The sound of a fiddle fills an old school gym filled with eager attendees on a Friday night. You begin to two-step across an old hard-wood floor. The air is warm and the Summer night is long in Oplin, Texas. For decades now the community of Oplin has used their former high school gym – built in 1938 – as a dance hall. Every Friday night the population of Oplin goes from less then 70 to well over 200, depending on the time of the year.
The Oplin Dance Hall is a special place for me, not only because of the time I spent there, but also because Oplin is what you could call my home. That’s right. I was one of those 70 people that called Oplin home for over ten-plus years. I grew up in an old ranch house exactly two miles from the dance hall. Oplin is no longer a thriving town, but is a rural community still keeping a Texas tradition alive.
Located off Highway 36 outside of Abilene, south of the Middle Fork of Pecan Bayou in southwestern Callahan County, Oplin dates back to the 1890s. A post office was established in 1903. The name Oplin was suggested by local merchant Steve Jones and supposedly came from that of a South American town. The population peaked at 300 in 1915 and fell off to 100 in 1925. In 1940 the community had 200 residents, five businesses, a school, and a cemetery, but it suffered a decline during and after World War II, paralleling the decline in Callahan County and possibly reflecting the increasing attraction of cities (like Abilene). The post office in Oplin closed in 1961. In recent years, the population continues to hover around seventy-five. I’m not sure of the exact year the school closed, but am guessing around the 1950’s. Oplin now consists of a dance hall, two churches, and a volunteer fire department. We used to have a little store, but sadly, that has been closed for a couple years now.
The dances take place in the Oplin schoolhouse gymnasium. The building is a red brick structure; simple, but still sort of majestic sitting quietly in the middle of nowhere. Until Friday night rolls around, the lights are turned on, and the doors open. You can hear the sound of great country songs before you even enter the building.
Oplin attracts an assortment of people coming to dance. You have the locals (like me) who attend almost every Friday night. You have an older generation who have grown up dancing in halls like this and, if you’re lucky, they just might teach you a thing or two. Families also come and parents rekindle their romance “waltzing across Texas” while their kiddos twirl around imitating the older folk. Then you have something which might be surprising for an old country dance hall: young teens and college kids. That’s right, students from all over love to make the scenic drive to put their fancy cowboy boots to good use.
Oplin is affordable entertainment for $5 dollars a person and lasting from 7:00-10:30 P.M., which is quite a steal. Still keen on keeping it clean and family friendly, smoking and drinking is prohibited.
Oplin has become a Texas tradition, where I have met people who have been dancing there for decades. I have met others who have met their spouse by asking them for a dance. As well as witnessing not one, but two wedding proposals! ‘Ill even give you all a tid-bit of personal information and add that I had my first real date there.
The Oplin Dance Hall is a gem. A place where former generations reminisce over days gone by and new generations pick up an old Texas favorite. As an Oplin native, I strongly encourage you to go at least once and you’ll want to keep coming back! So starch your jeans, shine your boots, and get out there for a Texas Two Step!