Original release: August 21st, 1987
Running time: 100 minutes
Director: Emile Ardolino
Writers: Eleanor Bergstein
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, Jane Brucker, Max Cantor, Lonny Price, Cynthia Rhodes
Nobody puts Baby in a corner 01:28:37 to 01:40:45
From the moment I first heard a rhythm and a beat I knew I had to move and I was shaking my little tushie long before I’d learned how to walk. Whether it was salsa or soca, pop or rock, reggae or chutney, nothing could stop me, and for a long time people thought I would never stop dancing. I did though, in recent years I let work and worries take over my life and that need to move faded as the business of life took over.
It was only in the past few weeks I began to turn that around and tried to bring back the music to my life. After deciding to get back into shape I started to put myself through 2 hours of intensive workouts in the mornings and followed that up with an hour of dance and aerobics in the evenings, seven days a week. While compiling a list of songs to use during my workouts it occurred to me that 80s were a great source of energetic and memorable numbers, and many of them were featured in films – some of which I’d never seen until now – including Dirty Dancing.
Beginning with The Ronettes singing Be My Baby and images of couples dancing in the background, Dirty Dancing is set in the summer of 1963. It tells the story of 17 year old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) who’s vacationing with her well-to-do family at Kellerman’s, a resort in the Catskill Mountains. She’s something of a daddy’s girl, a real goody two-shoes who plans on attending Mount Holyoke College to study economics and then enter the Peace Corps.
Her older sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) vies for her father’s attention too but has a hard time getting it because he dotes on Baby more, still, she keeps trying. At a dinner Lisa catches the attention of a handsome waiter, Robbie (Max Cantor), while Baby is introduced to Neil Kellerman (Lonny Price), but she’s left unimpressed with the arrogant young man.
Later that night, Baby ventures out on her own to see what else the resort has to offer and this where she stumbles upon its secret after-hours parties. Though she’s shocked at first when she sees the crotch-grinding “dirty dancing”, she’s also intrigued and immediately develops a crush on dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) – the leader of the working-class entertainment staff. She sees him dancing with Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes), another dance instructor, and they’re burning up the floor with their hot moves.
Though Johnny’s annoyed at Baby’s presence, he gives her an impromptu lesson but it’s clear that she can’t move at all like Penny. The following night, Baby discovers Penny’s pregnant with Robbie’s baby and is in need of an illegal abortion. This leads to Penny having to bow out of a big dance competition performance at the Sheldrake, a nearby resort where they perform annually.
The first step in Baby jeopardising her relationship with her father comes when she asks him for $250 but doesn’t tell him what it’s for, though she lies about it not being illegal. She gives the money to Penny for the abortion and agrees to stand in for her in the competition, leaving Johnny with only a few days to turn a girl with two left feet into a competent dancer who’ll dazzle the judges.
Though his temper is short with her and he has to start with the very basics, Baby picks up the moves really quickly and her confidence begins to grow. The only thing she really has a problem with is “the lift” – this is when she has to run up to Johnny and he lifts her high above his head with her arms outstretched during the song’s climax.
Despite her not doing the lift for the competition, they manage to perform really well, but there’s another situation they have to do deal with. Penny’s backstreet abortion was performed on a folding table by a guy with a dirty knife and now she’s in agonising pain. Seeing no other choice, Baby fetches her father who’s a physician to help her. He saves her life, but now he knows what Baby wanted the money for and he assumes Johnny’s the father. Disappointed with his daughter, he forbids her from seeing her friends again.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Baby goes against her father’s wishes and secretly visits Johnny and they make love. As they pair begin an affair that combines their erotic dance moves, Kellerman spots them together and his jealousy gets the better of him. When someone reports Johnny as a thief, he gets fired and but Baby tries to defend him and in the process their affair is revealed – leaving him still fired and causing a further rift with her father. All this time she’s kept him from finding out about Johnny, fearing she might disappoint him.
This sets us up for a climactic finale that I really should’ve seen coming but nevertheless it took me by surprise and I found myself completely swept up in the moment.
With Johnny gone, Kellerman leads the group in their alma mater song. Baby’s father gives Robbie an envelope with a check, seeing him as an outstanding young man, but when Robbie thanks him for helping with the “Penny situation” he realises it was him who got her pregnant and not Johnny at all.
With the song still going on, a leather jacket-wearing Johnny defiantly walks back in and finds Baby looking heartbroken and sitting with her parents. His return catches her off-guard – she turns to him and he says those famous words, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. Leading Baby by the hand, Johnny walks up to the stage and with her beside him he makes a speech.
And so begins what’s now my favourite ending in a film. Why did it take me this long? As Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes sing the Oscar winning hit (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, Baby and Johnny dance like they’ve never danced before as the crowd goes wild. It’s not only one of the most romantic film moments, but joyous as the energy seems to come right out of the screen, leading up to Baby doing the lift successfully for the first time.
As the dancing spills out onto the aisles it’s really impossible to sit still and it was the first song to get me back into dancing and shaking my tushie again.
Dirty Dancing, with this scene alone, awakened in me an interest for other 80s dance movies I missed seeing, such as Footloose and Flashdance, but great as they are, they don’t really compare to this one. It has something those other films simply don’t – it’s not one thing in particular but rather the whole package; the comedy, the romance, the music, the choreography and the outstanding performances by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey that’s help this film go down in history as number one on “Women’s most-watched films”, though I’m pretty sure it’s on a few guys lists too!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .