Last 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.