Carlock: The Dancehall Without a Town

Posted by Michael Zimny on

Across South Dakota, many downsized towns have lost their once-hopping dancehalls. At Carlock, the dancehall stuck around after the town took off. Long after.

Near the turn of the century, Carlock had a hotel, three churches, a lumberyard, bank, shops, saloons and a livery stable. But by the WWI years, the town went into a precipitous decline.

Now the only two buildings in Carlock are the dancehall and current owner Dennis Hanson's home next door, and that's all he remembers being here when was growing up a few miles down the road. But that was enough, because Saturday nights at Carlock — where a young Hanson would tag along with his parents to polkas — brought people in from miles around.

“Back in the 1970’s,” says Hanson, “there was a lot of dancehalls like this around. Herrick, South Dakota had a dancehall, and Dallas was going with dancehall. So there’d be maybe three dances going on and people didn’t know where to go. So, me as a kid, we would go from Dallas to Herrick, and then we’d end up here at Carlock, and back to Gregory. It seems like everybody always ended up down here at Carlock though.”

Hanson bought the Carlock in 2003. "I didn't want to see this place die," he says. He hosts Saturday night dances April through October, featuring live country, rock and roll, and the occasional polka band. He says dances usually draw sixty to eighty people from around Southeastern South Dakota and Nebraska, and beyond. 

At a recent dance, one half of a couple from San Francisco could be heard exclaiming, "I wish we had a place just like this in San Francisco!"  

In 2017, the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame honored Hanson as Promoter of the Year.

SDPB visited with Hanson at a recent dance featuring live music by Bittersweet.

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