Filthy Dancing

One of my favorite movies of all time is Dirty Dancing.

Don't judge.

I distinctly remember being about nine years old and sitting in my friend Nikki's room, sneak-watching her teenage sister's VHS copy of the movie.  For two hours, I sat cross-legged with my jaw slack as I gawked at lustful, sweaty, twenty-somethings grinding on one another to music from the sixties.  And when he walked in... you know who I'm talking about... Johnny, or Mr. Patrick "Hotness" Swayze, with his mullet, tight dancer pants, dark shades and pouty little pink lips... I was confused as shit.

Suffice it to say, black girls from Queens who are head over heels in love with artists like LL Cool J and Play from Kid & Play are NOT supposed to like dancing white boys with mullets.  I was in the closet for years.

Finally, an excuse to put an LL picture up!

Anyway, it didn't take me long to realize I was not alone in my love of Dirty Dancing.  I would say the obsession is fairly common among 80s babies.  Symptoms include a complete inability to turn the channel when it's playing and butterflies every time you hear someone with a deep voice say, "Now I... (had the time of my liffeeee...)."   It crosses all boundaries, colors and creeds... and I would wager at least half of the magic was due to Mr. Swayze (RIP, handsome).

A few years ago, I was reading an article about Dirty Dancing writer, Eleanor Bergstein.  She admitted that the screenplay is somewhat autobiographical: she used to dance dirty, was called 'Baby' until she was 22, and spend summers with her parents in the Catskills (the setting for the movie).  It was unclear whether there was a "Johnny" or not (HELLO if there was, rarr) but it was clear the story was close to her heart. 

Dirty Dancing was a simple movie.  Good, sheltered, rich girl meets "WILD!", poor dancing boy (who may or may not have been working as some sort of male escort (woman "stuffing diamonds in his pockets," hmm...).  No one approves.  She "hurts her family... he loses his job anyway..." but ultimately, he changes his bad boy ways to be with her, learning "there are people willing to stand up for other people, no matter what it costs them."  (I'm going to be 80 years old, and still remember those lines).     It didn't win any awards or place Bergstein amongst the elite of Hollywood.  But, it touched so many people and has become a classic, in its own right, to all those who love it.

Over the years, I've realized it's the honesty that has set it apart.  As a woman, there are so many aspects of the movie I have come to love... Baby's awkwardness, the pro-choice subplot, and even Baby's mature acceptance of the end of the relationship.  It would have been a completely different movie if Baby and Johnny eloped at the end and she gave up her future to be a painter's wife. 
She wrapped her arms around his waist, looked into his eyes, and said "I'll never be sorry." 
And I believed her.
In my head, after that last dance, they got busy one more time, and she went home.  Starting Mt. Holyoke in the Fall... just like she planned. 

As a writer, I am inspired by Eleanor Bergstein.  I am inspired by her honesty.  Her willingness to write a simple story from her heart and make us believe in it.  I saw an interview with Tyler Perry on OWN last week where he responded to his critics by saying his stories are what he knows.  He said simply, "The people that don't get it don't matter as much as the people that do."  Love him or hate him (and I plea the 5th on that one), you have to admire that and (love it or hate it) it's working out really well for him.  Stephen King said something similar in On Writing.  In school, he was known as a great writer but his teachers thought he was "wasting his talent" by writing that horror "crap".  He loved that horror crap so he wrote what he loved.  I think we can all agree it seems to have worked out for him too. 

That wise old adage seems to constantly ring true, doesn't it? Stay true to yourself.  Stay honest in your art.  Don't give in to gimmicks and remain confident the audience will follow.  Like Tyler said, the people that get it matter far more than the people that don't. 

Who would have thought I'd be quoting the guy who dresses up as Madea...

Love and Light,


  1. I think trying to conform kept me from doing what I wanted to do for so long. And because I tried to conform and go to school majoring in pre-med, nursing, radiation therapy and forensic science, things just didn't seem to want to work out. But now they do. You are absolutely correct; stay true to yourself.
    Oh yeah, I plead the 5th with you!

  2. OMG!!! I was JUST thinking about this movie!!! I was listening to some oldies and fake dirty dancing (alone! LOL!). I think criticism is important, but sometimes critics refuse to judge things for what they are. Not everything can be "Citizen Kane." Not everything should be. You know what is top of the list of movies I wish I had written? "The Princess Bride." A lot of people have said if Shakespeare were writing now he'd be on the staff of "General Hospital" or something. Think of all the cross-dressing, cases of mistaken identity and fake deaths. It's CRAZY!! His writing survives because it's honest and speaks to the human condition.

    We've had the "Practical Immigrant" discussion before. Sigh... But you can keep pretending to be something you're not for only so long...

    As for Mr. Perry... I respect his success but there's too much sexism and misogyny in his work for me to get on board. And what he did to "For Colored Girls" is a crime against humanity. But like he said - he's not writing for me.

    Oh... And speaking of Shakespeare... I highly recommend BBC's "The Hollow Crown" - a four episode adaptation of Richard II and the Henrys. AWESOME!!! Tom Hiddleston, the actor who plays Hal/Henry V (also is Loki in The Avengers and Thor) is going to be a HUGE Oscar-winning star. I wrote a post about him.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts