30 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Dirty Dancing
The kind of feel-good film that you can always watch to make yourself feel better on a rainy evening, Dirty Dancing is understandably one of the most beloved and iconic films of the 1980s.
Here are some things you may not have known about this all-time movie classic.
30. Jennifer Grey almost turned the film down after working with Patrick Swayze on Red Dawn
Dirty Dancing wasn’t the first film that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey made together; that honour goes to 1984’s Red Dawn. Directed by John Milius, Red Dawn told the story of a Soviet invasion of the US, and the plucky young Americans who wage a guerilla war to fend off the invading forces.
That the pair would reunite to play lovers in Dancing just three years later suggests Swayze and Grey had a great time together – but that wasn’t the case. Grey had so disliked working with Swayze on Red Dawn that, when the Dirty Dancing project came along, Swayze had to convince Grey to work with him again.
29. Grey and Swayze repeatedly butted heads throughout filming
Grey may have conceded to working with Swayze after screen tests proved their formidable on-screen chemistry, but that didn’t mean the shoot itself was going to be all roses. Just a few weeks into production the pair were reportedly “facing off” before every scene, to the point where the crew were concerned Greyze’s shared animosity would affect their characters’ more intimate scenes.
The pair also supposedly refused to talk to one another outside of takes, while Grey found Swayze’s habit of playing pranks on the cast annoying. Still, in 2016 Grey spoke fondly of her former co-star in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, seven years after his death. “He was a great dancer and he was fearless,” said Grey. “His fearlessness with my fearfulness…together was like a marriage where you have two opposites.”
28. The ‘crawling’ scene was improvised
Did you know that the scene where Baby and Johnny crawl towards one another was thought up on the spot? Known as the ‘lover boy’ scene, it follows the steamy night between the pair in Johnny’s cabin. As they lip-sync Love is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia, Baby and Johnny crawl along the floor in what’s probably the film’s most iconic scene.
But this striking scene was never in the original script – it was improvised by Grey and Swayze. The moment that’s on film was actually just a pre-take rehearsal, with the two actors playing around during a warm-up exercise. Director Emile Ardolino loved the take so much, however, that he made it part of the final cut of the film.
27. Patrick Swayze turned down the chance to do a Dirty Dancing 2
Dirty Dancing was a major commercial hit, making $214 million on a $6 million budget – so studio execs naturally wanted a sequel. The only thing getting in the way was a reluctant Patrick Swayze, whose distaste for sequels put a real spanner in the works. Even after Swayze was offered $6 million, equivalent to the entire budget of the original film, to make another movie, the actor stood firm.
A second Dirty Dancing film wouldn’t emerge until 2004, in the form of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Starring Diego Luna and Romola Garai, the film would be a ‘reimagining’ or prequel to the original, transplanting the 1987 film’s plot to 1958 Cuba. Havana Nights aside, to date there hasn’t been a direct sequel to Dirty Dancing – though that may soon change…
26. Dirty Dancing’s original writer is currently ‘drafting out’ a sequel
After Havana Nights and a popular stage show, the original 1987 Dirty Dancing might finally be getting a direct sequel. Eleanor Bergstein, the writer behind the original film, revealed in 2017 that she is thinking about resurrecting Baby and Johnny. Bergstein says that some of Dirty Dancing’s more controversial themes are topical again, which is why she’s ready to bring the characters back for round two.
“I always did think they had a future, I just wasn’t ready to go back into it…now I think I am ready to,” Bergstein told E. Bergstein says that a modern-day Baby would support women’s equality, stand up for immigrant rights and march for Black Lives Matter: “I think every social issue would be hers. As of last year, Bergstein says that it feels “intuitively right for me to do a sequel now, I think…I’m kind of drafting it out in my head.”
25. Jennifer Grey was 10 years older than her character was supposed to be
Lots of movies feature actors in their early 20s portraying teens, but Dirty Dancing asked both its stars to convincingly age down by s a significant amount. Whereas Jennifer Grey’s Baby was written as 17 years old, Grey was in real life 27 during the filming of Dirty Dancing. In fact, in her audition, Grey was given just five minutes to prove that she could convincingly play much younger than she actually was.
Patrick Swayze wasn’t required to do the same, though he, too, was also much older than his character was supposed to be. Whereas Swayze was 34 at the time of filming, Johnny Castle was written as a 25-year-old – or two years younger than Jennifer Grey was during production.
24. Patrick Swayze did all his own stunts
Not content simply to pull off all his character’s dance moves himself, Patrick Swayze was keen to do all his own stunts as well. As a result of the actor’s commitment to realism, Swayze ended up getting pretty badly injured during one particular scene. For the scene where Johnny and Baby dance on the log, Swayze refused to allow a stunt double to take his place.
During filming, Swayze fell from the log several times, and although he fell onto rubber mats, the repeated impacts aggravated an old knee injury. According to the biography Patrick Swayze: One Last Dance, Swayze awoke the following morning with a swollen knee. Dirty Dancing producer Linda Gottlieb drove Swayze to the hospital, where a doctor drained 80 cc’s of fluid and blood from the actor’s knee. Ouch!
23. The trees in the forest scene are spray-painted green to make it look like summer
About the matter of suspending audience disbelief: the team behind Dirty Dancing did more than just disguise the true ages of the film’s leads. Though the film is supposed to be set in the summer of 1963, the production schedule didn’t allow for a summer shoot. Filming actually began in September, and ran on all through autumn, to the point where producers were forced to disguise the season.
The scene where Baby and Johnny dance in the woods was actually shot in October, at which time the leaves were already brown and falling. Because of the season, the crew had to spray-paint the leaves on the surrounding trees green. Look closer: dead autumn leaves carpet the forest during the sequence, while you can still see some falling to the ground.
22. There are no close-ups in the lake scene because the actors’ lips had turned blue from the cold
Where the forest scene was awkward for the spray can-wielding crew, the lake sequence was downright torture for the actors. The lake scene, shot at Lake Lure in North Carolina and wherein Johnny lifts Baby out of the water, was also filmed in October. While the crew were so cold they wore warm coats and gloves, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey still had to wear their characters’ summer clothing.
To get the scene right, Swayze and Grey had to repeatedly dive into the freezing water wearing only light clothing. The time of year factored into why there are no close-ups during the scene: temperatures were so low out that the actors’ lips had turned blue. Grey later said that the water had been “horrifically” cold, but that she kept going back in because she was “young and hungry”.
21. A producer disliked the film so much he recommended the only copy be ‘burned’
So popular at the time that it became the third highest-grossing film of 1987, Dirty Dancing has since gone on to become one of the most-watched films ever. In a 2007 Sky Movies poll, Dirty Dancing ranked first in a list of the most-watched women’s films. The film wasn’t always viewed as such a classic, however – not even by its own creators.
Though critics following Dirty Dancing’s release were kind if not blown away, the film’s producers were less so. The rough cut of the film was so bad it convinced the production team and executives at Vestron Pictures, Dirty Dancing’s distributor, that it was going to bomb. Even a more definite cut did nothing to convince producer Aaron Russo, who told a Vestron executive: “Burn the negative, and collect the insurance.”
20. There was a remake in 2017
At a time when 80s remakes have never been more popular, it makes sense that Dirty Dancing got the same treatment. 2017’s Dirty Dancing, directed by Wayne Blair and written by American Horror Story’s Jessica Sharzer, aired for television, on ABC, in May of last year. Set like the original in 1963, the remake follows the same basic plot while adding the framing device of an older Baby looking back on the film’s events from 1975.
Also starring Nicole Scherzinger, with Bruce Greenwood and Debra Messing as Baby’s parents, the remake stars Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes as Baby and Johnny. A “flattered” Jennifer Grey was offered a part in the made-for-TV reboot, but turned it down.
19. She’s Like the Wind was written by Patrick Swayze… for a different movie
Patrick Swayze had more to do with She’s Like the Wind, Dirty Dancing’s hit power ballad, than just singing it. After the film was a smash in theatres, the song inevitably made the charts as well, peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. Performed by Swayze, the song was also written by the star, along with songwriter and film composer Stacy Widelitz.
While the song proved a major hit for both Swayze and Dirty Dancing, it almost didn’t make the film at all. Originally, the song was written for another movie entirely: the 1984 comedy Grandview, USA, which starred Swayze alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and C Thomas Howell. However, the song was rejected for that film, ultimately making the cut for Dirty Dancing instead three years later.
18. Sarah Jessica Parker and Sharon Stone auditioned to play Baby
Jennifer Grey was briefly made into one of the world’s biggest stars by Dirty Dancing. It almost wasn’t to be, however, as Grey wasn’t sure about working with Patrick Swayze again after they clashed on Red Dawn. Not only that, but there were other actresses nipping at her heels, with Sarah Jessica Parker notably auditioning for Baby, but ultimately losing out.
Parker, who ironically later went on to marry Jennifer Grey’s then-boyfriend Matthew Broderick, was 21 and only just starting out when she auditioned for the role. Also in the running was Sharon Stone, 28 at the time of screen-testing and yet to become a household name thanks to the likes of Total Recall and Basic Instinct.
17. Billy Zane almost played Johnny
Before Patrick Swayze was cast, it seemed like another, even younger upstart was going to play Johnny Castle. Billy Zane, then only 20 years old, was top of the list. By that point, Zane had only two screen credits to his name: supporting roles in Critters and Back to the Future, but the original conception of Johnny an Italian-American in his early 20s with a ‘dark, exotic’ look fit Zane perfectly.
Swayze’s more professional level of dancing is what sunk Zane, however. Jennifer Grey later said: “Billy was one of my partners and I thought he was going to get it because he was very like Marlon Brando and his dancing was pretty good. But then I remember Patrick and I dancing together and all of a sudden it was very easy.”
16. Swayze was genuinely angry during the arm tickling scene
Like the crawling scene, another of Dirty Dancing’s fan-favourite moments was entirely unplanned. In the scene where Johnny trails his fingers down Baby’s arm as they prepare for the dance, Baby begins to laugh, which leaves an impatient Johnny sighing in frustration. This wasn’t scripted: inadvertently tickled by Swayze’s hand, Grey could not stop giggling.
Grey’s laughter was real, as was Swayze’s annoyance that his co-star couldn’t keep a straight face during the serious scene. Swayze explained his frustration: “I was on overdrive for the whole shoot – staying up all night to do rewrites, squeezing in dance rehearsals, shooting various scenes”. Swayze, who said he was “exhausted” for most of the shoot, admitted he “didn’t have a whole lot of patience for doing multiple retakes.”
15. The film’s soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all time
Dirty Dancing wasn’t just a smash movie that produced a smash single in She’s Like the Wind: its official soundtrack was also one of the best-selling ever. Featuring a mixture of new songs and old favourites including The Ronettes’ Be My Baby and Mickey & Sylvia’s Love Is Strange, the soundtrack went on release in August 1987. It immediately went to number one on the Billboard 200 album chart – and stayed there for 18 weeks.
The album went platinum not once, but eleven times, ultimately selling 32 million copies. This makes the Dirty Dancing soundtrack the fifth bestselling movie soundtrack ever, behind the Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever albums. That’s not all: the Dirty Dancing soundtrack is overall the 17th most popular album ever, outselling all of The Beatles’ albums other than Sgt Pepper, which comes in at number 16.
14. Patrick Swayze wore a girdle for some of the film
In the 80s and 90s, there was nary a finer specimen of a man than Patrick Swayze. Films like Road House, Point Break and Ghost presented Swayze as a sculpted example of what an ideal man looks like. During the making of Dirty Dancing, however, even Swayze – a 34-year-old playing a 25-year-old – felt a little insecure about his body.
Swayze has a shirtless scene or two in Dirty Dancing, but for some scenes Swayze reportedly got some help in the gut department. For parts of the film in which Johnny is clothed, Swayze allegedly wore a waist-tightening girdle. This was apparently so that Swayze would look thinner and therefore younger while playing Johnny.
13. The film was very popular in the Eastern Bloc
As a major Hollywood film, Dirty Dancing inevitably had its biggest commercial success in the USA. However, according to Eleanor Bergstein, the film’s screenwriter, her 1987 classic had an arguably even more significant impact outside the US. Released in the West as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Dirty Dancing made its way over to the Eastern Bloc as well.
In the former USSR and its European satellite states, Dirty Dancing apparently became a cultural touchstone. Bergstein says of the film: “When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing t-shirts; they were saying, ‘We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!’ In Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help. First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing.”
12. Bill Medley almost didn’t sing (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life because he thought the film was an actual ‘dirty’ movie
Bill Medley, one half of 60s pop duo The Righteous Brothers, almost didn’t make the biggest musical hit of his career. (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, the most enduring original track from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, was an enormous success on release. The song, which Medley sang along with Jennifer Warnes, went on to win a number of awards including an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy.
The track also proved a huge commercial success, landing at the top of the Billboard 100 and staying there for four weeks. Medley wasn’t so keen on participating in the making of the song at first, though. After the song was pitched to him and he was informed about the film, Medley at first said no, thinking the movie would fail due to its XXX-sounding title.
11. A nude scene of Jennifer Grey was cut
With the 20th anniversary home video release of the film, Dirty Dancing fans were treated to a number of never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes. One scene that got the extended treatment was the scene in which Johnny and Baby go to bed to the sound of Solomon Burke’s Cry to Me. The original, more R-rated version of this scene, however, was nowhere to be found on the DVD.
This is allegedly because the footage from the scene was destroyed after test screenings saw audiences reject it outright. In the early cut of the film, the original Cry to Me scene featured a fully nude Jennifer Grey. After the bad test screenings, the nudity was cut out entirely. No known footage of the scene exists.
10. Jennifer Grey dropped out of promoting the film after a lethal traffic collision with boyfriend Matthew Broderick
Considering the film was her big break, Jennifer Grey must have been raring to go when it came to Dirty Dancing’s global publicity tour. However, just before Grey got the chance to join her fellow actors for the campaign, disaster struck. It was August 5, 1987 when Grey and her then-boyfriend Matthew Broderick (also her co-star in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) were driving around Enniskillen, Ireland on vacation.
As Broderick accidentally crossed his rental car over into the wrong side of the road, he drove directly into the path of an oncoming Volvo driven by a woman and her mother. Both women were killed instantly, while Broderick and Grey suffered minor injuries. Broderick was unable to explain why he had been driving in the wrong lane and faced a potential five years in prison for dangerous driving. As Broderick awaited to hear his verdict (he would eventually be fined $175), Grey decided not to take part in the Dirty Dancing publicity tour.
9. Swayze suggested retitling the film ‘I Was A Teenage Mambo Queen’
Patrick Swayze might have been keen to sign on to the film, but that doesn’t mean he was happy with everything about the Dirty Dancing project. According to Jane Brucker, who played Baby’s older sister Lisa, Swayze had the same concern as singer Bill Medley: the title. Says Brucker, Swayze thought Dirty Dancing sounded X-rated, which could kill the film back where Swayze was from.
Swayze, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas, one of the more conservative parts of the USA, thought a film named Dirty Dancing would lead to a backlash. Swayze suggested a more family-friendly alternative that he came up with himself: I Was A Teenage Mambo Queen. Thankfully, Swayze’s idea wasn’t taken on board, and the film retained the much catchier title known and loved worldwide today.
8. In Poland, the film is known as ‘Swirling Sex’
Dirty Dancing isn’t the only name that Emile Ardolino’s 1987 classic goes by, at least not out in the non-English-speaking world. In French-speaking countries, for example, Dirty Dancing becomes Danse Lascive, or Lustful Dance. In Brazil, the film is called Hot Pace, while in Spanish-speaking territories Dirty Dancing is known as, simply, Hot Dance. These are more or less straight translations, however. More outlandish is the Turkish translation of Dirty Dancing into First Dance, First Hang.
Stranger still is the take on Dirty Dancing in Poland, where the film was released in theatres with the name Wirujacy Seks, or Swirling Sex. For the Polish home video release, the title was changed to the somewhat more accurate Dirty Dance.
7. It contains ‘the most romantic line ever’
According to a Daily Mail article, Dirty Dancing features the single most romantic movie quote ever. This was for Baby’s line “I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.” In addition to this, Johnny’s line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” is one of the most famous quotes of all time.
This particular quote was voted #98 in the top 100 movie quotes by the American Film Institute. However, as iconic as the line may have become, Swayze actually hated it and had to force himself to say it. We don’t blame him. It’s pretty cheesy and doesn’t even make any sense – she looked perfectly happy sitting with her parents in the corner.
6. The most famous song from Dirty Dancing has been voted one of the best ever
The iconic song, (I’ve had) The Time Of My Life, was voted at #86 in the American Film Institute’s, 100 years… 100 Songs. Although, it very almost didn’t get made. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack was produced by Jimmy Ienner. He thought of Franke Previte when he needed songs for the movie. Previte said in an interview: “I received a call from Jimmy Ienner, who had been head of Millennium Records, my label with Franke and the Knockouts.
“Jimmy asked me to write a song for this little movie called Dirty Dancing. I told him I didn’t have the time and he said, ‘Make time. This could change your life.” Franke’s former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Previte says, “I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song.”
5. The crew had to make Cynthia Rhodes look worse in her crying scene
It’s easy to forget that there’s anyone else in Dirty Dancing besides Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, as they take the spotlight so dramatically. Of course, they share the screen with a number of equally talented performers, including Cynthia Rhodes as Penny. In her ‘agony’ scene, Cynthia Rhodes presented the filmmakers with a problem: she simply looked too good! Because her natural beauty was shining through too much, make-up had to be applied to make Rhodes look worse.
This wasn’t the only little problem Rhodes ran into during the shoot. In the scene when Johnny and Penny dance, Rhodes is wearing a custom made red dress which had a criss-cross back, and Swayze kept getting his fingers caught in them! On top of Dirty Dancing, Rhodes has shown off her dancing prowess in the music videos for Toto‘s Rosanna (alongside Swayze) and Richard Marx’s Don’t Mean Nothing.
4. It has been called a classic Jewish movie – although religion is never directly addressed
Let’s talk about something that doesn’t immediately stand out as a big part of Dirty Dancing: religion. Although it is never mentioned outright in the movie, and many non-Jewish viewers never perceive this aspect of the plot, the Houseman family and many other main characters are supposed to be Jewish. This is because of the real-life resort on which “Kellerman’s” was based: Grossinger’s Hotel. This was one among several Catskills resorts opened in the early 20th century catering mostly to Jewish vacationers, because at the time it was very common for other US hotels and resorts to reject Jewish customers.
When this movie was released, many reviewers mentioned the family’s Judaism as a matter of course; for example, Vincent Canby’s New York Times review called Baby’s background “conventionally liberal (and) Jewish.” Meanwhile, Roger Ebert’s print review said that “the family’s opposition to a Gentile boyfriend of low social status” was “obviously the main point of the plot.” In a 2011 interview, Screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, characterized it as a Jewish movie, “if you know what you’re looking at.”
3. Dirty Dancing gave Wayne Knight his breakthrough role
As well as making superstars of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing launched the career of a less celebrated but highly successful character actor. The 1987 romantic drama gave comedian Wayne Knight one of his first big screen roles as Stan. This was the first of many prominent bit parts for Knight, who made appearances in Born on the Fourth of July, JFK and Basic Instinct. His biggest movie role came when he was the first actor cast in Jurassic Park, playing the corrupt computer programmer Nedry.
Knight has also enjoyed a lot of small screen success, most notably as recurring character Newman in acclaimed sitcom Seinfeld. Knight also had one of the main roles on sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, as Officer Don.
2. Dirty Dancing is one of the most mimicked films in history
Many of the most famous scenes from Dirty Dancing have been widely parodied in TV and film ever since it was released. One of the most recent of these has been the genuinely funny commercial for Money Supermarket which showed He-Man and Skeletor dancing together! Baby and Johnny’s climactic dance scene, and the lift in the lake, are the most frequently imitated moments from the movie.
The lift in particular has been used many times in film and television. An example of this is in 2011’s The Muppets. This brief moment sees Miss Piggy attempt to re-enact the famous Dirty Dancing moment with her dance partner Pepe the Prawn – but, of course, things don’t quite work out. Search ‘Dirty Dancing Lift’ on Youtube and you’ll find no shortage of video evidence of people attempting to recreate the moment, with varying degrees of success.
1. The director insisted on only casting experienced dancers
Dirty Dancing was the first feature film directed by Emile Ardolino – and sadly one of only five theatrical releases he would direct before his untimely death in 1993. Before this, Ardolino had worked extensively in musical theatre, which gave him a good grounding to make such a music/dance-based movie. As a seasoned stage professional, Ardolino (who went on to direct Sister Act) was adamant that his film would portray dance more authentically than some other films of the era, most notably Flashdance.
Infamously, Flashdance had used numerous dance doubles for lead actress Jennifer Beals – one of whom was male. Because of this, the director insisted on only casting experienced dancers – which meant harder work for his cast, but more effective results in the end.