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The Open Road: Cowboy Christmas Ball

We all like to take in a show during the holidays. Little Sugar Plum Ferries and the Nutcracker Ballet --- or perhaps red Rockettes trimmed in white fur kicking their legs high at Radio City Music Hall. But in Anson, Texas this weekend, you can be part of the dance, steppin' out for the Cowboy's Christmas Ball. This event is open to anyone who loves down home western gatherings. The Open Road's Hal Cannon checked his cowboy hat at the door and takes us there.

The Open Road: Cowboy Christmas Ball
By Hal Cannon

Listen with RealAudio: Cowboy's Christmas Ball

The moment I enter the Pioneer Dance Hall on this chilly Texas night . . . the steamy ruckus of music and nine-hundred dancers makes my glasses fog over -- I can't see a thing but I can feel the pull -- hundreds of couples moving counter-clockwise like . . . some gyroscope keeping this dance hall from spinning off into the universe.

When my glasses finally clear . . . I've been transposed into a different era -- swirling pairs gussied-up in proper Victorian attire. A tall, gaunt rancher, red faced, looms over his plump wife. She's radiant -- leans out from his embrace . . . laughing at some quip he's probably made a thousand times. There's a lot to look at here. Dancing traffic cops keep gawking-tourists like me, from upsetting the orderly flow of this giddy entourage.

Michael Murphey's Cowboy Christmas Songs Everyone's been waiting for this song, a song which defines the Cowboy's Christmas Ball. It's been performed here for as long as anyone can remember. Country star Michael Martin Murphey has been singing it here ten years. For him, playing this dance is a spiritual experience.

Murphey: It's just steeped in everything I hold dear as a memory of growing up in Texas at Christmas time. All the old dances are here...the waltzes, the mazurkas, the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel...all these dances are still done here. The women make their own costumes and clothes, the men still wear string ties and frock coats...and when you come here, it's a family reunion of friends.

It's a reunion from the old days when Texas pioneers danced away every Christmas.

In 1885, a 23-year-old traveler named Lawrence Chittenden arrived in this frontier settlement and was invited to a Christmas Eve soiree. The memory of that evening never left him and he wrote one of the first cowboy poems ever, "The Cowboy Christmas Ball." So popular was the poem it was soon put to music and became a cowboy folk song.

Who would have guessed that one poem would have started a tradition here. It's an inspired account of that first Christmas Ball held so long ago. Here's an excerpt:

The Cowboy Christmas Ball

The music was a fiddle and a lively tambourine
And a 'viol came imported 'by the Stage' from Abilene
The room was togged out gorgeous with Mistletoe and Shawls
And Candles flickered fresco's around the airy walls

Read the full poem titled, "Cowboy Christmas Ball" at http://rodeo.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa122297.htm.

Santa with Cowboy Hat Juanita Beasely first attended the Ball as a little girl in 1936. Her daddy and uncle were at the original dance. Later she and her husband courted there and eventually ran the dance for 30 years. She's proud of this tradition...and has willingly defended it . . . against those who, at one time, wanted to stop dancin' in Anson.

Juanita: My daughter Joy was a beautician...and this new preacher came to town and she was cuttin his hair. And he said, "I've come here to shut down the Cowboy's Christmas ball." She paused for a minute . . . walked around him and said, "Well you're gonna have to tangle with my mother, cuz she's been goin' to the CCB since she was a little girl and I believe she'll be the winner." So he never did contact me.

Back at the Ball, I spot one of the prettiest girls on the floor. I want to ask her to dance but first I need to make a little small talk. I learn her name is Meghan and I also find out I've got some competition.

Hal: Have you danced yet?

Meghan: Yessir.

Hal: Did you have fun?

Meghan: Yessir!

Hal: Are you gonna dance some more tonight?

Meghan: Yessir, I hope so.

Hal: Who are you gonna dance with?

Meghan: Maybe my grandpa.

Hal: Is he a good dancer?

Meghan: Yessir!!

Yessir!! These days it is the grandpas and grandmas who are the real good dancers. Most of us from the rock n' roll generation stumble through the steps, but folks here are so welcoming it doesn't matter. It's the young kids, Meghan's age, who will keep the faith of the Cowboy's Christmas Ball alive.

From the Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for the Savvy Traveler


Sound Like Fun?

It's not too early to make plans to attend next year's Cowboy's Christmas Ball. Anson is close to Abilene and a lovely 3-hour drive from Fort Worth. The mesquite trees are laden with live mistletoe. This time of year a wonderful cowboy poetry and music festival accompanies the evening dances.

Information and tickets for Cowboy's Christmas Ball are available from:

Anson Chamber of Commerce
1132 Court Plaza
Anson, TX 79501
Phone: (915) 823-3259

Visit Michael Martin Murphey's home page at http://tucson.com/outback/keck/mmm/index.html.


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