Dirty Dancing

on August 21, 1987 by Tom Matthews
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The time is 1963, P.K.A. (Pre-Kennedy Assassination). The setting is a lodge in the Catskills, where well-off families spend whole summers together. Our heroine is Baby (Jennifer Grey), who has come to the lodge with her parents (Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop) and her sister (Jane Brucker) to spend one last summer with them before joining the Peace Corps. Little does she know that her life is about to change forever when she discovers..."dirty dancing."
   The dancing is introduced to her by Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a young buck who gives dancing lessons to elderly, love-struck matrons at the camp. By day he teaches the Fox Trot, but at night he and all of the other young camp employees get together for what can be described only as dance orgies. With rock music throbbing, these handsome youngsters gather clandestinely to perform fairly explicit dances that involve a lot of pouting mouths, arched backs (girls only) and thrusting pelvises. Considering the era, this is rather racy stuff, and Baby is intrigued.
   When Johnny's regular dance partner (Cynthia Rhodes) has to miss an important audition in order to get an abortion (this is the result of someone else's dirty dancing, not Johnny's), Baby agrees to step in and learn her routine. During the course of rigorous training, Johnny and Baby fall in love, and into bed. Baby's father learns about this and gets Johnny fired, but Johnny returns on the night of the camp's closing-night talent show to perform his dirty dance--with Baby--in front of an initially disapproving crowd. But the audience slowly warms to the new dance, and one gets the impression that Baby may never make it to the Peace Corps.
   According to the filmmakers, "Dirty Dancing" is based on a real period in American dance history. Between the era of ballroom dancing and the late '60s, when partners tended to dance several feet apart, there was a wave of dirty dancing that seduced teenagers and infuriated parents. True as this might be, it serves only to provide the film with a premise that is old-fashioned, corny and completely humorless. In fact, if the focus of the story had been on Johnny Castle (what a name!) instead of Baby, this would be a weak Elvis movie: He's a young stud with a heart of gold, but his girl's father thinks he's a bum and no one will let him dance the way he has to dance.
   The dancing is fine, with Swayze proving to be particularly impressive. But "Dirty Dancing" is almost too good at capturing its time period. Its attitudes and its controversies are so dated that it feels like the film was made in 1963. And have you tried to watch a teenaged dance movie from 1963 lately? What the Sept. 1987 BOXOFFICE
had to say about...
DIRTY DANCING
Starri ng Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes and Jerry Orbach. Directed by Emile Ardolino. Written by Eleanor Bergstein. Produced by Linda Gottlieb. A Vestron release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations. Running time: 100 min
Tags: dance, coming-of-age, romance, sex, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes, Jerry Orbach, Emile Ardolino
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