Happy 30th Birthday Dirty Dancing (Metro, 21st Aug 2017)


A shortened version of this piece appeared in Metro newspaper on Aug 23rd 2017

It’s not just about the slitheriest hipped leading man of all time. It’s not just about classically quotable, water melon related lines of dialogue. It’s not just about that lift – hell, it’s not even just about the incredible soundtrack and one of the most iconic closing scenes ever. 1980s dance romance Dirty Dancing – released exactly 30 years ago this week — is a film we truly need today. 

I was born just a month before Dirty Dancing, and grew up watching it on VHS at Haribo Tangfastics fuelled sleepovers. When I was really little one of my sisters (nine years older than me) would let me watch it with her, but clap her hands over my eyes during the naughty bits. So it was probably years before I realised what was actually going on in Jonny’s cabin (who knows…a round of Boggle?) 

Yet while it’s romantic, and it’s fun, and the dancing (both dirty and er, clean) is fabulous, Dirty Dancing – set at a Catskills holiday camp in 1963 – speaks to me as way more than just a nostalgic treat. It’s also a story about restricted access to abortion and its tragic consequences (with dancer Penny) standing up to male authority (with Baby’s beloved and good but class-prejudiced father) and positively framed female sexual agency (as Peace Corps loving pre-Uni student Baby loses her virginity to sexy, working class dance instructor Jonny.) All these are issues which feel, well, pretty damn pertinent, with THAT MAN in the White House. 

In Baby (Jennifer Gray), the naive but principled girl who learns to dance like a pro in an, admittedly unrealistic, short length of time, Dirty Dancing gives us a female lead more genuinely relatable, complex and sparky than the big majority of Rom Com heroines. And with Jonny, played by the much-missed late Patric Swayze, we get a hero who not only looks seriously hot smashing in a car window in the rain (am I riiiiiiight?) but one who also expresses his own insecurities and fears. 

While Baby (mostly rocking a resolutely ‘normcore’ wardrobe) has the hots for him from the off (she’s only human), Jonny falls for her slowly – and not just because he thinks she’s pretty, but because he truly values her strength of character. He calls her: “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.” 

I never really knew that Dirty Dancing (which recently suffered a mind-bogglingly awful and pointless remake) was teaching me valuable models about female strength and romance. I just knew that I couldn’t walk up or down a big set of outdoor stairs without feeling the overwhelming urge to slink all over it in a peach leotard (still can’t.) But I’m looking forward to watching and re-watching the film for at least the next 30 years to come – and carrying a LOT of watermelons.