It is with heavy hearts that we remember and celebrate the life of Stephen Michael Dean (1952–2018), one of the co-founders of Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc. and a longtime champion of Texas music and dance halls.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas McWhirter
“In 2005, a friend who knew Steve told me I must meet him, as she knew that — as a fifth-generation Texan — I had a strong interest and passion for Texas history, architecture, and music, and I loved a good road trip as well as small-town rural culture and people. Steve was in the beginning stages of chasing down Texas dance halls, in hopes of doing a book one day. Our first encounter led very quickly to a few road trips to look for halls. I was hooked from the start. What started in 2005 as a mutual love of historic hall exploration and discovery soon led to co-ownership of a roots music venue on the outskirts of Austin, hundreds more dance hall and BBQ road trips clocking thousands of miles, library and archive research and interviews, and the beginnings of what is now Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.
My most memorable dance hall trip with Steve was to Panna Maria, TX in October 2007 for their annual hall and church fundraiser. That visit opened a door to my ancestral past, where I discovered that my great-great-grandparents were among the original settlers of Panna Maria, coming direct from Silesia (now Poland) in 1854. My family had no knowledge of this before that dance hall visit, and I was able to take my 90-year-old father there before he passed away. This discovery was another major influence on my ongoing commitment and search for more halls and their stories.
Steve’s energy and sense of adventure and exploration led us down many a back road, never knowing what we might find, and many times we’d stumble upon a hall that neither of us knew anything about prior. The excitement was palpable when this happened and only fired us up for more road trips to new parts of Texas. We always had loads of fun mapping out the route, stopping for BBQ or a beer to chat with locals and ask ‘where did they dance’ or ‘where did their parents/grandparents dance back then.’ I never expected that our fated 2005 meeting would lead me down a totally different path in my life’s work, but it was the beginning of what brought me to where I am today and my continued commitment and passion for our historic dance halls and the communities they serve. I have Steve to thank for that. ”
— Deborah Fleming, executive director/past board president, Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.
“After I began researching Texas dance halls in 2007, for my master’s thesis in historic preservation, a friend from the Texas Historical Commission suggested that I should talk to this guy named Steve who kept calling him about dance halls. He made the introduction, and Steve and I met to talk about a project he was working on at that time — a book for UT Press with a friend from Kansas. Before long, we had also connected with Patrick Sparks. The first time the three of us met in person, sitting at a table outside Jo’s Coffee on South Congress Avenue in Austin, we hatched the idea for a new nonprofit organization, which became Texas Dance Hall Preservation. Although both Patrick and I later left the board (I came back in 2015), Steve was one of the threads that ran through TDHP from the start. He never had a shortage of ideas or passion for Texas music and the spaces where that music was born and nurtured. We are all poorer for his passing and will remember his great humor and indomitable spirit.”
— Steph McDougal, co-founder/current board president, Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.