Told in rollicking two-step rhythm, Dance, Y’all, Dance tells the story of one special night when Sallie, Beau, and their family and friends meet up at the dance hall to share news, enjoy each other’s company and to dance, y’all, dance!
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]two-steppin’, swingin’, and twirlin’ romp sure to get your toes tappin’ and
your heart singin’.[/pullquote]
It’s Saturday night.
The Dance Hall’s aglow.
Call Grams and our friends.
Head to town for the show.
We worked hard all week.
The chores are all done.
A country band’s playin’.
Let’s join the fun.
The story behind the story
I didn’t set out to write a picture book about dance halls. Truth is, I had never before been inside a dance hall. I set out to save my family.
Well, maybe not “save” it exactly but to bring our family closer together. At the time, our children, Max and Lexi, were teenagers. All their activities—school, sports, work, friends—coupled with my husband’s and my commitments left us with very little—make that no—family time. With Max preparing to leave for college, my husband Curtis and I realized something had to change and fast, or we’d regret it.
We called a family meeting, explained how we felt and an agreement was reached: we’d all make room in our schedules for family time. The four of us each wrote down one activity we could do together. The suggestions were tossed in a hat and a winner was selected. I don’t recall what anyone else suggested, but I can tell you whose paper Grandma Mary pulled out of the hat: mine. And the activity I chose: country western dancing.
The night of our first two-step lesson is one we’ll never forget—and I’ll never live down. We were six altogether, as two of the kids’ friends, to save them from having to dance together, signed up, too. When we entered the gym, everyone stopped swirling and stared, certain we’d stumbled into the wrong room. (Ours were the only teenagers in the class.) Before we could turn tail, a fire hydrant of a woman with flaming red “big hair” and red cowboy boots rushed over to welcome us. “Only way to learn to dance is by dancin’,” Red said.
Step-step, glide, glide
Kick up your feet.
Dance y’all, dance
To a two-steppin’ beat.
In no time, Red had the six of us two-stepping and twirling! Feeling like the cowgirl version of Dolly to Curtis’s George Strait, I was congratulating myself for suggesting lessons in the first place when Red called me out, “How you run your marriage at home is your business,” she hollered. “But, Gal, here on the dance floor, you need to let your husband lead.”
Once I gave up trying to lead (and got over my embarrassment), my mind began to wander. And, as a writer’s mind does, it landed on what if? What if I wrote a story about a Texas dance hall?
From What if? to That’s it!
A “story idea” and a story are as different as lightning bugs and lightning. Before I could even begin to imagine a dance hall story, I had to answer a difficult question: when? When will the story take place? What moment do I want to capture?
Dance halls got their start in the early days of the western movement. Settlers, used to the bustling cities back east, found life on the prairie to be hard and lonely. After a busy week spent tending their farms, families looked forward to the weekly trip into town. Contrary to our modern impression of dance halls as “bawdy,” back then the dance hall was much more than just a place to dance; it was where neighbors and friends gathered. About 1,000 dance halls were built in Texas between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To create the story I envisioned, I needed to pick one special night from more than 150 years of Texas dance hall history. One. But how?
I began by researching Texas events and dance hall-related words—from boots to blue jeans, baby carriages, bloomers, bass guitar and the invention of bubble gum. And by visiting dance halls. (On its website, www.texasdancehall.org, Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc. lists more than 400 dance halls still operating today including several near Round Top.) I gathered lots of interesting trivia, but beyond knowing my story would take place after the Texas Two-Step was created in 1891, and before technology changed the world, I was at a loss. Meanwhile, our family two-step lessons continued. As hoped, we were enjoying ourselves and each other and becoming pretty good dancers to boot.
My eureka moment happened when I came upon Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo transatlantic crossing, May 20 – 21, 1927, and subsequent three-month, 48-state “Guggenheim Tour.” The route Lindbergh flew took him right over the heart of Texas dance hall country. That was it! What if, one magical Saturday night, Lindberg flew The Spirit of St. Louis right over the dance hall—my dance hall?
Open the window. Hear that plane roar?
Tip a wing Lindy! Rev up and soar!
A picture book without art is only so many words—and I’m no artist. Luckily, Bright Sky Press chose Terri Murphy to illustrate Dance, Y’all, Dance. In a style reviewers liken to Norman Rockwell’s, Terri captures the conviviality of that special night so well—complete with quirky characters and humorous subplots—you’d think she was raised in a dance hall!
The rest of the story
As for our family “togetherness” experiment? After mastering the basic two-step, all six of us moved into Red’s Western Swing class with advanced variations including the Sweetheart Surprise, Pretzel, Side Travel, Wild West shuffle, Conversation, and Pistachio. (Yep, they’re in the book, too.)
Now, come on y’all! Pull on your boots and grab a partner. See you at the dance hall!
by Kelly Bennett
VOICES OF BRIGHT SKY
Kelly Bennett is the award-winning author of many books for children including Dance, Y’all, Dance and One Day I Went Rambling, both published by Bright Sky Press. And yes, she and her family are still dancing!
For more information about Kelly, visit her website: www.kellybennett.com.
Bright Sky Press: Where Texas meets books
Bright Sky Press, based in Houston, documents the richness of Texas by publishing high quality books. The press collaborates with its authors to preserve our history, celebrate our unique culture, articulate our collective concerns and share what we love most about the diverse, positive and creative place we call home.
To see a complete listing of the unique offerings, see www.brightskypress.com