In Country Music, Dancing Is Serious Business

As Lee Ann Womack swirls to the top of the charts with “I Hope You Dance,” we are reminded once again of how truly profound — and hazardous — a turn around the dance floor can be.

The hazards have long been obvious. A girl loses her guy to an “old friend” during the “Tennessee Waltz.” In “Tragic Romance,” a man spots his beloved dancing cheek-to-cheek with someone else, assumes the worst and then leaves town without confronting her — only to find out years later that the fellow she was dancing with was her brother. The dangers posed by treacherous friends and mistaken identities ultimately moved Shania Twain to issue the stern dictate “Dance With the One That Brought You.”

The movie Urban Cowboy carried such a strong no-dance-no-romance message that people who were ill suited to walking felt forced to risk it all on the hardwood. They were urged on in these foredoomed endeavors by Anne Murray crooning “Could I Have This Dance (For the Rest of My Life).”

It remained for the mighty Garth Brooks — the Arthur Murray of philosophers — to convince us that dancing was an apt metaphor for living life to the fullest. “I could have missed the pain,” he intoned, “but I’d have had to miss the dance.” That said it all. Or so we hoped.

But the music behind Brooks’ musings had barely died away before John Michael Montgomery struck up the band to announce his discovery that “Life’s a Dance.” Pam Tillis got the point. Momentarily disillusioned by life, but not wanting to appear a slacker, she murmured apologetically that she was only “In Between Dances.”

Had not Brooks & Dunn been there with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” to help us recall how mindlessly carnal most dancing can be, we might have started approaching the dance floor with the same trepidation we once reserved for taking our SAT tests.

Now comes Womack with the earnest heaviosity of “I Hope You Dance,” telling us to take chances instead of playing it safe. Enough, already! For the timid, the cautious and the congenitally unrhythmic among us, will someone please write “I Hope You Don’t?” Cledus T. Judd, are you still out there?

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to