Film / Dirty Dancing
The ultimate chick flick.

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
Johnny Castle

Dirty Dancing is a 1987 romance film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. A sleeper hit, it became a sensation upon release, with reports of people supposedly viewing the film, then immediately returning to the theater to watch it a second time. Amusingly, the studio that produced and distributed Dirty Dancing, Vestron Pictures, only planned to release the film in theaters for only a weekend, and then send it straight to home video, since they had originally been in the video distribution business long before entering film production.

Frances "Baby" Houseman and her wealthy family decide to spend the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's, a Jewish resort in the Catskills. Baby's father, Jake (Jerry Orbach), is the personal physician for resort owner Max Kellerman (Jack Weston). While being squired around by Max's creepy grandson, Neil (Lonny Price), Baby quickly develops a crush on Johnny Castle, the resort's working-class dance instructor, eventually leading her to one of the staff's secret after-hours dance parties, where they engage in "dirty dancing" and Johnny teaches her some basic steps.

Soon after, she learns Johnny's dance partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) needs an illegal abortion resulting from an affair from resort waiter Robbie Gould (Max Cantor), whom at the same time is dating Baby's older sister, Lisa (Jane Brucker), and can't take part in an important dance contest, and offers to replace her. As Johnny teaches her how to dance, the two grow close. But Baby's family would never approve of the relationship, and she needs to decide if it's worth fighting for...

In 2004, a prequel entitled Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights was released by Lionsgate, which by then owned the rights to the original. Set during the Cuban Revolution, the film's only connection to the first is a cameo by Patrick Swayze, who got $5 million for this scene (compared to the $200,000 for his starring role in the original film), and in fact, it's a repeat of the original. The film bombed with audiences and critics and was quickly forgotten.

In addition to the prequel, there was a very short lived TV series based on the film, which ran on CBS from 1988 to 1989. In addition to not having any of the original cast and very limited involvement from the crew, the show had one glaring plot change: Baby was now Max Kellerman's daughter and in charge of Johnny as the resort's talent director.

This film provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: Baby provides an alibi (ahem) for Johnny when he's accused of theft. He gets canned anyway for having a sexual relationship with a guest. Though it wasn't all for nothing, not for Johnny anyway, since nobody like her ever stood up for someone like him.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The abortion clinic. i.e. "A dirty knife and a folding table."
  • Borscht Belt: Kellerman's is a Borscht Belt resort, though Borscht Belt comedy is not heavily featured in the movie.
  • Brainless Beauty: Lisa.
  • Break the Haughty: Lisa, when she catches Robbie in bed with another woman.
  • Broken Pedestal: Baby is saddened to discover her father's elitism when he bans her from associating with Johnny and the other staff members (though in all fairness, it's because of his mistaken belief that Johnny knocked up Penny and wants to protect Baby from a similar fate). Similarly, her father is sorely disappointed in Baby's involvement in Penny's illegal abortion and her deceit, and even more disappointed when he learns that she actually did have sex with Johnny.
  • Can't Believe I Said That: This is Baby's reaction to awkwardly telling Johnny that she "carried a watermelon" when they first meet.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Baby. To the point where in one deleted scene, she threatens to lie about Lisa when the latter threatens to tell their parents about her sneaking around, warning her that their parents will believe her because she never lies, and in another, her father instantly believes her when she confesses to a minor incident, simply by saying, "It has to be true. Baby never lies". This is after discovering her deception regarding Penny's abortion, when he'd have every reason to doubt anything she says.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: How Lisa gets wise to Robbie. Lisa goes to Robbie's cabin in order to surprise him and finally go all the way with him, only to catch him in bed with Vivian (see Jerk Ass below).
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Penny and Baby help Mrs. Schumaker when she drops her purse, multiple wallets can be seen. Penny can be seen glaring at Robbie while he flirts with Lisa, this is later revealed to be due to hurt and anger at him impregnating and abandoning her.
  • Chekhov's Skill
    • The lift, or rather, Baby's inability to do one. Also, if you look in the background during the scenes in the staff quarters, you can see the staff practicing the step-kick "Cuban rhythms" that Johnny demonstrates for Neil, and which they perform in the end.
    • A doctor's work is never done. Baby's father swoops to the rescue following Penny's botched abortion.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The shy wallflower Baby starts blossoming through dance and her relationship with Johnny.
  • Coordinated Clothes: Inverted with Baby and Johnny who wear clothes of contrasting colours throughout the movie, even for their dance number where couples very often wear matching outfits.
  • The Cutie: Baby.
  • Daddy's Girl: Baby, so much so that Lisa visibly revels in having their father's attention after the incident with Penny puts Baby out of his good graces.
  • Dance of Romance: Pretty much the entire point of the movie.
  • Dance Party Ending: Includes a now legendary leap off the stage into the audience by Swayze, who at that point had reinjured his knees and was in considerable pain, but did it anyway so there'd be a visually impressive hook to the scene.
  • Delusions of Local Grandeur: This movie was filmed on-location at Mountain Lake in Giles County, Virginia. A fact that WSLS, a Roanoke, VA-based NBC station, will make DAMN sure you don't forget if you watch it. Also Lake Lure, North Carolina. Every Girl Scout at Camp Occoneechee knew it too.
  • Epic Fail: At the end of the film, Billy is trying to teach Lisa how to dirty dance and all she can really do is just bounce in place. Billy even laughs at it.
  • Establishing Character Moment: At the beginning of the film, as the family is driving to Kellerman's, the girls are seen sitting in the backseat of the car. Lisa is gazing into a mirror, fussing with her hair, while Baby is reading a book. Without a single word being spoken, Lisa is established as The Ditz while Baby is the intelligent one.
  • Extraverted Nerd / Casanova Wannabe: Neil Kellerman. He's short and unattractive (compared to Johnny), but boasts that he's "the catch of the county" because he's heir to the Kellerman empire.
  • Fanservice: Mostly of shirtless Patrick Swayze, although soaking wet Jennifer Grey(in the river scene) is nothing to sneeze at.
    • You can probably throw in all the Panty Shots of the dirty dancing girls, Penny in her dancing gear, and Lisa's rather large rack in the bikini in the end scene.
  • Female Gaze : As noted on the DVD commentary, Baby is in every scene, and the view is entirely hers. Two other minor examples: when Robbie is hitting on Lisa and Penny stares at him, and when Vivian watches Baby coming out of Johnny's cabin.
    • Baby being in every scene is justified, as the film itself is her reciting her recollections.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Max and Tito. Their conversation during the last song shows how much they had been through (the Great Depression and World War 2 to name a few) over at least 30 years together.
    • Jake and Max as well, Jake having helped Max recuperate from heart problems.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Flaky, fashion-obsessed Lisa vs. studious, intelligent Baby.
  • Gilligan Cut: "It's a stupid idea. She cannot do it." Cut to: Baby stepping on Johnny's feet.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: One-sided on Lisa's part.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: One of the strongest aversions in cinema. Penny goes through one without a second thought, even though she's scared, and her friends support her throughout. Although the operation turns out to be a back-alley abortion that nearly costs Penny her life, Dr. Houseman saves her, doesn't report her, and even assures her that she'll still be able to have children later, without once blaming her or condemning her for her choice; his criticism is reserved entirely for the guy who got her into the predicament to begin with, and to his daughter for lying to him and getting involved. The movie even has a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when Penny is shown wordlessly thanking him at the end of the movie.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard / Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: How Jake finds out the truth about Penny's abortion. Near the end of the film, while some of the staffers are singing the resort's anthem, Jake approaches Robbie, hands him an envelope containing either a check or a letter of recommendation, and wishes him good luck in medical school. Robbie replies by thanking Jake for helping Penny out and telling him, "I guess we've all gotten into messes", effectively confessing and insulting Penny at the same time. Jake, who is understandably miffed, and not just over Robbie's deed, but also at himself for allowing him to date Lisa at the same time, takes the envelope back.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Lisa.
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: Kellerman's! Come for the charades, stay for the foxtrot lessons.
  • Interclass Romance: Wealthy Baby and wrong-side-of-the-tracks Johnny. To a lesser extent with wealthy Robbie and wrong-side-of-the-tracks Penny.
  • Ivy League for Everyone : A few examples. Mr. Kellerman, when he's giving the "show the daughters a good time" speech to the wait staff, says he recruited them all from Harvard and Yale. Robbie the Jerkass waiter goes to Yale Medical School. Neil (Mr. Kellerman's grandson) goes to Cornell School of Restaurant Management. Baby will be attending Mount Holyoke (one of the "Sister Schools"). And when she gives Jake her speech at the end, she says that he thinks saving the world means marrying someone from Harvard. The trope is probably Justified, given the movie's time and setting (the Catskills).
  • Jerk Ass: In addition to Robbie, there's also Vivian Pressman (Miranda Garrison), a highly oversexed resort guest who falsely accuses Johnny of stealing her husband Moe's wallet after he spurns her sexual advances in favor of Baby.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jake. Neil, too. He's a condescending, elitist snob. . .who's planning to join the Freedom Riders the following summer. Anyone planning to do something like that can't be that bad. Max, as well. Despite all the flack he gives Johnny and his friends, he still treats the resort's black bandleader, Tito Suarez, as an equal, not an inferior.
  • Meaningful Name: Or nickname rather. "Baby", representing her naivete and innocence. Penny even taunts her about this at one point—"Go on back to your playpen, Baby", in response to the latter's clueless insistence that Robbie will do the right thing regarding her pregnancy.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Expect women to leave the room to change their panties after every scene with Patrick Swayze.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Baby confesses to having spent the night with Johnny in order to keep him from being fired/arrested for stealing Moe Pressman's wallet. Only for him to get fired anyway for getting involved with a guest and for her parents to be furious with her.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Penny and Johnny, though they may have been at some point before the story. Despite their flawless chemistry as dance partners, they're nothing more than very good friends.
  • One Head Taller: Johnny's hands are longer than Baby's waist.
  • Overprotective Dad: Baby's father tries to shelter her from the world, but unlike many examples of this trope, isn't overly smothering and deeply trusts her. The real conflict happens when he has a misunderstanding about Johnny being involved in Penny's need for an abortion.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Baby's mother, Marge (Kelly Bishop) remains blissfully unaware of what goes on throughout the film, though a deleted scene indicates that she isn't as clueless as initially presented—she sternly chastises Baby for her behavior and reveals that she had been in a similar situation before meeting Jake. Jake also. He never realizes what Baby is involved in until he's dragged into it on one occasion—when she runs to get his help after Penny's botched abortion—and when Baby confesses at another time. This isn't due to stupidity, he simply has never had any reason to doubt or distrust her.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: "He wouldn't know a new idea if it hit him in his pachanga!"
  • Pet the Dog: Lisa offering to do Baby's hair.
  • Present Day Past: Baby's outfits look more '80s than '60s, and much of the soundtrack is contemporary music. Honestly, they weren't even trying. This is handwaved during the writer's commentary, when she notes that it's a nostalgia piece, so the details don't matter as much (something like that). Also the cost of obtaining the music rights was prohibitive on the film's budget.
    • While it's true that much of the soundtrack is contemporary music, the film features a good amount of songs from the era when the film takes place, thanks to the work of the film's period music consultant, Bruce Morrow, who also appears in the film as a magician who saws Baby in half as a trick. Morrow was actually given the job of period music consultant on the strength of his work as a disc jockey for New York City oldies radio station WCBS-FM 101.1, where he was known to listeners as "Cousin Brucie," a stage name he still uses on Sirius XM after leaving WCBS in 2005 because of an ill-advised experiment in jocklessness.
  • Pretty in Mink: A couple of the rich lady guests at the resort wear white fur wraps.
  • Rich Bitch/Woman Scorned: Johnny's previous "dance student". She ends up sleeping with Robbie.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Pretty much the only area of romantic conflict.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Happened with Lonny Price, Miranda Garrison, Kelly Bishop, Jerry Orbach, and producer Linda Gottlieb. Price previously made his film debut as Ronnie Crawford in The Muppets Take Manhattan, while Garrison went on to choreograph The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Meanwhile, Bishop previously co-starred in A Chorus Line alongside future Square One TV ensemble regular Priscilla Lopez, whilst Orbach later went on to co-star in F/X: Murder by Illusion alongside Sesame Street cast member Roscoe Orman (Gordon). Finally, Gottlieb was previously an executive assistant to Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney, and, in fact, had helped Cooney write the grant proposal to convince various foundations and government agencies to provide funding for Sesame Street
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: The lift. Practiced in water.
  • Shirtless Scene: Take a drink everytime you see one.
  • The '60s: Though you would never know it from Jennifer Grey's '80s Hair.
  • Smash Cut: Baby's father learning of her sexual relationship with Johnny. Cut to Dr. Houseman sitting comatose at the lakefront.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs:
    • The wealthy patrons vs. the help.
    • Even within the help this clash is seen. The waiters were recruited from Ivy League schools, are encouraged to romance the girls—Max outright says "I brought you here to show the goddamn daughters a good time"—and clearly look down on the dance teachers, who are from the wrong side of the tracks and threatened with punishment should they become involved with a guest—indeed, Johnny is fired when his and Baby's relationship is revealed. Note that Dr. Houseman sternly disapproves of them while having no problem with Robbie and Lisa's relationship (meanwhile, Penny fears that it's she who will be fired for sleeping with Robbie).
    • Indeed, the only members of the entertainment staff who aren't treated condescendingly are the resort's house band. If anything, Max doesn't see Tito as merely an employee, but also as a friend and confidant as well, and thus treats him as an equal.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Everything. It helps that "Baby" is a common song lyric.
  • Taking the Heat: Johnny's thanking Jake for his help makes Jake think that Johnny was the one that got Penny pregnant, even though he's just thanking Jake because Penny is his dance partner and friend. And, of course, Baby admitting that she was with Johnny when the wallets were stolen, despite the consequences.
  • Touché: Jake when he apologizes to Johnny at the end of the movie.
    Jake: I know you weren't the one who got Penny in trouble.
    Johnny: Yeah.
    Jake: When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.
  • The Unfavorite: In one of her few scenes with genuine emotional depth, Lisa implies that she has felt like this for some time, and gloats that Baby is in this position now.
    Lisa: "You're not Daddy's girl anymore. He listens when I talk now".
    • Baby has a few moments like this, where it's implied that she doesn't think she's as pretty as Lisa—who visibly smirks at her when Robbie hits on her and completely ignores Baby—thus explaining her initial shyness and awkwardness around Johnny.
  • Watching the Reflection Undress: While driving back from their dance performance, Johnny watches Baby change via the car's rearview mirror.