Behind the Double Meaning of “The Dance” By Garth Brooks

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Though Garth Brooks has no shortage of hits to his name, “The Dance” remains one of his signature tracks. Released as the final single from his self-titled debut in 1990, the song was honored as both the Song of the Year and Video of the Year by the Academy of Country Music and has since stood the test of time, enduring as one of the songs people think of when they think of great country music of the ’90s.

But what does “The Dance,” actually mean? Brooks imbues two separate meanings into this track and we’re going through both of them below.

Origins

Songwriter Tony Arata penned this track while he was still little-known around Nashville. At an open mic night at Nashville’s Douglas Corner, he met another little-known songwriter, Brooks.

“We were both doing whatever we could to stay in Nashville, trying to get our songs heard by anybody,” Arata recalled on his website. “The only folks listening, however, were other songwriters as no one else was usually at our show.”

When Brooks heard “The Dance,” he told Arata that if he ever got a record deal he was going to cut it and the rest is country music history.

Arata cites a scene from the movie Peggy Sue Got Married as inspiration for the song. “Kathleen Turner discovers she can’t alter one aspect of her past without affecting the rest. No one gets to pick their memories, thankfully.”

Behind The Lyrics

Looking back
On the memory of
The dance we shared
‘Neath the stars above

For a moment
All the world was right
But how could I have known
That you’d ever say goodbye

“The Dance” is about two separate ideas. The first sees Brooks crooning about the end of a passionate relationship feeling blindsided that it could ever come to an end. Later he sings about remembering the good times in the face of the pain he feels now.

Per the accompanying music video for this track, there is a double meaning behind “The Dance.” The second sees Brooks telling the story of someone dying because of something he believes in after a moment of glory.

Ahead of the video, a young Brooks can be seen explaining this idea saying, “To a lot of people, I guess ‘The Dance’ is a love gone bad song. 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.”

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

Music Video

The music video cuts between shots of Brooks playing “The Dance” with only an acoustic guitar and archival footage of American heroes – the likes of John F. Kennedy, Keith Whitley, Martin Luther King Jr., the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, John Wayne and world champion bull rider Lane Frost. With the video’s help, a song that many people know and love is able to take on a new life.

(Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

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