The Texas Dance Hall Tour, a dance event showcasing the beloved music of Asleep at the Wheel and other Texan tunes, returns to DFW Thursday, June 12 through Sunday, June 16. Stopping at four one-of-a-kind dance halls in Dallas and Fort Worth, the tour highlights the historic buildings that represent Texas’ musical and cultural heritage. Ticket proceeds go towards Texas Dance Hall Preservation, an organization whose goal is–you guessed it–to preserve and uplift the remaining dance halls scattered around the Lone Star State.
A century ago, these dance halls thrived. Texas saw as many as 1,000 built over the years, according to TDHP. Fast forward two or three generations to the present day, and the number drops below 400. A variety of factors are to blame, from the youth’s ever-changing (and questionable) taste in entertainment, to lack of funding, to urbanization. Broadly speaking, some communities around these dance halls do not feel as connected to them as they might have decades ago. If you’re like me–a 20-something who grew up in the city–there’s a chance you’ve never even heard a dance hall, let alone stepped foot in one. However, if you take the time to visit one of these historic locations, you might just be surprised by what it has to offer.
TDHP Executive Director Deb Flemming’s love and appreciation for dance halls began with one fateful visit to Panna Maria, southeast of her native San Antonio. A couple of family names in hand and a quick look through the hall’s genealogical records yielded an amazing discovery. Her great-great-grandparents were one of the original settlers of Panna Maria that came directly from Silesia (southwest Poland) through Dallas to settle in Panna Maria in 1855. Flemming was connected to dance halls in a way she never could have imagined.
“It made me wonder how many other people were like me, multigenerational Texans who really didn’t know that they had a connection to a community that had a dance hall at one time or might still have a dance hall that has Central/Eastern European ancestry,” Flemming says. “Aside from the building and the history of the building, it’s really about the people that are in that community that grew up in those halls or their family grew up in those halls, and what it means to them.”
From this perspective, the preservation of Texas dance halls goes beyond the building’s brick and mortar and extends to the country twangs played within it, and, even more so, the identities of the people whose spry boots scuff its wooden floors. This idea is what pushes people like Deb Flemming and musicians like Ray Benson to support and preserve Texas music and its history.
“These halls are one of a kind, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. So, we are just trying to draw awareness to these great halls and hope that folks keep supporting them so that young bands and traditional bands have a place to play for generations to come,” says Ray Benson, Asleep at the Wheel’s lead guitarist and vocalist.
Texas dance halls are rich in history. What better way to celebrate this than to use the halls for their intended purpose? No, you don’t need to be a two-step wizard to enjoy the festivities. In fact, you don’t need to know how to dance at all. Just grab a cold beer and bop to the beat (with confidence, ideally). When in doubt, think of these parting words of wisdom from Benson himself: “If you dance, you got a chance!”
The Thursday, June 13 event at Sons of Hermann Hall and the Sunday, June 16 event at Longhorn Ballroom are only open to Lifetime members of TDHP. The events on Friday, June 14 at The National Hall of Fort Worth, and on Saturday, June 15 at The Stagecoach Ballroom are open to everyone, with tickets starting at $30.