Editorial: Why Doesn't Denton Dance?

On February 20, Denton became one of four cities in Texas recognized as “Music Friendly Communities,” an honor not yet bestowed upon major metroplexes Dallas and Houston. It's a well-deserved honor for a city where the arts are as common as house spiders. At any given moment, the average Dentonite is no more than three yards from a musician. The designation celebrates Denton’s two music-strong public universities, its frequent showcases of live music and vibrant culture of expression. So… why aren’t we dancing?

Don’t get it wrong — there are plenty of places to go in Denton if you want to shake it. Most all bars play music, and when there’s booze and beats, someone will inevitably begin to dance. Public House is a watering hole on Fry Street that boasts impressive numbers of party-goers and thrill-seekers on weekends. Similarly, on the square, Abbey Underground hosts theme nights for fans of 80s music and drunks who find themselves at Abbey on Thursdays past 11:30 p.m. with two left feet.

Though not really dancing (but thoroughly ecstatic for those involved, and vaguely annoying for those not), push moshes are common at house shows. Usually, these venues are too small and cramped to allow for comfortable dancing with a full range of motion. Mulberry St. Cantina hosts salsa nights, and at Greenspace, the Denton Swing Society holds social swing dances and lessons almost weekly. Fans of two-step dancing found a home at Rockin’ Rodeo — that is, until the venue announced its closure a few weeks ago.

In a DRC article covering the Rockin’ Rodeo property closure, owner Lloyd Banks expressed his displeasure at the live music scene in Denton — an interesting diversion from our apparent “Music Friendly” rating. “Over the past few years, I can tell you that I could book a band who sold three thousand tickets at Billy Bob’s [Honky Tonk], and when I have them here a few months later, and I’ll sell only 300-400 tickets,”

Banks said of the declining interest in live music at his bar. He spoke earnestly of his time spent in college at UNT, and of the wide availability of live music, touring bands and spaces to dance on Fry Street — a street that is today known mostly for drunken escapades and the Bubble Man. According to Banks, bands don’t want to tour through Denton anymore. Maybe Denton has made the move from being a pit stop for burgeoning bands in their tours to being a launching pad for local hopefuls and their bands.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Denton’s supportive music culture is a thriving web of talent buyers, musicians, and promoters. People have shows at houses and small bars, and droves of friends and curious locals will pack venues like JJ’s, Midway, and more. But this could be one of the biggest reasons we don’t dance.

We don’t have space. We don’t have the chutzpah. We definitely don’t have the brainpower to focus on both our friends' music and on churning out impressive dance moves. Denton already has a sparse amount of solid paying gigs, and once a show has the word “cover” on the poster, consider half your friends out. Especially for those in Denton who are students, the appeal of house shows and smaller venues is in the lack of cover. It’s something free and fun to do on a weekend: show up, tune in, and mosh it out.

The youth of today are more like beatniks than anything, content to bob our heads with the drums instead of taking up much-coveted space by attempting to dance. But for particularly young people who actually do want to get out there and shake it? Tough luck. With the exception of Club Heat on Eagle Drive, all places to socially dance in Denton are bars, and therefore inaccessible to those under drinking age. Hell, even Mulberry Cantina’s salsa nights are 21+, so options are limited to swing dancing, moshing, and the occasional show at Andy’s where the lights are too dim to feel embarrassed.

So why write this editorial? Mainly, it’s an open-ended question, or maybe more of a plea. In the wake of Rockin’ Rodeo’s closure, Lloyd Banks has been barraged with questions of opening a new live music and dance venue. “I’d be curious to know what Denton wants,” Banks said, after tossing around ideas of opening dance clubs on the square, “because I really don’t know.” If we’re truly a music-friendly scene, is it impossible to imagine at least one place in this city that could have it all: good food, good music, and enough room to stretch out your arms?

A perfect dance utopia, the place Dentonites end up at after dinner and a few beers, the place people walk in to just to see who’s playing because they’re genuinely curious. These questions could never be answered. Maybe we are just content to stick with the DIY vibe and head-bobbing. Maybe the idea of keeping such a business alive in an era where “cover” is a forbidden word is too daunting for most entrepreneurs. Or maybe Denton needs its own discotheque.

Header image courtesy of Samantha Gades via Unsplash
Header image design courtesy of Christopher Rodgers