Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing, and Romance

Book CoverLast night when I heard that Patrick Swayze died of cancer at 57, a link went around Twitter from New York reporter Mandy Stadtmillerto the YouTube footage of the final dance scene from Dirty Dancing.

I freely admit: I cried while watching it. I know a lot of people looked at the death of Michael Jackson as a loss from their childhood, of a person who was responsible for the soundtrack of their youth. For me, it wasn’t Jackson – it was Swayze, particularly Dirty Dancing. I was 12 when the movie came out, and I wasn’t, if I recall correctly, allowed to see it in theaters. Eventually I saw the whole thing but by then I knew the entire soundtrack by heart. It was one of my earliest introductions to romance. The final scenes still gives me chills, even with the simplicity of the themes of nobility, honor, and bravery – and booty shaking.

And the story itself is absolutely barmy if you think about it in terms of marketability and success. Imagine that pitch now: a young sheltered Jewish girl in the 60’s falls in heavy grinding crush with her lower-class goyish dance instructor in a Catskills summer resort – and it’s a dance movie. I don’t even know if that would sell as a novel, much less a film. But the combination of those elements, plus the music, plus the magical dancing of be-mulletted Swayze made that one of my favorite movies. It was unlikely, but it was a huge success, and it was one of those cultural markers that shaped me into the romance fan I am today. (I bet it was the mullet, but don’t tell anyone).

So if you’re working on an unlikely romance, a story that no one thinks could do anything, much less sell to a publisher, keep going. There’s always the chance that your story could become the romance that twenty years later, is still campy, silly, beautiful, heartbreaking magic.

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  1. 1
    Star Opal says:

    I remember my brother and dad had gone somewhere and would be gone for the weekend, so my mom and I decided to have “girl’s nights” and camp out in the living room. We watched movies and ate snacks and I got to pull out one of the sleeping bags. At six or seven this was like the coolest thing ever.

    One of the movies we rented was Dirty Dancing, and that’s when it happened: My first actor crush. Head over heels he’s dreamy crush.

    Also, the movie made me want to dance. It wouldn’t be until I saw Singin’ in the Rain that I decided on tap (though I would also take ballet and jazz), but this was the one that made me think ‘I want to learn to do that!’ I was a sickly and weak kid, but I was totally inspired to try and not give up.

    I go back and watch Dirty Dancing today (on my upgraded DVD copy) and find it remarkable that such a simple movie had such an effect on me. But it did, and the movie and Patrick Swayze will always have a special place in my heart. And the soundtrack is one of the best ever!

    So remember, have a Swayze Christmas this year.

  2. 2
    Ria says:

    I was wondering why I felt so affected by the news of his death, and in a few short paragraphs, you absolutely nailed it. When you think about it, no combination of the elements of ‘Dirty Dancing’ should have worked, but it really, truly *did* and it made all of us a little magic, too.

    Also, this.

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I never saw this film in the theater—only much later, on video, and remember being impressed by a couple of things:
    One:  Baby’s father wasn’t an utterly useless tosser (unlike so many parents/authority figures in teen movies of that time) and was a competent doctor who actually helped the girl who’d botched an abortion; and
    Two:  The Patrick Swayze character genuinely cared about Baby.  I was convinced up to the very last scenes that he was a complete tool who was only using her for sex and the film would have one of those dumped/sadder-but-wiser endings.  Boy, was I surprised!
    I’m enough of a stickler for period detial to be bothered by the Eighties hairstyles on the leads; why did they give Baby’s sister an authentic early Sixties ‘do and leave Jennifer Grey’s curly Flashdance mop intact?  Overall, though, the film avoided some of the more egregious cliches of the Eighties and broke with convention enough to stick in my mind.
    RIP, Swayze.

  4. 4
    Shirin Dubbin says:

    She’s Like the Wind is on perpetual repeat this morning and like you I’m remembering the first time I saw Dirty Dancing. It was at a school assembly—they’d given the honor roll students the afternoon off to celebrate our good grades with pizza and a movie. The minute that slow-mo grind in black & white began you could have smacked me and wouldn’t have stirred. Certainly falling in love should be like this; filled with music and dancing, sacrifice and risk—the excitement of doing things your parents don’t wanna know about.

    If it comes on TV I have to watch it and it made me a fan of Patrick Swayze. That led to To Wong Foo (fab!) and Point Break (how sexy was he!) and so forth. I just tweeted that one of the greatest gifts is the ability to make others happy. Patrick Swayze was gifted.

  5. 5
    Sarah W says:

    This is such a wrench—-and a shock.  I knew he was sick, but he was working, it was goigt o be okay.

    I’ve been quietly in love with Swayze since the Outsiders.  That’s more than half my life.

    But as much as I like his all-male-sex-on-legs heroes, I think To Wong Foo is my favorite of his movies—-his talents (and sense of humor) really shine in that one.  It’s mostly camp to be sure, but there are a few heartbreaking moments when the mask drops and he shows the realities of Vida’s—-and her strength . . .

    Damn.  I’ll miss him.

  6. 6

    I was so brokenhearted last night when a friend emailed me with the news.  I was 18 or so when Dirty Dancing came out, and I worked at a department store warehouse ticketing clothes.  I can remember everybody at work singing together while we danced in place and clicked away (probably looked like something out of a musical…LOL).  But Roadhouse will always be my favorite Swayze movie.  Everytime I come across it while flipping through the channels, I have to watch it. :-)

  7. 7
    Sarah W says:

    Let’s try,  “the realities of Vida’s life.”

    Sigh . . .

  8. 8
    Hydecat says:

    I wasn’t allowed to see Dirty Dancing as a kid, but I owned the soundtrack and had it memorized. When I finally saw it (in college), I totally loved it. I think it’s the music and dancing that sets it apart from so many other kind of cheesy class-conscious 80s movies. Like it or not, music has a really powerful affect on people’s emotions (also see that scene in Say Anything where John Cusack holds up the boombox), and I think people click with movies about dancing on a much more physical level than movies without it.

    Also, he was brilliant in To Wong Foo.

  9. 9
    Lindsay says:

    How I loved that movie as a little girl. I caught it on TV a few weeks ago and was struck by how similar it was to the romance novels I love as an adult. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it still is. I wasn’t sure it would survive the test of time and adulthood for me, but it certainly has. Life is short, do what you can with what you have.

  10. 10
    MamaNice says:

    You saw Dirty Dancing at school? My memory of Dirty Dancing includes my mom rewinding the little shot of his tush as he gets out of bed…yep, my mom had a crush on him!

    My favorite scene is when they dance all silly together and lip synch the words to the song.
    I am slightly embarrassed to admit one summer a friend and I memorized the entire last dance and performed it over and over…for the lift at the end we used my kid sister (she was 3 or 4 maybe?).

    I personally love him best in the North and South saga. Remember that tele-drama? I loved it.

    I may have to dig it out now, I believe I have them all….on VHS.

  11. 11
    Jensational says:

    I was in 6th grade when Dirty Dancing came out so I couldn’t see it in the theater.  My parents rented it and then watched it with us to explain anything that might be morally offensive.  So I think my mom was a bit shocked that abortion featured so heavily in the plot but that part flew right over me and I just wanted to see more shirtless Swayze dancing.

    I also have fond memories of Ghost because I saw it with my best friend and we were allowed to see it and then walk to Burger King for dinner without any adults with us.

  12. 12
    Brooks*belle says:

    He was fab.  Such a loss—I feel really bad for his wife.

    Hey—everyone remember the long-rolled-up-shorts craze that Dirty Dancing started?  I had several pair myself! LOL

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    Certainly falling in love should be like this; filled with music and dancing, sacrifice and risk—the excitement of doing things your parents don’t wanna know about.

    What Shirin said – damn skippy!

  14. 14

    Dirty Dancing was and still is one of my all-time favorite movies as well as Ghost, as well as so many others.  I was very saddened when I heard of Patrick Swayze’s death. He will be missed very much.  I think my daughter and I will be renting some movies and take over the T.V. today!

    Terisa Wilcox

  15. 15
    Melanie says:

    SB Sarah, we’re the same age, and like you I didn’t see “Dirty Dancing” in the theatre, but watched it with a friend once it was on video.  And memorized all the songs.  And had the rolled-up shorts, and the Keds to wear with them.  When I heard the news about Patrick Swayze, all I could think was that the people responsible for the movies of my formative years are dying—first John Hughes, and now Swayze, and at such young ages.  It makes me sad.

  16. 16
    Terry Odell says:

    From Wikipedia:  Dirty Dancing was a low-budget project that was intended to be shown in theaters for one weekend only and then go straight to video, but it became a surprise hit and achieved massive international success. It was the first film to sell one million copies on video…

    I didn’t see the movie in the theater, but because I was older, not too young, and going to movies then meant hubby also had to want to come along, etc.

  17. 17
    JJ says:

    I was too young to watch Dirty Dancing in theatres, but I remember watching it over and over when I was 4 years old on VHS (ah, those were the days…). I was WAY too young to understand any of what was going on except for the fact that Baby loved him and loved to dance, and that for some reason it wasn’t allowed. More than anything, I was thrilled to be allowed to watch a “grown-up” movie with my mother. She called Patrick Swayze “the eighth wonder”.

    And that is how I answered a quiz about the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in the 1st grade. I said there were eight, and the eighth was Patrick Swayze. I wish I could remember my teacher’s face!

  18. 18

    *is still all choked up*  This one hit me even harder than John Hughes, and that one was like a ton of bricks.

    I wasn’t allowed to see Dirty Dancing when it came out.  My parents were really, really strict and were sure it was the stuff of Satan.

    So I remember the first time I saw it.  I was 13 and my older sister and I snuck out of our bedroom at 2 in the morning one night, after my parents had gone to bed hours ago.  We had surreptitiously checked the tv guide earlier that day and saw that *finally* Dirty Dancing was going to be on HBO.  So we stayed awake, waiting, and when we snuck out, we turned on the tv with the volume down to, like, barely audible whisper level and sat on the floor of our living room, faces an inch from the screen so we could hear, and watched it.

    It was the most amazing movie I’d ever seen at that time.  It’s still in my top ten of all time.  And now I’m dying to watch it today but, unlike 22 years ago, it doesn’t appear to be on HBO tonight.  :(

  19. 19
    CaroleM says:

    We live where the lake scenes of Dirty Dancing was filmed -Mountain Lake, Giles County, Virginia –  so it’s a special movie for us – my cousin loved it so much *he* booked his wedding ceremony in the gazebo that sat lakeside and I would have been there, but at the same time my own wedding was being held a thousand miles away.

    Just so everyone knows – during the filming, Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa were the best – actually everyone in the crew was -down to earth, normal people.  Almost every year, there is a feature in the local paper about the filming with local recollections.  And trust me, this not a part of the country that takes to outsiders.

    I guess we kindof think of it and Patrick Swayze as extended family.  He will be missed -one of the good guys.

  20. 20
    Star Opal says:

    Sorry to post again, but…

    But Roadhouse will always be my favorite Swayze movie.  Everytime I come across it while flipping through the channels, I have to watch it. :-)

    Oh wow that is so true! I don’t know what it is about that movie, but every time I see it while going through the channels I have to stop, and considering how often it’s on, well I’ve seen it a lot.

    And don’t even get me started on him in The Outsiders. Or Point Break. Red Dawn. Even Uncommon Valor. That show The Beast? Amazing. And, and, and….

    I’ll miss him so much.

  21. 21
    Tina C. says:

    My co-worker and I were just talking about all the Swayze movies that we loved.  Dirty Dancing will always be a special favorite and I’m fond of Ghost and Wong Fu, but I also simply loved his cheese-tastic action movies that often had no basis in logic or reality of any kind.  For example, Next of Kin, which not only trots out every stereotype of my home, Kentucky, but also changes the geography of the US to make eastern KY a mere couple of hours from Chicago by car.  (Don’t care—love it anyway!)  Or Roadhouse, which threw in everything but the kitchen sink—T&A for both sexes, monster trucks, martial arts, guns, explosions, kick-ass blues music, Sam Elliot, women dancing on tables, a big stuffed grizzly bear, sex against a wall, bar fights, etc.  And who could forget Red Dawn?  If that movie wasn’t funded by the NRA, I’d be surprised, but still, loved it!  There’s probably not one movie that he made that wasn’t a bit over-the-top in some way and I would happily watch every single one of them again and enjoy myself immensely.

    He was one of the major movie crushes of my late teens and early 20s.  He was a man who genuinely, deeply, and passionately loved his wife for most of both of their lives (I heard on the radio this morning that he was 19 and she was 15 when they met).  He was one hell of a dancer and a great entertainer.  I’m sad to know that he’s gone, but I understand he refused to take his pain meds when he was working on The Beast so that he didn’t lose his edge, so I’m glad that he’s no longer in pain.

    RIP

  22. 22
    Karla says:

    North & South, 1 & 2…Orry Main & George Hazard…Patrick Swayze & James Read…my romance mancandy heroes in grade school and for years afterward. *sighs happily*

  23. 23
    Heather says:

    I’m with Sarah W…“I’ve been quietly in love with Swayze since the Outsiders.”

    And then there was North and South, Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, Roadhouse, and To Wong Foo. So much good stuff. *sigh*

  24. 24
    KristenMary says:

    I have always loved Patrick Swayze since seeing Dirty Dancing as well. He could do no wrong in my eyes. Especially when I found out his real life wife was part of the cast and how devoted they are to each other. It just made me swoon and hope for a husband like that (which I found).

    A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the same time Patrick made his announcement. We lost her last November. I remember thinking with both that maybe they would beat the odds and praying that it would be true. Cancer’s a bitch but pancreatic is pretty much a death sentence.

  25. 25
    Lauren says:

    And that is how I answered a quiz about the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in the 1st grade. I said there were eight, and the eighth was Patrick Swayze. I wish I could remember my teacher’s face!

    JJ – thank goodness I had just swallowed my tea when I read your comment, otherwise it would have been all over the keyboard.

    I was also too young to see the movie in the theater, but every recess in second grade saw me and my friends dancing and singing along to the soundtrack. It also became the must-watch movie at sleepovers. I’ve watched Dirty Dancing at least once a year since then – and only got that the dancing was dirty (and all the abortion stuff), well into high school.
    My friends and I now have (slightly more grown-up) “girls weekend” sleepovers, and Dirty Dancing is still an integral part of them.

    My heart is a little broken. RIP Patrick.

  26. 26
    Mhlia says:

    Oh, that is exactly how I feel.  And combine that with his personal love story with his wife and I cry every time he is mentioned today.  Loved the movie, loved the music… it inspired my love of all dance movies.  I think that he and that movie was my first movie crush.  I agree, my heart is broken a little – for him, for his wife, for the child I used to be.

  27. 27
    Brooks*belle says:

    Oh and another thing…

    He would have been the best Romance Cover Hero EVER!

    *Sigh* AND he had that fabulous love-affair marriage with his wife for 34 years.  He WAS a romance hero.

  28. 28

    I think I was around 12 when DD came out.  I remember him from the Outsiders and Red Dawn…some movies I seriously adore.

    :(

  29. 29
    Leeann Burke says:

    Outsiders is the first movie of his that I saw on video since I lived in an area that didn’t show English movies. I loved Ghost and Dirty Dancing (I used to wish I could dance like they did in the movie). However the movie that I remember him most for is the TV movie North and South.

    I have to say that I like how the media is centering on his and his wife’s love and life together. It sounds like they had the perfect love affair.

  30. 30
    Rosemary says:

    Swayze’s death resonates with so many of us. Aside from his considerable physical charms (I so hear you Brooks*bell!), here’s a guy who’s been married to the same woman his whole life, personable, self-effacing and tough as nails as he battled cancer. And how appealing is a guy who can dispatch the villains one minute and dance with you the next? A romantic hero, indeed.

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