Dirty Dancing, that story of forbidden love and forbidden dance in the Catskills, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. To honor the two decades that have passed since somebody put baby in that corner, the film will begin a two-day run in theaters tomorrow and will be released as a special edition DVD on May 8. Besides making me feel very, very old, this milestone also brings up some painful truths from my youth. This is going to be embarrassing, so I’m just going to admit it up front, in order to keep the snickering to a minimum.
For a significant portion of my life, I thought Dirty Dancing was the best movie, like, ever.
To my junior high mind, it was totally awesome. My preteen heart felt the pathos, loved Jennifer Grey‘s jean shorts (I owned several pairs) and — this is where things start to get really embarrassing — mooned over Patrick Swayze. I’d like to take a second here and note that, in my defense, I thought him the dreamiest when he was wearing that black tank top. And we all know the white tank top is No. 2 on the Top 11 Lesbian Fashion Accessories. (Let’s not quibble over colors, people; I’m trying to hang on to the last vestiges of my lesbo street cred here).
I haven’t seen the film in at least a decade, but I’m willing to bet that if pressed, I could still recite certain scenes verbatim. Back then, the appeal — beside the right/wrong side of the tracks romance and the slightly naughty overtones (hey, Dirty is right there in the title) — was Jennifer Grey’s every-girl geekiness as Baby. Come on: She carried a watermelon. Now, I see how the film’s appeal also comes from the age-old Pygmalion myth (but with dance shoes instead of marble) and the abundance of girls in leotards.
And then there were those brief training sessions between Baby and Penny (played by the fantastically bendy Cynthia Rhodes). Sure, Johnny was there, too. But those 24 seconds (yes, I counted) where Jennifer and Cynthia shadow-danced with each other was, well … let’s just say it made an impression.
I had always hoped Jennifer would go on to become a huge star. And while she has continued to act, she has never been able to live down the infamous nose job that some say stymied her career. Let that be a lesson to all you aspiring actresses: What makes you different makes you better (for reference, please see Barbra Streisand and Sarah Jessica Parker).