Dirty Dancing: 10 reasons why it's one of the greatest films ever made

Publish Date
Thursday, 27 July 2023, 3:07PM
American actors Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009) and Jennifer Grey star in the film 'Dirty Dancing', 1987. Photo / Getty via NZ Herald

American actors Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009) and Jennifer Grey star in the film 'Dirty Dancing', 1987. Photo / Getty via NZ Herald

In the last 30 years, Dirty Dancing has risen from a competent summer smash to a cult fascination.

It has spawned sparkly musicals and dubious sequels, but none have captured the charm of the original film.

Dirty Dancing has become known for certain scenes and lines; everybody knows not to put Baby in the corner. The Notebook borrowed heavily from the practising-lifts-in-a-lake sequence, while the blossoming romance between bad-boy dance totty Johnny Castle and earnest rich girl Frances "Baby" Houseman made stars of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

But there is far more to Dirty Dancing than impressive choreography and two winsome characters having the time of their life. Here are 10 other reasons why you should fall in love with it again:

1. I've Had The Time of My Life

Dirty Dancing's soundtrack may effervesce with Sixties classics, but its undisputed highlight is I've Had The Time of My Life (followed closely by the excellent Hungry Eyes, also composed by Franke Previte).

The song won an Oscar for good reason. With its shamelessly twinkly beginning, ripening climax and hyperbolic sentiment, the song follows the pattern of all good on-screen romances. But listen carefully and you can hear wisps of I've Had The Time of My Life, the slightly sad version, edging into scenes as early as five minutes in.

2. It just about passes the Bechdel Test

Sure, Baby's sister Lisa may be a woefully drawn caricature of a privileged young woman raised with the expectations of marrying up, but there are enough female characters in Dirty Dancing for them to occasionally talk about things other than men (the stipulation for passing the Bechdel Test).

Penny and Baby's relationship is one of the more rounded in the film, and it's cheering to see two women who could have been rivals come to respect one another. Dirty Dancing is also one of a pitifully small number of Oscar-winning films with both a female writer and producer.

3. The non sequiturs Johnny uses as 'teaching'

"Feel the music", "gu-gumm", "spaghetti arms", "My space. Your space".

Johnny Castle neatly conforms to the classic Byronic male trope in the early stages of the film, when he is dismissive of Baby and reluctant to teach her the secret to his snake-hipped moves.

Part of his cantankerous appeal lies in his abrupt teaching manner, which mostly consists of shouting at Baby for treading on his (far larger) feet and then giving her no firm direction beyond explaining what his heart sounds like.

4. The sheer amount of dry humping in the staff quarters

Imagine: an entire summer spent lustily pressing up against your colleagues' crotches with nightly regularity. And in such a well-lit, sweaty venue! This is clearly the stuff of nightmares. And yet cinematographer Jeffrey Jur makes it all look so appealing.

5. Most of Penny's skill appears to lie in her ability to flip her skirt about

No wonder Baby could fill in for her after a matter of rainy afternoons.

6. 'Where is my beige. Iridescent. Lipstick?'

Lisa may be shallow but you've got to respect a woman who makes such experimental make-up choices at a Catskills holiday resort in 1963.

7. The Hungry Eyes dancing montage

Inspirational montage scenes were ten-a-penny in the Eighties. So it's saying something that Dirty Dancing has the best one in The Hungry Eyes Montage, which even manages to beat Kevin Bacon teaching a man incapable of clicking his fingers how to dance in Footloose, released three years earlier.

Why is The Hungry Eyes Montage so good? The chord progression in Previte's song lends the whole affair an element of danger. We know there is pressure here - not just for Baby to learn the moves, but also to win the affections of Mr Castle. Here is a woman who must overcome her giggles as he sensuously brushes her side in the name of Mambo.

But the scene also succeeds because, as George Michael did with Careless Whisper, it manages to make feet vaguely sexy after those twirling white plimsolls magically transform into shiny heels. It's quite the metaphor for Baby's rapidly disappearing innocence, and that's before you get to the part in which she inexplicably practises in nothing but pants over tights.

Finally, The Hungry Eyes Montage sneaks in a bonus treat for eagle-eyed viewers: yep, that's Lisa's beige iridescent lipstick Baby's surreptitiously applying on the secrecy bridge!

8. The secrecy bridge

Once she's walked over it carrying a watermelon, there is no going back for Baby. In doing so, she has started to challenge the brutal class barriers that cause Yale-educated waiters to refer to Johnny and Penny as "the dance people".

Mostly, however, the bridge serves as a backdrop to Baby's increasing womanhood and dancing proficiency, as well as a number of the finest outfits ever witnessed in cinema. Try and watch Dirty Dancing without leaping immediately onto eBay to purchase a rust-coloured leotard or white high-rise jeans. Just try.

9. The many things Baby has to carry 

A live chicken. A watermelon. The weight of bucking her familial expectations in order to make the world a better place.

10. The Lover Boy miming scene



Because, let's be honest, much of Baby and Johnny's fledgling relationship is terribly serious. Johnny's timing of the needle scratch, upon the appearance of Neil "Two Hotels" Kellerman is quite, quite perfect.

-Daily Telegraph UK

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you