“I Hope You Dance” — Lee Ann Womack

Dance is one of the foremost windows on human emotions…nearly as much as song lyrics are…

The stiff, slow, formal waltz keeps everything bottled up and keeps a good 18 inches between your partner’s body and your own at all times…

Then there’s the deep-down passion of the tango…

Or nostalgic exuberance of the Charleston…

There’s a dance for every emotion, just like there’s a song for every emotion.

I heard “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack on the radio the other day This lovely song manages to combine some truly inspirational lyrics with a dance-based metaphor…making sure every emotional outlet is well and truly covered…

I was really excited to hear the song I now know is called “I Hope You Dance” again because I’ve been trying to track it down for years. Until the other day, I never knew what it was called or who sung it.

You see, the only other time in my entire life I can remember hearing “I Hope You Dance” was in the early 2000s. It grabbed me from the opening bars and I was hooked on this very tender and thought-provoking song from that moment on.

“I Hope You Dance” made such an impact on me that, nearly 20 years later, I can still remember exactly where and when I first heard it. I was driving to work, listening to the breakfast show on the radio that accompanied me to work every day at that time.

I came off the dual carriageway at about 8.45, like I did every day, and slowed down to drive through the suburban streets that led from the dual carriageway to my office. I slowed down a bit more as I passed the primary school just down the road from my office…small children being dropped off can be a bit unpredictable around traffic, so I always took extra care.

Just before I reached the school some of the sweetest lyrics I’d ever heard, sung in an astonishingly tender way, came out the car radio’s speakers.

It’s not often that a record grabs my attention quite as quickly and emphatically as “I Hope You Dance” did, so I knew it was something special.

I was so frustrated, though, because the DJ never mentioned the song title or who the singer was…don’t you hate it when they do that?

For years I thought it was Dolly Parton.

It was very Dolly Parton-esque song, thoughtful and beautifully sung, tugging at your heartstrings in just the right way to convey a profound message in a powerful way, without being preachy.

I remembered some of the lyrics and in those pre-internet days did my very best to track down the song I now know as “I Hope You Dance”, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Nobody I told about the song had any idea what it was or who sung it either.

At the time Country music wasn’t nearly as popular in the UK as it is now, so I couldn’t find anybody who knew what my mystery song might have been.

Over the years I’ve occasionally tried to find it in Dolly Parton’s back catalogue, but not knowing the precise title, that’s been difficult…after all, Dolly Parton has written and recorded hundreds if not thousands of songs in her 40+ year singing career, so it was like looking for a needle in a haystack anyway.

Dolly Parton is one of the greatest songwriters of all-time, as well as a great performer and a smart businesswoman. Beneath the “dumb blonde” persona she likes to portray, few people realise her songwriting talents puts her right up there with the all-time greats.

Most singer/songwriters would be delighted to have a CV as comprehensive as Dolly Parton’s, including monster self-penned hits like “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colours”, “9 to 5” and “Love is Like a Butterfly”,

But Dolly didn’t stop there. The measure of her quality as a songwriter is that she blew even those chart-topping successes out the water with a song she wrote in 1974 about the breakup of her professional relationship with old-time country star Porter Waggoner.

Although successful at the time, and recorded by some other people over the intervening years, when Whitney Houston recorded that particular Dolly Parton composition as the title track for her film “The Bodyguard”, Dolly Parton’s already stellar reputation as a songwriter took a giant leap further forward.

I can 100% guarantee you’ll know the song I’m talking about — Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” was Number One around the world for weeks on end.

So it was perhaps understandable that I thought today’s song was written by Dolly Parton. It was well up to her incredibly high songwriting standards and it was sung by a female vocalist with a similar singing style…but, as I know now, I was wrong.

Driving down the motorway the other day, a radio DJ put on the track I remember hearing outside that primary school nearly 20 years previously…the track that I’d shed a silent tear to because I thought it was so beautiful.

After all that time, this DJ was good enough to announce the title and the singer of the track he’d just played…

My mystery song was called “I Hope You Dance” and the beautiful voice I’d heard singing it on my drive to work nearly 20 years beforehand belonged to Lee Ann Womack.

The sense of relief was total. When I got to my destination, it took me 10 seconds to pull “I Hope You Dance” up on Spotify and relax into its embrace a couple of times before I had to get out the car for my meeting.

Music and lyrics for today’s touching and very beautiful song were by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, who between them have written several big Country hits for people like George Strait, Reba McEntire, the Dixie Chicks and Trisha Yearwood.

“I Hope You Dance” is one of Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers’ biggest Country hits which also enjoyed some exposure in the pop charts, albeit with limited commercial success there. It only made Number 40 in the UK back in 2000, which might explain why I didn’t hear it again on the radio for nearly 20 years.

“I Hope You Dance” is a “storytelling” song which I always like, and it takes the form of a mother giving advice to her young children…a theme the video adopts too, even if I’m less clear why Lee Ann Womack is wearing something that looks like a cross between a slinky evening dress and a fancy nightie in the video whilst dispensing her all-important advice…

The lyrics speak to the hopes all parents have for their children…

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

The recurring theme of the lyrics is that when faced with a choice of dancing…ie giving something new a try… or sitting the dance out…ie staying stuck where you are…you should always choose to dance.

It’s a delightful metaphor and the lyrics are inspirational.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the Heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

There’s little more I can say to do this song justice as it just needs to be listened to, so I’ll cut to the video shortly. But when you get a quiet moment on your own, spend some time with this charming, touching, heartfelt song and really listen to the lyrics.

There’s better advice in this short song than you’ll get from reading a thousand self-help books or spending decades on a therapist’s couch. Advice I’m spectacularly bad at taking myself, it has to be said, but great advice nonetheless.

But to briefly bring the story of “I Hope You Dance” song full circle, and perhaps to excuse…even just a little…my mistaken, but long-held, belief that “I Hope You Dance” was a Dolly Parton song, an interviewer once asked the great Dolly Parton which song written by someone else was the one she most wished she’d written herself.

It won’t surprise you by now to learn her answer… “I Hope You Dance”.

Praise like that from one of the 20th Century’s biggest-selling and most talented songwriters is praise indeed…and thoroughly merited.

“I Hope You Dance” is such a great song that if I’d written it and never wrote another word for the rest of my life, I’d go to meet my Maker in the knowledge that I’d done more than any human being could be expected to do to make the world a better place. It’s a phenomenal song by any measure.

Take a few quiet moments to really savour this this immensely beautiful song in all its glory.

And make sure you heed the song’s advice…every time you get the opportunity, dance. Don’t sit this one out…you might never get another chance.

Here’s Lee Ann Womack with “I Hope You Dance”…

(Having listened to the track again to drop in the links below, I’m already in tears again. That happens every time I hear “I Hope You Dance”…tears for the immense beauty of the song, and tears for all the times I sat it out, and didn’t dance.

If you do nothing else, please share this wonderful song as widely as you can. This is a song your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, family, friends, lovers, neighbours and strangers should hold all close to their hearts as they go through life. And every time they get the chance, tell them from me…I hope they dance…)

The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/09k2b6shEz5Xd6cuo8DHWu

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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