"The Dance"

QuestionForLiving interview with Tony Arata, September 20th, 2011. This interview focuses writing lyrics and specifically regarding his song "The Dance".

QuestionsForLiving: What, if any, questions were you asking yourself that contributedto the creation, and lyrics, of "The Dance"?

Arata: The way the song came to be is that I wrote the melody and a different set of lyrics right after we moved here in 1986 from Savannah, Ga.; I always liked the melody but knew the words were not right (it was nothing at all like the words that finally came). I went to see a movie called Peggy Sue Got Married with Kathleen Turner and Nick Cage. Long story short, she goes back in time but with all the knowledge that she had learned in her later years. Nick Cage proposes to her and this time she knows how horrible it all turned out so she tells him "No." After doing so she looks at the locket around her neck and the pictures of her children are not there. The scene hit me so hard - if she doesn't marry him, she doesn't get her kids. We don't get to pick and choose our memories. I went home and wrote the words that you know in about 30 minutes - because then I knew what the song was supposed to be about.

QFL: Were there any overarching questions that contributed to your interest writing music for a living?

Arata: I was a horrible student in high school until I took an English course in 11th grade. A teacher by the name of Sally Scott put a book in my hand and said, "you need to read this." It was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It opened my eyes to the incredible power of the written word. That same year my big brother, Howard Arata, Jr. gave me and old guitar. I began writing songs in high school and really got serious about it my second year of college (i graduated with a degree in journalism from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga.). I sincerely mean this-  I would have written the songs I have whether anyone had recorded them or not. I truly believe your write because that's what you do - the creation of something is the one aspect you over which you have complete control. All the rest is up to a thousand other forces. But as my favorite song by the Gershwins says "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

QFL: Are there any questions that generally shape the type of music and lyrics that you write?

Arata: Right after we moved here I went to a huge seminar at a big hotel at which there were big-time record producers, songwriters, artists, record label executives and about 300 lost-as-could-be-but-want-to-be-in-the-business attendees!

As the day wore on and everybody stepped to the dais and gave their advice on how to succeed in the music business; and the longer it went on the more and more hopeless and confused I was getting. I was overwhelmed and wondering why I had moved my wife to Nashville. Then Dave Loggins (Please Come To Boston, and a million others) stepped to the mic. His speech was 5 words. He stared out at the lost faces and simply said, "Write something you're proud of." And then he sat down. I will never forget it - it was the truth condensed, and it is always in the back of my mind when I sit down to write. I don't always get there, but I know where I'm aiming.

QFL: Independent of the music or work environment, what questions do you believe that people should/could ask themselves to make our world a happier and healthier place?

Arata: Mavis Staple said it all when she sang "Respect Yourself." So much is in that: if you have respect for yourself, you will not mistreat others, you will not hurt others, you will not allow yourself to do wrong to your family, your friends, nor even strangers. - because the fundamental element of respecting oneself is to always respect others.



Great Advice

Mrs. Leslie Juvin-Acker's picture

As a writer, I appreciate this advice. It's important to appreciate the process and to be true to who we are in our work. Sometimes, we get so afraid about how we'll be perceived, that we forget to stay true to ourselves in the creation process. As long as we're proud of what we've done, the rest is up to others to decide whether or not it works for them. 

The Dance is a beautiful song. Thank you for sharing, Tony.


-L.J. Acker

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