Doing the Texas Shuffle

Sheathed in tin siding and steeped in Lone Star history, ramshackle Twin Sisters Dance Hall in Blanco is a folksy fold in the space-time continuum, a portal to an era when dance halls were common and honky-tonk was nightly.

In Schulenburg, Senglemann Hall dates to 1894. (Photograph by Julie Soffer)
In Schulenburg, Senglemann Hall dates to 1894. (Photograph by Julie Soffer)

More than a thousand dance halls once dotted Texas, most of them built by 19th-century German and Czech immigrants, but time has taken its toll. Urbanization, assimilation, and neglect have silenced all but 400 of these hubs, where jigs, jives, and waltzes once ruled. Twin Sisters, which opened in 1870, is among the oldest.

“A part of Texas dies every time a hall is lost,” says Deb Fleming, president of Texas Dance Hall Preservation, an organization dedicated to saving the spaces that stir Saturday night fevers.

What can visitors expect in these two-step temples where polka still pulsates? Cheer, beer, double shuffles, and a musical mix that melds Irish and African-American fiddle ditties, Willie Nelson warbles, Mexican-inflected guitarrón songs, and Texas-style country and western.

“The history of American music is ingrained in the very fiber of these buildings,” says Fleming. If these age-old floors, dusted with cornmeal to enhance dance, could speak, they might just yodel.

Where to Boot Scoot:

Some dance barns swing nightly, others fox-trot infrequently; check online to plan your boogie nights at these haunts: Luckenbach Dance Hall in FredericksburgGruene Hall in New BraunfelsQuihi Gun Club and Dance Hall in HondoSengelmann Hall in Schulenburg, and, naturally, the Twin Sisters in Blanco.

This piece, written by George W. Stone, first appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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