76: The Dance

76: The Dance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Dance

Story by Tony Arata

Song written by Tony Arata

Recorded by Garth Brooks

The way “The Dance” got written and recorded was almost like a movie script, which was kind of ironic, since I got the idea for the song after watching a movie.

I had gone to college in Statesboro, Georgia and played in a band in college. When I graduated, I continued to play in the clubs. One night, I heard that Jim Glaser was looking for material for his next album. His record company was in Atlanta and I got a little cassette tape to him and he decided to record “The Man in the Mirror.” That was the reason I first came to Nashville: to meet Jim Glaser. We decided to go ahead and move here for good in 1986.

One night my wife and I went to hear a bunch of songwriters at The Bluebird Café in Green Hills. I was blown away, and I decided I wanted to move back to Georgia because there was no way I could write songs like those guys. But my wife talked me into staying.

A little while later, my wife was out of town, I think, and I decided to go out and see a movie. The movie was Peggy Sue Got Married with Nicholas Cage and Kathleen Turner. In the movie, Peggy Sue gets divorced when she’s in her forties, and then has a chance to go back to high school and change her decisions. When Nicholas Cage asks her to dance, she starts to say no, and then she looks down at the locket with the pictures of her kids in it. She realizes if she says no and doesn’t marry him, the kids’ pictures will fade.

I went away from the theater thinking about that scene for a long time. There are so many times in life when we want to avoid the pain, but if we do, a lot of times we will have to miss a lot of the joy in life, too.

A little while after I wrote that, I was singing at an open mike night at a little club called Douglas Corner over on Eighth Avenue in Nashville. And there sitting at the bar was this stocky guy wearing a cowboy hat. A lot of guys look like fake cowboys with hats on, but Garth didn’t. He looked like the real deal. We talked for a while, and later we were playing at The Bluebird Café together. It was on a Sunday night. We were doing the early show, when nobody was in the room. I played “The Dance” and he came up to me later and said, “Man, if I ever get a record deal, I want to record that song.” And I thought, “Okay, sure.” He was selling boots and I was lifting 50-pound boxes for a living. We had the music industry right where we wanted them, right?

Anyway, a year or so after that, I was working at a company called Tom Jackson and Associates, writing articles about busses, and I got a call one day from Garth and he said, “I just signed with Capitol and I want to record ‘The Dance.’”

I said, “You’re kidding me!” But he wasn’t. So he took it into the studio. A couple of months after that, he called me again and said he had just finished the album and wanted me to come to his manager’s office and listen to it. I remember I didn’t even recognize it at first because of the piano intro. But it was beautiful.

The great thing about “The Dance” is that it was recorded by a songwriter and produced by a songwriter, Allen Reynolds, so they really nailed it. When the album was finished, they released several singles that did really well. They were actually starting to work on his second album and didn’t have plans to release “The Dance” as a single. But Allen Reynolds wanted to put out one more single. Jimmy Bowen was head of Capitol by then and he said no. But Allen talked to Bowen and said, “Would you just do me a favor and go see Garth sing it live before you make your final decision?” Bowen went to see Garth sing it and the crowd went wild, so he said he would go ahead and release one more song. I’m sure glad he did.

When they finished the video for “The Dance,” Garth called me again and said he wanted me to see it. I loved what they did with it, using clips of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the video. At the end, Garth’s voice comes on and says something about how his life is like “The Dance” — that he could have missed some of the heartaches if he hadn’t chased his dreams, but that he wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I just bawled when I saw the video.

“The Dance” won Song of the Year from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association and it was the most played song on country radio that year. It was also nominated for a Grammy. My wife and I went that year. I remember walking along the Avenue of the Americas in New York City and seeing all the stars lining up on the red carpet outside. Everything seemed so surreal.

We get letters all the time where people tell us they played the song at their father or mother’s funeral. I really believe in fate. It’s kind of interesting because Peggy Sue Got Married is a lot about fate, and the song is about fate, and the way it got written and recorded seemed to be guided by fate, like it was meant to happen. It didn’t seem like it really had that much to do with me. All the stars were lined up just right, and all I really had to do was show up.

The Dance

Looking back on the memory of

The dance we shared ’neath the stars above

For a moment all the world was right

How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye?

And now I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss the dance

Holding you I held everything

For a moment wasn’t I a king?

But if I’d only known how the king would fall

Hey, who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all

And now I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss the dance

Yes my life is better left to chance

I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance

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