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The story of two kids from different sides of the tracks meeting, falling in love, having that love extinguished by angry parents or an avoidable issue, then falling back in love again is a tired Hollywood cliché (think Danny and Sandy in Grease and Rose and Jack in Titanic) but in Dirty Dancing, it works!
It’s the summer of ’63 and Baby and her (privileged, middle-class) family are spending the summer at a holiday camp in the ‘Borscht Belt’ Catskills. Restless and bored, Baby stumbles upon an after-hours staff party where the dancing is, let’s say, bordering on dirty.
Baby naturally falls for handsome dance instructor Johnny but of course it’s not as straightforward as that. Johnny’s dance partner Penny has a fling with a waiter and falls pregnant. Baby ‘borrows’ $250 from her father to pay for the abortion but it was botched by a quack and when Penny keels over in agonising pain, Baby’s father steps in and saves her life. In the meantime, Baby offers to fill in for Penny at the annual local dance-off and Johnny reluctantly agrees to teach her Penny’s moves.
Naturally, Johnny claims responsibility and Baby’s father forbids her from having anything to do with ‘those people’. Baby defies daddy, rushes back into the arms of Johnny (who admonishes her for not telling her parents about their blossoming relationship) and we cut to a varied selection of dance practice scenes, including the most famous one of the two of them in the lake.
Does it matter what happens at the dance? Not really. What we have seen here is another 80s film (albeit set in the early, innocent 60s) that captures the zeitgeist of teen angst perfectly. Daddy knows best, even though Daddy doesn’t know daughter at all.
Is the film about dancing? Is the film a social commentary on the (never mentioned but implied) Jewish/WASP sensibilities of the time (which were a prelude to the late 60s social upheaval) or is it a metaphor for a family’s opposition to a boyfriend of a lower social class and how they put aside their prejudices and embrace the love of two people, regardless of status?
Either, way, we are treated to one of the best 80s movie soundtracks ever committed to vinyl, including ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes, ‘She’s Like The Wind’ by Patrick Swayze, ‘Hungry Eyes’ by Eric Carmen and ‘Hey! Baby’ by Bruce Channel.
Some of our favourite Dirty Dancing quotes…
Johnny: Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
Baby (voiceover): That was the summer of 1963 – when everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman’s.
Johnny: No, no that’s not it. That’s the thing, Baby, see it wasn’t like that. They were using me.
Jake Houseman: I know you weren’t the one who got Penny in trouble.
Jake Houseman: When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.
Jake Houseman (to Baby): You looked wonderful out there.
Dirty Dancing Trivia!
Billy Zane and Sarah Jessica Parker both auditioned for the leads but Zane didn’t dance well.
Patrick Swayze had to convince Jennifer Grey to be in the film because she disliked him so much during the filming of Red Dawn!
The Dirty Dancing soundtrack sold an estimated 32m copies and on the list of the all-time best-selling albums, it has comfortably outsold Abbey Road by The Beatles, Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits, Bad by Michael Jackson and The Wall by Pink Floyd.
Jennifer Grey was 27 during filming, 10 years older than her character’s age and the producers were unconvinced she could do ‘younger’ until around three-quarters of the film was in the can!
The original test screenings were a disaster. It was mooted that the film go straight to VHS rather than flop with an expensive cinematic release and at one point, producer Aaron Russo was so sure the film would die a horrible death, he said ‘burn the negative, collect the insurance!’
Dirty Dancing won the 1987 Oscar for Best Original Song for the smash hit (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, written by Franke Previte and performed by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes.
Dirty Dancing was the first film to sell 1m copies on video.
The Stars of Dirty Dancing – Where Are They Now?
A proper 80s and 90s A-lister, Swayze starred in Road House with Kelly Lynch, Ghost with Demi Moore, Donnie Darko with Jake Gyllenhaal and Point Break with Keanu Reeves. He was filming a TV series when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and sadly died in September 2009. RIP Patrick.
Grey starred in another seminal 80s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as well as Cold War classic Red Dawn (alongside Swayze). An appearance-altering nose-job didn’t affect Baby’s dancing talents – she won 2010’s Dancing with the Stars, the US version of Strictly!
After Dirty Dancing, he starred as Detective Lennie Briscoe in Law & Order, had a recurring role in Murder, She Wrote and voiced Lumière in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He died in 2004.