THE BACK PAGES

‘Dirty Dancing' just got dirtier

A cult phenomenon comes alive on stage and reveals its secrets on a 20th-anniversary DVD

BRIAN D. JOHNSON May 21 2007
THE BACK PAGES

‘Dirty Dancing' just got dirtier

A cult phenomenon comes alive on stage and reveals its secrets on a 20th-anniversary DVD

BRIAN D. JOHNSON May 21 2007

‘Dirty Dancing' just got dirtier

A cult phenomenon comes alive on stage and reveals its secrets on a 20th-anniversary DVD

stage

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

In Along Came

Polly, a 2004 comedy starring Ben Stiller, there’s a scene in which Stiller’s character gets rattled when another guy starts mauling his date on the dance floor. “I’m just not into this whole dirty dancing thing,” says Stiller.

“What do you mean, dirty dancing?” asks his date, played by Jennifer Aniston. “That wasn’t dirty dancing. That was just salsa.”

Every guy knows that women love it—the movie and the “salsa.” And two decades after its release, the movie is hotter than ever. A live show closely based on the film (Dirty Dancing—The Classic Story On Stage) is breaking box office records. And with a 20th-anniversary edition of the DVD, Dirty Da?icing just got dirtier. The deleted scenes include a long sequence of Jennifer Grey in a white bra and panties slow-dancing with a shirtless Patrick Swayze, who hoists her onto his crotch and... well, let’s just say that dirty dancing crosses the line to dry humping.

Eleanor Bergstein, the movie’s writer and co-producer, says that scene was cut from the movie after preview screenings. “It made audiences uncomfortable, because Jennifer was too much like somebody’s daughter,” she explained, taking a break from auditioning talent for a Toronto production of the stage show. In other other words, despite the animal chemistry between Swayze and Grey, the romance depended on keeping it clean.

Bergstein was even surprised the title survived. “I thought it would end up being called Moon Over the Catskills or something.” During the shoot, she recalls, some daily footage was seized crossing the Canadian border because customs officials assumed it was porn. That prompted the studio to conduct a survey on the title, and “everyone thought it was

a porn film,” says Bergstein. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. The title stuck, Dirty Dancing hit pay dirt, became a massive cult phenomenon, and as Baby and Johnny—lovers from opposite sides of the tracks—Grey and Swayze were typecast in roles they never escaped. Grey even got a nose job to erase her image, a decision she came to regret.

Now the movie’s fans can swoon to the hipgrinding passion of Johnny and Baby in the flesh. Since opening in Australia in 2004, Dirty Dancing—The Classic Story On Stage has played Auckland, Hamburg and London’s West End—where it broke all box office records for live theatre last fall with advance ticket sales of $33 million. Toronto hosts the show’s North American premiere in November, and last month Mirvish Productions reported a record-breaking $1.9 million in single-ticket sales on the first day.

So why has Dirty Dancing left such an indelible mark? “Because it’s reality-based,” says Bergstein, without a trace of irony. Her movie followed a string of screen musicals about class-crossed lovers—including Saturday Night Fever (1977), Grease (1978) and Flashdance (1983). But it’s the only one that shows, step by step, how the dances are constructed. And it’s the only one created by a woman who actually lived the life, if not the romance, depicted onscreen.

Bergstein based much of her script on her own experience. Like Grey’s character in the movie, she’s the daughter of a Jewish doctor, vacationed in the Catskills with her parents, and was called Baby until she was an adult. “I grew up in Brooklyn in a very poor neighbourhood,” she says. “My father saw patients for a dollar. I wanted to change the world, but in a matching sweater set. And I was a teenage mambo queen.” Bergstein competed in “dirty dancing” contests as a teen during the early ’60s—and has a tarnished collection of trophies to prove it. Later she worked her way through university as an Arthur Murray dance instructor. “So there’s also a great deal of Johnny in me,” she adds.

While Dirty Dancing may be seen as the ultimate chick flick, the way Bergstein talks about it, you’d think it was a motivational film to empower men: “Men have that secret dancer inside, and this has given permission for it to come out. We have a huge female audience, but our most passionate audience is men.” On an Australian phone-in show, Bergstein took a call from a semi driver who said he travelled with a laptop so he could watch the movie at rest stops. The lines were then jammed by other big-rig drivers calling in to say they did the same. Who can blame them? The film’s hero is a working-class stud, a misunderstood chick magnet who’s a mambo beat away from being a gigolo. Maybe not the ultimate male fantasy. But more fun than waltzing with an 18-wheeler. M