What Happened to the Old Texas Dance Halls?
It used to be that if you lived deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Friday nights were spent two-steppin’ the night away at the local dance hall. Don’t tell the pastor, but in the mid-1900s, dance halls were the heart of a rural town’s social life. When the evening came and the chores were done, folks would put on their finest dresses, polish their boots, and head to the local dance hall to step lively on the wooden dance floor to whatever song and whichever band happened to be playing. As fiddle and steel guitar filled the room, people would come together and dance, polishing the floor with their boots as they twirled by.
As Texas Monthly writes, dance halls were a family affair: “Families would ride in for Saturday night dances, bed down under trees afterward, then attend church the next morning.” Those Saturday nights were spent as a family and as a community: mamas would bring out their packed suppers and catch up on the town news; children would dash through the halls; and grandparents keeping a watchful eye on curious teens partnering up for their first spin across the dance floor.
WATCH: Dances Every Southerner Should Know
The oldest Texas dance halls date to the late 1800s, a tradition brought to the newly-formed state by the German and Czech immigrants who had come over to work the Texas dirt. By the mid-1900s there were hundreds of the clapboard dance halls spread out across the Lone Star state. While the Germans and Czechs made good use of the halls, teaching the next generation their traditions, eventually country music won out. Soon the dance halls became the place to see the next big country music act.
As time rolled on though, particularly in the past thirty years, the allure of dance halls faded. People didn’t want to spend their Saturday nights dancing, especially with their families. Teens didn’t want to test the waters dating while their parents watched from a few feet away. Farmers and ranchers started moving to the cities for different kinds of work. The advent of modern entertainment like movies and television and, now, Netflix also helped hasten the demise of dance halls.
Over the years, many of the old dance halls burned down or were destroyed, and even more have been converted for new uses. Now, the nonprofit group, Texas Dance Hall Preservation is working to save those that remain. They have worked to get the still-standing dance halls on to the National Register of Historic Places, preserving those illustrious old dance halls, as well as the music and culture they helped create, for future generations.
Luckily, there are a few good dance halls still standing. New Braunfels’s Gruene Hall lays claim to the title of Texas’s oldest dance hall that is still operating. It opened its doors way back in 1878 for weekly dances, high school graduations, and, oddly enough, badger fights. Since then artists like Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, George Strait and Lyle Lovett have played the now-historic stage.
Other dance hall options include, Kendalia Halle, in Kendalia, Texas, which was built in 1903 and still hosts dances; Twin Sisters Dance Hall in Blanco, Texas, which dates back to 1879; Schroeder Hall the self-proclaimed second-oldest dance hall in Texas; John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes; and the monthly dances held in Luckenbach, Texas, the town made famous by Waylon Jennings.
As The Texanist wrote over at Texas Monthly, if you “have never twirled a partner across a dance hall floor are missing out on one of the great Texas traditions” and every Southerner should try it one. If dancing isn’t your cup of sweet tea, well, you can always stay in and watch the dancehall documentary, Dance Hall Days, on the TV instead of twirling the night away under the lights.