Texas Living

Rock Out to the Jukebox at Texas State Park Dances

By Peter Simek 7.1.19

In the early 1940s, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps were finishing up work on what would become one of the most visited parks in Texas.

As they had done in parks throughout the state, the workers carved hiking trails and campsites into the foothills of the Hill Country surrounding a spring-fed creek. Now this nestled spot is the pretty Garner State Park.  

But the workers did something else: They constructed a stone pavilion with a large concrete patio perfect for dances. One hot night, after they were done working, they hauled out an old jukebox and turned up the music, hoping some of the local girls might wander down to the new park, looking for a dance partner.

The workers didn’t know it, but they had unwittingly started one of the longest-running traditions in Texas: the summer-night dance series at Garner State Park that most people know simply as “The Dance.”

Garner State Park Dances

Every summer, beginning Memorial Day weekend and running through Labor Day, Garner State Park plays host to nightly dances that have attracted hundreds of couples for generations.

Considered a rite of passage for many Texas teenagers, The Dance is where many kids learn to two-step for the first time and where older couples revisit the romance of their courting days.

Just as the Civilian Conservation Corps workers did on those first hot nights, dancers kick off every summer night by turning on the jukebox. Campers tired out from a day swimming in the river or hiking Old Baldy, the bluff overlooking the park, wander up to the pavilion and find their chairs near the dancefloor. From there, the music rolls through a rotation of country and rock ’n’ roll classics, and the night expands into endless possibilities.

Photo by Bera Johnson

Abilene State Park Dances

The Garner tradition has spread to a few other state parks across Texas. Friends of the Abilene State Park organizes periodic dances held on the old brick pavilion next to a swimming pool the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed in the 1930s.

Daingerfield State Park Dances

Regular dances were held at this East Texas park from its opening in the 1930s through the 1960s, before the tradition lapsed. In 2017, community members rallied to revive the Daingerfield dances, kicking off the season each year with a Valentine’s Day dance in the park’s historic pavilion.

Meridian State Park Dances

One of the most elegant and beautiful buildings in the state park system, the Meridian State Park refectory features ashlar-cut stone, arched entryways, a stone chimney, beamed ceilings, and an open-sided pavilion. This romantic setting is the spot of the CCC Sweetheart Dance.

Grab your partner and do-si-do down to one of these state parks or Texas’ historic dance halls.

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