Monday, May 26, 2014

Dirty Dancing 25+ Years Later
Dirty Dancing was released August 16, 1987. The movie was not expected to be anything more than a fun little coming of age teen movie which featured a cast at the time not that well know. The movie became the heart of the youth and it did very well across the globe. It was the first DVD to sell over 1,000,000 copies. and  still does well in DVD sales.  It is among the top streamed movie on streaming options to this day. While in theaters it was the #1 film in America for weeks with mixed reviews at best. While it received decent reviews from some critics it received very poor reviews from others. It was really the hearts of those going to the movie that gave Dirty Dancing the preverbal legs it ended up having.  

Dirty Dancing is far from the best acted, directed, or plot driven movie out there, even during the period it was released. All of these things are at times are quite week. There is a time though for most young people where they need to feel their voice is heard and that they are understood for the lives they live. Dirty Dancing was a movie made at the right time, with the right kind of chemistry and theme that expressed the feelings of many young people and had many of them going back to the theater over and over to see it. It expressed their attitudes about adult authority, growing up, and finding ones self. It was one of those movies where word of mouth made a tremendous difference in its success.

www.mosaicwichita.comJennifer Grey, playing Baby is noted most recently for her participation in Dancing with the Stars. Screen legend Patrick Swayze plays Johnny in this the bad boy good girl forbidden couple story. Baby comes from a well to do family where her father is a doctor and Johnny is fast driving bad boy who also teaches and entertains with dance at an elitist Summer Camp. A series of events ultimately brings the two together and one of Johnny's friends and dance partners has to have an abortion. Baby volunteers over 3 weeks to learn to dance with Johnny. At this point Dirty Dancing moves into a theme of class acceptance as Johnny and his friends come from one side of society and Baby, her friends and family come from another. It is a play on Romeo and Juliette made famous by a fellow a few years ago named William Shakespeare. The themes of forbidden love have been prevalent for years.  Dirty Dancing played on the usage of provocative dancing with a strange mixture of 70's and 80's music mixed into a soundtrack that took place predominantly in the 50's and 60's.  The movie in many ways also resembles another popular coming of age story and musical, West Side Story where we see the Italian boy falling into forbidden love with a Jewish girl. Dirty Dancing is if you will, a contemporary blend of the two stories.   

I have a couple of additional interests in the movie. The film used dancers from a dance troop from my wife's home town including some dancers I went to high school with. It was filmed in a community, Hendersonville, Lake Lure North Carolina where I had lived and spent a lot of time. While the dancing is wonderful, albeit out of period to some extent, I am also keenly aware of the beautiful landscape in the area.  It was filmed in the same location as The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis, but takes little advantage of the scenery in the area. I have often wondered, what was it about Dirty Dancing that had it having the impact to drive millions to the theater?

www.thevirtualpew.comLooking back over the years I think it was the viewers identification with the need to discover their own identity. They wanted to be who they wanted to be as opposed to who others wanted them to be.  It is a theme that has been played out many times before, it will be again.  There have been times that various things has set this attitude in motion, this time, it was a movie. We see this especially in the movie in Baby and Johnny. There are other characters we see it, some quite well, then there are the antagonists who think things are fine and they are fine having to meet the expectations of others.

I appreciated Johnny's character, he is has always looked down on to the point where some on the other side of the tracks may see him either as a sex object, bad boy, or one to simply make a profit from. Few see him as one with talents, abilities and desires. Many in society go through phases, and more times than not the reality of feeling rejection and being held back, not seen as people of value with the ability to be productive and decide for themselves. Even at times the church and related faith groups seem to discourage people in their individual search, without recognizing the people. The rules, the thou shalt not's, and the religious expectations which fall into the norm are presented as the only options while holding back individualistic identity. When one feels that their freedoms are taken away, they rebel, just as in the case of Dirty Dancing. It isn't that the rebellion is bad, it is the price that some will pay though to experience their freedom.  Often times, just like spoken about in the book of Romans chapter 7, when some are given the freedom to be themselves, through Christ, then they will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of certain rules and guidelines, but that comes more completely when they have experienced freedom.  We see this in a way in the conclusion of the film between Baby and her father when he realizes his role in not understanding the truth of what is going on and his own imprisonment of Baby's spirit.

www.thevirtualpew.comIf we are made in the image of God, which the Bible states we are, we need to remember, that often times, the talents, abilities and desires often come from God. It is evident in the case of Baby, she can dance, it is something she loves, yet she is discouraged from doing it the way she wants due to the perceptions of others. While there may be legitimacy to the style, it is still an expression of her individuality, which is used to later also learn a more classic style.  While the love affair between her and Johnny may ultimately have limitations, she loves being with him and he with her because of the challenges they present to each other. 

In Dirty Dancing there is also the themes of standing up for the hurting, even if they have made mistakes. We also see themes of class struggle. A rich little, well to do Italian guy gets a poor little Jewish girl pregnant and in need of an abortion. While the movie seems to take a pro abortion stance, I don't see it that way, it shows what is perceived as the limited options of some, yet the entitlement options of others based on wealth. We do see a botched abortion and while some can see that as a horrible thing, it is presented as a theme plot which in some ways, causes Baby to fully address her own acceptance by her father as a result of her involvement of him in the scenario. Not all is well, assumptions are made, while Baby's desire to help someone may be different, it ultimately causes Baby to reflect further on the differences between her generation and the generation of those of her mother and father. A never ending story that seems to exist with every generation. There is a lesson here though, a lesson to make sure we understand what is going on prior to jumping to conclusions about right and wrong.  

www.thekeystonekid.orgNow it should be clear; I don't think Dirty Dancing is a very good movie from a theatrical or technical perspective. I would say though, it is in the running for one of the best bad movie ever made. Despite the acting, plot, crazy inconsistent blend of music, I still enjoy this movie after the 25+ years. That should tell us all something, it isn't always the best and most well intended efforts that drives us on to success, sometimes it can be the not so great, the weak, if at the right time, in the right place, with the right voice. It isn't that way just with movies though, it is that way with us as individuals. We may not be the most talented of the bunch, but if we pay close attention, listen to our surroundings, maybe we can express a thought a voice or action that will impact those around us. Dirty Dancing certainly did that, it knew the hearts of youth, it played on that reoccurring theme and took advantage of the time. Fortunately for the movie, as long as there are children, parents, and bad boys or girls from the other side of the tracks, those themes and need to address those themes will always exist. For me, as a person of faith, maybe it is time that I/we, learn to hear those voices, respond accordingly, understanding the need of all of us to be free.  Maybe, just maybe, we can learn that the freedom we encourage, will allow, maybe move some, to know the freedoms we speak of. Then again, maybe some will be challenged to reflect on the assumptions they have made, how they could have been wrong, and that the relationships we value the most have been impacted by our own willingness to be stubborn and not give in to an attitude of understanding, acceptance, and if you will, ultimate love which allows those we love, to be free.

To see an interesting take on Dirty Dancing by the late Patrick Swayze click on the video below, if the video doesn't work, click on the following link:

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