I didn’t realise how much of an effect the film Dirty Dancing has had on me until I sat here and started writing this. If I had to pick a film that has documented pretty much every stage of my life so far, then this would be the one.
I first watched Dirty Dancing when I was 11. My friends Charlotte and Jo had come to mine for a sleepover and it was being broadcast on ITV, so we were watching on our old TV set up in the attic. We had to keep one ear open for my mother, however, who had told us that we shouldn’t be watching it. Someone in the local Spar where we rented our videos had told her that it contained “inappropriate themes” for young girls (I think the folding table and the dirty knife had something to do with it) and so she didn’t want her sweet little girl corrupted by some dirty American film. Jo, who was a year older, had already seen it, which gave her an air of maturity that I longed to emulate. Unfortunately my mother’s footfall could be heard on the stairs just after Johnny had been banished from Kellerman’s, so we were forced to turn it off and pretend we had been playing a game, or plaiting each other’s hair, or whatever else 11 year olds get up to on sleepovers. I asked Jo what happened in the rest of the film, and she told me that Baby died in a car crash, and that they had a memorial to commemorate what an amazing dancer she was. Well, as you can imagine, I was distraught. I hated the thought that Baby and Johnny were never reunited as they should be.
The next day, my mom told me that she had, in fact, been watching the film herself downstairs and recording it, “just in case” she thought it was OK for me to watch. And she thought it was fine. So that afternoon, I got to sit there and watch it (having to pretend, of course, that the first two thirds of it were new to me). We got to the final scene, with Johnny’s immortal words, and I was waiting for the car crash. We got to the triumphant lift, and I was still waiting. The credits started to roll, and there was still no car crash, and I realised that I had been had by Jo. But I didn’t care, because Baby got Johnny, and all was well.
Of course, when I got older I realised that Baby and Johnny’s relationship would never last past the summer; that with her going off to an Ivy League college, and Johnny becoming a house painter, they were too different to ever work outside the enchanted bounds of Kellerman’s. But for that perfect last dance, they are together, and all is right with the world.
I bonded with my new best friend at secondary school over watching Dirty Dancing (and also being scared shitless by an episode of The X Files, but that’s another story for another time). She was impressed that I owned the soundtrack on tape, so as a mark of our friendship I made her a copy on a TDK C90 tape, proudly sliding it over the workbench in a CDT class. The soundtrack was on constant play on my tape deck for a good few years. The songs – Hungry Eyes, She’s Like the Wind, In the Still of the Night – are so evocative that as soon as I hear the opening chords, I am back in my bedroom, kneeling on the carpet in front of the tape player and wishing that I could dance like Baby does.
At university, I went through a phase in the first year where we seemed to watch it every week. I even found a Dirty Dancing drinking game on the internet, and we would sit in one of our bedrooms in Halls, sipping Martini and lemonade and making fun of Max’s lisp.
Dirty Dancing was the first favourite of my films that I made S watch, about three weeks into our relationship. (It is amazing we have lasted six years.) Despite hating the film, he realised what it meant to me, and when he picked me up like Johnny picks up Baby, I think that was the moment I started to fall in love with him. He even bought me a copy on DVD for Christmas a few years ago, to replace my video copy, but when I went to watch it the other day I discovered that it has gone missing. Left over at a friend’s after a drunken viewing? I really don’t know. But I do know that I need to go out and buy another copy, because it is the one film that I have had alongside me all my life and I am sure will accompany me through the next few years.
Because, like for a lot of girls my age, Dirty Dancing is my all time favourite film. It’s the kind of film that you put on during a rainy Sunday afternoon when you are snuggling on the sofa with a blanket. It’s the kind of film you watch with your friends on a girlie night in, wine glass in one hand and the other dipping into a bag of Maltesers. It’s a film I’ve seen in an open air screening, surrounded by hundreds of women (and even a few men), sitting on picnic blankets slugging back the rose and singing along at the top of our voices. It’s a film that I will watch by myself when I need cheering up. It’s a film for all times, for all ages, for all seasons, because it makes you feel good about yourself. It reaffirms your belief that the girl, no matter how geeky and awkward she is, will eventually get the cool guy. Which is certainly a metaphor for my life.
Despite the mullet, and his disarmingly ungraceful way of walking (when he approaches Dr Houseman’s chalet after the whole scandal, his clumpiness in those boots is not what you’d expect from a trained dancer), I fell in love with Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing and that feeling has stayed with me ever since I first saw him beckon Baby over to dance with him, sixteen years ago. To hear he had died this week meant a small piece of my childhood died too, and I felt sadder, and wiser, and older.