In wake of remake, a fresh look at 1987’s ‘Dirty Dancing’

Everyone has that one movie. It’s the film that they, for some reason or another, are absolutely obsessed with. They can quote every line, reference scene and will actually bite your ear off if they figure out that you somehow haven’t seen it.

For some people, their movie is a classic, like a sing-along “Sound of Music” or the oft-quoted “The Godfather Part II.” For others, it’s a Disney film or probably something directed by Quentin Tarantino. For my roommate, it’s “Dirty Dancing.”

She knows this 1987 classic film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze by heart. She owns a vinyl copy of the film soundtrack and this year even modeled her Founder’s Day outfit off of Jennifer Grey’s glorious high-waisted shorts/floral button-down combo. She has told me multiple times that Patrick Swayze is “the one that got away.

To be fair, I too have seen “Dirty Dancing.” At some point. I can’t quite remember when. It might have been at a sleepover in middle school? Although we may have chosen to watch “13 Going on 30” instead. Anyway, I really did not remember any of it. A bunch of people dance dirty and Baby doesn’t want to be in a corner. That’s all there is to it, right?

Last week, after finals were over and I had no more excuses to justify not having seen it officially, I sat down with a freshly popped bag of vending machine popcorn and watched “Dirty Dancing,” Guess what, guys: It’s good! Who knew?

I know I am officially 30 years late, but “Dirty Dancing” is a thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly progressive, feel-good romantic comedy. And they dance dirty. What more is there to ask for?

The film should certainly not be heralded as an iconic progressive piece that tears down boundaries and paves the way for more diverse representation on screen—I spotted a grand total of two people of color in the entire film, and they were very much in the background. For its time, however, “Dirty Dancing” did cover some radical topics.

Firstly, I was intrigued by the characterization of Jennifer Grey. Perhaps the original “not-likeother-girls” character, Baby can carry her own. She wants to do something to make the world better and even plans on joining the Peace Corps after she graduates from Mount Holyoke. While now audiences are sick of this old trope (Hailee Steinfeld, for example, just released a new single titled “Most Girls” condemning this tired narrative), it was 1987, so I’ll give the production team some props.

Yet, what stunned me the most about Dirty Dancing was its treatment of abortion. The entire plot, in fact, revolves around Baby helping a woman get an abortion, taking her place in a dance competition alongside Patrick Swayze and making numerous personal sacrifices in order to ensure this woman’s choice.

How did I miss this? Why is nobody talking about this? Like Mickey Rooney’s atrocious I. Y. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” film history has seemingly forgotten this aspect of a beloved movie.

Even to this day, the topic of abortion is rarely touched with a 10-foot pole in the cinema, with seemingly progressive films like “Juno” glancing over the topic lest it lead to some greater controversy. “Dirty Dancing,” though, does not run away from this topic, but rather embraces it. The character is never blamed for wanting to get an abortion, never questioned by her friends for making the choice even when it all goes horribly wrong.

In a time when reproductive rights are under attacked, it’s important to remember that this is not normal. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze knew that all the way back in ’87. Let’s not forget now.

And hey, go watch “Dirty Dancing.” Turns out my roommate was right: It’s pretty great.

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