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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
The time of your life?
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey
Jennifer Grey learns how to call her lover boy

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Since its release in 1987, Dirty Dancing has become a slow-burning Hollywood classic for those who like their romance danced out. As it opens on London's West End stage, with "record" advance ticket sales, what's its enduring appeal?

"No one puts Baby in the corner."

If that line doesn't get the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end then you may as well give up on life - you're dead inside.

A little harsh maybe, but the opinion of one die-hard Dirty Dancing fan and probably echoed by millions the world over.

For them, that infamous line is the climax of 97 minutes of pure celluloid gold and signals the start of what is widely considered the most goose bump-inducing dance scene in movie history.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey
That goose-bump lift
To those who do not know the film, it is often referred to as "the Star Wars for girls". Just as a generation of men grew up quoting Jedi proverbs, their female equivalents were summoning the above "baby" line to their friends. That might help you get your head round how big a phenomenon it is.

Set in 1963, the film centres around the plain-but-intelligent Frances "Baby" Houseman. She goes to the upmarket Kellerman's holiday camp with her family and falls in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle, who is older, brooding, misunderstood and from the wrong side of the tracks.

He teaches her how to dance, and inducts her in the physical aspect of romance; she teaches him that it is always worth fighting for what you believe in. Fair swap then.

The movie cost just over £2.5m to make but took over £90m worldwide. The cash registers didn't stop ringing there, it went on to become the first film ever to sell a million copies on video.

Sex symbol

It won critical acclaim, Golden Globes and the soundtrack topped the charts. Its Jennifer Warnes-Bill Medley theme tune, (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, won an Oscar for best original song and was even recently declared the third most popular song currently played at funerals in the UK.

The film made a star out of female lead Jennifer Grey and an A-list sex symbol of Patrick Swayze (currently treading the boards elsewhere in London's West End, in Guys and Dolls).

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey
Grey played a naive, though principled, 17-year-old
"This film is the one that gets you hooked," says Swayze's international fan club. "The story of young love at its best. The music is great, the dancing is hot and Mr Swayze is amazing."

So much so that someone has even done a PhD on him. Nicola Daine, postgraduate research assistant at the University of Gloucestershire, focused her studies on his sex symbol status amongst female fans.

The London stage production, which opens on Tuesday, is reportedly the most successful pre-sold show in the history of London theatre. Cynics will note remarkable ticket sale stories often accompany new shows but, nevertheless, it has generated £11m in ticket sales before even opening.

So what is it about this low-budget chick flick that makes it so popular?


"Heavens, where do I start?" says self-confessed Dirty Dancing fan Jane Sales. "It is a classic film about good winning the day. Baby gets accepted into the cool crowd, gets the popular guy, wins his respect and does it all by being herself.

"But ultimately it is about the transformative power of love. She is transformed from a girl into a woman by Johnny and she transforms him from a cynical, angry young man into someone who believes in justice.

"And if that closing dance scene doesn't get your pulse racing with excitement then you're dead inside."

Released August 21, 1987
Filmed in Virginia, North Carolina
Spawned TV-series spin-off
Val Kilmer originally offered lead male role

But the film is far from a masterpiece, it's cheesy and littered with cliches. What makes it so enduring is a plot driven by timeless narratives, say film experts.

"It has that Pygmalion aspect to it - a younger woman being taught how to do something properly by an older man," says Dr Rachel Moseley, senior lecturer in Film & Television Studies at the University of Warwick.

"There is also the narrative of achievement, which is very popular with young women - especially achievement through dance. Just look at other 1980s classics, like Fame and Flashdance."


It even has crossover appeal among "new men".

"I'd love to dance like they do and watching two people dance like that is so sexy," says Andy, a proud male Dirty Dancing fan.

"There are some great tracks in there that you would never normally be exposed to on the radio today. My favourite is 'Love is strange' and I have learned all the words."

And what the film offers men has the potential to be just as emancipating as the achievement narrative is for women.

Patrick Swayze
Swayze: Now in Guys and Dolls (Grey: Last seen on US TV)
"I think watching the film probably helps men understand women better and gives some tips into what romance is," says Andy.

"Women love talking about Dirty Dancing and like getting me to try and persuade their boyfriends to watch the movie with them. I think the men see me as a traitor to the sex."

The enduring narratives of the plot mean it will always resonate with people, which is why fans who first watched it in 1987 have shown it to their children and grandchildren.

"My young daughter loves it," says Ms Sales. "It was a special moment for me when we watched it together for the first time."

But it is Swayze, now 54, who summed it up perfectly in a recent interview. "This," he said, "is the movie that will not die."

I have to say as a girl, and I was 15 when it came out, the movie just didn't really appeal to me at all, although my older sister loved it. Now I'm so much older, and wiser clearly, I enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching it alone and crying sentimentally at all the cliches, the routine on the tree trunk, the gasping ending, the works. And boy, could that man wiggle his hips...
Lisa, Sunderland

Err, it was a load of rubbish then and when I saw it on tv a month or so ago it was still a load of rubbish.
John, Cardiff, Wales

don't be such a grumpy old fart! if you've got nothing nice to say about the masterpiece that is Dirty Dancing (or DD to the more hardcore fans amongst us) don't say anything at all... I think it's a classic up there with likes of My Girl and Ghost. I can truly say it gave me 'the time of my life'!
Lyndsay, Edinburgh

I remember being about 11 years old when this came out and being made to watch it by one of my cousins & her friends......they stole 100 mins of my life & I want them back !!
Matt, London

A huge part of my early teenage years.. I remember saving my wages from my first ever part time job to buy it, second hand, from the local video rental store for £40 (this was before films came out on video to buy within months of their cinema release). I watched it more times than I could count before "out growing it" 15 years later, I recently bought the DVD and rewatched. I was thrilled to realise I could still remember all the lines, and could still cry at all the same parts. Now, I finally have a way to explain its appeal to my Star Wars geek of a husband! Thankyou BBC!
N Tysoe, London, UK

"I'm gonna do my kind of dancin' with a great partner, who's not only a terrific dancer; somebody who's taught me that there are people willing to stand up for other people no matter what it costs them; somebody who's taught me about the kind of person I wanna be".
Nick, Coventry

Loved it when I first saw it as a 12 year old (although admittedly, I didnt quite understand some of the heavier storylines) and love it even more today at 20, as I watch it with my uni housemates (girls & boys). We can't wait to travel down to London to see the musical!!
Cate, Chester

I'm not too crazy about all the mush and the dancing, but anyone who uses that as a reason to dismiss the engaging nostalgia and social realism is an idiot.
Pete, London, UK

The 'Star Wars' for this girl was, um, 'Star Wars'...
Bridget, Slough, UK

My better half keeps going on about having an "I carried a water melon" moment. It's something to do with this film apparently?
Gareth, Wrexham, Wales

Calling Dirty Dancing "Star Wars for women" assumes that women either don't like or don't understand Star Wars. I was a thirteen year old girl when Dirty Dancing came out. I preferred Star Wars then and I still prefer it now. I won't be spending my money to see the theatre version of DD. I'm saving it for a ticket to see the new James Bond movie!
Trudi, London

I concur with it being the female 'Star Wars', this and 'Ghost'. A bottle of white wine, candles and the Dirty Dancing DVD is the way to every woman's heart ( . . . or trousers!!) I recommend to all boyfriends around the world, get the Director's Cut Edition. It shows the alternative end . . The father whips out a 12 gauge double barrel shot gun and blows Patrick away, re-cocks and shoots his daughter. Then calls in an air strike and Napalms the whole cast and crew . . . . . . Well, you can only dream!!!
Steve, Yeovil

Guys, watch it, learn the plot, learn the phrases, know the characters.. its an easy way to impress a girl! so long as they dont think you're gay!!
Dave, Basingstoke

I love Dirty Dancing, especially the bit where lush-legs Swayze sings "I've had the time of my life" to Baby at the end ... swooooon!! My friend paused the video where you can see his bum so much it has forever got fuzzy lines on the screen! Who can resist staring at his lovely bare bot?
Sarah Ling, Worcester

Who can't resonate with a young girl on a family holiday, looking for excitement and love, and on finding it changing from the moth to the butterfly? This is wish fulfillment at its best, and the dances are amazing. Yes it is cheesy, but it will always be with us. My husband complains, but I am not getting rid of my copy, ever.
Tamsyn, Glasgow

This is the only film I have watched 50 times. It is sentimental and cheesy, but the plot and the music both perfectly reflect the innocence and (relative) non-commercialism of the early days of rock and roll.
James Harvey-Brown, Folkestone

The best film ever...... I have watched it so many times I have worn the video out and had to buy it on DVD. I can't wait until my 3 year old daughter is old enough to sit and watch it with me!
Nikki, Warrington, England

This is a film that makes you feel better no matter what. It is like a cup of hot chocolate and a real fire on a cold winters night. it makes you feel good inside but you can't quite out your finger on why.
Helen, Wigan Lancashire

My girlfriend, sisters and mother all adore this film...and I still can't really understand why. Doesn't compare well to either Footloose or Flashdance in my opinion.
Ed, London

I think you should acknowledge the huge cult following it has with gay men too! The lines 'I carried a watermelon' and 'This is my dance space, this is your dance space' are sure to bring the house down.
Josh Lovie, Dubai

I thought it was rubbish too. It's not original in any way. I didn't think it was as good as "Strictly Ballroom" but it was made in Holywood and had all the associated hype so was inevitably going to do better... As for it being a "Star Wars for girls". Does Dirty Dancing have 7 sequels and three cartoons based upon it?
Rod, Edinburgh

I soooo love this film. It gave me the strength to come out to my friends and family and to be who I really was. I would of missed out on so much life if it wasn't for Patrick giving me the confidence to break out and live for today. I am certaintly having the time of my life!
Alwyn Broom, Cardiff, Wales

I saw it years ago, and while it's perfectly ok, it would be much better with some lasers, starships, evil Lords and green dwarves who badly do they speak.
Stephen, London

Well I have to agree with John and I'm a woman! This film never had any appeal for me whatsoever and I don't find Patrick Swayze at all attractive. I think it's the worst sort of cheesy film and would be severely disappointed should my daughter ever want to see it. Give me a Jane Austen flick any day.
Alice, London

I used to love this movie so much , my sisters and I would practice "the lift" all day in the pool.
lucy, london

Which other films are so cheesy yet so sexy at the same time! And the 'I carried a watermelon' line. How many of us whilst growing up have said a line like that and cringed the moment you uttered it?! Pure teenage angst - brilliant!
Alice, Plymouth

I was two when this film came out but at the age of 5 my mum introduced me to the film which is still my favourite of all time, and I still remember as though it was yesterday changing into my floaty skirt and spinning around my front living room acting out the dance routines to the songs!
Alexandra, Sheffield

The ultimate chick flick. And no, that's not a compliment!
Ross Mc Givern, London

A modern day classic, I was 19 years old when the film was first released around about Baby's age, loved the film from start to finish and still do now up there with my top five films.I somehow think that John in Cardiff does not have a romantic bone in his body!

This came out when I was 17 - my friend and I had the sound track on cassette in our cars and we played it constantly! We knew every scene of the film, what was coming next and we knew every word to every song. It brings back very vivid and happy memories. It has stood the test of time as my partner's 17 year old daughter loves it too.
Sarah, Halifax

Why did John, Cardiff watch it again then! I think it is an excellent film as do my daughters
Ian, Sheffield

I can still remember walking down the street with my mate singing the songs to this when we came out of the cinema. It was fantastic. I had both of the soundtracks - they released one but so many people moaned about the tracks that had been left off, they released a second one. I have owned it on video and it was one of the first films to be purchased on DVD. It is a wonderful feel-good film. Plus, Patrick Swayzes butt in those nice tight trousers, certainly gives it an extra something....!!
Kiltie, Staffs, UK

Almost as bad as Titanic.
J Busby

Every teenage girl dreamt of going on a family holiday and meeting her Johnny.
Sarah, Carshalton, Surrey

I too was 15 when the film came out and there was mass hysteria at my school. Girls (including some of my friends) could be seen walking around with copies of the album under their arms. Although I understand the obvious mass appeal Dirty Dancing, it never really appealed to me. Personally, if I want a big dose of angst I¿d rather watch something slightly edgier like ¿The Breakfast Club¿, a great 80¿s film.
M, Birmingham

I'm obviously dead inside...

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A dance lesson from one of the Dirty Dancing cast

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