Heritage, 2010, Volume 4 Page: 16
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W hen German, Czech, and Polish immi-
grants arrived in Texas, they settled in
rural areas across the state, with a large
concentration making their home in
the central region. Because these farm-
ing families lived relatively isolated from their neighbors,
the original halls they built functioned more as commu-
nity and cultural centers that were occasionally used for
dances. For the most part, these barn-like structures were
one of the first buildings erected in a township, and they
were home to various fraternal organizations. These soci-
eties, called vereins in German settlements, were related
to farming/agricultural, benevolent, religious, singing, or
recreational activities. For example, Braun Hall in San
Antonio, which was built in 1893, was initially used as a
gun club by the Hermann Sons, a fraternal organization for
German immigrants. Ammannsville Hall in Fayette County
was originally a lodge for the K.J.T. (Katolika Jednota Tex-
aska), a Czech-Catholic religious organization.
No matter their primary purpose, the social activities
that would eventually define the legacy of these Old World
halls were dancing, music, and singing. These events were
a family affair because of the importance the European
transplants placed upon maintaining the traditional prac-
tices of their respective ethnic identities. Young couples
met and married at these halls. Parents and grandparents
brought their children and grandchildren to these gather-
ings to teach them the traditional dances of their home
country. Built in 1903, Kendalia Hall's history, found on
the dance hall's website, gives some insight into what these
events were like:
Dances would begin during the day and last until morn-
ing, with everyone bringing food to share with one another.
Traveling was.... by horse and buggy, so going to these dances
took quite a bit of effort. The small portion to the right of
the stage was fenced off with chicken wire. This is where the
non-paying customers would sit and watch while not being
allowed to dance, and where children slept while their parents
continued to dance. The oak tree out front was used to chain
unruly customers if they were fighting or causing problems.
They were usually released after they had sobered up.
Inevitably, German, Czech, and Polish communities could
not remain immune to the influence of Texas' growing pop-
ulation and its cultural diversity. Second and third genera-
tion immigrants began to shed their ethnic identities and
assimilate into the state's broader, multi-cultural society.
By the mid-20th century, these traditional dance halls
had become a more mainstream form of social entertain-
ment, and patrons went to hear a diverse mix of ethnic
music styles. The German-Czech-Polish cultures were
not monolithic. In fact, they were and are still today quite
distinct. These central European musical traditions mixed
with other styles that were already in North America by
the 1840s including the Anglo, African-American, French,
and Spanish influences. Social dancing traditions existed in all
of these cultures in the 19th century. TDHP's Steve Dean, a
musician and owner of Swiss Alp Hall in Schulenburg, says,
"More indigenous styles of music have come out ofTexas than
any other state. Conjunto music is an amalgamation of tradi-
tional Mexican folk songs and German polka. The honkey-
tonk scene was born, raised, and nurtured in Texas dance
halls. Western Swing was created when a bunch of hillbilly
fiddle players wound up listening to jazz and decided to
blend it with hokum (blues) and their music." Dance halls
went from places that celebrated a single music tradition to
representing a melting-pot fusion of styles.
HERITAGE Volume 4 2010
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2010, Volume 4, periodical, 2010; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254219/m1/16/: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.