Revisiting the 1987 Classic Film Dirty Dancing

Join us for a look back at the 1987 iconic movie Dirty Dancing and explore its impact, from the groundbreaking soundtrack to how it changed the course of cinema forever.

Revisiting the 1987 Classic Film Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing 1987

Dirty Dancing (1987)

It's always exciting to revisit classic movies and see if they still hold up after all these years. In the case of "Dirty Dancing", I can confidently say that this iconic romantic drama has not lost any of its charm since its release in 1987.

Eleanor Bergstein

Eleanor Bergstein, the creative force behind "Dirty Dancing", draws deeply from her own experiences in crafting the film's rich narrative. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she grew up in a Jewish family, which is reflected in the portrayal of Baby's family in the film. A fervent fan of dance, she spent her summers in the Catskills, a popular resort destination for many New York City families, just like the Housemans in the film. These summers formed the backdrop of "Dirty Dancing", infusing it with an authenticity that resonates with audiences. Her childhood formed a rich tapestry of experiences that she adeptly wove into her script, adding a layer of depth and realism to the story.


A Nod to the Casting

Emile Ardolino directing

Emile Ardolino, the director of the film, was a stickler for authenticity, particularly when it came to the casting of the lead roles. Ardolino insisted that the actors chosen for these roles should be accomplished dancers. This decision led to the casting of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, who both had strong backgrounds in dance. Swayze, in particular, grew up in a dance studio owned by his mother and was well-versed in a variety of dance styles. This gave him the flexibility and versatility to convincingly portray Johnny Castle, a professional dancer.

Patrick Wwayze dancing with wife Lisa and his mother

Grey, on the other hand, had trained in acting but also had experience in dance. The insistence on casting dancers for the lead roles paid off beautifully, as the dance sequences are some of the most memorable scenes in the film. The chemistry between Swayze and Grey is palpable and their performances give the film its heart and soul.

The palpable chemistry between Swayze and Grey is the cornerstone of the film. The tension between them crackles in every scene, driving the narrative forward and adding depth to their relationship. Their dance sequences are particularly enchanting, blending passion, longing, and an undeniable connection that leaves audiences breathless.

Penny - Dirty Dancing

In supporting roles, Jerry Orbach as Baby's father, Dr. Houseman, and Cynthia Rhodes as Johnny's dance partner, Penny, contribute significantly to the film's emotional depth. Their performances, just like the leads', ground the film in reality, adding extra layers to the narrative.

In conclusion, Ardolino's casting choices were spot on, setting the bar high for future romantic dramas. His sensitivity to the characters and their relationships contributes significantly to the continued popularity and enduring appeal of "Dirty Dancing".

Swayze and Grey on the set of Dirty Dancing

Grey and Swayze's relationship off-screen was rather intriguing. Although famously known for their sizzling on-screen chemistry, the pair is reported to have had a somewhat contentious relationship during filming. Despite having previously worked together on "Red Dawn" (1984), their contrasting work ethics led to occasional friction on the set. Grey was seen as the perfectionist, meticulously rehearsing her scenes, while Swayze was the instinctual performer, often preferring spontaneity over rehearsals. This off-screen tension, interestingly, translated into an intense and passionate on-screen connection, adding a compelling layer of authenticity to their performances. The duo's off-screen dynamic, as complex as it was, undoubtedly contributed to making Baby and Johnny's relationship on-screen so captivating and unforgettable.

The film's soundtrack is another standout element that deserves special mention. From the infectious 'Hungry Eyes' by Eric Carmen to the iconic 'I've Had The Time of My Life' by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, each song complements and enhances the emotion of the scenes they accompany. The background score, composed by John Morris, sets the mood perfectly, be it a tender moment between Baby and Johnny or a tense confrontation with her parents.

Johnny lifting Baby

Another musical highlight from the film is Patrick Swayze's own contribution to the soundtrack, 'She's Like the Wind,' which he co-wrote and performed. The heartfelt ballad is a testament to Johnny's character and his complex feelings for Baby. It's not just a love song—it's an ode to unattainable love, reflecting Johnny's perception of their relationship. He sees Baby as someone who is way out of his league—just like the wind, touching everything in her path but impossible to hold onto. The song's lyrics, combined with Swayze's emotive delivery, beautifully encapsulate the deep, tender, and somewhat melancholic love that Johnny harbours for Baby. It remains one of the most memorable tracks from the film and has cemented its place in the annals of classic movie soundtracks.


A Windy Inspiration: The Creation of 'She's Like the Wind'

Swayze in Grandview U.S.A. (1984)

Patrick Swayze's 'She's Like the Wind' is etched in the annals of movie music history, but the song has an interesting origin story. Swayze had initially written the track with Stacy Widelitz for another film, 'Grandview, U.S.A.' (1984). However, it was dismissed as "too soft" and ended up not being used. After Eleanor Bergstein, the writer of 'Dirty Dancing', heard Swayze's demo for 'She's Like the Wind', she immediately recognised the song's potential and decided to include it in the film. This turned out to be a great decision as the poignant and heartfelt ballad succinctly captures Johnny's feelings for Baby - a love he believes is unreachable and as elusive as the wind. This song, written by Swayze, added an additional layer to his character's depth and allowed audiences to connect more deeply with his emotional journey. It has since become synonymous with the film, serving as a timeless reminder of Swayze's multifaceted talent and the enduring appeal of 'Dirty Dancing'.


A Visual Serenade: The Music Video

The music video for 'She's Like the Wind,' is much like the song itself, a blend of emotion, passion, and subtlety. It features clips from 'Dirty Dancing,' interspersed with shots of Patrick Swayze and Wendy Fraser in a recording studio.

She's Like the Wind - Swayze

The decision to include scenes from the film is a masterstroke, as it ties the song directly to the narrative, solidifying its connection with Johnny and Baby's love story. The video does an excellent job of capturing the intensity and longing in the song, mirroring the emotions expressed in Swayze's performance. The juxtaposition of Swayze's intense gaze with the vulnerable moments of Baby and Johnny on the dance floor, enhances the song's sentiment and its resonance with the audience. The music video, much like the film and its soundtrack, is a testament to the timeless appeal of this bittersweet love story.


Filming and Location: A Trip Through Time

"Dirty Dancing" whisks its audiences away to the summer of 1963, in the lush resort town of the Catskills. Yet, the film was actually shot in two locations - Lake Lure in North Carolina and Mountain Lake in Virginia. These locations admirably doubled up for the Catskills, providing the perfect backdrop to the unfolding romance between Baby and Johnny.

Kellerman's Resort

Mountain Lake, Virginia, served as the setting for Kellerman's Resort. The rustic charm of the Mountain Lake Lodge, with its white clapboard exterior and spacious dance hall, managed to capture the nostalgic essence of the early '60s. This location is where many of the film's iconic scenes were shot, including the memorable dance lessons in the gazebo and the talent show finale.

Meanwhile, Lake Lure, nestled in the heart of the Hickory Nut Gorge, offered an ideal setting for the film's many outdoor shots.

Emile Ardolino directing Grey

The beautifully serene lake is where Baby practised her lifts and where the staff quarters scenes were filmed. The iconic log balancing scene was also shot here, with the film crew reportedly having to warm up the cold lake waters for the actors.

What makes the filming locations so integral to "Dirty Dancing" is the manner in which they help to shape the film's narrative. The tranquil beauty of the natural surroundings starkly contrasts with the tumultuous emotions experienced by the film's characters, adding to the overall narrative depth. Beyond just serving as a backdrop, these locations contribute significantly to the film's nostalgic feel, successfully transporting viewers back to a bygone era.


A Closer Look at the Plot

Baby with her Father

"Dirty Dancing" unfolds over the summer of 1963, set against the idyllic backdrop of Kellerman's, a mountain resort in the Catskills. Frances "Baby" Houseman, our protagonist, arrives at the resort with her parents and older sister, Lisa. Baby is an idealistic young woman, preparing to enrol in Mount Holyoke College and eventually join the Peace Corps, but her life takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles upon the staff quarters at Kellerman's.

The staff, including dance instructor Johnny Castle and his partner Penny, engage in raucous, sultry "dirty dancing", a far cry from the family-friendly performances at the resort.

Johnny and Baby dancing

Baby is both intrigued and captivated by this unexplored world. She is especially drawn to Johnny, whose raw sexuality and dance skills are magnetic. When Penny finds herself pregnant, Baby steps in to help, borrowing money from her father and offering to stand in for Penny in an upcoming dance show at a neighbouring resort.

Penny finds out she is pregnant

Penny's pregnancy ordeal adds a significant subplot to the narrative, serving as the catalyst that brings Baby and Johnny closer. When Penny finds herself pregnant by Robbie, a lecherous waiter who refuses to take responsibility, Baby displays a marked change from the naive character we meet at the film's start. Penny's predicament forces Baby to confront real-world issues that challenge her ideals, and she responds with empathy and determination. She unhesitatingly borrows money from her unsuspecting father to help Penny get an abortion - a controversial topic at the time. This situation exposes the stark class differences and societal prejudices prevalent in the time period the film is set. It also forms a deep bond between Baby and Johnny, as they navigate through the challenges together, leading to the blooming of an unlikely romance. Penny's struggle, although a subplot, significantly contributes to the depth of the narrative and the development of main characters.

Penny and Johnny teaching Baby how to dance

Under Johnny's tutelage, Baby learns to dance, but their connection grows far beyond the dance floor. They fall in love, though they are worlds apart in the context of their social standing. The narrative beautifully captures their clandestine romance, fraught with the tension of their classes, the secret nature of their relationship, and the disapproval of Baby's father when he comes to know of it.

Johnny teaching Baby how to dance

One of the key plot points is when Johnny is falsely accused of theft. With Baby's insistence on truth and justice, she alibis for Johnny, revealing their relationship to her stunned family and getting Johnny exonerated, but at a cost. Johnny is still let go, for fraternising with a guest.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner scene

The climax of "Dirty Dancing" is a triumphant celebration of love and dance. Johnny returns for one last dance and utters the iconic line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Baby, who was initially awkward and clumsy, dances with Johnny in front of everybody, impressing all with her new-found skills. The film ends on a high note with everyone dancing to the film's signature track, 'I've Had The Time of My Life.' It beautifully encapsulates the spirit of the film—defying norms, pursuing passions and a love that transcends social barriers.

"Dirty Dancing" is more than just a love story; it's a cultural phenomenon that continues to resonate with audiences today. And while time may have passed since its release, this film remains as relevant and captivating as ever. So if you're in need of some nostalgia-inducing, heartwarming entertainment, look no further than "Dirty Dancing". It's a classic that will continue to dance its way into our hearts for years to come.


Critical Response

Critics lauded the performances of both Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. Grey's portrayal of Frances "Baby" Houseman was applauded for capturing the perfect balance between innocence and maturity. Critics observed her character's transformation throughout the film as both believable and commendable.

Swayze and Grey after Dirty Dancing some time

Patrick Swayze, with his swaying hips and magnetic charisma, was praised for his convincing portrayal of Johnny Castle. His dance sequences, particularly those with Grey, were highly appreciated for their energy and chemistry.

However, some critics found the film's plot to be predictable and its dialogue occasionally clunky. The film's exploration of class differences and its handling of controversial subjects like abortion were criticised by some as being too simplistic.

Despite these criticisms, the film's enduring popularity demonstrates its successful blend of romance, social commentary, and dance. The film's soundtrack, featuring the Oscar-winning "I've Had The Time of My Life", received universal acclaim and contributed significantly to the movie's appeal.

Baby and Johnny dancing at the end of the film

Eventually, "Dirty Dancing" became a cultural phenomenon, transcending its initial mixed reviews. It was later recognised by the American Film Institute in their list of greatest love stories in American cinema. The film's influence continues to permeate pop culture, often referenced and parodied in various media. Its iconic lines and scenes are still remembered and celebrated, proving that sometimes, audience love can turn a film into a timeless classic.


Cultural Impact of "Dirty Dancing"

The cultural impact of "Dirty Dancing" cannot be overstated. From its iconic dance routines to its unforgettable lines, it has firmly entrenched itself in the collective consciousness of popular culture.

Johnny lifting Baby in the water

When it premiered in 1987, it redefined the romantic drama genre, adding a sense of raw realism that was previously lacking. It presented audiences with an unconventional love story between characters from different social strata, reflecting the socio-economic disparities of the time.

Baby sitting with Johnny

Moreover, the film's nuanced depiction of abortion, a taboo subject in 1963 (the period in which the film is set), is a testament to its cultural relevance. It underscores the film's willingness to delve into controversial territory, contributing to the ongoing discourse surrounding women's reproductive rights.

Johnny in shades and leather jacket

"Dirty Dancing" also has a significant impact on fashion and music. The costumes—specifically Baby's simple, clean-cut outfits and Johnny's black leather jackets—have inspired numerous trends and continue to be referenced in fashion today. The soundtrack, a timeless collection of soulful ballads and energetic dance numbers, has achieved legendary status, with 'I've Had The Time of My Life' becoming a popular choice at weddings and parties.

Furthermore, the film's dialogue has permeated everyday vernacular. Phrases like "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" have taken on a life of their own, used in various contexts to denote defiance and self-assertion.

Lastly, "Dirty Dancing" has left a lasting legacy on the entertainment industry itself. It has been referenced in numerous films and TV shows, spawned a short-lived TV series, a stage adaptation, and even a semi-successful sequel.


Remembering Patrick Swayze

As we finish, it is impossible to overlook the colossal impact Patrick Swayze had not only on "Dirty Dancing", but on the film industry as a whole.

Johnny hitting Robbie

His portrayal of Johnny Castle was nothing short of monumental, and his unforgettable performance has cast a long, inspiring shadow on the world of cinema. Swayze's charisma, paired with his extraordinary dancing skills, turned Johnny Castle into an iconic character that still resonates with audiences today. His undeniable chemistry with Jennifer Grey sparked a level of passion and authenticity in "Dirty Dancing" that continues to set the standard for on-screen romance.

Johnny watching Penny teach Baby how to dance

Swayze's untimely passing in 2009 was a devastating loss for the film industry. Yet, his legacy lives on through his memorable performances, particularly in "Dirty Dancing". The film stands as a testament to his talent, proving that while an artist may pass, art endures. Watching him deftly move across the dance floor to the pulsating rhythm of 'Do You Love Me', one cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia for the magnetic presence he brought to the screen. Patrick Swayze, with his unforgettable role as Johnny Castle, will forever be fondly remembered, mastering the art of leaving an indelible imprint on the hearts of an audience. Indeed, nobody puts Swayze in the corner.

Died: September 14, 2009 (aged 57 of pancreatic cancer) Los Angeles, California, U.S.