This is what happens when a Dirty Dancing novice watches the film for the first time and discusses it with a Dirty Dancing expert. Let’s watch it unfold…
This year marks the 30th anniversary of ’80s hit Dirty Dancing, and up until last night, I hadn’t watched it once.
Starring Jennifer Grey (not to be confused with Jennifer Beals, who appeared in Flashdance, another classic ’80s film that I haven’t seen) and Patrick Swayze (80’s heartthrob, also in Ghost, also haven’t seen that one), the movie chronicles the unlikely love story of Baby and Johnny Castle using drama, ’80s glamour and a whole lot of dancing.
In honor of this momentous anniversary, I sat down with a bowl of popcorn and watched it start to finish. I’m going to tell you my thoughts while doing so…
Madeleine, I was going to forgive you for not seeing Dirty Dancing, but you haven’t seen Ghost or Flashdance either? May I ask which desert island you grew up on? Once I am done with this post, I am going to lock you in a room with a television, a VCR and about a dozen very important tapes that I will need you to review. But for now, let’s focus on the beautiful experience of you watching Dirty Dancing for the first time ever, and ostensibly, having the time of your life.
1. Everyone is in Dirty Dancing. How did I not know this?
I spent the first 10 minutes of this movie yelling and pointing at the screen with excitement as familiar famous faces appeared one after the other, 30 years younger than I’m used to seeing them.
I had no idea. Why didn’t someone tell me? In all my years watching Seinfeld, no one ever once turned to me and said, “Did you know that Newman was in Dirty Dancing?”
Of course they didn’t. Such a statement would be completely unnecessary because everyone has seen Dirty Dancing, and as such, would already know about Wayne Knight’s storied filmography. Everyone except for me, that is.
Here’s some trivia. When Dirty Dancing was released, it had a relatively no-name cast (with the sole exception of Jerry Orbach) and wasn’t expected to be a blockbuster at all. So, yes, everyone you list, from Jennifer Grey to Patrick Swayze to Kelly Bishop, all got their big break from the movie. I will admit, though, that I had totally forgotten that Newman was in it until you mentioned it. Newman!
Man, I also forgot, until I looked it up just now, that Patrick Swayze died of cancer in 2009. Damn. Relearning that hurt all over again.
2. Baby is kind of a badass
First of all, I had no idea that people actually referred to her as Baby. I thought Baby was a one-off term of endearment used by Johnny Castle. Now I know better.
Furthermore, she’s planning to go to school to study the economics of underdeveloped countries? Or join the peace corps? I never knew Baby was such a badass! Respect, Baby. Respect.
Yes! I think one of the central reasons this movie has survived the ‘80s and reached cult status is Baby’s badassery. She might initially come off as a bit of a pushover, and she has somehow been pinned with the worst nickname in history, but she is tough as nails. I mean, she asks her dad for abortion money for a person she barely knows. She steps up to the plate when someone has to perform the Mambo in front of a live audience. And she totally goes after what she wants.
I think there’s a misconception that Johnny has all of the agency in the film, including the moment he says, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” In reality, she falls in love with him not because he’s a strong, aggressive man, but because he recognizes her power and conviction when no one else does. It’s great.
I think we’ve also got to give some credit here to Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the film and based it largely on her own life experiences (she has a doctor for a dad and spent her summers at a resort in the Catskills where she learned to dirty dance). And her older sister just happens to be named Frances.
3. Ohhhh, this is why it’s called Dirty Dancing
Today this movie would be called Grinding.
Also, do people do this anymore? I’m old, so I have no idea, but I feel like people don’t have secret staff dance parties anymore. Why on earth not? They look so fun! Sweaty, but fun.
Now that I think of it, I feel like no one dances anymore.
Suddenly I’m filled with an overwhelming sadness, nostalgia for a world I’m not sure even existed in the first place.
Oh yeah. I definitely remember watching this when I was 8 and being a bit scandalized. Hell, I feel a bit scandalized right now, watching that GIF, but I like it.
Also, when you start watching Dirty Dancing when you are 8 and then grow up to attend some really, really boring staff parties, the disappointment is difficult to manage. Also, people at your staff party will ask you why you’ve brought so many watermelons with you.
4. Robbie is the literal worst
First of all, Baby, I take back a little bit of the respect I doled out to you earlier.
Your sister storms out of the woods disheveled and clearly upset, asking Robbie to apologize, and you do nothing! If that were my sister, I’d be doing far more than just standing on the dock with some creep watching this scene unfold with mild disinterest.
Secondly, and more important, Robbie is a total asshole. “Some people count, some people don’t,” he says a few scenes later, as he hands Baby a copy of The Fountainhead.
The Fountainhead?! He would read Ayn Rand.
I loathe him. I know I’m supposed to loathe him and I do, eagerly. Robbie can go to hell.
Agreed. He’s the antithesis of Johnny Castle. (Best name ever for a Patrick Swayze character? Yes.) Upon rewatching, I am actually kind of impressed that he has the time and energy to engage in so much crappy behavior. How do you schedule it all, Robbie?
5. What is this dance practice montage?
Why does Baby show up wearing ever-smaller items of clothing during these dance lessons? Isn’t this montage supposed to be happening over the course of just a few days? Was there a heat wave? Were her jorts not sexy enough for the Swayze?
WTF. Now Swayze is shirtless too! What on earth is happening?
This dance practice montage happens to be one of the best montages in all of filmmaking is what it is. It’s right up there with Rocky’s training montage (my God, I just realized you probably haven’t seen Rocky; I will add it to my pile of VHS tapes for you), and for good reason. I mean, not only do they fall in love during this montage, I fall in love with them: both of them separately and also the idea of them as a couple. Also, “Hungry Eyes” is playing in the background: cue saxophone solo.
Now, please excuse me for a moment. I am going to go buy a pair of white Keds, but I will be back soon.
6. I need to work out more
“Goddamn, Jennifer Grey is fit,” I think to myself as I sit there shoving popcorn into my face and staring at her toned midsection.
I am briefly comforted when I remember that she was probably, like, 17 years old when Dirty Dancing was filmed. Then I do some Googling and discover that she’s wasn’t 17. She was 27.
I put away the popcorn and start doing crunches.
Me too. Maybe we should take dance lessons? Or we could try just running up and down that really, really long flight of stairs they keep showing in the movie.
7. She did it! Sort of!
I thought that the dance performance Baby was training for would be the pinnacle of the movie, but it clearly isn’t.
This dance is actually kind of painful to watch. It might as well be me up there clumsily stumbling through those steps with a terrified smile plastered on my face. Yikes.
But she did it! She got through it without too many egregious errors. Yay, Baby!
I love how the dance scene at the Sheldrake is a classic false climax. They’ve been training for it so hard, but it’s not the iconic scene, y’all. There’s plenty of dirty dancing and sex and intrigue ahead.
8. This is why access to safe and legal abortion is such an important issue
The real question here is has Donald Trump seen Dirty Dancing? Because if he hasn’t, he should, and he should invite Pence and all his anti-abortion cronies to watch too.
They should note that Penny, upon finding herself unintentionally pregnant, did not say to herself, “Welp, it’s illegal to terminate this pregnancy so I guess I’m a mom now!” and begin knitting baby booties.
What Penny did instead was seek out some hack job “Doctor” who almost killed her.
Here, here! When I watched this movie when I was 8, I was always very confused about the Penny abortion storyline. What is a missed period? Why is everyone whispering? I was pretty sure that Penny was sick and that it was Robbie’s fault, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that the movie is about way more than dance moves. It’s got a serious political undertone, and it is executed fabulously in its simplicity. Not having access to safe and legal abortions is extremely dangerous and even deadly to women. At the same time, I don’t feel like the tone or the plot of the rest of the movie is negatively affected by such a deep and serious subplot. This movie has heart and daring. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
In fact, this makes me think: Was this the first big blockbuster that had a major plot point about abortion? The only other two big ones I can think of are The Cider House Rules and maybe Juno.
9. The line! The iconic line!
I finally heard it! “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”. I’m so happy, if a little underwhelmed, to have context for this classic quote.
What is this movie about besides dirty dancing? Why has it outlasted so many other cheesy ‘80s love stories? It’s the iconic line: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” This line isn’t about a man standing up for his lady; it’s about the most important aspect of love: recognizing who the other person really is. In that moment, Johnny is showing Baby not only that he loves her, but that he sees her clearly in a way that no one else does, not even her family. And in fact, by saying that in front of her family, he’s showing them who she really is — a very strong woman with a lot a deeply held beliefs, who works really hard to accomplish goals and who can suddenly dance really, really well.
10. This final dance scene is everything
She did the lift! Damn, girl.
Oh shit, even the prissy old fur-clad ladies are getting down! And here we are, fox-trot be damned. They’re all dancing dirty.
The chairs magically disappear and every single person in that room begins to dance together in sheer ’80s ecstasy. Overcome by the big hair and the blue eye shadow and the spandex, they dance, young and old. Rich and poor. Black and white.
It’s a lesson for all of us, no?
We should really amend the Constitution so that all movies made in the United States are required to end with a full-cast dance scene. It’s for the good of all citizens.
And ugh, the chemistry between Grey and Swayze during the last dance scene is just unbelievable. I love how it’s the dance that the audience has learned along with the two characters, throughout the movie, so we know exactly how it goes and exactly how comfortable and into it both Baby and Johnny are as “Time of My Life” starts playing. And then, BOOM, suddenly all the resort’s entertainment staff is doing a perfectly choreographed dance down the aisle. Because why not?
OK, what other 1987 classics have you missed out on? Moonstruck? Predator? Lethal Weapon? The Princess Bride? Oh my God; tell me you’ve seen Princess Bride.
Dirty Dancing 30th Anniversary Edition is available now on a limited Collector’s Edition numbered box set, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD.
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