Some movies just stick with us forever, because they're the kind of movies that have us learning all the lines, remembering all the moves, and re-enacting the best scenes in our bedrooms, wishing so desperately to be that amazing main character in real life.
Dirty Dancing is one of these movies, and there's no question that Baby and Johnny's story is and will always be a classic. Although I'd be happy to just watch it again and again and again, rewinding it forever and basking in the warm feeling of the best kind of nostalgia, it won't hurt to look at why exactly Dirty Dancing holds such a special place in our hearts.
1. It Is The Best Dance Movie Ever
Not only is the combination of steamy dance scenes and musical hits a foolproof formula, watching Baby go from awkward wallflower to dance floor goddess made it seem so much more real. We could identify with the dance lessons, we wanted to be there. There's no denying that we all believed we could do the lift, too.
Nothing beats the attraction in the "Lover Boy" scene:
Actually, let's watch it again:
2. It Gave Us The Best Final Scene Of Our Lives
I shouldn't even have to add an explanation here.
3. And The Most Memorable Line In The World
Nicely summed up by Flowing Data:
4. It Tackles Real Issues
Dirty Dancing isn't only about hormone-tickling dance scenes, as its title might imply. The script is lined with subjects that wouldn't have been popular with the average lovey-dovey teen movie audience, but in this case contribute to making the movie what it is.
The first one is dance teacher Penny's abortion, which she thinks she can get from a doctor, but turns out to be an ugly and painful procedure. It taught those who didn't know it at the time the meaning of a "coat-hanger abortion." It also cost the distributor a sponsor, but screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein refused to cut the scene out.
The second main theme is one of class issues. You've got Robbie the rich kid, who gets Penny pregnant but goes around explaining that "some people count, and some people don't." He's working as a waiter, but he's in a completely different sphere than the rest of the crew, who are mostly struggling to make ends meet. Add to that Baby and her family, who are wealthy as well but liberal and more idealistic, and you've got a structure that says a lot about society, even outside of this holiday resort.
5. Watermelons Are Great Icebreakers (Not Just Literally)
Baby's first dance with Johnny happens after she carries a watermelon to the resort's staff after-party, discovering a dance floor unlike any of those she's seen before. But the encounter is a bit awkward: when Johnny asks what she's doing there, she replies that she "carried a watermelon" and then curses herself for such an uncool answer. Basically, she's every girl who sees a hot guy and stutters something stupid, ever.
6. Baby Is All Of Us
Beyond her reaction to meeting Johnny, Baby is all of us on every level. She's not conventionally attractive, at least in Hollywood. She's clever and dreams of joining the Peace Corps. She's a bit clumsy, but she's not dumb either and she knows what she wants. Her goofiness isn't the giggling-look-at-me-being-stupid-but-so-cute type, either; it's authentic, because she just needs some time adjusting to her new friends and lifestyle. At the beginning of the movie, she definitely feels out of place hanging out with the "cool kids," but she doesn't waste any time teasing Johnny — and ends up making the first move.
And that's probably the greatest thing about Dirty Dancing: the slightly nerdy, cute but not bombshell girl not only gets the hot leader of the cool guy gang, she doesn't even have to change herself. She stays Baby all the way, without pretending she is someone else just to please the crowd. Only a character so refreshing and honest could have given us such a love confession scene:
7. Baby's Family Is Every Family Ever
Not only are most of the minor characters of the story well developed, Baby's family is so easy to identify with: the serious but loving father, whom Baby admires so much; the mother, who can't hold back boasting, "I think she gets this from me" when she sees her daughter on stage with Johnny, even though her husband's about to explode; and the sister, who's slightly embarrassing but also clueless. Being torn between pleasing our parents and escaping the boring activities schedule to have fun with unapproved friends is a vacation that a lot of us have experienced ourselves.
8. It's A 'Labor Of Love'
Swayze was actually getting annoyed when they were filming this dance scene, because Grey was ticklish and kept on laughing. So the look on his face is as real as it gets.
All in all, what makes Dirty Dancing so special is the genuineness and the love that was put into it by the cast and crew. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Grey later said:
"We never knew that anyone would ever see it. When I was cast, I thought I got the lead in this movie because no one’s going to ever see it. [...] We basically thought, we’re going to do this labor of love because we want to tell this story because we love dance."
In an article for Salon, Curtis Sittenfeld interviewed different viewers of the movie, one of them a 53-year-old woman named Ellen. She sums up perfectly how Dirty Dancing struck its audience:
"I want my life to be like the dance at the end. It’s got it all: beauty, skill, love, passion, parents begging forgiveness. And she does the jump and he lifts her up, and all of a sudden everybody starts dancing — the races and ages and classes come together. I want everybody in my life to all of a sudden dance together and to have grace and style and be smiling. Is that too much to ask?"