“I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack’s five-week No. 1 smash, was inspired by a painful divorce. Songwriter Tia Sillers was nursing a broken heart on the beach, recovering from the breakup of her marriage when she came up with the first line about a year ago.
“She was looking at the water, and she felt so small,” explains her co-writer, Mark D. Sanders. “She turned that into the line ’I hope you still feel small when you stand behind the ocean.'”
Sillers took the lyric to Sanders, who admits he didn’t think much of it at first.
“I used to be a surfer, and I lived in the ocean,” he said. “Every time I heard that line I thought, ’Well, that’s kind of stupid. Who wouldn’t feel small when they stand beside the ocean?'”
Sillers explained the grandness behind the seemingly simple statement.
“I don’t think many people take the time to think about it, look at it [the ocean] and feel small,” she said. “And now, one in four people say that’s the greatest line in the song.”
Sillers and Sanders, who’ve been writing together for about two years, celebrated the song’s overwhelming success Monday afternoon in Nashville with the woman who made it a hit. Womack joined parties at both ASCAP and BMI, singing the magical tune’s praises.
“I don’t know that even I, as the artist, can understand the full magnitude of the way the lyric touches everyone who hears it,” Womack told country.com before the celebration. “It’s written in such a universal way that it means different things to everyone who hears it. That’s when you have a real hit song on your hands.”
“I Hope You Dance” has earned the writers a CMA nomination for Song of the Year. Sillers, a pixie-like brunette fireball, has also penned “Land of the Living” for Pam Tillis and the No. 1 hit “There’s Your Trouble” for the Dixie Chicks. The slim, towering Sanders has an impressive writing resume, including George Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky,” Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” Reba McEntire’s “I’d Rather Ride Around With You,” and Faith Hill’s “It Matters to Me.”
Womack said this is her first time working with Sillers, but she has known Sanders for years.
“My ex-husband, Jason Sellers, did a lot of demos for Mark when we first came to town, and he wrote with Mark,” Womack said. “I became a fan. I’ve noticed throughout the years in his writing these subtle references to things I hold dear in my own heart. The references he’s made to family and other things that are important to him are important to me, too. So, I’ve always connected to Mark on that level.”
Womack said the followup single to “I Hope You Dance” will be “Ashes by Now,” written by Rodney Crowell.
“Mark Wright and Frank Liddell, my two producers on this record, have been trying to get me to cut ’Ashes by Now’ since I first came to Decca,” she said. “I just never cut it, and I’m not sure why. I loved the [music] tracks on it. I hope we have another hit on our hands.”
Womack is still riding high after the Aug. 1 announcement of this year’s CMA nominations, where she received nods in five categories.
“That was the kind of day I wanted since I was 3 years old,” she said, grinning. “Just to have those kind of nominations and to have people come up and congratulate me over and over. It sounds narcissistic to say, but it’s the truth.”
Womack will compete for female vocalist, and “I Hope You Dance” is up for single, song, video and vocal event with Sons of the Desert. The CD I Hope You Dance was also nominated for album honors. The CMA Awards will be broadcast live from Nashville Oct. 4 on CBS.