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Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998) Filming Locations
"Some folks don't belong in a small town. Some folks don't belong anywhere else." That wisdom from a local sage serves as a cornerstone for the wonderfully nostalgic film Dancer, Texas Pop. 81. Four young men graduating from high school, in a class of five people, have all agreed to pull up stakes in their tiny town and head out to Los Angeles, California. Over the course of the graduation weekend, they’re forced to reconcile their desire to seek a new life against the comforting stability of their hometown roots.
This feel–good movie wasn’t a commercial success when it was originally released on May 1, 1998. However, Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 has since found fans who appreciate the slow-paced film for its complimentary depiction of small-town life, and the empathetic portrayal of friends who are conflicted about their plan to set off together into the larger world.
For an in-depth look at the making of the film, you’ll want to read author Alison Macor's book Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas. Macor delves into the early career of director Tim McCanlies, explores the history of the script's development and shares stories from the set. It's definitely worth reading to learn about the circuitous route a film can take as it moves from script to screen.
Dancer is a fictional town, and the movie was filmed in and around scenic Fort Davis, Texas.
If you have any tips on locations that I missed, please contact me on the Grahm's Guide Facebook page.
SPOILER ALERT: The descriptions below include plot points of the film. If you haven't seen the movie, it's available through Amazon.com.
Oasis Filling Station
The film opens as Keller Coleman (Breckin Meyer), Terrell Lee Lusk (Peter Facinelli), John Hemphill (Eddie Mills) and Squirrel (Ethan Embry) lounge in the middle of a lonesome stretch of road next to the Oasis Filling Station.
The Oasis was a set built for the film, but it stood for many years along Ranch to Market Road (RM) 505, Fort Davis, TX 79734, where it fooled passersby who thought it had been a real gas station. The building was demolished sometime in 2005.
Reference: I first learned the Oasis’ location in the book The Movie Lover's Tour of Texas: Reel-Life Rambles Through the Lone Star State by Veva Vonler, a terrific guide for filming location fans.
Dancer High School Graduation
Vivian (Alexandra Holden), the only girl in the senior class joins the four boys on the podium for the graduation ceremony in front of Dancer High School. After the ceremony, the townspeople hold a picnic on the lawn.
Rather than a school, the filming location is really the Jeff Davis County Courthouse, 100 Court Avenue, Fort Davis, TX 79734.
Reference: This is also covered in in the book The Movie Lover's Tour of Texas by Veva Vonler. Again, the Silver Screen Sites album of "'Dancer, Texas: Pop. 81' Location Photos" captures all of the angles.
As in many small-towns, the church in Dancer is a focal point of social life, and many of the townspeople worship there on Sunday morning.
The picturesque church is the First Presbyterian Church, 503 N Front St, Fort Davis, Texas, TX 79734, which is at the base of Sleeping Lion Mountain.
Reference: The name of the church is seen on-screen, and it’s also mentioned in The Movie Lover's Tour of Texas by Veva Vonler.
The General Store and the Bus Stop
At the town’s general store Keller learns that there’s more to his town than he realized, thanks to some wisdom from the proprietor, Earl (Eddie Jones), as Keller considers whether he and any, or all, of the four boys are going to get on a bus on Monday.
The general store filming location was 201 Front St, Fort Davis, TX 79734, and the bus stop is just across Alamo Street at 111 N Front St, Fort Davis, TX 79734. The bus stop location has been remodeled and now serves as county / district clerk offices.
Reference: The Silver Screen Sites album of "'Dancer, Texas: Pop. 81' Location Photos" captures both locations as they appeared in 2008.
The town of Fort Davis, Texas, Pop 1,201, takes its name from a U.S. Army fort established in 1854 which is now the Fort Davis National Historic Site. The remote town, located in Big Bend region of Texas, and 90 miles to the nearest hospital, seems perfect for playing isolated Dancer, Texas, and it’s worth the drive. If you get the chance, plan to be in town for their Independence Day celebration, the “Coolest 4th of July.”
When you head to the area, be sure to check out the food blog Because Food is What I Do for tips on what to eat in the area. I was fortunate to bump into this lovely author who uses her blog to share her articles from the Alpine Avalanche, local restaurant news and reviews and other food-related topics. Check it out.