to teach.  Then one day Rick received a valuable clue that 'teaching' might actually be something he had some natural ability for.

During his year in Graduate school (1973-74), one of his duties as a graduate student was conducting a "Review" seminar each week.  The professor would lecture to 300 students in Beginning Psychology.  Then it was Rick's responsibility to host smaller classes to review the material and answer questions. 

Rick decided to skip the usual method of have the students open their textbook and leaf through the chapter page by page.  Rick decided the students could do this on their own just fine.  He introduced a weekly feature called "Great Moments in Psychology". 

Rick would pick the most interesting studies and Psychology experiments he could find.  After telling the story of the experiment, Rick made it a point to show how this knowledge could be useful to the students.  His examples included research ranging from resisting peer pressure to the ways advertising people use 'conformity' to sell their products.  Rick covered the concepts of romantic love and identity.  Rick's favorite section reviewed a famous experiment known as "Learned Helplessness" that took a unique look at the cause of depression and apathy.

The students - young, impressionable, curious - absolutely loved these stories.   "Psychology" became much more interesting once they realized how the study of Psychology could help them understand themselves and others as well.  As you can guess, this material far transcended the usual boring rote memorization that plagues many college classes.  These young adults were actually being shown "why" and "how" learning this material could be valuable to them in their everyday lives. 

Thanks to the rumors, every week Rick's class grew... just the opposite of what you would expect as the semester went on. Word of Rick's unusual methods eventually drifted to Rick's professor.  One day the professor snuck into the back of the room where he wouldn't be noticed.  At the end of the class, the professor came up and talked to Rick. 

The Professor said, "It would have helped if you had asked permission to try a different approach.  I came here today expecting to hear something that would upset me very much.  Then I watched you in action and watched the reactions of the students.  I was pleasantly surprised to observe this was a much better use of the review class than I could have ever imagined.  Very motivating!  You have a definite knack for this."

Although the professor already secretly knew the decision had already been made to ask Rick to leave the program at the end of the school year, the man was at least kind enough to compliment Rick and suggest he had some natural teaching ability.  That was 1974.

Thank goodness Fate intervened four years later to steer Rick towards an area where his teaching skills could be put to better use.

Glen Hunsucker

Throughout the early part of his dance career, Rick did a lot of scrambling.  Rick had practically no formal dance training to rely on.  As his students learned what little Rick knew, they begged him to teach follow-up dance classes.  Rick was very ambitious and more than willing to offer new classes.  But there was one major problem - he had a bad habit of offering to teach new classes before he had enough material to teach. 

His first year of teaching dance - 1978 - was one heck of a rough year.  This was Rick's "fake it till you make it" year.

Rick's biggest problem was acquiring the dance skills necessary to teach advanced material.  Unfortunately, Rick had no one to teach him.  It is pretty tough to teach dancing when you aren't a natural dancer and you don't have much knowledge about the finer points.  It is almost impossible to succeed when you don't have a teacher of your own.  What was he supposed to do?

It was classic "Peter Principle" - Rick was being promoted to his level of incompetence.  Thanks to the incredible amount of interest in Disco dancing, Rick was accepting challenges he wasn't qualified for.  Rick adopted the attitude that he only needed to know more than the students he was teaching to get started, a very risky idea.    

Rick stayed just steps ahead of the posse.  He was forced to copy moves from TV shows like Dance Fever or try to figure out some move he had seen in a club. Week after week, Rick was frequently forced to teach new moves he had learned just moments before his class started.  There were several close calls in dance class where Rick was nearly exposed as an unqualified charlatan. 

Rick's entire year felt like learning trapeze work without a net. The stress of being so poorly prepared was unimaginable, but Rick's overwhelming ambition left him no choice.

A chance meeting at a Disco named the Pistachio Club in August 1978 solved his problem.  One night Rick noticed that the dance floor was surrounded by the thick crowd of people.  Curious to know what they were looking at, he squeezed his way close enough to see a man who resembled him dancing the Latin Hustle with a pretty blonde teenage girl alone on the floor.

Rick gasped.  The man leading the young girl was just as good or better than Travolta had been in the movie.  This was the finest exhibition of Disco Partner Dancing Rick had ever seen in person.  Afterwards, Rick got up the nerve to approach the man who had been dancing to ask if he was a dance teacher.  Yes, he was.

That's how Rick met Glen Hunsucker, Houston's premier Jazz choreographer and likely the finest male dancer in the city.  Rick now had a teacher. Thank goodness!  This was yet another stroke of luck in a long line of fortuitous coincidences. 

In September 1978, Rick began to take two private dance lessons a week to acquire the skills necessary to pursue a career in teaching dance.  This is when Rick learned the "Latin Hustle", a clever Disco partner dance derived from the fusion of Salsa dancing and East Coast Swing. The "Hustle" (as it is now called) quickly became Rick's favorite dance. 


Class Factory and Leisure Learning

Some might say it was the luck of the Irish.  Others might say it was a deal with the Devil.  Still others call it Divine Guidance.  Whatever the reason, one of the luckiest breaks of all came in the summer of 1978.  It happened when Rick met Donna Gordon one afternoon at Stevens of Hollywood.

Rick had just finished teaching a private lesson.  He came out into the main ballroom to observe a dance class.  A woman he had never seen in his life came over and stood beside him.  Pretty soon, the woman began fussing and fuming over the way the class was being taught by Rick's boss.  She turned to Rick... a complete stranger... and began to let off steam.  This led to a conversation.   It turned out this lady had just opened a new business called "Class Factory" which offered adult education classes in things like auto maintenance, Spanish, cooking, and, yes, dancing. Amazingly, this conversation led to a job offer.  Would Rick like to teach a dance class?  Of course he would!!

Suddenly, just by standing there, Rick had magically acquired a source of dance students he could call his own.  It was an incredible stroke of fortune. 

That afternoon Rick asked his boss for permission to rent a room to teach dance classes during the times he wasn't scheduled to teach for the studio.  To his surprise, his boss shrugged his shoulders and said okay. Rick was stunned.  Did his boss not understand the implications?  His boss had just given Rick permission to create his own personal dance program under his boss' own roof. 

A year later Rick approached yet another important adult education program known as "Leisure Learning". Now more students began flooding in.  This created a curious situation where Rick was sometimes working for Stevens of Hollywood and sometimes working for himself.  As Rick's own dance program began to expand, this would lead to a lot of friction down the road. 


The Chameleon

1978 was definitely a busy year.  Unfortunately, working two full-time jobs day and night for an entire year had taken its toll.  Rick was on the edge of exhaustion. 

n January 1979, Rick quit his social work job to begin teaching Disco dance for a living. To his shock and dismay, just months after Rick quit the social work job, Disco clubs began to disappear in Houston faster than the dinosaurs.  Houston's Disco clubs were changing their stripes to get ready for Urban Cowboy, the next big Travolta dance movie.

This was not a welcome development.  Disco dancing was the only thing Rick knew how to teach. So much for job security!  Plus Rick was not a fan of western music.  Nevertheless, Rick was certain he did not want to go back to investigating child abuse.  So, despite some serious reluctance, Rick swallowed his pride and forced himself to learn how to western dance. 

a quick fashion change, Rick was back in business as a western instructor in the latter part of 1979.  To his surprise, the dancing turned out to be a lot more fun than he had expected. Along the way, Rick helped develop an emerging dance he called "Western Swing".

After an argument with his boss at Stevens of Hollywood in October 1980, Rick was told to move out.  By fortunate coincidence (there's that word again), Rick's dance instructor Glen Hunsucker had just moved his jazz program known as Dance Arts Unlimited to a new location in Bellaire.  Glen offered to sublet a couple of rooms in the back of his Bissonnet location.

This turned out to be a good relationship for everyone concerned.  Since the two dance programs were vastly different, there was none of the friction that had existed at Stevens of Hollywood where Rick had been competing with his own boss for students.  


The Birth of SSQQ

Rick was now his own boss.  Taking advantage of the freedom, Rick continued to build his dance program.  In 1982, thanks to a funny incident involving a night of dancing at the Winchester Club, Rick's program acquired its unusual name SSQQ - Slow Slow Quick Quick.

The next several years saw Rick's development as a complete dancer.  Rick was determined to learn all the social dances just in case Western suddenly disappeared like Disco had done.

Under the tutelage of his long-time instructor Glen, Rick received training in all the Ballroom dances - Waltz, Tango, Swing, Rumba, Samba, Foxtrot, and Samba.  Rick also honed his skills at the Whip, his new favorite dance (now referred to as "West Coast Swing").

What was special about this time were the first signs of an emerging "Community".  Right from the beginning, Rick had noticed that most of his students were drawn to dance for the exact same reason as himself - the chance to meet people.  With this in mind, Rick made it a point to promise his students a trip to a dance club as often as possible.  This was like offering water to a thirsty man.  His students absolutely jumped at the offer.  That is when he realized that many of his students were intimidated about visiting a club on their own.  His offer to escort a group of people was exactly the opportunity they had hoped for. 

Rick realized that his job didn't stop at the end of dance class.  In the beginning, 1978, it had been the Disco clubs.  By 1981, his ritual had changed to events in Western clubs like the popular "Winchester Night" where crowds of 100 people quickly became the norm.

Rick realized his students appreciated his willingness to organize social activities.  This gave the students a chance to use their newly-acquired dance skills to meet people in a friendly, less threatening manner than just showing up at some bar not knowing anyone.

At this point, Rick became aware he was not just a dance teacher, but a Social Worker as well.  At least now he was finally accomplishing something.  It was a proud moment.


The Golden Era of SSQQ

Thanks to all this energy, yes, of course, there were romances at SSQQ.  Lots of them!  Rick developed a favorite phrase: "Slow Dance leads to Romance."

The romantic feature was easy to predict, but Rick was surprised to see the dance students develop many friendships as well.  This after-class dancing was doing a lot more than simply leading to dating opportunities.  These nights of dancing created an entire social network!

Many students continued to take dance lessons as much to see their friends on a regular basis as to learn to dance.  Taking the next level of dance class meant hanging out with the gang.   Not only did students take class after class, they talked their friends into coming too. This "community" was not only good for the soul, it was good for business as well.  The studio just kept growing. It was a pretty wonderful sight to see.

By 1982, it was pretty obvious that Rick's little dance program had become something special.  The question of survival was no longer an issue.  SSQQ was here to stay. The only question now was just how far the studio would go.  The Eighties saw SSQQ grow by leaps and bounds.  The entire decade was the Golden Era of SSQQ.

At this point, Rick was able to take a step back and smile. His social work instincts had been there all along.  Unfortunately there had been some wrong turns along the way - the failed attempt to become a therapist as well as the hopeless job trying to protect children from neglectful and dangerous parents.  Rick's desire to work with people had finally found the right target - running a dance studio was the fulfillment of his dream to contribute. 


The Nineties

The Nineties were okay, but nowhere near the success the Eighties had been.  The fall-off was clearly Rick's responsibility.  The success of SSQQ was dependent on Rick's willingness to organize activities and act as host.  Something as basic as the energy of after-class Practice Night rose and fell depending on how much Rick was willing to dance with his students and encourage people to participate.  The more involved Rick got at Practice Night, the longer the energy stayed high.

The problem was that Rick was starting to burn out.  As the Nineties began, he was a twelve year veteran. The enthusiasm for dancing with every woman at Practice Night had once been there, but too many trips around the dance floor had robbed him of the necessary desire.  It was getting old.  Just like championship sports teams begin to lose some of their fight after years of success, Rick began to withdraw from his longtime role as "Leader of the Pack". 

Rick's major problem was an intense loneliness.  Rick lived an "Opposite Lifestyle".  While his friends were at work during the day, Rick sat at home reading newspapers and having a late breakfast.  When his friends from the studio would meet to have fun at night, Rick would usually be working. His six night a week job kept him from joining them.

Furthermore Rick was angry that his "Opposite Lifestyle" doomed several very promising relationships.  The problem was lack of sleep.  A new girlfriend might be willing to wait for Rick to get off work at 10:30 pm in the beginning of a relationship, but a year of going to work the next day with three or four hours of sleep took its toll.  

Another major problem was kids.  Rick wanted to be a father at some point, but the forty-something women he was attracted to were done having children.  Several relationships ended simply because Rick had to start looking again for a woman willing to have children.

The frustration mounted.  Finally, in 1990, Judy, one of Rick's instructors, said she not only wanted children as well, she was willing to quit her regular job and join Rick at SSQQ on a full-time basis.  It was a pretty tempting offer. 

Judy and Rick had a child, Samantha, in 1991.  This was wonderful news. 

The marriage had many positive aspects and a few negative ones as well. On the positive side, Judy was a doting mother who gave her daughter plenty of encouragement and love. 

Judy was also very good for the studio.  She ran the business side efficiently and found time to develop lucrative new programs like Swing, Zydeco, Lindy, Nightclub and Salsa.

Unfortunately Judy was a loner, a real handicap in a business based on socializing.  Judy preferred to spend her free time with the family.  Instead of Saturday Night out dancing with a group from the studio, Saturday was usually dinner and a movie for Rick, Judy and Sam. 

The social program at SSQQ began to taper.  Leadership is important when people need a push.  Over the years, Rick would see a party without energy and immediately kick-start it into action.  He would do this by asking a lady to dance, then challenge the bystanders to get out there on the floor and join him.  One by one, the floor would fill up.  Pretty soon, the energy on the floor would be high enough that the couch potatoes would get off their backsides and begin to dance as well.  What people didn't understand, however, was that it gets tiresome night after night overcoming people's resistance with persistence.

In the Nineties, the studio stopped being fun for Rick.  Running the studio had turned into a job.  Rick's days as "Leader of the Pack" dwindled dramatically.  Increasingly, Rick showed up to teach dance class and chose not to stay for Practice Night unless he was scheduled to do so.  No more dancing beyond the call of duty.  With that lame attitude, sure enough, over time, the momentum at SSQQ began to diminish.  There was a stretch of about eight years where the studio was still good, but it wasn't nearly as great as it had been in the Eighties.



The Swing Kids Start the Comeback

Swing Dancing hit the country big in 1998. Thanks to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and the Gap Jeans Commercial, Swing Dancing became the first major dance development since Urban Cowboy back in the early Eighties. 

Now the energy at the studio began to bounce back.  SSQQ began to buzz like it had in the Eighties.  However Rick was still in his backseat mode. 

Fortunately, thanks to Swing Dancing, the energy grew so hot at SSQQ that Rick's diminished interest in dancing with students after class no longer mattered.  People were so excited about Swing Dancing that they certainly didn't need Rick's encouragement to get out on the floor. 

Swing Dancing filled the studio to the brim with students.  The early part of the Nineties had been a lean time for the studio.  Now that SSQQ was suddenly profitable again, SSQQ reinvested the money and installed a gorgeous $100,000 dance floor throughout the studio.


SSQQ Becomes Houston's Biggest Dance Studio

1998 was the year when SSQQ clearly became the biggest dance studio in Houston.

The combination of the Swing phenomenon and the beautiful new dance floor was potent.  Furthermore, SSQQ was the very first studio in Houston to have a website. People liked the convenience of getting a schedule so easily.  The addition of the popular new SSQQ website gave the studio the final boost it needed to reach the top. SSQQ was now the hottest name in town when it came to dancing. 

Oddly enough, Rick took a back seat during this exciting Swing Era at SSQQ. His wife Judy was so enthusiastic about Swing Dancing that it was easier to let her take the ball and run with it.  Instead, Rick began to write stories.  Rick noticed writing about dance events helped sell dance lessons.  At this point, he created the SSQQ Newsletter.  

There were problems in the marriage. Tensions created by some nasty politics in the Swing Dance community had created deep rifts in the marriage.  Unable to agree on the best way to fight back against lies and accusations, Rick and Judy began to drift apart. 

When Judy was at the studio with her Ballroom or Swing dancing, Rick stayed home with Samantha.  When Rick was at the studio with the other programs like Whip and Western dancing, Judy stayed home with Samantha. 

Rick began to use his new toy - the computer - to further distance himself.  Rick wrote story after story to help popularize the SSQQ web site.  This was good for the studio, but bad for the marriage.



Writing up a Storm

Rick's writing career began in 1998.  Thanks to a friendship he developed with a dance student named Gary Richardson, Rick bought his first computer in 1997.  Rick was intimidated by this complicated "Windows" stuff, so Gary was kind enough to actually train Rick how to use a modern computer during the day at his computer store. 

For an entire month - November 1997 - Rick would drop in for tutorials.  Gary would roll his eyes at how baffled Rick was, but patiently explain things till Rick finally got it. 

Shortly after Rick bought his computer, the Internet began to take off... another one of those curious coincidences.  Gary strongly recommended that Rick take advantage of this new phenomenon, so Rick established the SSQQ web site in late 1998. 

They say if you build it, people will come.  Wrong.  No one was visiting Rick's new web site.

Discouraged that so few people were visiting his new web site, Rick asked Gary what the problem was.  Gary said the problem was the lack of anything interesting to read or see.

Rick had just begun to use email at this point.  He noticed that many of his students were also beginning to use email for the first time themselves.  So Rick created an email list of his students, then began writing a weekly studio Newsletter and emailed it to them.  This might seem like an obvious move today, but it was a brand new idea back in 1998.

Now Rick had to find a way to make the newsletter interesting.  With this in mind, Rick began to write furiously in hopes that more people would find his website fun to visit.  The SSQQ Newsletter did the trick.  Now SSQQ students began flocking to the website.

The SSQQ Newsletter quickly became the newspaper of the Houston dance community.  People were able to use the SSQQ website on the Internet to keep track of upcoming dance parties and events.  Plus they enjoyed reading the entertaining gossip about people at the studio.  In particular they wanted to know about the latest engagement or wedding.

Pleased with the growing interest in his Newsletter and website, Rick was inspired to write even more.  He began to write articles about dancing.  Many articles were about his experiences in the dance world (Adventures of a Dance Teacher). 

Other articles gave advice (Advice to Men, Advice to Women).  There were articles on the History of Swing, the History of Whip, and the History of the Western Swing.  Rick wrote stories about his infamous Halloween Parties complete with thousands of pictures.  

Then Rick branched into areas other than dancing.  Among other things, Rick wrote a nine chapter article on the importance of protecting one's Reputation in the Internet age.  He wrote a story on the most dangerous roads in the world.  He wrote about the most famous pot farm in Tennessee. He wrote about faraway places like Dubai, the Louvre, and the Carnival of Venice.  He published the most popular logic puzzle on the Internet - The Einstein Puzzle.  For good measure, Rick added the Internet's most popular Christmas Puzzle as well.

Thanks to Rick's new writing career, SSQQ now had more information about dancing on the Internet than any other dance studio in America.  Since Rick's website had hit the Internet on the ground floor, there wasn't much competition out there to begin with.  No other dance studio was even remotely close to SSQQ in utilizing this powerful new marketing tool. 

Furthermore, all the initial traffic from his own dance students helped to give the ssqq website a ratings boost that brought it to the attention of Google.

Being first has a lot of advantages.  As a result, anyone from around the country - or the world for that matter - who typed a question about dancing into Google were funneled directly to ssqq.com.  Google was spreading the SSQQ website across the planet!!

SSQQ.com quickly became the Number One dance studio website in the world without any need whatsoever to purchase a top spot.  Thanks to the Internet, SSQQ was no longer simply the best known dance studio in Houston.  SSQQ was now the most famous dance studio in the country and the world!  It was amazing to watch. 

Thrilled with the success of his website, Rick continued to write and write and write.  And write some more.  You name it, Rick probably wrote about it.  However, just when Rick thought he had tapped out all the subjects to write about, to his great surprise, Rick found something new to write about - the SSQQ Cruise Trips.  Aha!  Now Rick was ready to really hit his stride!


The First SSQQ Cruise Writeup was Lots of Blank Space!

SSQQ took its first studio Cruise Trip in 1998.  30 people from the studio either flew or drove over to New Orleans to catch a cruise ship to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. 


At this point, Rick's marriage was in trouble.  Consequently on a personal level, Rick did not enjoy the trip very much.  However, when he returned home, he did sense an opportunity to write some interesting stories for the SSQQ Newsletter. 



The web site and the Newsletter were both brand new. 


Rick had only been using the web site for a month.  He did not understand much about web page design. 


Rick ran into a new problem.  He had way too many pictures, but not nearly enough to write about.



Rick noticed that whenever he added a picture from the trip to his page, there were vast areas of the blank space next to the picture... exactly like what the reader can observe now. 


Everywhere Rick looked, there was blank space. 


There were too many pictures and not enough copy. 


To his dismay, Rick had just discovered he had more pictures than stuff to talk about.


The only way Rick could see to fix the problem was to either make the print bolder or add empty spaces between the sentences.


Rick decided a better solution would be to add more copy to the story. 


But there just wasn't that much to write about. 

Then Rick had an idea.  Why not make stuff up?  That would be one way to add more copy next to each picture.

So that's exactly what he did. Thanks to Rick's imagination, more disasters visited this 1998 cruise than Homer's Odyssey.

First there was Mr. Crocodile chasing Rick's 7 year old daughter Sam.  Oh, the poor girl!

Then there was that terrible hurricane and that twister.

Then there were pirates.

And then cruise ship hit an iceberg in the Caribbean and sank.  It didn't matter to Rick that there are no icebergs in the warm waters of the Caribbean. 

Immediately the trip became oh so much more interesting... although several people who actually went on the trip later asked how they could have missed all that excitement. 

And let us not forget Marty and the naked mermaids!!

"Oh, by the way, on Day Six of the 1998 Cruise Trip, Marty just happened to glance out the window of his cabin. 

Marty gasped when he saw a group of beautiful naked mermaids singing directly to him!  They were far away, but their voices were so enticing. The more he listened, the more convinced he was they were singing, "Oh, Come to me, Marty, Come to me!"

Marty was full of desire and rapture.  He had to embrace them!

Marty immediately ripped off his own clothing and rushed to the deck.  Marty was just about to jump off the ship when one of the ship's crew members tackled him at the railing.  It took four men, but they carried Marty kicking and screaming back to his cabin.  The steward was forced to lock the door for his own good.

After a night's sleep, the effects of those three bottles of Jamaican Rum finally wore off.  Thank goodness.  Marty returned to the same sweet guy we all knew and loved the next day. 

Nevertheless, we couldn't get Marty to shut up about the naked mermaids for the rest of the trip. 

Will you please give it a rest, Marty?  We are telling you for the last time, there were no naked mermaids!"

Rick was quite pleased with his discovery.  It became so much easier to think of things to write about when the truth was unimportant.

This epiphany marked the beginning of Rick's reputation for 'embellishment' on Travel writeups. 

Rick later learned how to design a web page correctly, but by then it was too late. 

Once Rick discovered how much fun it was to make stuff up, the cat was out of the bag. 

Rick saw any cruise trip as the perfect opportunity to write anything he wanted to regardless of whether any of it was true or not.

By the way, did you know our 1998 cruise ship crashed into the pier at the end of the trip?

How the people in our group managed to survive was an amazing miracle.


SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance

Over the Christmas Holidays 1999, Rick was working as usual on the ssqq web site.  Rick was upset because his various articles and Newsletter stories were scattered across his website in eight different spots.  It was time to get all the material organized. 

On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, Rick finished his project of collecting all his 1999 stories into one easy-to-locate spot.  Once all the stories were next to each other, Rick noticed there sure were a lot of weddings and engagements he had written about over the year.  Curious, he decided to total them all up. 1,2,3.... 10, 11, 12....16, 17, 18... 22, 23, 24.  Holy smokes! 

24 marriages and engagements in just one year!  Rick kept staring at this number in shock.  Rick had always known that SSQQ was good at helping people find romance, but he never had imagined the studio was this good!  This total was insane.  Rick could hardly believe his studio had helped 24 different couples find each other in just one year. 

Rick was thunderstruck. For the rest of their lives, these 24 couples would hold his dance studio in their thoughts as the place where it all started.  He got goose bumps all over. This was like God saying, "Rick, this is why you are here. This studio is your duty."

This realization carried the same importance as a religious awakening. Rick thought back over all the amazing coincidences and lucky breaks that had played such a huge role in the studio's early years.  Had there been a divine hand guiding the studio's destiny? 

Everyone wonders if there is more to this world than simply meets the eye. 

Perhaps this dance studio might have an importance that transcended dance lessons.

Whether he was doing God's work or not was a question Rick could not answer.  No angel had appeared in the night to reveal any particular Divine Plan. Nevertheless, at this moment Rick was proud to have created the dance studio.  His dance studio was serving a positive role in the Universe - creating friendships, bringing people together.  It was a very humbling and gratifying moment.

At this point, using the SSQQ Newsletter, Rick began to pay closer attention to his studio's unique ability to create relationships.  Throughout the coming decade, Rick carefully kept track of every wedding and every engagement.  Rick soon realized that 1999 was no aberration.  Every year for the next ten years, SSQQ averaged over two weddings and engagements a month!!  SSQQ was truly the home of Slow Dance and Romance

In 2006, Rick decided to tell the entire story about SSQQ's remarkable success. In an article titled the Matchmaker, Rick wrote a nine chapter story about the studio's role over the years in creating romances and marriages.


Sensational Salsa

In May 1999, Ricky Martin released "Living La Vida Loca".  In a pattern eerily reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever, Salsa Dancing came out of nowhere to take the country by storm.  First came Swing and now Salsa was even bigger! 

Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy had ignited dancing throughout America back to back in 1978 and 1980. Now for the second time in Rick's career, two huge dance movements had developed back to back. 

However, something was different.  Back in the days of Urban Cowboy, Western dancing had replaced Disco dancing.  Not this time.  Although Salsa did overtake Swing in Year 2000 as the most popular dance in America, Swing was still going strong. 

Rick had never encountered two overlapping dance fads before.  These twin dance movements skyrocketed SSQQ to even greater heights.  Enrollment averaged around 1,600 people a month.  2000 was easily the most prosperous year in studio history.

Unfortunately fame and fortune doesn't always bring happiness.  Salsa students came out of the woodwork.  The studio had no experience with crowd control since this had never been a problem before.  Now SSQQ was terribly over-crowded. Everyone blamed Rick for the problem. 

Quickly the complaints started rolling in.  Rick received some of the ugliest emails he had ever encountered.  Rick was accused of profiteering and showing little concern for his students.

These harsh words stung deeply, especially considering the problem had developed overnight.  What was Rick supposed to do, stand out at the door and personally tell people the rooms were too full and send them home?  Anybody who wanted a refund knew where the desk was.

Unfortunately there were no quick fixes. Rick did everything he could think of to alleviate the problem. He added more Salsa classes on different days.  Then he had his carpenter knock down fixed walls and build movable walls that could enlarge class room space.  Then he hired Hall Monitors to make sure people weren't sneaking into classes to make the problem worse than it already was.  Then Rick installed two new air-conditioning systems to alleviate the unbearable heat caused by the crowds. 

Everything Rick did eased the problem somewhat, but the main problem was not having a way to limit class sizes.  Since there were no rosters, Rick had no way of knowing how many people he had in each section.  It was time to create computerized class rosters.  Rick decided to re-invest $20,000 more of those Salsa profits to create Houston's first on-line registration system.  However, this kind of software was new.  It took time to write the code and test it. 

Meanwhile the classes stayed crowded and the student's patience with Rick wore thin.  Nothing he did seemed to make them happy. 

This was a very painful time.  Rick simply wasn't used to dealing with criticism this intense. 

The daily pressures of dealing with hot, overcrowded classes plus the constant student complaints about everything from lousy boy-girl ratios to not enough toilets was getting under his skin.  The studio had become a jungle.  The studio was supposed to be a place of fun and joy, but Rick was miserable on a daily basis thanks to volumes of negativity.

They say money doesn't guarantee happiness.  Sure enough, SSQQ was making all this money, but no one was enjoying it.  Meanwhile Rick's marriage grew more and more distant, thanks in large part to the stress from coping with all the business headaches.

By the time the year ended 2000, Rick's nerves were shattered.  Year 2000 had been both the best year in SSQQ history and the worst year in SSQQ history.  Yes, the studio made money hand over fist, but who could enjoy the success with all the complaining?

Rick's wife Judy was pretty miserable herself.  She was in the line of fire too.  The constant daily tension strained their ten-year marriage to the breaking point.  It just wasn't working any more.  In December 2000, Judy asked for a divorce. 

Rick and Judy agreed on joint custody of their daughter Samantha and parted amicably.  The divorce was final in May 2001.


Business Reputation

The On-Line Registration system did not actually solve the crowding problem.  Sorry to say, it was terrorism that did the trick.  9-11 put a fast end to all the Salsa-Swing energy in 2001.

For at least half a year, no one could care less about dancing.  That included Rick.  Not much is more important than dancing, but when faced with a tragedy like losing the Twin Towers, it is difficult to care about having fun. It took two years for the studio to regain its full momentum.

Fortunately, once SSQQ did regain its mojo, the On-Line Registration system and the Hall Monitor system worked in tandem to ensure the crowding problem was never repeated again.

SSQQ remained Houston's largest dance studio throughout the 2000s.  Being on top was good for the soul, but it also created a target.  SSQQ was criticized for one thing after another... mediocre instructors, low-quality classes, legions of "ex"-students, scores of "ex"-teachers. 

Rick took the time to answer every one of these complaints in a detailed article titled SSQQ Reputation

Although it is true that SSQQ had its critics and Rick Archer had his share of people who disagreed with his policies, one thing that was never questioned was the studio's integrity.

  1. No legitimate request for a refund was ever denied. 
  2. Any request for class credit was honored.
  3. Not one bill was ever left unpaid.
  4. No teacher was ever denied their salary or paid late.
  5. Only two instructors were ever fired... and one of them came back.
  6. There was never any hint of scandal, sexual harassment or strong-arm tactics.
  7. There were no complaints to the Better Business Bureau that Rick ever knew of.
  8. There was no hint of shady dealings such as soliciting dance students at other studios or bad-mouthing the reputation of other dance teachers or studios.
  9. All students were shown respect no matter what their race, religion, or sexual preference.

Throughout its tenure, SSQQ had a positive reputation as a safe, ethical, decent place that treated both its customers and its employees fairly.


One Door Closes; One Door Opens

Rick's divorce in 2001 brought profound changes to his life.  

In January 2001, Rick was invited on a ski trip with friends who had met at his studio back in the Eighties.  Tom Easley, a friend of Rick's from the happier days of the Eighties, knew Rick was feeling down and thought this trip might help. 

Tom was right.  Spending time with his friends from the Golden Age of SSQQ was a real shot in the arm.  Many of the people from this Eighties group had married within the group.  It gave Rick great satisfaction to realize that his studio had contributed so much to these people's lives. 

However, Rick also felt sad because the sense of "Community" that had led to these marriages had diminished in the Nineties due to his neglect.  Rick felt guilty that he had pretty much mailed in his effort throughout the Nineties.

Now that Rick could see first-hand all the good will that had come from SSQQ's powerful social network back in the Eighties, he was motivated to get the ball rolling again at his dance studio. 

With that in mind, Rick decided to schedule another cruise trip. 

This time he put his mind to it.  Using the SSQQ Newsletter, he had the perfect vehicle to advertise the trip.  In addition, Rick personally promoted the trip to everyone who seemed interested.

To his delight, 101 people signed up. It was good to see the energy flowing again.  Rick had finally returned to his natural role as "Leader of the Pack".



After the divorce, Rick wasn't ready to start dating again.  He did, however, develop a secret crush on a pretty girl named Marla in one of his dance classes.  His crush remained a secret once Rick discovered Marla had a steady boyfriend of six years.  Since Marla didn't give any hints her status was going to be changing any time soon, Rick kept his feelings to himself.

To Rick's consternation, Marla signed up for the 2001 dance cruise on her own.  No boyfriend, just Marla.  This added fire to Rick's suspicion that Marla's relationship wasn't nearly as strong as it had once been.  However, Marla never said anything to give an opening, so Rick finally decided to simply wait for the cruise to begin before signaling his interest.

To Rick's surprise and delight, on the first night of the trip he ran into Marla by chance at the stroke of midnight.  After some gentle probing, Rick discovered to his relief that his suspicions had been right all along.  Marla was taking this trip in defiance of a failing relationship. 

Now that the door was wide open, Rick and Marla danced and talked the night away.  By the time the sun rose, they were still talking. This had been quite a night. (Rick and Marla Meet)

Rick and Marla fell in love on the spot.  They were basically married from the moment they met on the ship.  Their romance continued effortlessly when the ship returned to Houston.  Bringing things full circle, Rick and Marla were "officially" married on their 2004 studio cruise trip.



The Start of the SSQQ Travel Club

During their many conversations on the 2001 Cruise, Rick discovered that Marla had a deep love of Travel.  As their relationship deepened, Rick began to toy with the idea of asking Marla to organize future SSQQ cruises herself.  Marla had excellent business instincts.  These dance cruises were such a natural fit for the studio.  Why let outsiders do it and keep the money? 

Marla was immediately intrigued.  After taking a day to think it over, Marla agreed to give it a try.  Marla's first effort was quite a success - the 2003 Jubilee Cruise Trip had 144 passengers! When I saw how many people had signed up, I knew a star was born. Marla was incredible.

In the following year 2004, Marla decided one cruise per year wasn't enough.  She came up with the idea of one dance cruise and one adventure cruise per year.  Her first adventure cruise - a trip to Mardi Gras - was such a hit that Marla knew her instinct was correct.

As the years passed, the dance studio visited one marvelous location after another - Mardi Gras, Alaska, New England, Hawaii, Greece, Turkey, Italy, northern France, southern France, Spain, Eastern Caribbean, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, and Egypt. 

During the 2000s, SSQQ took 20 cruises with 2,000 passengers.  SSQQ was able to transfer the group experience from land to sea.  As people traveled to distant shores together, they shared all kinds of special experiences.  Friendships deepened and a new sense of group identity formed.  Thanks to Marla, SSQQ students were dancing their way across the world.

SSQQ was not just a dance studio any more, it was now a Travel Club as well. The Travel experience served to create an even larger sense of community than had ever existed at the studio before.  A new Golden Era of SSQQ had been created.  We weren't just going to sail the Seven Seas, we were going to dance on water as well.


The Last Waltz

Alas, even in Paradise it sometimes rains.  SSQQ acquired a new landlord in 2004.  These were medical people whose future plans for the Bissonnet Center did not include SSQQ.  They made it clear there would be no new lease.  They coveted the studio's space for doctor offices. 

Thus the relationship between SSQQ and the plastic surgeons was doomed from the start.  Since the new landlord could care less about SSQQ renewing its lease, they didn't show much concern for the studio.

Almost immediately, the doctors took steps that eliminated over half of the studio's convenient parking space.  Now each night many students were forced to park anywhere from half a mile to a mile away.  Not surprisingly, the studio's attendance plummeted. Students even had their cars towed.

Then the landlord allowed the roof to leak for almost an entire year.

Rick was stuck.  His lease did not expire until 2010.  He was forced to watch helplessly as the landlord used their lawyer to back the studio into one corner after another.  His once-lucrative business was slowly being choked to death by parking loss and constant questionable raises in the rent. 

After four years of this contentious relationship, SSQQ ceased being profitable in 2008.  The final two years of the studio were break-even at best. It was not fun being poor.  It was not fun feeling subjugated.  Not fun at all.  So why not sue the landlord?  Stand up for your rights!

Rick considered fighting the doctors in court  However, his lawyer explained that Texas Law favors the landlord, not the tenant.  This standard lease was so vague that it could be interpreted in many different ways.  The same lease that had made Rick rich under a benevolent landlord during the Swing-Salsa Millennium Era was now being used to bleed the studio dry.

The lawyer said it would cost a fortune to sue with only a fair chance of winning.  The studio's case was no slam dunk.  Just paying the legal expenses would have removed any remaining profitability at the studio. Since the lease would expire in a few years, the lawyer advised against legal action.  Just roll with the punches and try to accept the situation. 

At this point, Rick threw in the towel.  What choice did he have?  Who can afford to fight the powerful?  Unable to improve the situation, Rick grew increasingly bitter during the remaining four years left on the lease.  

As the date for the end of the Bissonnet era loomed, Rick was faced with a difficult decision. 

Rick could see that although SSQQ was bruised from the Landlord struggles and the parking problems, SSQQ still had plenty of life in it. Fortunately the students had not been affected like Rick was.  Although Rick was infuriated by his treatment, the students were largely insulated from these problems.  As long as they didn't mind walking a ways, they were largely unaffected by the landlord problems.  They loved coming to SSQQ.  A new location with good parking would likely restore the program to profitability fairly quickly. 

Should Rick keep the studio and move it or should he hand it off to someone else?   SSQQ Dance Studio was his life's work.  It would be difficult to walk away from this achievement that he was so proud of.

Rick, however, was fed up. 

Six years of one losing battle after another with the landlord had taken a huge psychological toll.  Given the acrimonious relationship, Rick had no desire to put his head in another landlord-tenant noose.  The thought of signing another lease and possibly going through this nightmare again at age 60 was a chilling thought indeed.

There was another factor as well. Deep down inside, Rick felt a sense of completion with his studio.  Rick had given 33 years of his life to SSQQ.  Now there was nothing left to prove.  It was time for a new direction and new challenges. 

So, with a heavy heart, Rick decided the time had come to sell the studio and turn his attention to help Marla expand her well-received Travel Club. 

On April 24, 2010, Rick said goodbye to SSQQ Dance Studio at its Bissonnet location.  The Last Waltz Party was awesome, but sad as well.  Running SSQQ had been one long, marvelous experience.  But it was over now.  This was the end of an era.  



The Legacy of SSQQ

SSQQ was an amazing place.  During its remarkable 33 year run, close to half a million students took classes at SSQQ. This article has barely scratched the surface of the many touching and often humorous stories. You can imagine many interesting things took place.

SSQQ was considered a very unusual place by other people in the dance business because its approach to the dance studio business was so unique.  While other studios traditionally used private lessons, SSQQ was one of the first dance studios to emphasize a program based on "group dance lessons", a more economical way to learn to dance.

SSQQ proved this new business model could be very effective. The group lessons served to create an entire community of dancers. There was a marvelous side benefit as well - the true legacy of SSQQ in Rick's mind will always be the countless friendships and marriages created during the studio's tenure.  SSQQ started as a dance studio and grew into a Family. 

SSQQ demonstrated that dance and romance worked just as well on water as on land.  The Travel side of SSQQ became a popular extension of the studio's group energy.  Throughout the 2000s, the Travel program just kept growing.  For example, Marla set a new attendance record with 190 people signed up for her September 2010 Cruise to the Bahamas.  When it came to Travel, Marla had the golden touch.

No one can ever predict the future.  Fortunately, despite the sadness of losing SSQQ-Bissonnet, Rick has a strong hunch that the seeds are planted to ensure the Travel Family will be just as special as the dance studio once was.  Something as good as SSQQ deserves to continue, so surely the spirit of SSQQ will be along for every new adventure. 

Rick and Marla hope you will join them as they prepare to sail the Seven Seas.  And dance on them too.





Other Interesting Articles on the SSQQ Web Site

SSQQ Dance Studio is similar to this article, but goes into much more detail on several of the events.

Risky Business (not quite yet finished, but almost) covers the incredible roller coaster days of Rick's first few years as a dance teacher.

The Dance Curse covers the odd and often quite humorous incidents that led Rick to wonder if he was actually jinxed when it came to dance contests and performances.

Maria Ballantyne is the story of Rick's Senior Year in high school and the curious incident that snapped him out of a deep depression.

No story about Rick Archer will ever be complete without reading the Tales of the SSQQ Halloween Party.

A lifelong love of the Whip is revealed in the SSQQ Sleazy Bar Party saga.

Rick had his share of business battles.  Here is one of the best. Or worst depending on your point of view.  MBA Refund Struggles.

Rick sometimes had a temper.  Temper Tantrum is the story of his biggest blowup.

How Rick met Marla is a great love story if you like mushy stuff.

The Matchmaker is a wonderful story that combines the ups and downs of Rick's career with a story about all the wonderful SSQQ marriages.

201 Nights is the story of how Rick used dance to recover his sanity.

Rick, Marla, Marissa, Glenn, and Sam - Christmas 2009 at Keystone

SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ