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The Time of Your Life with Dirty Dancing

The Time of Your Life with Dirty Dancing

The Time of Your Life with Dirty Dancing
  • 22 Feb 2024
  • 4 minutes read

Since the film hit theaters in 1987, Dirty Dancing has been winning the hearts of viewers over and over again. Where does this success come from, and above all, why does the story continue to delight people of all ages? 

A love story full of superlatives obviously does well. First and foremost there are the actors between whom the magic sparkles, a great Patrick Swayze next to a stunning Jennifer Grey. Together they take the story of Eleanor Bergstein to a higher level, directed by Emile Ardolino. That alone is enough to make the film rank high in the all-time list of romantic films. But that can't explain why Dirty Dancing is still going strong more than 35 years after its release. 

The power of music 

One of the factors of its lasting success is undoubtedly the soundtrack. It contains some of the best songs from the eighties, from She's Like the Wind, sung by Patrick Swayze himself, to (I've Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. However, the search for a suitable song for the apotheosis took a long time. Every night during the production, Bergstein gathered her team – director Emile Ardolino, choreographer Kenny Ortega and stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray – to listen to demos, without result. 

We just got up and danced until it was over and said: That’s it! – Eleanor Bergstein 

The culmination of Baby and Johnny's memorable stay at Kellerman's Mountain House was mapped out. "We were going to rehearse, choreograph and dance to something that wouldn't be the last song," Bergstein says. The day before filming the finale, musical supervisor Jimmy Ienner delivered one last box of tapes, pointing out a duet written by Franke Previte and called (I've Had) The Time of My Life. Bergstein knew she had found the ideal song. "We just got up and danced until it was over and said, That's it!" And indeed, the catchy song became an unexpected hit. 

Pure and authentic

In addition to the catchy songs, the film radiates authenticity. Bergstein based the story partly on her own childhood. The youngest daughter of a Jewish doctor from New York, the family spent summers in the Catskills, where she competed in Dirty Dancing competitions. As a girl she was also nicknamed 'Baby'. The dance scenes were not played by doubles, but by both leading actors themselves. Jennifer Gray is the daughter of dancer and Academy Award-winning actor Joel Grey, and studied dance (in addition to acting) at the Dalton School in Manhattan. Patrick Swayze's mother was a well-known choreographer and dance instructor who created the dance steps for films such as 'Urban Cowboy' and 'Thelma and Louise'. His father led a ballet company in Houston. Dancing was taught to him from a young age. As a teenager he also met his future wife, dancer Lisa Niemi, on the dance floor. No wonder some of the most famous moments were performed in a pure and uninhibited way by the two talented leads. For example, the scene where we see Johnny and Baby crawling towards each other. This happened spontaneously while they were warming up for filming. 

“When I think of Patrick, I think of having a blast doing this tiny little movie we thought no one would ever see.” – Jennifer Grey 

The longing for more

That spontaneity does not go unnoticed by the viewers. Everyone loves romance and dancing, maybe secretly, when no one is looking. That makes the scene in which Johnny dances with Baby for the first time in the staff quarters so recognizable. We've all experienced that exciting moment when your bodies touch for the first time and you wish the song would go on forever. The secret dancer deep inside connects us to the world and allows us to express some feelings. The low-budget $6 million film grossed $213 million at the box office. Upon Swayze's untimely death in 2009, Gray fondly recalled working with him on "that little movie that they thought no one would ever see." 

Some films are a box office success upon release, but then fade from memory. Dirty Dancing is one of those rare films that still receives the same strong affection and devotion from fans years later as it did on that first day. 

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