Anson's Debatin' if sins just a dance step away
© Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 29, 1987
By Barry Shlachter
ANSON -- Except for 72 hours during the Christmas season, there is no public dancin' in Anson.
It's against the law. There's a $15 fine. And people such as the Rev. Bob Evans, an outspoken
Baptist minister, want to keep it that way.
But in recent months, parents and teenagers have aggressively lobbied the city government -
whose 1920 charter made it the conservator of municipal morals - to relax the ban.
They have formed an action group called Footloose, after Kevin Bacon's 1984 movie about a
fictitious town that also outlawed dancing, in an effort to get Anson to drop a 1933 ordinance
banning dancing in favor of hops carefully monitored by responsible adults.
The dusty farming and ranching community 150 miles west of Fort Worth has traditionally been
a God-fearing one, comfortable in the Bible Belt and proud that many of its high school
graduates choose from among the three conservative, church-affiliated colleges in nearby
The dancing issue isn’t d just the major topic of discussion at the 66 Sirloin Café and in the
letters column of The Western Observer, the local weekly. It’s a wedge that is splitting the
normally close-knit community of 2,600, where friendship run deep and are figured not in years
but in generations.
Anson, with a single traffic light, is also the childhood home of country singer Jeannie C. Riley,
whose late ‘60s hit, Harper Valley PTA, satirized small town hypocrisy.
“It’s causing a lot of conflict in the town,” said Jane Sandoval, an Anson grandmother and
Footloose vice president. “There are people who we know all our life and love, and we don’t
want to alienate them because they oppose dancing. But we didn’t start this to upset people.”
Both Evans and Leon Sharp, a Church of Christ minister, base their theological arguments
against the Virginia reel and the snake, the cotton-eyed Joe and the waltz on numerous New
Testament passages prohibiting licentious behavior.
“In counseling youth for 31 years,” Evans said, “I’ve talked with unwed mothers and unwed
fathers. I’ve asked them point-blank many times where they date the beginning of their downfall
toward a road of sin. And nine times out of 10, it was on the dance floor.”
Moreover, the 56-year-old preacher and carpenter asserted, what can start with innocent hoofing can end
with “adultery, divorce, murder and little children left orphans.”
There have not been any teen murders recently in Anson, but there have been a rash of
pregnancies, even among ninth graders. Those pregnancies, Footloose partisans note, were not
prevented by the ban on dancing.
Footloose wants dances policed by parents and off-duty cops that would safely channel youthful
Right now, there aren’t many outlets. “They don’t allow anything for the youth in the town
except through the churches,” complains Sue Nichols, a Footloose mother.
Anson’s skating rink, owned by the mayor, has been closed for years, the Palace movie theater
and the 1907 Opera House have been closed for decades.
“On Saturday nights,” said high school junior Joane Nichols, 17, “you sit up at the Church of
Christ parking lot if you’re with someone or you drive to the crossroads and watch the blinking
lights from the highway and the Stamford Airport. There’s just nothing to do.”
“Now you know why we want to dance,” interjected Jeff Andress, 14.
Footloose parents say the last thing they seek is wild honky tonks. “We want well-chaperoned
activities,” Sandoval said. “We want proms for the senior and junior, not dance halls.”
Private parties are allowed if the neighbors don’t complain about noise. And Footloose has
sponsored two recent dances behind the Rainwater family’s house, each dance drawing more
than 200 local teenagers.
To comply with the 1933 ordinance, no admission was charged and the parents had to shell out
for the band and disc jockey.
“This is a poor town and we have poor parents in this,” said Sandoval, explaining why the group
is campaigning for a law that would permit public dances that charge admission. The eventual
goal, she said, is a youth center with an indoor swimming pool and basketball and tennis courts.
Both pro- and anti-dance factions descended on the City Council’s March 12 meeting.
After receiving what they felt were vague responses, Footloose parents left believing that a clear
reply to their request would be given in 30 days. But city secretary Dottie Spraberry said the item
was tabled indefinitely.
Four of the dry town’s six elected officials attend the Anson Church of Christ, which vigorously
opposes any change.
Councilman P.B. Middlebrook Jr. summed up the council’s dilemma when he told the meeting:
”There are people in Anson who don’t like cards and who don’t like prostitution. Dancing must
fit in between there somewhere, but we just don’t know for sure where yet.”
Ironically, the controversy is rocking a town still known for its annual Cowboys’ Christmas Ball,
begun 94 years ago by a local hotel manager to “break the monotony of cowboy life.” For three
nights, Ansonites forget the prohibition on dancing.
The event, immortalized by a Larry Chittenden poem, is held in a stone building called Pioneer
Hall, which is padlocked the rest of the year.
In 1940, city officials realized the no-dance ordinance, enacted seven years before, technically banned
the yearly bash. So they amended the law to formally allow it.
Evans, who called it a “drunken melee,” said he’d like to see the historic yuletide party abolished.
Both sides are wary of seeing Anson made an object of ridicule by the media. Most of all, they
regret the strains on close friendships.
“If it came down to where it was going to split the town down the middle, with no one willing to
compromise, I would deem it more suitable to solve it in a court of law,” said Footloose member
Paul Davidson, 28, who plays in the Sweetwater-based band Bittercreek and is the general
manager of The Western Observer.
Davidson said he would then volunteer to take the issue to court by dancing a jig in front of an
Anson police officer.
On the opposing side, some anti-dancing folks were so angry that a popular restaurant was being
used for Footloose meetings that they demanded its owner, Jack Hornsby, stop the gatherings.
Hornsby, 72, said he told the “radicals” that any group is free to use the place, named “Bea’s” for
his wife but popularly known as “Jack’s.”
Both sides come in for Sunday morning breakfast, he said. “I get them all. Some get mad. Whoo,
they get hot!
“It’s a church town but I think kids ought to have a chance to dance. I never saw a girl get
pregnant on a dance floor yet.”
The Footloose crowd said it has grown tired of hearing preachers call the Texas two-step
and cotton-eyed Joe “ploys of the devil.,” as Sharp did in a letter to the Observer. And the
minister’s predictions of post-dancing sex leave Footloose members impatient.
“I don’t think dancing is going to stop the pregnancies, but I don’t think it’ll cause them either,”
said Footloose treasurer Sue Turner. “For those four hours, they are not going to be smoking,
doping or driving up and down the road.”
Sharp, 57, the Church of Christ minister, is unconvinced that dance parties can remain innocent
“There have been few dances where sooner or later you don’t have drinking, drugs and the
emotion-arousing business – sexual arousal,” he said. “Yes, the same thing can happen in the
parking lot. But why give them another a opportunity?”
However, more than 20 teens turned out at short notice recently to tell a reporter that they want to
dance – “but not to hard rock or acid rock.”
“And we wouldn’t pull off little puppy dogs’ heads like they do at Ozzy Osbourne concerts,” said
eighth grader Andress, who like most in Anson prefer country dancing to disco.
Added Sue Hennigan, another Footloose activist mother: “The kids are either going to dance here
in a chaperoned environment or they’re going to get fake IDs and dance in bars out of town.”
In the film Footloose, a teenager newly arrived from the big city challenges the ban on public
dancing, which had been urged on the town of Bomont by a fundamentalist preacher. The youth
forges his classmates into a pro-dancing body so strong, so sincere and so pure in motive that,
life, liberty and the right to jitterbug are restored forever more in fictional Bomont.
The parallels are not lost on Anson, where rentals of the Footloose video are still “pretty good”
for a 3-year-old movie, reports Buell Belcher who with his brother Euell run the Good Stuff
Discount Store, which has a video library.
Footloose vice president Sandoval recalled, “The first time I saw it I told my husband, 'That’s