It was August 21 when Dirty Dancing made its way into theaters…That was the summer of 1987, when everybody called Jennifer Grey Baby, and it didn't occur to her to mind. With a budget of $6 million, the film danced its way into the hearts of many a movie-goer, becoming one of the classic romantic films of the decade and a dance-focused love story that many dance movies that followed would likely aspire to be
Written by Eleanor Bergstein and directed by Emile Ardolino, Dirty Dancing starts with a girl. A college-bound teenager living in the early '60s, who's on the verge of adulthood and ripe to fall in love as she travels to Kellermans, a Catskills resort. Jennifer Grey's Frances "Baby" Houseman is introduced to us as a sweet Daddy's girl, with good grades and an optimistic outlook on the world. "Our Baby's gonna change the world," her father tells Max. And I like to think that someday she did. But first, her eyes are opened when she she finds herself carrying a watermelon across a bridge and locking eyes with Johnny Castle, a dance instructor who dismisses her as just another spoiled, rich girl. Of course, there's more to both of them than meets the eye and the two fall in love when Johnny is tasked with teaching Baby to dance.
Baby's coming of age story is the heart of the film. And what girl couldn't identify with it on some level? Especially the good girls who believed there might be a handsome Johnny Castle out there willing to show her some moves.
And then there's Patrick Swayze. There was no better casting choice than Swayze to play Johnny, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks dancer who's used to women taking advantage of him. Like Baby, he's ripe to fall in love, and while he takes the role of the teacher, she also teaches him, inspiring him to be a better person, and maybe see that he's worth more than the diamonds being stuffed in his pocket by rich women. Swayze made us fall in love with Johnny Castle. He was just the right amount of bad without actually being dangerous.
The music and dancing played key roles in the film's success, with a soundtrack comprised of classic hits and original songs (including one performed by Swayze himself). The collection of songs is as enjoyable as the film and holds up just as well. And Kenny Ortega - the man who had Ferris Bueller twisting and shouting for us a year prior - stepped up to choreograph the memorable dance routines for Dirty Dancing. Not only was the dancing entertaining, but like the music, it helped to set the tone for the story and put the chemistry between Grey and Swayze into motion, demonstrating through dance the growing physical and emotional connection between the two as the story progressed. It all culminated to that final number, which caps off the film perfectly.
In many ways, Dirty Dancing is as much a fantasy as it is a love story. Most girls likely couldn't claim their first boyfriend swept them off their feet quite the same way Johnny did for Baby, but it wasn't difficult to be swept away by the story. The simplicity of the love story, the classic soundtrack, the chemistry of the cast and time period in which the film is set are all part of why the film holds up years later.
So, if you're a fan, grab your Dirty Dancing DVD/Blu-ray and celebrate the film's 25th anniversary. And remember, "Nobody puts baby in a corner."