Though “The Dance” has become one of the most iconic songs of Garth Brooks‘ career, most country music fans don’t know that it was inspired by a hit film.
Songwriter Tony Arata knew he was onto something when he first began working on the song in the mid-’80s, but he didn’t have a fully developed theme or even a title in the early stages. It wasn’t until he saw the 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married that he realized what he wanted to write about. The movie stars Kathleen Turner as a woman who travels through time back to her high school days and decides to make different decisions and change her path in life, only to realize that what she already had is exactly what she should have had.
“It just hit me so hard,” Arata told Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper in 2013 (quote via Rolling Stone). “It hit me that you don’t get to pick and choose your memories in life. You have to go with things as they play out. You don’t get to alter them.”
That’s reflected in the song’s now-classic, timeless lyrics: “Our lives are better left to chance / I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
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Arata’s publisher pitched the song all over Nashville but found no artist interested in cutting it due to its unusual subject matter. When then-unsigned Brooks heard Arata perform “The Dance” at Nashville’s world famous Bluebird Cafe, he was immediately interested and asked if he could cut the song when and if he got a record deal.
Brooks’ classic rendition of “The Dance” became one of the centerpiece tracks of his 1989 self-titled debut, but even at that, his record company balked at releasing it as a single. Capitol sent “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “Not Counting You” to country radio as singles and was ready to move on until Brooks’ producer invited the label head to a Brooks concert to see how the song was affecting audiences. After Jimmy Bowen witnessed the emotional impact of the song, Capitol released “The Dance” as the fourth and final single from Garth Brooks in April of 1990.
The song reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart on July 14, 1990, where it remained for three weeks. It went on to win Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year at the 1991 ACM Awards, and also took home Music Video of the Year at the CMA Awards. “The Dance” has gone on to become Brooks’ signature song.
“‘The Dance’ will be the greatest success as a song we will ever do,” Brooks told Playboy in 1994. “I’ll go to my grave with ‘The Dance.’ It’ll probably always be my favorite song.”
Brooks is currently on the road for his massive Stadium Tour, which is projected to last three years.
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