Well that’s another 80s Movie I’ve Never Seen off my list. Watching popular films from decades ago for the first time can be a hit-and-miss experience (sorry Flashdance but I can’t see what everyone saw in you), but Dirty Dancing I thought had undeniable charm and appeal that goes beyond mere nostalgia and hype.
At the core, it’s a simple coming-of-age story about a young girl getting lessons in dance and love, via a star-crossed romance with a hot guy from the wrong side of the tracks. I knew so little about the movie beforehand I didn’t realise that it’s an 80s movie set in the 60s, 1963 specifically. Baby (Jennifer Grey) is a shy and idealistic girl who goes to a holiday resort with her parents and sister, where she meets dance teacher Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), who looks all cool and dangerous in his black leather jacket and shades but is really a good soul on the inside. When Johnny’s regular, strictly platonic dance partner is in trouble that threatens their livelihood, Baby takes secret dance lessons to help them out. Sexual awakening and romance ensues. There are some darker themes like social inequality and backstreet abortions, but this is ultimately a kind of bubbly movie where Love Conquers All.
A movie like this lives or dies on the strength of the chemistry between the leads, and Grey and Swayze have it in spades, putting most of the modern romantic movies to shame. It’s easy to see why they made such an enduring onscreen couple. It’s also refreshing to see a female lead who is not just a typical Hollywood face wearing glasses to indicate that she’s an average girl. Swayze is amazing to watch in motion and he’s missing a shirt in a significant amount of the scenes, which is not a bad thing at all, I won’t lie.
There are plenty of exciting and fun dance sequences, culminating in the final euphoric dance that well and truly puts a happy grin on your face. The best dance movies can make you feel the sheer animal joy and exhilaration of dancing, and it’s thrilling to see Baby learn to embrace it after her first awkward attempts at the “dirty dancing” party in the help quarters.
I’m probably not going to watch this movie over and over, but yeah there’s definitely something magical about it. Timeless girl-meets-boy story, iconic soundtrack and many memorable moments.