One evening, my grandmother boiled some water on the stove to make her tea; and while she waited, she decided to flip through the tv channels to see what was on. Nothing seemed to catch her attention, when suddenly the silver screen was illuminated by the exotic, vibrant, and sensual moves also known as…Dirty Dancing. She became so engrossed in the film that she never heard the kettle whistle; and by the time she went upstairs, the movie had finished and the kettle had gotten so hot it burned a hole in the stove.
I mean, how can you not be fascinated by the relatively unknown Jennifer Grey paired with heartthrob Patrick Swayze in a coming-of-age love story that involves a killer soundtrack and super hot dancing?? Set in the summer of 1963, before JFK’s assassination and the Beatles’ U.S. invasion, Dirty Dancing follows the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman at a resort hotel with her family. She’s practically bored to tears with all the old people and the awkward dancing classes the hotel guests take to learn simple steps like the bunny hop and merengue… That is until she comes across an off-limits staff quarters where she finds the employees “dirty dancing” to new rock music blaring in the background. She’s shocked and mesmerized by the dancing but is especially captivated by Johnny, the hunky dance instructor at the resort who even pulls her on to the dance floor for a number, teaching her how to grind and shake her hips to the music. He quickly disappears after their dance, and although she is intrigued by him, their worlds are so different that it seemed unlikely that their lives should ever collide. Baby lives in a protected and elite world of family and success while Johnny lives in a world of free expression and adulthood. But when Baby finds Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, crying in a corner with her knees pulled in, their lives take an unexpected turn. Baby finds out that Penny is pregnant and unable to take part in an upcoming competition; and so she volunteers to take her spot as Johnny’s dancing partner. Although reluctant at first, Johnny realizes that there isn’t much of a choice and begins to give her dancing lessons- and an inevitable romance blooms between the two. I might just be a sucker for dance movies, but watching their romance grow through dance training montages with tunes like “Hungry Eyes” and “Hey, Baby” jamming in the background is like, the best thing ever.
Dirty Dancing is light-hearted and entertaining to watch, but it’s more than just about sexy moves, cute crop tops, and star-crossed lovers. It’s also about feminism, class, sex, rape, and abortion. An important quote from the movie is, “Sometimes you see things that you don’t want to see,” and that’s one of the main themes of the movie.
The film takes place during the 60s and thus pre-Roe v Wade, when abortions were almost entirely illegal in the United States. When Penny has an unwanted pregnancy, she decides to have an illegal abortion that ends up almost killing her. “The guy had a dirty knife and a folding chair” is how the procedure is described, and it’s a disturbing but truthful and important line. Baby paid for the expensive yet incredibly unsafe procedure because although Robbie, the man responsible for Penny’s pregnancy, has plenty of money, he refused to pay for the abortion. He tells Baby that “some people count, and some people don’t,” referring to the different socioeconomic levels represented in the film. (Don’t worry, Baby pours water down his pants after this).
Robbie may be a waiter, but he’s only waiting on to save up for an Alfa Romeo. He’s actually super wealthy and was recently accepted into Yale’s medical school. At the resort there are two different classes: the rich, white folks like Robbie, who look down upon most of the other workers at the resort and those like Johnny and Penny, who are poor and probably never even had the opportunity to go to college.
Although Dirty Dancing covers many important political issues, it’s also just a fun 80s dance movie about a girl who discovers herself while having the /time of her life./ Baby may just have been a naive, idealistic, and painfully awkward teenager, but by assuring her independence, helping her friends, defying her class (and her disapproving father), seducing Johnny and freeing her body by embracing it through sex and dance, you realize that “nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
Words & collage by Rena