Photo of Garth Brooks from the 1990s
Bob King/Redferns

'The Dance': The Story Behind Garth Brooks' Reflective Hit


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Some country songs are so powerful that they take on a whole new meaning in times of tragedy. People turn to them for strength and hope in the face of adversity and loss. The song's legacy evolves and grows over time. Nashville has put out countless hits that are full of emotion but the Garth Brooks song, "The Dance," is a standout.

The final selection on Brooks' self-titled debut album, "The Dance" became perhaps the Oklahoma native's most iconic hit and definitely a fan favorite song. Brooks heard "The Dance" for the first time while songwriter Tony Arata performed it Nashville's Bluebird Cafe. The song was inspired by the Kathleen Turner film Peggy Sue Got Married.

"The movie is basically about, if you had one thing you can go back and change in your life, would you?," said music publisher Don Tolle (as quoted by Rolling Stone). "And [Peggy Sue] did, only to realize that it changed everything that came after, and she realizes she wouldn't have wanted it this bad. [Tony] came home from the movie that day and he knew the song."

The literal interpretation of "The Dance" leads you to believe the song is about love. However, the "If Tomorrow Never Comes" singer revealed that, to him, the song has always been about the bigger picture. In fact, he introduced the music video with his personal interpretation.

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"To a lot of people, I guess 'The Dance' is a love gone bad song," says Brooks. "Which, you know, that it is. But to me it's always been a song about life. Or maybe the loss of those people that have given the ultimate sacrifice for a dream that they believed in, like the John F. Kennedy's or the Martin Luther King's. John Wayne's or the Keith Whitley's. And if they could come back, I think they would say to us what the lyrics of 'The Dance' say."

The video then features images of people who died for their dream. The video prominently features champion bull rider Lane Frost. In 1989, the 25-year-old Frost died in Cheyenne, Wyo. after being struck by a bull. A few months later, Brooks released "The Dance" to the radio and it hit the top of the Billboard chart. The video also incorporates archival video of Martin Luther King Jr., The crew of the space shuttle Challenger before its launch and more.

In 1990, the song's video earned Brooks the Academy of Country Music Award for Video of the Year as well as Song of the Year. Since then, "The Dance" has memorialized countless lives in the face of tragedy, including Dale Earnhardt.

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In 2021, Kelly Clarkson performed "The Dance" to honor Brooks during the Kennedy Center Honors. Clarkson's personal touch left Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood fighting tears.

Brooks' signature song has also been covered by artists ranging from Mindy McCready to 3 Doors Down.

It's amazing what a powerful song can do to lift spirits in an instant during tough times. And there's no doubt that Garth Brooks' "The Dance" (and other songs of his that grapple with human emotion, such as "The River" and "The Thunder Rolls") will continue to profoundly affect people looking for a small glimmer of hope.

This post was originally published on July 22, 2016.

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"The Dance" Lyrics

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 the king
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

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If our lives are better left to chance
Oh, our lives are better left to chance
Oh, our lives are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance

Read More: Garth Brooks Wrote 'Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)' For George Strait

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