‘Dirty Dancing’: passion on and off the dance floor

One of the feel-good cinema hits of the late 1980s was undoubtedly the romantic dance film ‘Dirty Dancing’. Jennifer Gray (59) and Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009 at the age of 57, swept many millions of fans around the world: the passion between the two protagonists broke off the screen. Dance schools benefited from the success of the film.

Before the ‘Dirty dance’, Patrick Swayze was inspired to dance. His mother was a well-known choreographer who had come up with the dance steps for films such as ‘Urban Cowboy’ and ‘Thelma and Louise’. Even as a little boy Patrick could be found on the dance floor: his father led a ballet company in Houston. As a teenager, he also met his future wife, dancer Lisa Niemi (63). Later in college, Swayze was also part of his school’s gymnastics team and he wanted to act.

He made his screen debut in 1979 at the age of 27 in the quickly forgotten film “Skatetown, U. S. A.” in the mid-1980s, becoming a well-known sight to the general public. He played the lead role of Orry Main in the also very popular mini-series ‘North and South’, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.

During his thirty-year career, you could find his name on the credits of nearly fifty films and TV series. In addition to ‘Dirty Dancing’ he will mainly be remembered for his role in the surf movie ‘Point Break’ and in that other romantic film classic, ‘Ghost’. More beautiful roles might have been followed, but fate struck in the spring of 2008. His spokesperson announced that Swayze was suffering from pancreatic cancer and that he was receiving intensive medical treatment. The therapy was to no avail: one and a half years later Swayze died, at the age of 57.

A feather

The first time we could see Jennifer Grey at work was when she was playing in a soda brand Dr. Pepper at the age of 19. Not really a dream starts for someone who had received acting training at an expensive private school in Manhattan, you would think, but the assignments were gradually coming in.

In 1984, when her career started, she starred in three films. Including in ‘Red Dawn’, in addition to… Patrick Swayze. In 1986, it was really the prize for her: she got a role in the teenage comedy ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, as Ferris’s evil sister, a role played by Matthew Broderick (57). She also got a relationship with him.

Dirty Dancing : passion on and off the dance floor
©Dirty Dancing – An iconic scene from ‘Dirty Dancing’.

A year later, she entered ‘Dirty Dancing’, but there was no mention of a spark between her and Swayze. “I was there when he auditioned for the part,” she remembers. “I was already cast as Frances “Baby” Houseman. Patrick was there with some other guests. We said Good-bye, but I didn’t notice anything else.

Later I heard that the studio had Val Kilmer in mind for the role of dance teacher Johnny Castle, but he eventually dropped out. And so it became Patrick. When we started working more closely together for the dance scenes, I noticed that he smelled nice and that his skin was well cared for. He was also strong and very protective. He really put his heart and soul into the interpretation. He was not afraid to give himself completely. He was the opposite of how I was. Where he threw himself into everything, I was much more reserved.

He would do anything; I was scared of everything. Now take that famous lift at the end of the film, raising me in the air. I was so impressed by that and didn’t want to rehearse that dance movement either. Once the camera was running, Patrick went for it completely. And I completely put my destiny in his hands. I trusted him blindly: he was a fantastic dancer! The lift was on it in one take. Fortunately! Because the water in the lake where the scene was shot was ice cold, and Patrick also had a painful injury. I was just a feather, but it is quite a job to even lift a lightweight from the water above your head. That feels like a hundred kilos

A new nose

There was an age difference between the two protagonists: he was 34, she was 26. During the recording, they grew closer together. Dance rehearsals grew into real disco parties and Grey and Swayze really grew into their characters. And because of the many physical contacts, a relationship between the two actors might not surprise many. But it remained a close professional relationship. Gray was engaged to Matthew Broderick and Swayze had been married to Lisa Niemi for over ten years. Their marriage would last 34 years, until his death in 2009. Swayze later became known to have had an addiction to alcohol, which made him violent at times. Lisa even left the marital roof for a while, but Swayze improved his life and went to therapy. Lisa says their last years together were the best of their marriage.

Five years later after Swayze’s death, Lisa found happiness again: she married a jeweler. In the summer of 2001, Jennifer Gray married actor and director Clark Gregg (57), and their daughter Stella was born at the end of that year. The couple is still together, but Jennifer hardly does any acting. In the early 90s, she underwent a nose job that failed. As a result, she had to go under the knife again to repair the damage somewhat. But her face had changed so much that even her best friends barely recognized her. In addition, the face change did not benefit her career. She said about this: “I entered the operating room as a celebrity – and left them as a stranger. It was like I was invisible.”

7 Dirty Dancing facts

1. The dance scenes did not show much ‘dirty’, because ‘Dirty Dancing’ was actually a very good dance film. But the (young) girls loved the story full of teenage romance.

2. The film was largely shot on a ranch in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia.

3. The total budget with which the film was shot is estimated at six million dollars. But he raised more than $170 million worldwide!

4. ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ from the film soundtrack became a huge hit worldwide for Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. The song was also awarded an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. You will undoubtedly remember ‘She’s Like The Wind’ by Patrick Swayze.

5. The soundtrack was re-released on the 20th anniversary of the film. This time a lot of the old sixties classics that were danced in the film (from Otis Redding, The Four Seasons and Solomon Burke, among others) were added.

6. In 2004 there was a follow-up to the success movie: “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Of the protagonists from the original film, only Patrick Swayze was briefly seen (as a dance instructor) in this prequel, set in the days of the Cuban Revolution in 1958. The soundtrack featured Black Eyed Peas, Carlos Santana and Christina Aguilera.

7. 2010 Jennifer Gray participated in the American version of ‘Dancing With The Stars’. She won the dance competition too.

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