Texas Dance Halls Subject of New Book

A new book captures the sights, sounds and history of 18 Texas dance halls.

Dance halls have been a part of the Texas landscape for more than a century. While the music and the dance steps change with the years, the halls remain remarkably the same, the center of community life in many a small Texas town.

Author Gail Folkins and photographer J. Marcus Weekley capture the sights, sounds and history of 18 of these establishments in "Texas Dance Halls: A two-Step Circuit" published by Texas Tech University Press. This book is not just about the music and the dancers – it also celebrates the men and women, some of them third generation dance hall operators, who keep the dance hall doors open.

Folkins, a journalist and creative writing teacher, draws on her personal observations as the wife of one of the boys in the band. Her husband, John, is a bass player.

"I would go along with John on the weekends and I really liked the sense of history and place I found in the dance halls," said Folkins. "Many dance halls were founded as places for working men to bring their families and relax and enjoy good music, specially in German and Czech communities. By that definition, the dance halls are still used today the same way as places for people to bring their entire families and have a good time. "

The book began as a single profile on a singer Folkins’ husband worked with. "Once I wrote that piece I realized that the place was so intertwined with the personality profile, that it made me think there were more stories to tell of people and of the buildings themselves."

To illustrate her book, Folkins turned to photographer J. Marcus Weekley. The two had known each other during their days working on master’s degrees in Texas Tech’s creative writing program. For Weekley, who is also a poet and writer, he found that the assignment changed his view of the Texas dance hall.

"I had never been to a dance hall in my life," he said. "I thought there’s going to be cowboys and beer and country music. That was way wrong."

From thinking he would just try to take pretty pictures, Weekley found himself looking at each building in a very different way.

"I looked for what was individual about each hall what made it different. I tried to capture the spirit of the place," he said.

Whether it’s the fabled Luckenbach Dance Hall west of Austin, to the Czech heritage of the KJT in Fayette County, south of LaGrange, or mingling with the very modern tourists on the dance floor of Austin’s Broken Spoke, Folkins and Weekley bring alive the sound of boots moving across a sawdust-covered floor, the ghosts of dancers past and the down-home future of a Texas institution.

For more information or a review copy of "Texas Dance Halls: A two-Step Circuit," contact Barbara Brannon, marketing manager, Texas Tech University Press, (806) 742-2982 or barbara.brannon@ttu.edu.