Viewing Guide – Celebrating 30 years of romance classic Dirty Dancing

Luke Stevenson is a journalist at Community Care and an avid cinema-watcher. He is also one of the three hosts of the weekly Popcorn Muncher Podcast.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in 1987 romantic drama Dirty Dancing
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in 1987 romantic drama Dirty Dancing

Iconic teen dance movie Dirty Dancing is 30 years old this year. It is a part of modern internet culture that whenever people are reminded about how old something is, we have to overreact with disbelief. It’s like we can’t handle the facttime ultimately passes, leaving us all dust in the wind and our achievements dirt in the ground. I shall not overreact with disbelief though. Dirty Dancing came out in October 1987. It is now October 2017. Ergo, 30 years has passed.

A lot has happened in that time. Star Wars has come back, twice. Franchises from the same decade – I’m looking at you, Terminator – refuse to go away. But the most important thing is that Dirty Dancing is still here and is still as brilliant as it ever was. To celebrate its 30th year, I’ve watched it for my 400th time and have shared all of my thoughts with you here.

To help you, here is a character cheat sheet so I don’t have to add too much:

Baby: Our young star. People try to put her in corners when they shouldn’t.
Johnny: Wears sunglasses when he shouldn’t. Hunk.
Baby’s dad: Doctor. Has mixed feelings about the amount of sex his daughter has on a family holiday.
Penny: Johnny’s dance partner. Feminist icon.
Max: Owns the holiday resort.
Neil: Weasel grandson of the holiday resort owner.
Robbie: Waiter. Proof not all men whose name end with an ‘ee’ sound are hunks.
Billy: Johnny’s cousin. Great with a pair of watermelons.

Right, now that’s out of the way, fire up your DVD copy and let’s enjoy Swayze all over again…


Time: 00:00:20
All things considered, ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes is a shamefully underused song in movies.

Time: 00:03:57
Max says: “I want you to know if it wasn’t for this man, I’d be standing here dead”. While I don’t underestimate his point, standing somewhere dead doesn’t sound practical or hygienic for the face of a family resort.

Time: 00:05:14
In the first dance class, there is a man with blue socks pulled up to his knees dancing with the heat and passion of a thousand suns. Where is his movie? Baby is standing on people’s toes goddammit. This movie should have immediately switched focus.

Time: 00:06:03
The boss of this park is telling his waiters to seduce the daughters – “even the dogs”. This is the rather more socially conservative 1960s, so why haven’t more dads complained about him paying waiting staff to deflower their kids? Maybe they have, and this is a bizarre subplot to which we are not privy.

Time: 00:07:30
I understand Johnny’s first moments on screen are designed to introduce him as a dangerous sex machine – hence the sunglasses indoors at night – but he literally pushes three napkins to the floor. If that’s the criteria for threatening, I could have done much better in secondary school.

Time: 00:08:49
If this movie was set in the noughties, then Neil – a well-meaning white boy from means who has a quasi-management position at his grandfather’s resort – would inevitably be writing blog posts about how girls like Baby pick bad boys instead of the ‘nice guys’ before losing his job after photos turned up on Twitter of him marching in a ‘protecting white culture’ rally.



Time: 00:11:20
Baby, like the rest of us, is having her first sexual awakening at the sight of Patrick Swayze dancing. We’ve all been there.

Time: 00:12:35
I know this isn’t the point of the movie, but how does the sawing someone in half magic trick work? Also, what does Baby do with the chicken?

Time: 00:14:37
How many attempts did it take to do the watermelon not-drop? In all my years of watching movies, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as impressive as that.

Time: 00:15:48
Now I know this was a movie written in the 1980s and set in the 1960s, but how tame is the dancing for a movie that’s literally called Dirty Dancing? I don’t dance since that incident in 2009, but at university I saw first-day freshers dance with one another in a way I believe should mean they are legally married now. The supposed heat, sweat and bodies writhing against one another in this film could easily just be a journey on the Northern Line.

Time: 00:18:15
Is “I carried a watermelon” that bad an opening line? It’s factually accurate and denotes a good amount of muscle mass.

Time: 00:20:00
My copy of the film keeps sticking at the bit where Swayze writhes a lot and honestly I’m all at sea.

Time: 00:22:00
Baby doesn’t handle the revelation that Penny was kicked out at 16 by her mother particularly well. She says she envies her. But there was literally no invitation for Penny to say that. How easy is it to get Penny talking about this? “Pass the eggs.” “I didn’t have eggs after my mum kicked me out when I was 16.”

Time: 00:24:20
Without hyperbole, Neil is the absolute epitome of everything that is wrong with white men.

Time: 00:28:30
This is frequently described as the ultimate movie for a girls’ night-in. How many of those girls’ nights-in have forgotten about the major abortion subplot? I forget about it every time. I’ve been talking about Patrick Swayze’s hips every two minutes. Where are my priorities?

Time: 00:29:30
Is Robbie the waiter actually the epitome of everything that is wrong with white men? Maybe I owe Neil an apology.

Time: 00:33:15
They’ve just started practicing their dance. The guy with the blue socks is not present, sadly.

Time: 00:34:30
How well-packed was Baby for this holiday? She has everything from trousers and baggy shirts to high-waisted shorts, skin-tight vests and dancing attire. It’s almost as if she knew this holiday would be the beginning of a liberating sexual awakening. Bit weird when you think she went on this holiday in good faith with her dad.

Time: 00:36:12
Can ‘Hungry Eyes’ be in every movie? Even if it doesn’t fit the tone. Just every movie.



Time: 00:36:51
She looks up at him as the song says ‘Hungry Eyes’. I’m crying.

Time: 00:38:49
Since the invention of IMDb, has this movie ever been played without someone explaining the fact that Baby’s laughter during the hand-running-down-the-body-shot was unscripted, as Jennifer Grey could not control herself, and that Johnny’s annoyance is actually Swayze’s? Either way, at least this watch-through hasn’t. That would be awful.

Time: 00:40:50
Baby just screamed “you’re wild” while Johnny was driving slowly through a small rural village. She really needed this holiday.

Time: 00:43:57
Best place to practice lifts or not, that water looks off-puttingly cold.

Time: 00:44:48
They are helping the Schumachers with the wallets. SMELL THE DANGER, BABY. RUN AWAY.

Time: 00:48:40
Baby’s performance in this dance is the “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing” meme we’ve been waiting for, and all this time it was right in front of our faces.

Time: 00:51:22
Let’s talk about this whole abortion subplot. The movie was written in 80s America, set in 60s America years before Roe v. Wade, and Penny’s decision is presented without judgment. Baby’s dad does what he needs to do without passing comment or getting in touch with the police. The question about whether she is allowed to do this is never raised for a second. The only judgment is that which the father reserves for Johnny, which is based solely on male ideas about responsibility. Is there a less judgmental mainstream movie about women’s issues than this? Especially considering its era?

Time: 00:56:22
Never, in my life, have I been looking good shirtless and then suddenly become irresistible when the music changes. I could have ended that sentence at “looking good shirtless”, really.

Time: 01:01:00
In the entire history of ‘badly disguising the fact we had sex’, I think Johnny and Baby’s performance here is one of the worst examples.

Time: 01:05:45
Do all sisters just casually announce in the middle of the night who they are going to have sex with? I’m not a woman, therefore I’m not a sister, but I can’t imagine a scenario where that is at all comfortable for anyone involved.

Time: 01:07:49
‘You Don’t Own Me’ is on the soundtrack to this movie, meaning the version we’ve heard on the radio over the past couple of years is a cover. This has completely flipped my world upside down.

Time: 01:11:40
When Johnny and Robbie fight, why does Johnny invite him to punch him? I’m not big on physical confrontations due to my lack of a physique, but this feels like a ridiculous decision to make. What if he blinds you? What if he’s actually his county’s middleweight boxing champion and actually kills you?

Time: 01:13:10
Oh bloody hell, Lisa. Stop singing.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing

Time: 01:14:00
A man sees no possible negative effect to him being away from his wife all week, playing cards all weekend, and then paying the hunky dance instructor to spend all evening teaching her to dance. Johnny refuses this time, but previously we’re led to believe those two did this and had sex. How are these people rich? I’ve changed my mind. He is the epitome of everything that is wrong with white men.

Time: 01:19:09
As Johnny is accused of stealing wallets, Baby rushes to his defence by saying she was with him all night. “Because I was with him” is an ambiguous phrase. She could have said she was having dance lessons. That seems to work for other people as a cover when they are having sex with Johnny.

Time: 01:22:14
On no occasion in this movie has Johnny worn sunglasses when it has been sunny. It’s grey and he’s under a canopy when he’s talking to Baby’s dad with sunglasses. In the next scene he’s out in the sunshine and his sunglasses are nowhere to be found. Are we sure he knows what sunglasses are for?

Time: 01:25:46
Oh shit. Alt-right nice guy Neil is singing. I know the dance is about to happen. I can make it…

Time: 01:26:26
Oh shit. Lisa is now singing. Its dastardly how they set you up for the high with this devastating low.

Time: 01:27:59
Max, the owner of Kellermans, has a scene where he is complaining that kids don’t want to go on holidays to take foxtrot lessons anymore. Has it ever occurred to Max to stop running foxtrot lessons? Or to stop encouraging his waiters to have sex with his clients’ daughters?

Time: 01:28:08
Oh shit. Now Max is singing. Is this how holidays used to end? This would be excruciating. The 60s look terrible.

Time: 01:28:30
Johnny’s here. The 60s are good again.

Time: 01:29:02
The line “no-one puts Baby in the corner” is said with an authority that does not befit the amount of times Baby has been put in a corner in this movie.

Time: 01:30:20
It’s a good thing Johnny filled the lighting guy in on his plan to interrupt the final performance with a dance, otherwise this could have been really awkward.

Time: 01:30:55
Bugger me, this whole scene is just pure movie magic isn’t it? Hold me.

Time: 01:32:00
Is publicly writhing on a man’s daughter the right way to get him to change his opinion of you? I’m not convinced. I think I’d sooner rip my own eyes out with teaspoon than witness similar.

Time: 01:33:26
This is the lift. The moment we have been waiting for. YASSSSSSSSSSSS. LIFT HER TO THE HEAVENS JOHNNY. LIFT HER FOREVER.

Time: 01:35:48
Sing it to me, Johnny. Bring us home.

Jennifer Grey was hoisted aloft by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing
Jennifer Grey was hoisted aloft by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing

What are your memories of Dirty Dancing? Where does it stand among the great romantic movies and films about dancing? Let me know in the comments section.

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