A friend of mine has a theory that every woman who was a teenager between 1987-1993 had their sexual awakening to Dirty Dancing. This may be mildly hyperbolic, but there’s no denying the enduring impact Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s hotly choreographed love affair had on a generation of viewers.
Before this episode, I was in the rare group of people who had never actually seen Dirty Dancing in full. This wasn’t down to any particular aversion to it, 80s dance classics are just something of a blind spot – and the film is so iconic and frequently referenced that I didn’t really feel the need to seek it out.
Had I been asked to guess the plot before viewing, I would have got the bare bones right – trained dancer takes on promising novice as a student, romance blossoms to an iconic 80s soundtrack. However, I would never have guessed that an illegal abortion would feature so heavily in the story, or that the film would generally have such a thoughtful, bittersweet tone.
Director Emile Ardolino (who also helmed Sister Act!) smartly captured the real-life tension between stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey by incorporating long rehearsal takes and unforced reaction shots into the final film. As in the film, Swayze was by far the more accomplished dancer, while Grey took some time to pick up the choreography. They’re also both technically too old for the roles they’re playing – particularly Swayze – but that also winds up working in the movie’s favour, allowing for an authentic sensuality that would have read creepy if Grey had actually seemed like a 17 year old.
The film was an instant hit in 1987, as was its instantly iconic soundtrack. But it was a subsequent afterlife on home video and rental services that really cemented Dirty Dancing as perhaps the quintessential popcorn romance of the late 80s. It was the first VHS to sell a million copies, and was still clearing over a million DVD sales per year at the height of that format’s popularity. The love theme (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes is also one of the most popular selections at funerals.
On this week’s podcast, we break down our reactions to Dirty Dancing, including sexual politics of the 60s/80s, why a dance party would ever need to serve that much watermelon and why that oft-quoted line actually makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the film.
We also discuss some drinking game ideas, check in with our listeners and pitch some sequel ideas to bring Dirty Dancing – sadly sans Swayze – back to the big screen. Yes, we know about Havana Nights and no, we don’t care to consider it canon!
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Next week, we’re taking a short leap forward into the nineties for a very special listener request and one of the most notorious flops of all time. Until then, happy listening and remember – a strong grounding in Merengue is essential to a serious dance career!