July 27, 2022–On a hot night in July something happened to me that hasn’t happened in at least a decade–I went to a dance and recognized a dozen people. More accurately, they recognized me.
I couldn’t cross the dance floor without being stopped three times to shake a hand or get a hug. The only place that happens anymore is in the HEB produce aisle.
The event was… well… it doesn’t really have a name. It was a “dance hall night” held at MarktPlatz in Fredericksburg. It was organized by three Hill Country residents: Darryl Whitworth, Jamey Vogel, and David Pedregon.
Anyone who frequented classic dance halls back before the hill country became “The Hill Country,” has had to notice the demise of this truly Texas form of entertainment.
In Fredericksburg, Pat’s Hall became a school, and Turner Hall burned down. The Longbranch in Kerrville became a different kind of hall, then a dealership, and countless others closed or stopped holding regular dances.
But even as many of the buildings known as dance halls outlived their roles or took on others, the concept of the “dance hall” lives on. That was the motivation behind this event, according to Whitworth.
“I’ve talked to several people tonight remembering when we went to dances with our parents,” he said in between tunes. “They brought a blanket so when the kids got tired, they put you under the table somewhere and you slept. That’s the culture that I grew up with here. And it’s one we don’t have ready access to anymore. When I was in high school and college, we drove to the Longbranch in Kerrville, or Ed’s River Palace in Johnson City. I met my wife at a dance hall in San Angelo.”
Jamey Vogel, another organizer, noticed the reaction of locals to Fredericksburg’s 175th Anniversary Pat’s Hall Night in May.
“On Monday morning, I texted the others and said, man, that was great. We’ve got to do that again. Because you looked around and saw nothing but familiar faces.”
While billed as a local event, Vogel and the others emphasized there is no anti-tourism sentiment at play.
“There is a sense by some here that we are losing our identity,” Vogel said. “It’s not a political statement. It’s just, let’s do something that folks who live here will enjoy coming to while promoting our culture that we’ve had for a long time. Everyone is welcome. No one asks for zip codes.”
For now, the organizers are covering any costs, including rental of the space and hiring of the band and sound crew. They do not charge admission, are not taking donations, and not bringing in vendors or sponsors. There are not even signs identifying the event.
“We’ve talked about holding one out in Stonewall, and maybe some Harper folk will get involved so we can have one out that way,” Vogel said. “It’s just to have a good time and a family event. That’s it.”
LaVerne Heiner, who lived in Austin but retired to where she was born and raised, was sitting in a lawn chair just enjoying the music.
“I like this event because it is something for the local people,” she said. “It’s so great to come downtown and see people you know. We don’t resent the tourists. They’re welcome to come, too!”
Visiting, listening to Texas tunes, venturing out to two-step–it all seemed to affirm the human need to congregate, to share stories, to move to music. To laugh, to lie, to exaggerate, to commiserate. It’s reassuring to realize there is still a place to do that, even if it lacks an oak dance floor and prop-up windows.
“You know, there’s got to be something that has the culture of a community, its heart and soul,” Whitworth said. “This was a chance for people to get together and do what they used to do when we were kids 30 and 40 years ago.”
Good to know there is still a little dance hall in all of us.
Details: Organizers plan to hold the next Dance Hall Night on Saturday evening, August 20, at the Adelsverein Halle on Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg. The Wagon Aces will play. The event is free and open to all. For information, look for the Fredericksburg Dance Hall Night group on Facebook.