Q: I am a born and raised Texan from Sinton. I now live in New Braunfels and I often go to Gruene Hall for shows when legendary entertainers blow through there. Lately, I’m bothered by something that I hope you can shed some light on. More and more people are showing up at Gruene Hall in cargo shorts and flip flops. Is this proper? Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall in Texas and it needs to be respected.
Randy Hroch, New Braunfels
A: The Texanist, no wallflower he, has been darkening the doors—and floors!—of Texas’s finer dance halls since he first began attending Saturday night shindigs at the two-stepping establishments in and around his hometown of Temple back in the 1970s. There was Seaton Star Hall, in Seaton; Tom Sefcik Hall, also in Seaton (with a population of somewhere around sixty souls, Seaton makes a strong candidate for most dance halls per capita in the world); the SPJST halls of Holland and Little River-Academy; and the Parish Dance Hall in Westphalia, the namesake of the beautiful “Westphalia Waltz.” Indeed, the Central Texas hardwood planks upon which the Texanist has not tripped the light fantastic are few.
These outings were such good times that, even after thoroughly racking his brain, the Texanist can summon up no clear recollections of any specific outfits he may have sported back then. But since jeans, boots, and a button-up shirt were as de rigueur then as they mostly are today, he’d bet his bottom dollar on just such a getup. The Texanist can say for certain that, probably thanks to his rigorous junior cotillion training, he has never once ever shown up to any dance in cargo shorts and flip-flops. In fact, the Texanist doesn’t even own cargo shorts. But had he dared to do so in the old dance hall days, he would likely have been turned away by a stern Czech doorwoman who would have looked at him askance while pointing out a posted dress code. Menacing looks from the drunk toughs who drove in from Rogers—fellows for whom the Texanist’s dad always warned him to keep an eye out—would probably have also served as a natural deterrence.
That was then, though. While jeans, boots, and a button-up shirt are still the norm for dudes at dances, the dress codes, like the times, have changed and are now, for better or worse, a touch less firm than they once were. Today, untucked button-ups, sleeveless tees, and even short pants and sandals are not as universally frowned upon as they once were. The Texanist is sure there are spots that still hold onto the more rigid sartorial strictures of yore and he, like you, is just fine with that. But the Texanist is also a believer in living and letting live, or at least living and letting one show up at a dance hall in whatever garb, within reason, he or she finds suitable.
You are right to characterize Gruene Hall as an historic venue deserving a due reverence from its patrons, but Gruene does not ask its guests to adhere to any sort of historic dress code. Its only requirement is footwear and shirts for the fellas and footwear and no bikinis—or at least covered-up bikinis—for the females. So the Texanist would argue that you demonstrate a measure of leniency when you walk through its doors and spy exposed knees and toes. And here’s why: Gruene is unique among dance halls in that it is located on the banks of the mighty Guadalupe River, at a spot frequented by throngs of tubers, rafters, canoers, and river rats. During the warm months, which as you know can be most of the months, a great number of the folks who pack themselves into the old dance hall have come straight from a day on the river—sometimes still damp. And when the mercury is up, who could really blame them for not wanting to clad themselves in boots, denim, and a starched dress shirt? After all, one of the things that makes the historic venue so historic is that it has never, in its 140 years of existence, been touched by the modern convenience of air conditioning. Come summer, it can be hot as hell in there—even with the side-flaps up and a breeze blowing. So perhaps we can find it in ourselves to forgive a fellow dance hall habituee who has decided that he’d rather not spend an evening wringing out his sweat-drenched Wranglers.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the May 2018 issue.