Dirty Dancing is one of the all time great movies

Dirty Dancing was not only a box office mega-hit, but is one of the all time great movies. Every small detail, every scene and every line has an often hidden meaning. Every word is important.

For example, near the beginning, when the guests have just arrived, there is a scene where the guests line up and dance a snake dance, led by a professional dancer, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), a former Rockette.

As the guests line up, their order in the line is important. Each person turns out to have a relationship with the person in front and and the person behind in that line.
Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing

At the end of the movie, we learn that a kindly elderly couple, the Schumachers, are really professional pickpockets and thieves, wanted in many states. Look at the movie again and see how they line up in the opening dance scene.

I saw the movie at least four or five times before I caught all of the sub-plots. I still may have missed some of them. I have found that many people, including those who have seen Dirty Dancing several times and have written movie reviews, have missed some of the main points. Therefore, I have decided to explain the movie as best I can.

The movie centers around "Baby" (Jennifer Grey) Houseman, who, with her sister and parents, come for a two week stay at a Summer dance resort at the Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke, Virginia (which incidentally happens to be a few miles away from where I grew up).

Late in the evening, exploring the resort, Baby stumbles into a very private dance party, involving the professional dance instructors. They are dancing "dirty dances", a bump and grind sort of dancing.

Baby is sworn to secrecy. The lead dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) invites her to dance.

Soon, Baby is drawn into the world of the dirty dancers, a world unlike anything she has experienced before.

The most obvious plot in the movie involves the dancing itself. At the beginning, Baby is a clutz at dancing, often stepping on her own feet. (Never mind that in real life Jennifer Grey is the daughter of famed choreographer Joel Grey of "Cabaret" fame).

Baby agrees to be a stand in for Penny, who has a medical emergency. The doctor can only see her at one time, which is the time when she is scheduled to perform "Mombo Magic" in town in front of an audience.

Johnny must now give Baby a crash course in how to dance. She is a quick learner. She also falls in love with him while learning. When the time comes for the real performance, she puts on a good show and the audience applauds. However, she and Johnny know that she missed several steps.

The most difficult maneuver she is trying to learn involves a leap into the air in which Johnny catches her and holds her prone high above his head. Before the audience, she misses her step and falls into his arms. She just continues to dance as though nothing is wrong. Nobody seems to notice.

However, later in the movie, in their triumphant final dance, she finally does it. She leaps into the air and Johnny raises her over his head triumphantly.

One wonders if it is really possible for a rank beginner at dance to become a world class dancer after just two weeks of intensive instruction.

However, that is only the most obvious plot. Getting back to Penny's medical emergency, the medical emergency is that she needs an abortion. The movie is set in 1963 when abortions were illegal. (This was before the Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973). Because abortions were illegal, Penny did not go to a real doctor. She went to a quack instead. When Baby and Johnny return from their dance performance, Penny is in bed. She is bleeding internally from a botched abortion.

Baby's father is a medical doctor, so she runs to his room and wakes him. He cleans up the abortion and saves Penny's life. When he asks, "Who is responsible for this girl", Johnny answers "I am." This leads Baby's father to believe that Johnny is the person who has made his dance partner pregnant. Dr. Houseman is disgusted with his daughter for associating with such people.

But we, the audience, know that this is not true, because earlier we were told that Johnny and Penny are not a couple. (Remember that every word is important in this movie).

The bad guy, who made Penny pregnant, is one of the waiters, Robbie.

These are not ordinary waiters. They have been specially recruited from Harvard and Yale to romance the young girls who will be attending the dance camp. They are ordered by the boss to romance all the girls, "Including the dogs".

This does not mean, however, that they are supposed to romance the dance instructors. The waiters are rich kids, from good families. Penny does not sleep around. She thought that she had gotten lucky and had gotten a ticket out of the deprivation of these endless dance performances. Robbie had told her he loved her, but when he found out that she was pregnant, he treated her like a common slut. Hence, the abortion.

The villain of Dirty Dancing is Robbie Gould (Max Cantor), the waiter who got Penny pregnant.

Robbie also romances Baby's sister, Lisa (Jane Brucker), to the full approval of their father, Dr. Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach).

Thus, Baby is hanging out with Johnny, of whom her father disapproves, but who is really a good guy, whereas Lisa is with Robbie, of whom her father approves, but who is really a bad guy.

Also at the resort is Moe Pressman (Gary Goodrow), an elderly wealthy man who is a big gambler and is always playing cards. Meanwhile, his much younger wife has the hots for Johnny. She whispers into Johnny's ear that she has got it all arranged that they will be sleeping together that night (but Johnny has other plans for the night). Moe calls Johnny over, hands him some money, and tells him to give his wife some dance lessons. Johnny returns the money and says that he is all booked up.

That night, Lisa decides to take the plunge. She is going to sleep with Robbie that night. Baby knows about Robbie and tries to talk her sister out of it, but Lisa will not hear of it.

Lisa dolls herself up and goes to Robbie's room to pay him a surprise visit. She knocks on his door, but there is no answer. She opens the door and is astonished to see Robbie in bed having sex with Moe Pressman's wife (Miranda Garrison).

Early the next morning, Moe Pressman's wife leaves Robbie's room, and sees Baby leaving Johnny's room.

Later that day, it is discovered that Moe Pressman's wallet, which had a considerable amount of money in it, was stolen by a pickpocket while he was playing cards. Johnny, a never-do-well dancer, is accused. He has no alibi. He says that he was in his room reading books, but the bosses nephew points out that Johnny does not have any books in his room.

Johnny is about to be fired when Baby intervenes: "I know he was in his room last night, because I was with him" she confesses, in the presence of her father.

Johnny is fired anyway. Although the boss had ordered the rich kids who work as waiters to romance the girls, the dancers are not supposed to get sexually involved with the guests. Johnny drives off in his car.

Everything is set for the final going-away party for the guests. Lisa is the star of the show. She and the other guests sing incredibly funky songs. The proceedings are interrupted by Johnny, who has made his return. Johnny takes Baby by the hand and leads her to the center stage, to the consternation of her father. Johnny announces that he has always done the last dance, and this year he will do it again, even though he has been told not to. Johnny's cousin is managing the record player, so he is unstoppable.

Johnny and Baby perform their all time great final dance. Soon, the dirty dancers and everybody else joins in.

Dr. Houseman sees Robbie walking by. He walks up to Robbie and presents him with a large check, "to pay for your college tuition." Robbie says thanks.

Robbie then adds a thank you for helping out with the Penny abortion situation. Robbie explains that Penny is the type of girl who sleeps around and nobody could know who the father was. Suddenly, Dr. Houseman realizes that it was Robbie, and not Johnny, who made Penny pregnant. Dr. Houseman rips the check he has just presented out of Robbie's hand.

Dr. Houseman then apologizes to Johnny. "When I am wrong, I admit it," he says. He gives his blessing to the relationship between Baby and Johnny. The movie ends happily.

Sam Sloan

UPDATE: Dirty Dancing dancer Jennifer Stahl has been murdered.

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