When I was about nine years old, one of my friends had a sleepover party, and as we all made our way down to her rumpus room (that’s a thing, right?), she breathlessly bragged about the movie her mom had rented for us to watch. “It’s DIRTY DANCING!” she stage whispered.
I came from the type of house where you did not watch PG movies without parental guidance, and you CERTAINLY didn’t watch PG-13 movies before you were 13.
This would change in later years, as the house rules became increasingly lax with each successive child, to the point that my youngest brother, my curfew-free, sweet-talking youngest brother, was somehow permitted to have a hookah in his bedroom (“it’s decorative,” he’d explain patiently), and dye his hair colors not usually found in nature (“it was the sunlight,” he’d calmly repeat), BUT I DIGRESS.
With that in mind, though, you would not be surprised to learn that I was therefore thrilled to see this illicit movie. I mean, it was clearly not meant for people our age, what with the rating, the title, and the couple totally almost kissing on the cover, my god. So off we scampered, giggling, and munching popcorn. I remember only a few random details about the evening in general, such as the fact that we all made fun of one of our friends there because she brought her blankie (What?! Nine-year-old girls are arguably the biggest assholes in the world.), and that I was wearing a Strawberry Shortcake nightgown. However, I remember with almost eerie clarity the experience of watching Dirty Dancing for the first time.
Even though pivotal portions of the plot went over my head (“Knocked up”? Crazy old cougar woman draping herself all over Johnny? Dirty knife and a table? Lisa storming off from Robbie in a huff? WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN?), I was transfixed. As a bunch of awkward Jewish girls from the mean streets of suburban New Jersey, we all kind of...related to Baby, and swooned along in unison as she (SPOILER ALERT! Heh.) got the guy. I watched it time and again over the coming years; it was on WPIX almost every Sunday, and on a seemingly endless loop on TBS. I hacked my jeans into cut-offs like Baby’s, and purchased a poster of Patrick Swayze in a form-fitting black tank top (ooh, la la!) which I strategically placed behind my door, so I could gaze upon his visage. I do believe I employed the term “hunky” to describe the poster, at the time.
That movie is a touchstone; who among us hasn’t said something AT LEAST as moronic as “I carried a watermelon” when chatting with a cute guy? Who among us hasn’t jokingly-haughtily pantomimed “my dancing space/your dancing space” after hitting the dance floor at a party? Or used “Real original; the Pachanga.” as a subtly derisive catchall for someone else’s dull-ass idea? And yes, upon reflection, perhaps the last one is, in actuality, just a super weird thing that only I do, but the point stands. The movie was a huge part of a collective pop culture experience, due in no small part to those iconic moments (and of course, the legendary placement of Baby in the corner, and Johnny’s subsequent chivalrous defense).
Dirty Dancing is cheesy, contrived, and the acting is occasionally (unintentionally) hilarious. But honestly? It’s one of the few things I’ll watch from any point, should I happen across it while flipping through the channels, EVEN IF it’s playing with commercials. And honestly, in this day and age, I can’t think of a greater testament to a movie’s power than that. Rest in peace, Swayze.