Polka in Texas

Polka In Texas

Polka music and dance is alive and well in Texas, providing entertainment, fun and exercise for a large group of enthusiasts.  Here’s some basic information on the popular music and dance that is an important part of Texas culture.

How it got here:     Polka music and dance came to Texas with the immigrants from eastern Europe, principally the Czech, German and Polish cultures.  The dance is believed to have originated in Prague (Czechoslovakia) about 1830 (see History) and became popular in Europe throughout the mid-1800’s.  This set the stage for waves of immigrants to bring it to Texas.  Most of the immigrants entered by the ports of Galveston or Indianola (which was later wiped out by hurricane and never rebuilt).  They came in search of a new life, clearing and breaking the Texas land to establish their homesteads and farms.  Let’s take a quick look at the three principal polka cultures in Texas.

Czech:     A large Czech population exists in Texas, the descendents of immigrants who settled the rich farm lands in the central regions of the state.  They brought with them their love of music in general, and polka in particular.  Soon they were gathering together, forming organizations such as SPJST, Sokol and KJT.  These organizations helped to maintain their heritage while also providing socialization, insurance, and promotion of strong minds and bodies (Sokol).  These organizations (and the halls that they built) became natural venues for dances, providing a forum for preserving and advancing polka music and dance.  The Czechs were largely Catholic and the church communities they established were important to polka preservation.  The Czech influence is great along the I-10 corridor connecting Houston and Seguin, stretching north to Dallas and south to Victoria.  The Czech culture still dominates polka music in Texas.  Of course, they are also responsible for kolaches.

German:    One story has it that the German immigrants trekked across country from Indianola until they reached New Braunfels.  Spotting the Spanish moss on the trees along the Guadalupe River, they took if for sauerkraut and stayed!  Actually, the hard working German immigrants settled throughout central Texas, establish communities alongside the Czechs but also settling German centers like Fredericksburg.  New Braunfels remains a center for German-heritage polka music.  Like their Czechs neighbors, the Germans banded together for their common good.  They formed “Vereins” (associations) to promote their general welfare, including learning how to farm successfully and live in their New World.  These Vereins also became centers for the preservation of polka music.  German artisans built a number of interesting dance halls around the state, including the unique 8 and 12 sided halls constructed by Joachim Hintz.

Polish:   Poles also came to Texas, bringing their particular style of polka music and dance to an area to the northwest of Houston, primarily Washington, Grimes and Burleson counties.  The Poles also formed local organizations, allying themselves with the Polish National Alliance (PNA) nationwide.  Polish halls developed in some locations, but the music was preserved mainly within the families, playing a major role in events such as weddings and anniversaries.  While the accordion ultimately emerged as the lead instrument for Czech and German polka, the fiddle remained a centerpiece in Polish music.

Costumes:   The three primary polka cultures in Texas also brought with them their traditional costumes, a part of their heritage.  These costumes are sometimes seen at major festivals and dances, helping to keep the traditions and the ethnic folk dances alive.

Polka Bands in Texas:   There are at least 50 polka bands in Texas, perhaps more.  The majority is Czech-heritage, and these bands exist throughout the geographical area described earlier.  Most of the German bands are centered in the New Braunfels area.  One band preserves Polish music (Brian Marshall & The Texas Slavic Playboys).  The Sound Connection from Houston represents Slovenian music. 

Polka Publications in Texas:

 The Texas Polka News is one of the premier polka newspapers in the nation.  This monthly publication reaches a targeted audience throughout Texas and in every state.  It features interesting articles about polka music and dancing, Texas and U.S. dance calendars, advertisements, human-interest stories, and much more.

 Polka Notes is the newsletter of the Texas Chapter of the Polka Lovers Klub of America (Po.L.K. of A.).  It summarizes the activities of Texas Chapter I, and includes a Texas dance calendar prepared as a joint project with The Texas Polka News.

Polka Organizations:

Polka Lovers Klub of America (Po.L.K. of A.):   The Texas Po.L.K. of A., with about 800 members in Chapter I and another 150 in Chapter II (north Texas), is one of the most active state organizations of the nationwide Klub.  Activities have included dance groups, a choral group, participation in parades, performances at nursing homes, plus general support of polka dancing and music.  A newsletter for Chapter I (Polka Notes) holds it all together. For information, call 361-578-1027 or 281-452-4174 (Chapter I).

Festivals: 

            Festivals are fun, and great places to polka.  Here are a few of the biggest in Texas, in chronological order.

Czech Heritage Festival in Corpus Christi: Usually in February at the Sokol Hall, with 10-12 hours of music and dance, food, Czech imports and arts and crafts.  Call 361-992-2126

Hallettsville Polka and Sausage Fest:
  Three days, last weekend of March.  A very popular event with winter Texans, the Hallettsville Sausage Festival takes place at the KC Hall in late March.  The KCs maintain an excellent web site at http://www.kchall.com  

Tomball German Heritage Festival (usually March) and Christmas Festival (December):  Street festivals celebrating the German heritage of the Tomball area.  Music and dancing, folk dancers, food, beer, and more.  Info  281-379-6844.

National Polka Festival in Ennis: Three days every Memorial Day weekend in this Czech-heritage town south of Dallas.  Dancing in three halls (SPJST, Sokol and KC Halls), parades, much more.  See www.nationalpolkafestival.com.

  Night in Old Fredericksburg:  A two-day festival in June with music and dancing on the city market square.  See www.nightinoldfredericksburg.com.  

 Kolache-Klobase Festival in East Bernard: One day the second Saturday of June in the historic Riverside Hall.  Czech flavor, sponsored by the KJT Lodge.  Food, arts and crafts.  Kolaches!  See www.kkfest.com        

Westfest in West: Two big days in the little Czech heritage town of West (between Waco and Dallas), every Labor Day weekend.  Fun for the entire family.  One of the good ones!  See  www.westfest.com.  

Kolache Festival in Caldwell: The second Saturday in September in this Czech-heritage “Kolache Capital of Texas.”  A celebration of the Czech culture and heritage in Texas.   www.burlesoncountytx.com  

Victoria County Czech Heritage Festival: Fourth Sunday of October in the Victoria Community Center.  www.victoriaczechs.org  

Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg: Three days on the first weekend of October in this picturesque, hill country German-heritage city.  All the fun of Oktoberfest with several dance venues in the Downtown Market Square.  See www.oktoberfestinfbg.com.  Call 866-839-3378.  

Wurstfest in New Braunfels: The biggest!  Ten days including the first two weekends in November, at the Wurstfest grounds in this beautiful German-heritage city.  German Oktoberfest flavor, national and local bands.  1-800-221-4369 or www.wurstfest.com.

Dances:

         Significant dances throughout the year include the following.  There are many others, and you can find them all in the Texas Calendar of The Texas Polka News.

  • Houston SPJST #88:  dances almost every Saturday night (mix of polka, big band, western swing), and some Sunday special dances. 
  • El Campo KC Polka Fest:  Polka fest in late January
  • Hallettsville KC Hall Dances: Falling Leaves dance in October
  • Sealy KC Hall Dances: June every year, two days at the KC Hall
  • Sweet Home Community Center:  Dances almost every weekend.  Mix of polka and country
  • Elgin SPJST Hall:  Sunday afternoon dances once/twice per month. 
Church Picnics:

Church picnics are a blast and great places for polka in Texas.  Church picnics are a gathering of the parish and the public for fun and funds, with food, beer, games, arts and crafts, auctions, raffles, and of course, music and dance.  Church picnics begin in April and last through October.  Admission is usually free, and the dancing is sometimes inside, sometimes out.  Where can you find out about these events?  Why, in the Texas Polka News, of course!

Dance Clubs: 

There are at least seven significant dance clubs in Texas with dances open to the public.  These dance clubs are helping to promote and preserve polka music and dance.   Memberships are very reasonable, and you attend only the dances that you choose. 

The Wallis Dance Club is doing its part with dances on the third Saturday of the month in the Wallis American Legion Hall.  This Club has also been dancing since the 1950’s, and has over 100 members.  For information call Steve Muzny at 979-478-2494.

The Goodtime Polka & Waltz Dance Club dances are held at the Eagles Hall at 257 E. South St in New Braunfels.  For info call Diane at 830-620-6787 or e-mail diane_moltz@yahoo.com.

The Happy Cousins Dance Club dances monthly in the Rosenberg American Legion Hall.  They do a mix of country and polka on the second Saturday of the month, on that great dance floor in the Legion Hall.  The Club has more than 100 members.  For info, call Norbert Scotka at 281-342-2785.  

 The Sealy Dance Club dances the first Saturday of the month at the American Legion Hall in Sealy.  Each dance has a theme, and free snacks are served.  Good wood dance floor.  All couples and singles welcome.   For information call Robert Galabeas 832-289-7175 or Waddel Brandes 979-885-3489.

 The Modern Dance Club #90 dances six times per year at the historic Turner Hall in Old Pearl City, near Yoakum, on Saturday nights, 8-12 p.m.   Mostly country, some polka and big band.  Info Gwen Petersen at 936-894-2804.

The Top Cats Dance Club of Brenham has four dances at the Industry Firemen's Hall.  Dances are on Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m.  The music is polka, waltz and country.  Guests are always welcome.   Info Shirley Kell e-mail: shirleykell@yahoo.net

The Cen-Tex Dance Club dances monthly on the first Sunday afternoon in the Crawford Community Center 4:30-7:30 p.m.  Call Kimberly Browne 254-7092417.

The DaCosta, “Polka and Waltz Dance Club” has been making dances happen for over 45 years!  The Club dances at the Hermann Sons Hall in DaCosta.
  Call 361-782-0284.

 

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FEATURE ARTICLES FROM THE TEXAS POLKA NEWS  

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Brian Marshall Discusses Polish Music in Texas

 (Editors note:  Brian Marshall, popular Polish fiddle player and bandleader in Texas, has done much to document and preserve Polish music in Texas.  The following article first appeared in Texas Polka News several years ago.  For more information on Polish music in Texas, call Brian at 281-351-0447).

 There are over 50,000 people of Polish descent in the Houston and surrounding areas.  As a Texan of Polish descent, I can add that Polish music has been an integral part of my appreciation of my Pol­ish heritage.  For many others, it may be their only link to their cultural past. 

 Many people are not aware that Polish music is or ever was alive in the Texas region.  Prior to 1980 there were only nine recordings in existence repre­senting the Texas Polish style.  Six cuts were by Steve Okonski who represented the Robertson County style; three others were by Randy and the Rockets with well-liked fiddler Pete Kwiatkowski who rep­resented the Washington County style.  But I jump ahead of myself.

 Polish settlers came to Texas as early as the mid-1800s and settled south of San Antonio in a village named Panna Maria.  I have no knowl­edge of the music from this area.  Twenty to thirty years later a much larger wave began arriving and es­tablished themselves in Texas areas that are now New Waverly, Stoneham, Anderson, Carlos, Brenham, Bremond, and Chappell Hill, to name a few.  Mostly of peasant stock, these immigrants had very few possessions.  They did bring their Catholic faith, culture and music.  In many ways the traditions have been lost, but they did well in maintaining their faith and their music. 

 The music has been passed down orally from generation to generation and this tradition continues today.  The music of these peasant Poles typically con­sisted of a fiddle, a bowed bass, and an occasional clarinet:  Later, gui­tars, drums, and accordions were introduced, though I'm sure the ac­cordion was a Czech influence as it was not accepted as a Polish instrument at the time of this Texas migration.

 Music was played at all weddings and family gatherings, and this tradition continues today.  Until recently, formal recordings of this music were not considered a neces­sity as it was not looked upon as a marketing tool.  Only when the tradi­tion started weakening did certain musicians take it upon themselves to "document" the age-old tunes.

 Two distinct styles of Polish music exist in Texas.  They reflect regional differences that came to America with the Polish settlers.  Poles in the Chappell Hill/Brenham area had a rhythmic sawing style that created strong rhythms while a more me­lodic sound dominated the Bremond area, the largest Polish settlement in Texas.

 Because of the distance and separation of Texas from the northern states, the instrumentation and sound of Polish music in Texas did not progress as it did in Chicago and New York.  In fact, many Texas Poles shunned the idea of horns in Texas Polish bands because they felt that it “Czechanized” the music.  That is not to say that Texas Poles did not enjoy and sup­port the dominant Czech sound found in Texas.  However it did depict people who were proud of their own unique heritage. 

 Over the past ten years, many recordings have been made that document the old tunes and represent the distinct styles that we have.  This has also introduced Texas Polish music to new generations, both Poles and non-Poles.  It should be noted that one would he hard pressed to find the traditional fiddle-driven style of Polish music that is enjoyed in Texas today, even if he or she were to travel to Poland in-search of it.  This is antiquated music representing a time that has passed, yet it lives on.  The tunes and musical style of Texas Polish music is unique.  Texas Polonia should be proud of their success in keeping this tradition alive for well over a hundred years!

 "Niech Zy Jie Popolsku Tradycia"

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Travelin’ Texas to Dance

     Texas is beautiful, and one of the side benefits of dancing is travelin’ Texas to see that beauty.  Often we are on tight schedules, and the trip to-from is routine. But sometimes, when we are doing an out-of-town weekend and staying over, there’s time to see the sights, and smell the roses.  That happened recently on a trip to dance at Luckenbach, Kendalia Halle and Anhalt on a Fri-Sat-Sun. 

    The trip from Houston to San Antonio on I-10 is one of our favorite drives.  I-10 is the “Polka Road” of myth and lore, leading to all the dance venues in the Czech and German heritage towns that lay on both sides of the interstate.  And I-10 is a pleasant and safe drive, with good scenery.  On this trip, the recent welcome (and long overdue) rains have turned the hills and grasslands green, and refilled the stock tanks.  It’s a great drive!    Getting through San Antonio at the peak of Friday night rush hour is an adventure.  The scenery changes but is still beautiful on the drive north on I-10 through Boerne to the little town of Comfort and our motel.

    The adventure continues as we start out for Luckenbach, searching for the connector to Ranch Road RR473, unaware that you can’t get to RR473 from I-10.  We take an alternative road to nowhere.  Once consulted, our GPS comes to the rescue, with the soothing voice of “Samantha” telling me how to get back to RR473.  By chance, the little one lane country road parallels the Guadalupe River, and the scenery in the evening twilight is a gorgeous (if unplanned) surprise.   Green fields.  Cattle and horses grazing.  Deer too.  A pastoral and restful setting.  Too soon we’re back on RR473, and the rest of the trip is only mildly spectacular!  We pull into Luckenbach in the twilight.

    With the dance over, it’s time to head back to the motel in Comfort.  Wanting to see something different, I consult Samantha first, who tries to take me back through Fredericksburg.  But that’s too easy, so I ask Samantha for an alternate route.  She complies, with a back road that even my Texas Atlas doesn’t dignify with a number.    We turn where instructed, onto a narrow, curving winding and hilly road, through beautiful wooded country, and a Wildlife Management Area.  The frequent bridges over the many creeks are narrow, all equipped with flood gauges, and without guard rails.  (A little reasoning explains the absence of guard rails.  They would plug with debris during the flash flooding on these creeks!)  There are no buildings or side roads.  We see deer by the dozens, out for their midnight meanders; we slow for each (even though we’re only going 25-30), concerned they may dart in front as we intrude on their domain.  In 13 scenic miles we make it back to RR473, and follow it back to Comfort (learning where it crosses under but does not connect with I-10.

      The adventure continues on Saturday as we drive to Fredericksburg to fill time.  We select a back road leading north from town, and encounter beautiful fields of green coastal bermuda hay, beef cattle, a wild turkey, and a pecan orchard shadowing a lush pasture with dozens of deer grazing peacefully.  We follow the road about 10 miles until it ends in a beautiful ranch.  We retrace the route, enjoying the “replay.”

      We drive the mains street of Fredericksburg, amazed by the throngs of walking tourists patrolling the streets and shops.  Not done yet, we drive to Kerrville, inspect that city, and drive up the switchback to one of the developed “ridges” with houses overlooking the entire valley.  Great view!  Then it’s time to return to the motel to prepare for the evening dance at historic Kendalia Hall.

      The 25 miles to Kendalia Hall on RR473 takes us through hill,  dale and curve in the fading twilight.  Deer are feeding everywhere, restricted only by the eight-foot “deer fences” erected by many landowners to keep their deer in and interlopers out.  The fences say, “the buck stops here!”   We make it to Kendalia for a great dance (see separate article).  But the trip home is not without adventure.  Leaving the hall I think I’m on RR473, but had actually parked on RR3351, so I’m on the wrong road.  I turn on the GPS and ask Samantha to get me back to Comfort.  She complies, directing me to a one-lane road that cuts across Comanche country.  She promises me that it will get me to RR473 in about five miles.  It does, but it’s one lane, pitch black (no moon) and the road has cattle guards about every half mile (private land?).  This concerns us a little, but it’s all part of the adventure!  Samantha delivers, and we are relieved to see a stop sign announcing that we are back to RR473.  The rest is routine beautiful scenery in the still of the night, no cars.  We stop, turn off the lights, and look at the stars in the jet black sky.  Stars that we never see in our city living!  It’s been a great adventure!

    All part of the pleasure while travelin’ Texas to dance!

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Let's Go To Luchenbach Texas....

“Let’s go to Luckenbach Texas, with Willie and Waylon and the boys…”

Yes folks, the place that Willie Nelson helped make famous with his song really does exist in the beautiful hill country of Texas near Fredericksburg, and they do indeed dance there!  So it’s high time that TPN brings you the story.  Luckenbach is a dance hall, country store, biergarten, and gathering place nestled alongside ranch Road RR1376, and it’s a happening!  The creation of local folklorist Hondo Crouch (who also has a joint in downtown Fredericksburg named Hondo’s), Luckenbach serves as a Mecca of sorts for both tourists and real Texans.  It lives up to its motto:  “Everybody is somebody in Luckenbach!”

The dance hall is quintessential Texas, with wood panel “windows” that prop open for the dances.  Fans help keep the dancers cool, and on this May evening the temperature is quite comfortable.  It has a great wood dance floor, adequately sized for the 10-15 dancing couples on this night.  The tables are sturdy wood.  Cold beer is available in the country store, hamburgers and such in the adjacent kitchen.  Music on this Friday evening is classical country and western swing, by Geronimo Trevino and his band.  Geronimo plays Luckenbach on a regular basis.  It’s great music, and great dancing, with occasional waltzes and polkas supplementing the two-steps. Texas A&M graduate Geronimo is also author of the book, “Dance Halls and Last Call,” documenting 114 old Texas dance halls.  He’s an interesting guy.

The non-dancers (including the bikers) hang out in the outside biergarten area.  People mosey through the country store with its eclectic display of Texas stuff, some of which is exactly what you have always needed.  It’s all part of the atmosphere.  If you haven’t danced at Luckenbach, you might still be a nobody.  But when you do, you’ll be a somebody.  Because everybody is somebody at Luckenbach!  Check out Luckenbach at www.luchenbacktexas.com.    Check out Geronimo Trevino at www.geronimotrevino.com.  Or just Google them both.

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Keeping the Kendalia Tradition

Good wood dance floor in a 106 year old structure filled with dancing history.  Friendly folk.  Good classic country music with waltzes and polkas added to the mix.  A beautiful setting in the Texas hill country northeast of Boerne.  The charm of a small Texas community carrying on its traditions.  Where can you find it?  In Kendalia, where the historic Kendalia Halle opens monthly on Saturday nights for its faithful and visitors from the outside world.  Never heard of it?  Well, that’s why you come to this web site!

Kendalia is a little community at the intersection of Ranch Road 473 and Hwy 3351.  Among its attributes is a general store (worth checking out), and the historic Kendalia Dance Halle.  The hall is a wood structure built in 1903 to serve the community as the Nicholas Syring Musical Club.  At one time there was a bowling alley, a barbershop and a cotton gin by the hall.  The hall was used for community activities, receptions and weddings, reunions and school plays.  

In the fashion of early Texas dance halls, the wood “windows” prop open to provide ventilation, aided by the overhead fans.  The hall is heated in the winter months.  The wood dance floor is very good, and easy on the legs as it “floats” on the supporting elevated joists.  The red fir wood used to build the hall was shipped from Oregon to Boerne, then by horse and wagon to Kendalia.  The inside walls have been paneled in knotty pine, giving a warm and clean look to the old structure, is spite of its tin roof.  Additional trusses have been added to the roof supporting system, and the structure appears sound and ready for another 100 years!

Kendalia Halle is operated by Lee and Judi Temple, who bought the Halle in 1993.  Judi is everywhere during the evening, tending to the business of operating a dance hall and providing the free BBQ from the outside grille.  The Temples keep the Halle well maintained, although it is definitely on the “rustic” side.  The inside decorations mounted on the paneled walls include the usual eclectic display of beer signs, old tools, deer heads, and even a large reproduction of the classic floating skirt photo of Marilyn Monroe.  It looks a little out of place, but who gets tired of looking at Marilyn?

Want more info about Kendalia Halle?  We’ll leave that up to you, as part of your continuing Texas education.  Check it out at www.kendaliahall.com.  And then do your own field trip!  Help keep the Kendalia tradition!   Aren’t you glad you live in Texas?

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Czech Folk Dancers of West

      You have seen them perform many times, perhaps most recently at Czhilispiel in Flatonia.  They’re the colorful, costumed, talented group of dancers from West, the little Czech heritage community 13 miles north of Waco.  Isn’t it time you learned a little more about this lively group who help keep alive the dances and costumes of their Czech heritage?

The Czechoslovakian Folk Dancers of West were organized in 1976 to preserve and perform the colorful dances of the Bohemian, Moravian, and Slovakian settlers of Texas.  The driving force behind the group is the team of Maggie and Ernest Grmela of West, who are also proprietors of Maggie’s Fabric Patch (see ad p. 7).

The Czech Folk Dancers of West currently consist of 20 adults, plus 18 third-generation dancers.  At least 30 more adults are “alumni” of the organization.  

The group currently performs about six times per year, matching their invitations with their own busy lives and family schedules.  But they practice weekly from January through October to develop their routines and stay sharp for performances.  Standing annual performances include the Folklife Festival in June, Westfest, the State Fair, and Fredericksburg Oktoberfest.

Maggie and Ernest developed the group to perform authentic Czech dances, and this remains part of the repertoire.  They have also added crowd-pleasing dances and music to enhance their program.  They work as a group to select their music and choreograph the dances.

The group has a repertoire that enables them to present tailor-made programs ranging from 20 to 45 minutes in length.  They have found, through the years, that audiences prefer shorter and peppier numbers and have adapted their program, taking bits and pieces from European and American steps, to develop what they refer as Texas-Czech dances.

Their colorful costumes are part of the show.  Maggie says, “When we started dancing 30 years ago, only a few of us had authentic Czech costumes.  We quickly found that the authentic costumes were not very suitable for the heat and humidity of Texas, so we developed what we call the Americanized version.  We design them according to the colors and styles of the authentic, and the taste of the individual.”  Maggie makes many of the costumes, although some members have mothers or family who help.

Their dance company is composed entirely of volunteers; they are a totally non-profit organization and cover expenses through festival reimbursements.

Maggie says their most memorable performance was in 1988 when they were invited to perform at the festival in Detva. The Czechoslovakian government was their host, and they were extremely proud to represent Texas and the United States, while performing with other groups from Australia, Poland, Canada, Yugoslavia and France.  In 1991 they were excited and pleased to perform at Disney World in Florida. 

But most of the time, they are right here in Texas, and have become part of our culture.  In helping to preserve their Czech heritage, Maggie & Ernest have helped shape the lives of over 50 young people.  In doing this, they have been building their own legacy, and a Texas tradition.  A tip of the TPN Stetson to Maggie & Ernest!

For more info, contact Maggie Grmela 254-826-5189 (e-mail mgrmela@wascool.net) or Melissa Sefcik 254-829-1573.

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Memories of Mraz Hall

       “Dreams don’t make noise when they die!”  So says Willie Nelson, in the Cindy Walker classic song, “Going Away Party.”  But Willie isn’t always right.  Sometimes dreams die loudly.

And so it was when the fabled Bill Mraz Ballroom in Houston fell to crackling flames on an early Sunday morning Oct. 24, amid the scream of sirens, the shouts of firemen, and cries of anguish.  Those cries came from the throats of a legion of dancing Texans who shared the dreams inspired by the hall over it’s forty years of public service.

Yes, the Bill Mraz Dance Hall is gone, along with its 9,600 square foot maple dance floor and all the irreplaceable memorabilia within.  The Hall, which opened in 1948 and operated 38 years creating a legend before being closed in 1986, was restored by the Mraz family and re-opened in 2002 after a 16-year shutdown. 

Its re-opening rekindled anew the memories of three generations of dancers.  The Hall was returning to glory until the accidental fire (believed to be caused by wiring) wrote the final flaming chapter for the historic structure.  It is a sad time!

To recover some of the nostalgia, let’s roll the clock back to May 2002 for the TPN coverage of the re-opening of the hall.

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       Music and laughter.  The sound of dancing shoes moving on the wood dance floor.  The background buzz of happy people talking, and the clinking of beverage containers.  Laughter.  Echoes from the past – alive again – in Houston’s fabled Bill Mraz Dance Hall.  What joyous sounds!

It all came back on March 16 at a St. Patrick’s Day Community Open House in the Mraz Dance Hall at 835 W. 34th St. in the Heights.  It was food, fun, music and dance.  It was memory time.  It was sweet nostalgia for many. 

Like Johnny and Helen Rybak, who met at the Mraz Dance Hall 46 years ago.  It was Helen’s first time at the Hall, because a very strict father had not previously allowed her to attend.  But she was there this night, lovely in her new yellow bridesmaid dress as part of a wedding party.  And Johnny asked her to dance!

James Polansky brought wife Joan back to Mraz Hall for this open house, because they also met at the Hall in 1967.

Texas Polka News publisher Julius Tupa proposed to Marie at Bill Mraz’.  Then serving in the military at Fort Hood, Julius and several other young men went AWOL on Saturday, driving to Houston.  They dropped Julius off at Zales Jewelry in downtown Houston, where he bought the ring.  He popped the question at the dance, returning later that night to Temple by local airline, in time for bed check Sunday morning. 

The Tupas, Rybaks and Polanskys are just three of the many life stories that began at the fabled Bill Mraz Dance Hall. 

The Bill Mraz Ballroom operated from 1948-1986.  The house band was of course the 10-piece Bill Mraz Orchestra, a photo of which was among the memorabilia on a poster board gracing the wooden paneling by the refurbished bar.  Of course, many of the Texas polka bands also played regularly at the Hall.  The visits by The Six Fat Dutchmen to the Hall are part of Texas polka legend and lore.

Bill and wife Anna operated the Hall until Bill’s death in 1975.  The Mraz family then operated the Hall until closing in 1986.

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Following its re-opening, the Hall has been managed by Larry & Stephanie Janda.  Stephanie is a granddaughter of founder Bill Mraz.

Like so many of their patrons, the life story of Larry & Stephanie Janda also begins with Mraz Hall.  Larry, who is six years older than Stephanie, began going to the Hall as a child with his Czech heritage family.  He knew of Stephanie as a young girl, as she was often present in the family-operated hall.  As Larry matured, he drifted away from the hall for several years.  On Valentine’s Day 1981, Larry returned to Bill Mraz, and spotted a beautiful young girl sitting on the bench near the stage.  He asked her to dance, and the chemistry was immediate.  Larry and Stephanie were married in the hall a year later, wit music by the City Polka Boys (now Texas Sound Check).

The Hall has been listed in the National Register of Historic places, and the family received approval to mount a placque so designating.  After the fire, the Jandas saved the door and its placque.  Little else remained to be saved, but some of the hundreds of fans who made a pilgrimage to the Hall after the fire took home souvenir samples of the ashes for remembrance.  Such was the devotion of the many fans, for whom the Bill Mraz Dance Hall was a part of their own life story. 

Fans are encouraged to sign the guest book on the web at www.billmrazdancehall.com, sharing the role of the Bill Mraz dance Hall in their own lives.

You can also view the complete history of the hall on the web site.

The future is uncertain, as the Hall was not insured for fire.  The Jandas must also cope with site cleanup costs, which will be considerable.  Plans are being formulated for an Appreciation Benefit dance January 22 to help the Jandas deal with costs and plan for the future.  

Post script:  The Appreciation Fundraiser held in the KC Hall in January 2005 was a fantastic success.  The Jandas used the funds to clean up the site.  The Mraz Hall will not be rebuilt and it now exists only in the realm of Texas Polka Memories among its legion of fans.  It had a good run!

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Praha Pout

History.  Tradition.  Ethnic pride.  Religion.  Reunion.  Music and dance.  Festival.  All these and more come together each year on August 15th when St. Mary’s Church in Praha (Maticka Praha) celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It’s the 149th annual this year.  There’s no doubt about it - the Praha Celebration is a Texas institution! 

       The music for dancing and listening begins in the Pavilion at 11 a.m. with the Texas Sound Check and Bobby Jones Czech Band alternating until 7 p.m.  Then the Red Ravens take over from 7 till.  That’s three great bands folks!

         The Assumption Day Festival takes place every year on the Parish grounds, beginning with Mass in the historic church.  (Assumption Day happens to fall on Sunday this year).  This 10 a.m. Mass is always jammed full, so another is celebrated at 5 p.m.  The meal is served between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 3-4 thousand people!  (Hamburgers available after 4 p.m.)

Other attractions include the auction at 1 p.m., bingo, and of course music and dance.  Parishioners and volunteers do all the work.

The annual celebration is a big reunion of the people who grew up in the area.  It has also become an institution that attracts many outsiders eager to learn the fascinating history of the town and the church.

As many Texans know, Praha is the little Czech heritage community just off highway 90 between Schulenburg and Flatonia.  The early settlers established St. Mary’s Parish, perhaps about 1850.  A wooden church built in 1876 was replaced late in the century by the current remarkable structure, built during the 1890-95 period. 

Rock for the church was brought by ox cart from Muldoon, 15 miles to the north.  Ox and mule brought lumber from the Spring Branch area (near Houston), requiring three weeks for each trip, which included two river crossings.  The church was finished inside by fresco painter Gottfried Flury, who produced the remarkable visages that have withstood the years. 

A large crowd is expected at Praha again this year, as has been the case for well over 100 years.  People change, but traditions continue, linking us to the past so that we can build a better future. 

See you in Praha?

(posted 7/21/04)

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"On Polka Road"

It’s our favorite stretch of Texas Highway!  In the spring, it’s resplendent in the brilliant beauty of Texas wildflowers.  In the fall, the gathering waterfowl on the prairies west of Houston stir our primal instincts.  From Sealy to Seguin, the rolling hills provide panoramic vistas of beautiful Texas.  When on this road, you can set the cruise control, and enjoy being alive.  Yes folks, it’s I-10, between Houston and San Antonio, and it’s our favorite stretch of Texas Highway.

We were cruising our way towards San Antonio recently, heading for the International Accordion Fest and listening to John & Julie Dujka host their Saturday Morning Dance Time polka radio show (see separate story).  It was then that it hit us!  This stretch of I-10 is the “Polka Road” of myth and lore!

“How so,” you say?  “There’s no polka on I-10!”  Au contraire!  I-10 is the Polka Road of Texas!  Consider the following, working east to west.

In Houston, I-10 is the jumping off spot for SPJST #88, SPJST #142 (monthly Cajun), and the Bill Mraz Dance Hall, as well as the Polish Home and the Sokol Hall.  It’s clear that the east end of this I-10 stretch is anchored in polka!

From Sealy, Hwy 36 north leads quickly to the Sealy KC Hall, then in sequence to Industry and Shelby, not to mention the occasional dances at historic halls like Cat Spring, Kenney, Millheim and Peters. 

Going south from Sealy, it’s the American Legion Halls at Wallis and Rosenberg, and Riverside Hall at East Bernard.

Continue west on I-10 towards Columbus, and Hwy 71 opens the door to dances in Ellinger and Round Top to the north; and Eagle Lake, New Taiton and El Campo to the south. 

Travel a little further west and Schulenburg is the jumping off spot for the little Czech heritage communities of Ammansville, Cistern, Dubina, High Hill, Hostyn, Praha, St. John, and Moravia Store.  Don’t forget Hallettsville, Moulton and Sweet Home to the south, whose dances are all reached from Polka Road.

Journey farther west to Seguin, and Hwy 46 north takes you to New Braunfels, home of Wurstfest, the February polkafest and the monthly Club dance.

When Polka Road reaches San Antonio, it leads to Martinez Hall, the monthly Cajun dances in San Antonio, and the short journey north to dances at Anhalt twice per year. 

No doubt about it.  I-10 is the Polka Road of myth and lore.

Aren’t we lucky to have it right here in Texas?  See you down Polka Road!

(Posted 3/22/04)

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Texas Talent Rising

Dr. John Dujka, senior member of the talented Dujka Brothers and Professor of Piano/Music Theory at Blinn College, is a talented songwriter with hits such as “When I Dance With You.”  But Professor Dujka also recognizes rising Texas Talent, and gives voice to their new songs.  Our ears perked up at Hallettsville as we heard the Dujka Brothers doing a new song with great lyrics and a patriotic (pro-America) tone.  We asked, and John confirmed it was a new song written by Daniel Klapuch.

We recognized Daniel Klapuch as co-author (with another rising Texas Talent Mark Hermes) of “Moon Over Moravia,” a beautiful waltz about the Moravia Store (and Texas heritage) that has made it big here in Texas in the past year.  So we sought out Daniel to learn more.

In talking to this quiet and unassuming tall Texan, we were excited to learn that Daniel is also the author of two other great new songs that the Dujkas have been performing recently.  These two new polkas are “Grandpa Drank Too Much at the St. John’s Picnic,” and “St. Arnold’s Polka (the Patron Saint of Beer).”  As the Dujkas have performed these songs over the past several months, crowds spontaneously appear at the stage to listen and enjoy the refreshing beat and humorous lyrics.  The Dujkas plan on recording both songs.

We learned from Daniel that the song that debuted in Hallettsville is called “Immigrant’s Waltz.”  It is based on the true story of Daniel’s grandfather arriving in this country in the late 1800’s from Czechoslovakia, via Bremen, New York, New Orleans and Galveston. 

We are pleased to see the Dujka Brothers giving voice to Klapuch’s talent.

Daniel was born and raised in Moravia.  He tried Nashville in the 80’s, learned a lot but couldn’t quite break into the big time.  Now he’s here in Texas with his guitar, writing Czech heritage music. 

Nashville’s loss.  Our gain.  Texas talent rising!

(posted 5/18/03)

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Wonderful Westphalia Waltz

The Westphalia Waltz!  Isn’t it just beautiful?  It’s one of the favorite songs of many Texas dancers.  I wonder where it came from?  Is it truly a Texas tune?  Does it have any connection to the little German-heritage town of Westphalia up near Temple? 

Well, we’re glad you asked, because we’ve wanted to do a story on this beautiful Texas song for some time.  Here’s what we found.

Cotton Collins, a fiddle player for the legendary Lone Star Playboys, composed a "no-name" waltz in 1946 based on a melody that he memorized while stationed in Germany.  The song became a big hit for the Lone Star Playboys, one of their most requested numbers.  After playing the song at a dance in Westphalia, the local dancers suggested the song be titled the "Westphalia Waltz."  The song with the beautifully haunting melody now had a name.  It was put to sheet music, copyright Cotton Collins. 

The Lone Star Playboys recorded Westphalia Waltz on the Bluebonnet label.  Based on the success of the song, Hank Thompson then recorded it on Capital.  Westphalia Waltz became the #1 country song in the nation, according to Vince Incordona, manager and tenor banjo player of the Lone Star Playboys. 

Since its introduction in 1947, Westphalia Waltz has become a “classic” in both polka and c/w swing music, recorded by many. 

As written, the Westphalia Waltz had no words.  Lyrics were added by Hamlet Booker, and the song again recorded by the Lone Star Playboys as “The New Westphalia Waltz.”

Now you’re probably wondering about the town for which this song was named.  In 1879 several immigrants from the Westphalia province in Germany moved from Frelsburg, Texas, into the area they named after their homeland province.  There were thirteen families on 270-acres of homestead plots by 1884. 

The Church of the Visitation was completed in 1895 on 100 acres of land high on a hill.  Its picturesque twin towers can be seen for miles.  A three-room school was built in 1896.  It operated as a parochial school until 1935, when it was consolidated with the public school. 

One of the graduates of that school is Westphalian Jane Hoelshire (now Jane Kosel, husband Harold), who attended the Westphalia school for 10 years (1942-52) before finishing high school in nearby Rosebud.  Jane was raised on the family farm outside the town, and remembers being taught by nuns, even after the school had become part of the consolidated (public) school system. 

Jane also fondly recalls the two country stores in Westphalia (operated by the Kleypas and Fidler families).  Of course Jane and Harold also frequented the Westphalia Dance Hall, where the Westphalia Waltz was named.  It was actually the church hall, and the place where the newlywed Kosels held their wedding dance June 1, 1954 (three days after Jane graduated).  Although Harold hails from Cyclone, he knows a lot about the little town of Westphalia.

Westphalia had four businesses and a gin in 1892.  It grew slowly to a population that stabilized at about 300.  Westphalia is located on hwy 320, near Seaton, about 18 miles east of Temple. 

Stop by and explore it on your Texas travels.  It’s the place that named the Westphalia Waltz!

(posted 02/20/03)

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Original Polish Home in Houston

Whatever happened to the original Polish Home in Houston?  You know, the old two-story building on Studewood in the Heights, where so many people had so many good times for so many years?  After the Polish Lodges built their new facility on Cooper Road in 1974, whatever happened to the original?

Well, it continued existence as Fitzgerald’s, and is operating as a place for Houston advocates of loud music to party and dance.  But on Feb. 21 polka returned to the historic hall as Mark Halata & Texavia opened for the Grammy-winning Brave Combo Band. 

It was like days of yore as Mark Halata played traditional polka for a mixed collection of Texavia and Brave Combo fans in the old upstairs dance hall.  Except that the music flavor was definitely Czech (instead of Polish) as Mark stayed true to his roots.  When the flavor tuned to the edgy polka music of Brave Combo, the traditional dancers were replaced by the younger set, but the party continued. 

Yes, the music may change but the good times remain constant.  Just as in days of yore, when the Hall proudly served as the Polish Home, making memories for many.

Located at Studewood and White Oak, the original Polish Home was built in 1918, and served for 56 years.  The two-story-structure, had the meeting rooms, social facilities and kitchen on the first floor, with the dance hall upstairs.  There was no air conditioning, but the second floor had lots of windows and a good wood floor.  The second floor hall still opens to the outside porches, where sitters and standers can still take a break from the dancing inside. 

Wanda Bench, a Chappell Hill Pole/Czech and long-time supporter of the Polish Home, recalls large “war years” Christmas parties in the original hall, cooking the turkeys and trimmings on the first floor and carrying everything upstairs to the packed hall.  Like many other Texas Poles, the young (and single) Wanda sought out the Home as a place of familiarity and comfort, attending the dances, bingo and other events with cousins and friends. 

The music on Feb. 21 was good, but for this reporter, the highlight of the night was dancing at a historic Texas dance hall, where memories were made. It was a place of laughter, life and love. 

(posted 3/22/04)

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Welcome Hall in Industry

       What do you get if you bring together a trail ride, an historic dance hall, and a great western swing band?  That’s easy!  You get another adventure down polka road!

The dance hall was the old “Welcome Hall” near Industry, the music was by the Wild River Band, and the “Ranchers Ride” made it all happen on Jan 23.

We learned about the dance the previous week from the Wild River Band, a great new western swing band in the old style.  (See separate article.)  They provided great music for the dance.

The Ranchers Ride is an annual trail ride that assembles every spring on selected Texas ranch lands.  It brings together people who wish to leave the hectic world for a few days of celebrating their Texas heritage in the true western spirit.  It involves authentic western garb, riding the trail on horseback during the day, and sharing the evening with campfires and song, food and drink, and dance.  The group sponsored this dance at historic Welcome Hall, with whom they have a standing relationship. 

For Texas dance fans, Welcome Hall was the feature attraction of the evening.  Rich in history, the hall proudly identifies itself by its full name, “Halle Des Welcome Mannerchor, 1899,” in large green letters against the white clapboard siding.  Moved from its original site in Welcome (TX) on FM 109 about five miles north of Industry, the Hall now sits on a beautiful parcel of land about a mile north of the FM 159/109 “crossroads” in Industry. 

The Hall was originally the property of a male German singing group, the Welcome Mannerchor, established in 1889.  They used their new Hall for rehearsals and performances, and the stage architecture seems very well suited for the purpose.  The Hall was designed by A. A. Baring, who was also director of the Mannerchor. 

The Hall also served as a meeting place for the Hermann Sons, and supported performances by the Welcome Brass Band and Lindy’s Brass Band.  Music was important to our German immigrants!

The dormant Hall was purchased by Milton Huebner in 1980, and restored to its former state.  Typical of the halls of its day, Welcome Hall has great cross-ventilation, with large rectangular wooden shuttered openings that swing wide for ventilation (on this night we close most because it’s a little chilly).  The wood dance floor is good, and the tables around the perimeter typical.  The inside is unfinished and the ceiling uninsulated, so it’s easy to examine the interesting structure. 

Ranchers Ride has done much to add capital improvements to the location, building outside bars and kitchens that meet their needs. 

On this night, there are three groups of people present.  Outside, the campfire has a continual circle of trail riders relaxing for the evening.  Another cluster gathers in the well lighted outside mezzanine area between the hall and the outside bar, drinks in hand.  The third group is dancing in the Hall, to western swing including many polkas.

Most of the dancers are trail riders, cowboys and cowgirls, looking authentic and taking a break from their real life.  A few are dancers or followers of the band.  Even the Mayor of Industry stops in to support the local event. 

We are indebted to the book “Dance Halls and Last Calls” by Geronimo Trevino for the history of Welcome Hall.  For info on the Wild River Band, see the separate article.  To learn more about Ranchers Ride, see www.ranchersride.org.

(posted 2/20/04)

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Moravia Store - Memories and More

“You should have been at the Moravia Store for the jam session Jan 12th.  It was a blast!” 

“Wait a minute!” you might say.  “Where in the world of Texas is the Moravia Store, and why would I want to go there?”  Thanks for asking!!!

Moravia is the historic little Czech heritage community between Schulenburg and Hallettsville, and the Moravia Store is the heart of the settlement.  The Store has been lyrically documented in the popular “Moon Over Moravia” waltz (recorded by the Dujka Brothers and others), which gives you its location (“957 leads right to the door.”)

Now, why would you want to go there?  Well, the Store’s lighted sign on 957 gives you some reasons, proudly proclaiming, “Moravia Store.  One of the Oldest Country Stores in Texas.  Food-Music-Pool.  Moravia TX.  Est. 1889.”

On Jan. 4, the Moravia Store was jammed for the Dujka Brothers.  On Jan. 10, the hall is filled for a jam session coordinated by rising musician Mark Hermis, with about a dozen musicians showing up just for fun.  The crowd is all ages, from nostalgic seniors returning to their roots to the younger set, just establishing theirs. 

The Store is really a collection of contiguous structures.  The old barroom has is absolutely fascinating.  The connected dance hall has tables and dance area, suitable for the purpose.  The old structure is just a little off plumb in places; that and the uneven floor makes you feel a little tipsy even before the first beer.  The entire establishment is a collection of artifacts, memorabilia and memories. 

Established in 1889 and operating ever since, the Store figures in the childhood memories of many polka fans.  Owner Henrietta Filip has live music and dance about twice monthly at this historic store, now managed as a country tavern.  It’s usually a mix of polka or country music, on Friday or Saturday evenings.  Admission is usually free and the turnout good, as much as 150 according to Filip.  In addition to the normal liquid refreshments, the Store is famous for its hamburgers, fries and onion rings.  Plus all the history!

The Moravia General Store, which was established in 1889 by Ignac Jalufka, was given a state historical marker in 1998.

A picturesque community founded in 1881, Moravia was named for the homeland of the residents who had already begun settling in the area as early as 1872.  In addition to Jalufka's store, a blacksmith shop, gin, school and the beautiful Ascension of the Lord Catholic Church made up this small rural hamlet.

In the early days of the store's existence, the two-story frame structure housed a saloon, grocery and mercantile business on the ground floor, with a dance hall on the top floor.  At times, there was also a post office, barbershop, pool hall and meat market inside the store.  When a new dance hall was built in Moravia in 1930, the second story was removed.

The store was purchased in 1996 by Henrietta Filip and her late husband, Leroy Rehak, Sr.  After his death, she married Franklin Filip.  The bar, wooden floor and display cases are originals.  The walls are covered with old photographs, license plates, serving trays, and soft drink advertisements.  The old meat market now houses the pool table.  Mrs. Filip has placed a red caboose next to the old store, filled it with Coca-Cola memorabilia, and makes it available for parties.

Moravia, population about 170 we think, is southwest of Schulenburg on 957 just off 532.  It’s the site of the annual Ascension Church picnic (with polka music), a fabled school and dance hall (both now gone), and lots of memories. 

But you can go home again, to the Moravia Store!  “957 leads right to the door.”  Call Henrietta for info at 979-562-2217.

(posted 2/20)

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Dance Halls and Last Calls

Are you a fan of Texas dance hall history?  Then you need to know about a great new book, “Dance Halls and Last Calls,” by Texas musician Geronimo Trevino III.

The 258-page paperback is a complete history of Texas country music and Texas dance halls, complete with photos.  Ten years in the making, it is a great new resource.

Sure, the emphasis is on country music, rather than polka.  But it is also a comprehensive listing of 114 Texas dance Halls, from Airway Pavilion in Round Top to Wied Hall.  Photos accompany the short history provided on each of the Halls.

With a foreword by Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel, the first 48 pages cover Texas musicians, with many early and previously unpublished photos.  The remainder of the book covers the dance halls.  The book is well indexed and well researched. 

It’s available for $18.95 from the Republic of Texas Press, via their web site at www.republicoftexaspress.com, or call 800-229-4949.

       And a tip of The Texas Polka News hat to Geronimo Trevino for this important new resource.  Check out his web site at www.geronimotrevino.com.

(posted 11/18/02)

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DANCE HALLS OF TEXAS

Dance is an important part of Texas history.  The Czech, German and Polish immigrants who settled in Texas worked hard to make a living and establish themselves in their new country.  But they also came together socially to help each other and to preserve their heritage.  They needed places to meet and celebrate and they built halls.  And so we have a rich history of dance halls in Texas.  But classic country and western swing music are also important in Texas, and there are many historic halls whose history is primarily the good old Texas two-step, with a sprinkling of polka and waltz music.  It all adds up to a great musical heritage – the Dance Halls of Texas!

Here’s a brief overview of this heritage, beginning with some of the older halls, and then in alphabetical order.  Be sure to see also the website of Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc referenced at the end of this article. 

Gruene Hall:   The oldest dance hall in Texas may be Gruene Hall.  The year was 1878.  The place was the little community of Gruene (say “Green”) just north of New Braunfels, on the banks of the beautiful Guadalupe River.  New Braunfels pioneer H. D. Gruene established the little community in 1872 to further the fortunes of his cotton interests.  Gruene built the first mercantile store in 1878, constructed a cotton gin (powered by the Guadalupe River) and built a dance hall and saloon.  Gruene Hall was born!  It soon became the center of the community’s social life.  Fast forward 130 years and Gruene Hall is hosting musical entertainment every night.  The wood dance floor planks have been worn smooth by generations of boot-scootin Texans!   Check it out at www.gruenehall.com or call at 830-606-1281. 

Schroeder Hall:  The second oldest dance hall in Texas is Schroeder Hall, located on FM 622 northwest of Victoria.  The first dance hall at the site was built in 1890.  Although the early history of Schroeder Hall has been largely lost, it re-emerged in 1950 under the ownership of Byron & Helen Hoff, who operated it for 50 years and built its reputation as a great dance hall.  Now renovated and under new ownership, Schroeder Hall is keeping its place as one of the historic dance halls of Texas.  The air conditioned hall has good country music every Saturday night (and sometimes Friday), with a good wood dance floor.  See their web site at www.schroederdancehall.com, or call 361-573-7002. 

Twin Sisters Dance Hall:   The Twin Sisters Dance Hall on Hwy 281 south of Blanco believes they may be the oldest dance hall in Texas.  The Hall was named after the Twin Sisters Mountains, which can be seen in the distance. According to Texas musician Geronimo Trevino III in his book, “Dance Halls and Last Calls,” the Twin Sisters Hall was built in 1870.   Trevino states that the first written records (in German, of course) of a dance are from 1898.  The Hall is maintained and operated by the Twin Sisters Club, with public dances in the natural ventilation hall the first Saturday of the month and New Year’s Eve.  For info call Karen Jones, 830-833-5773 (9-5 M-F). 

Anhalt Hall:   Located north of San Antonio off of U.S. 281 about 4.5 miles west on Highway 46 in the middle of a live oak pasture, the Anhalt Dance Hall is both a Texas treasure and an unknown.  It began about 1875, when the local ranchers formed a Germania Farmer Verein (association) to help deal with cattle rustling.  The first small hall was built in 1875, and the current dance hall was added in 1908.  The 6300 square foot oak wood dance floor may be the best dance surface in the state, and should be a national treasure!  The hall is operated by the association and features big Maifest and Oktoberfest celebrations each year, something they have been doing for over 130 years!   In recent years it is also the site of an annual Cajun festival in April.  For info contact David Davenport 830-609-3038.

The Dance Hall Legacy of Joachim Hintz:   In the late 1800s German artisan and carpenter Joachim Hintz built at least three unique multisided dance halls in Texas.  Notable examples are the Bellville Turnverein Pavilion, Cat Spring Hall, and Peters Hall.  These unique structures still operate today.  Such halls were very important to the German and Czech settlers.  Practically every settlement had their hall or “gathering place.”  These were home to “Vereins” or societies of widely varying interests...from gun clubs to singing groups. 

  •  Bellville Turnverein Pavilion:   Queen of the dance halls that sprinkle the countryside of Austin County, the Turnverein Pavilion was the first of several designed and built by Joachim Hintz, a German immigrant carpenter.  The Bellville Turnverein was the center of activity from the moment it opened its door in 1897.  For information, contact the Bellville Historical Society at (979) 865-9116, or P.O. Box 67, Bellville, 77418.

  •  Peters Hall:  Built in 1900, the Hall in Peters began as a Schuetzen Verein (shooting club).  Kept operating as a community hall by the little community just north of Sealy, the Hall is the site of an annual Mother’s Day celebration, BBQ and dance, as well as private parties.  Like the other halls built by Hintz, it has a good wood dance floor and good cross ventilation.

  • Cat Spring Hall:  Located in the historic German settlement of Cat Spring northwest of Sealy, the Cat Spring Agricultural Society Hall built in 1902 is one of many interesting ethnic dance halls of Texas.  The Cat Spring Agricultural Society began in 1856, when the German settlers responded to a call from a local minister to form an organization to promote agriculture.  The organization still exists and holds their annual June Fest every year (#152 in 2008).  Contact Marilyn Nelson, 979-865-1313.  Cat Spring Hall is located on FM 1094 near the intersection with FM 949.

Club 21:  Built in 1893.  Texas vocalist Don Walser loved playing 'the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas' so much that he shot the cover of his 'Rolling Stone From Texas' album here.  Club 21 is on Texas 21, eight miles east of San Marcos.  Country music on Friday & Saturday nights.   See www.club21dancehall.com, or call 512- 398-2901.  Destroyed by fire in 2010.

THE FOLLOWING HALLS ARE PRESENTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

Braun HallBuilt in 1893, this Hermann Sons Lodge near Helotes has Saturday night dances.  "If you're dancin', you're not dying" is the motto at this beautiful Hall, with a large oak dance floor.  Besides the immaculate dance floor, this Hall has a unique band stand that is a "cove" in one side wall.  9723 Braun Road
San Antonio, Texas 78250,  210-688-9241.

Broken Spoke:   A “modern” Texas honky tonk of note in Austin, where it draws a mixed crown of authentic Texans, and tourists out to see the authentic Texans in their natural habitat.  It’s a good experience!  Open Tuesday through Saturday.  See  www.brokenspokeaustintx.com.   

Coshatte HallCoshatte Hall is located just south of Bellville, about two miles east of Hwy 36, on Coshatte Rd.  It is the home of the Coshatte Agricultural Society, established 1883 and still going strong.  The hall is a wonderful eight-sided “round” structure built in 1928 in the pattern of the 8-and-12-sided halls built in nearby Belleville, Cat Spring and Peters around the turn of the century by the local German immigrant and builder Joachim Hintz.  The hall’s large wooden dance floor floats on the supporting timber foundation, and the clean interior has been finished in knotty pine.  Heated and air conditioned, the hall still sports its 14 original 4x8 foot window openings, which can be opened or closed as the weather dictates.  It holds periodic public dances.  Call Cary Oswald, 979-865-5005.

Coupland Dance HallA great old Texas honky tonk built in 1904 in the little town of Coupland off Texas 95, between Elgin and Taylor.  Featured in the films 'Lonesome Dove' and 'A Perfect World,' Coupland Hall is a two-stepper's paradise, with regular Saturday night dances. See www.couplanddancehall.com, or call (512) 856-2226.

Fayetteville SPJSTBuilt in 1897, this was the very first SPJST lodge in the state, and it's kept up like a treasure.  Public dances are rare, but it's worth seeing, along with the rest of this very special little town (Texas’ version of Mayberry!).  On FM 159 just east of “downtown” Fayetteville. 

Firemen’s Hall in IndustryIndustry, the little town on highway 159 northwest of Sealy, was established in 1831 as the first permanent German settlement in Texas.  Industry has five dance halls in its history and is currently the home of the very active Firemen’s Hall with its fine dance floor and facilities.  Firemen’s Hall is a 700-seat capacity hall completed in 1974 by the Industry Volunteer Fire Department.   For dancers, the big attraction is the excellent dance floor.  It is the home of many public and private dances.  For information on Firemen’s Hall, call Doris Rinn, 979-357-2220.  

Floore’s Country StoreFloore’s Country Store is vintage Texas dance hall!  Just off Highway 16 less than a dozen miles from nearby San Antonio, the Store is a complex of unique buildings.  Large outdoor patio and dance area.  Large inside too.   The John T. Floore Country Store is a historic music venue currently celebrating its 60th anniversary. Many music greats have played at Floore's including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, BB King, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Willie Nelson.  The Texas Historical Commission has recognized Floore’s Country Store as a significant part of Texas history by awarding it an official Texas Historical Marker. Floore's was also recently admitted into the National Register of Historic Places. 14492 Old Bandera Rd, Helotes, Texas 78023.  See the web at www.liveatfloores.com, or call 210-695-8827.

Harmonie Hall in ShelbyBuilt in 1883 (which appears to give it a claim to be among the oldest) by the Harmonie Verein, the hall became the center of social life for the German heritage community, and a Hermann Sons Lodge.  It is well-maintained, air conditioned, and still hosts public and private dances, including a Christmas Day dance. 

Kendalia Dance HalleA German singing society built this 1903 hall. Gone is the chain around the oak tree out front, where drunk customers used to be restrained until they sobered up, but everything else is just about the same as it was back in the 1930s when oom-pah bands played on the weekends. Located 8 miles south of Blanco at the junction of RM 473 and FM 3351.   Monthly dances.  www.kendaliahall.com.   (830) 833-4902.

Kenney HallBuilt in Kenney in 1902 by the Agricultural Society, the original hall was also a meeting place for the Kenney Schuetzenverein, and the social center of the German-heritage community on Hwy 36 between Bellville and Brenham.  The hall was destroyed in a 1950 storm, and rebuilt.  It is still in use, and the site of t a big July 4th celebration each year.

 Martinez Hall:  Martinez is a small, family-farming and ranching community east of San Antonio.  It’s the home of the 96 year-old Hall operated by the Martinez Social Club of the same age.  Built in 1912, the Martinez Social Club and the Hall are still going strong, with a good wood dance floor in the nicely decorated and a/c hall.  Regular Saturday night country music dances, with some polka bands.  The Martinez Social Club Hall can be reached by taking I-10 exit 585.  Take FM 1516 south to FM 1346.  Call 210-661-2422 for information. 

 Millheim Harmonic Verein HallThe original hall was built in 1874 by the Millheim Harmonie Verein as a home for their German-heritage singing organization.  It became a social center for many activities, including dances.  A new hall built in 1938 is still functioning, and is home to an annual Father’s Day dance.  Millheim Hall is NW of Sealy.  Take Hwy 36 N from Sealy, turn west on FM 949 for 4.1 miles.

 New Taiton:  The New Taiton Community Center was built in 1924 by Taiton’s S.P.J.S.T. #30 and is still operated as a dance hall by a community association.  New Taiton is on Highway 71, between El Campo and Columbus, easy to find.  The Community Center has been expanded three times over the years, most recently in the ‘90s when the windows were eliminated and the dance floor expanded substantially.  Good wood dance floor.  For info, e-mail Karen Zapalac Karen Zapalac (stjohns@wirehand.net)

 Quihi Gun ClubBuilt in 1890 as the Quihi Schuetzen Verein, this venerable German-heritage hall on the Quihi and Hondo Creeks is nine miles northeast of Hondo (west of San Antonio) at the intersection of FM 2676 and Quihi Creek, surrounded by ancient oak trees.    Having been built on the Quihi Creek, the club's building had been washed away 3 times before the building that stands today was built.  It is elevated on wood piers.  Dances are still held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month! Visitors from all over the world enjoy dancing on one of the best wooden dance floors ever.  See the web at www.quihidancehall.com

 Riverside Hall:  Located on the east bank of the San Bernard River on Alt 90 near the historic town of East Bernard, Riverside Hall has been a music and dancing landmark in Texas since it was built in 1925.  The original Riverside Hall was a spacious, round structure framed with large wooden beams secured by huge bolts.  A large center pole supported the circular ceiling where all the beams met in a crisscross pattern.  The original Riverside Hall burned to the ground in 1976, a result of arson.  The Hall was rebuilt with a capacity of 750 and a 5,500 square foot maple dance floor and center post.  It is the site of the Kolache-Klobase Fest each June. 

Round Top:  The Round Top Rifle Association Hall, built in 1882, is another example of an historic Texas dance hall.  The 126 year-old structure, which has been expanded several times over the years, sits among huge oak trees that provide a beautiful shaded setting.  The annual Schuetzenfest celebration includes a dance.  Other events held at the Hall include antique shows, the VFD Christmas dance (December) and Firemen’s Feast Fundraiser (May), and a dance on July 4th.  For info call 979-249-3151.  Round Top is on SH 237, about 18 miles northeast of La Grange. 

Sefcik Hall:  Built in 1923 by local legend Tom Sefcik, Sefcik Hall is an important part of Texas dancing history, and it’s still going strong.  The original Hall also functioned as a general store.  Tom Sefcik died in 1971, leaving the place to daughter Alice Sulak.  The bar is well over 100 years old and still backed by a long mirror in a matching mahogany frame.  The tavern area is adorned and accentuated with vintage beverage advertisements, mementos and curios.  Sefcik Hall is in Seaton, eight miles east of Temple, just off highway 53.  Dances are every Sunday evening 6-10 p.m. in the upstairs dance hall with wood dance floor.  For info, call Alice Sulak at 254-985-2356.

Sisterdale Dance HallBuilt in 1890 in the little community of Sisterdale on FM 1376 about 13 miles north of Boerne, this dance hall was re-opened in 2010!  A true piece of Texas dance hall history!  See www.sisterdaledancehall.com

Swiss Alp Dance Hall:  Built in 1900, this interesting hall at 6940 U.S. 77, 10 miles south of La Grange, was reopened in 2006 under the new ownership of Kevin & Donna Ustynik.  The Hall is now managed by Steve Dean, who is also active in Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.  It’s a typical early Texas structure with a wood dance floor and natural ventilation.  Country dances every weekend.  Some polka Sundays.    See http://swissalphall.com.

Taylor SPJSTDownstairs is a bar where the men watch sports and the women play dominoes. Upstairs is a great dance hall.  Regular Friday night country dances.   On FM 619, near Texas 79.   (512) 352-9139.

Welcome Mannerchor HallThe German singing group Welcome Mannerchor built the hall in 1899.  It was home for their many singing activities,a nd also other events including Saturday night dances.  The Hall went dormant.  It was acquired in 1980, moved to Industry and restored. 

Wied HallAnother vintage Texas dance hall, on FM 1891 just north of US Hwy 90A, midway between Hallettsville & Shiner.  Wood dance floor, natural ventilation.  Occasional public dances. 

 Other notable halls  (Information not verified)

 Buckholts SPJST Lodge:  Rebuilt in 1934, after bank robbers set the original SPJST Hall on fire to create a diversion, this octagon-shaped structure hosted all the big Texas honky-tonkers and Western swing guys from Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce to Bob Wills in the early '50s, with Taylor radio station KTAE broadcasting live shows.   600 E. Texas 36.   254-593-2222.

 Fischer Hall:  Originally called Fischer Store, this quaint hall was used for some of the live music scenes from the movie 'Honeysuckle Rose' in 1980. More prominently, this is where Adolph Hofner, one of the all-time great German band leaders, got his start. Located in Fischer, the hall is near the intersection of RM 32 and RM 484, about 20 miles west of San Marcos.  210-935-4800?

Kovar SPJST:  You drive eight miles south on Texas 95 out of Smithville, then take a right turn where the sign says 'Kovar' and about half a mile down the road you start to feel like you're part of a film-opening pan shot of rural reflectivity. There's a cemetery next to one of those great 'painted churches' of the area. And then down the road is the Kovar SPJST Hall, built by Czech Catholics in 1926.  Kovar is one ghost town where the spirits are mighty strong. No phone.

 Watterson Hall:  This is the cavernous hall where Charlie Robison's band played during the obligatory country dancing scene of 'Hope Floats.'  Tucked away in the farming community of Red Rock, about 15 miles south of Bastrop, this place is hard to find, but well worth the U-turns on FM 535. The address is 1179 Watterson Road. (512) 321-2010.

Organization Halls:   Dozens (scores?) of dance halls exist across the state operated by organizations such as the Czech-heritage SPJST, KJT and Sokol Halls; the Knights of Columbus (KCs); and VFW and American Legion Chapters.  They are all important to Texas dancing.

 Resources

 “Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.”  This website has become the definitive website documenting dance halls of Texas.   See http://texasdancehall.org

 “Dance Halls and Last Calls,  A History of Texas Country Music” by musician Geronimo Trevino III.  Published 2002 by Wordware Publishing Co.  This excellent resource presents about 120 dance halls, with photos.

 “Dance Halls of Austin County,” published by the Austin County Historical Commission, Dec. 1993.  This important resource chronicles about 45 important dance halls in Austin County.

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