After studying a few film modules at university I know that my response to ‘what’s your favourite film’ should be something like Vertigo, Mulholland Drive or Citizen Kane. I have nothing against any of those responses, but I would be lying if I said mine was anything but the 80’s classic Dirty Dancing. No its not because of topless Patrick Swayze. Just hear me out.
Reason 1: Abortion.
When Baby (Jennifer Grey) finds out that Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) is pregnant there is no argument in her decision to have an abortion. The central characters automatically respect that she is not in the right financial position to be having a baby and that she has put her career first. Instead the issue is with her having the procedure illegally. We see her lying, sweating and in agony, because she could not get the operation in a safe, sanitised environment. As Billy (Neal Jones) says “He had a folding table and a dirty knife”. In an interview for Gender Across Borders, the film’s writer Eleanor Bergstein stated, “If you do a documentary on coat hanger abortions, the only people who see it will be those who agree with you anyway. If you put one in a wide-based musical with pretty clothes, and lots of romance, it may surprise people and make them think of things they didn’t think of before”. It is a film that adamantly opposes illegal abortions and supports a woman’s right to choose.
Reason 2: ‘Baby’
A feminist heroine. Plain and Simple. From the start she is a politically minded, strong positive influence on those around her. She wants to join the Peace Corps, and she sacrifices the her relationship with her father so Penny can have an abortion. When Johnny (Patrick Swayze) says that “She can’t even do the merengue. She cannot do it”, Baby narrows her eyes and purses her lips and commits herself to proving him wrong. When asked by the corporate and patronising Neil Kellerman “Are you majoring in English” she replies “Economics of Underdeveloped Countries” without skipping a beat. She laughs loud, admits her fears, and fights for those around her.
Reason 3: Sex/Relationships
I know the central romance is a bit of a summer love cliché, but the way Baby acts around Johnny is not. She knocks on his door, asks him to dance and explores his body. She has control of the situation and through that confidence she ‘becomes’ Frances. If you really look, most of the film is seen from Baby’s ‘Hungry Eyes’. Not surprising when it was written by a woman. But that doesn’t stop the development of the male characters; Johnny is given a space to open up about his own self-doubt to the point where he has the confidence to stand up for what he believes in. Neither of them are perfect, which the film makes sure to portray. But, together they make one another stronger. That is what makes their final lift so perfect, a sign of their newfound trust and strength.
Reason 4: The Soundtrack
Okay so I would be stupid to not mention the soundtrack. “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” won Best Original Song at the Oscars and Golden Globes in 1988 – with very good reason. I dare you to listen to it and not smile.
I’m not saying it’s the best film ever made, the most influential or the most artistic. But I will fight anyone who says it’s just a film about dirty dancing.bookmark me