The Behind-The-Scenes Secrets of Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing is an ’80s classic that turned stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey into household names. The movie is still regularly shown on cable TV today and has successfully attracted an entirely new generation of fans. However, behind the classic love story, there were lots of interesting debacles taking place on set. Check out this list full of stories about tension between actors, crazy happenings on set, and other interesting tidbits you probably didn’t know.

Baby Is Based On A Real Person

Dirty Dancing Behind The Scenes

Dirty Dancing was written by Eleanor Bergstein. When Eleanor wrote Dirty Dancing, she based Baby’s life on her very own — Baby was even her real nickname as a young girl! Eleanor developed Baby’s character so much that even small details were brought to life. Baby was Jewish, she was from Brooklyn, her father was a doctor and her family regularly took vacations to the Catskills.

Of course, Eleanor also has a love of dancing, although it’s unknown if she had her very own Johnny to keep her company on her family summer vacations. She has said that she took part in various “dirty dancing” competitions that were around at the time.

Teenage Mambo Queen

Back in the 1950s when writer Eleanor Bergstein was growing up, she took part in various dancing competitions that would have been considered salacious at the time. Although, compared to today’s “twerking” it was really quite tame. One of Eleanor’s specific dancing styles was Mambo. The producers almost called for a name change because they thought Dirty Dancing might be too suggestive.

Instead, producers toyed with the idea of changing the name of the to I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen. Luckily that never came to fruition because it just doesn’t have the same ring as Dirty Dancing, does it?

Fighting On Set?

Although you would never know it by watching the movie, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey were not really in love. In fact, they didn’t even really get along on set. The two later reunited for the 1980s film Red Dawn, which played on the American fear of Russians leftover from an earlier era. Even on that set, they were said to have had tension between the two.

Perhaps, it was merely sexual tension and the two were actually attracted to one another? We will probably never know, but Patrick wrote about Jennifer in his autobiography. He said that when they first auditioned, Jennifer “couldn’t stand” him.

Not Quite A Catskill Summer

The entire premise of Dirty Dancing, is that a family is away from the city visiting the Catskills for their summer vacation. The Catskill mountains are located in the southern region of New York state, far away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. They are renowned for the beautiful landscapes and wildlife. The cast actually filmed at a lodge located in Virginia to give a similar appearance, however, summer was already coming to an end when they were shooting.

As fall came around, the leaves began to change color. This created yet another job for the crew who had to spray paint yellow leaves green and even add additional foliage in order to make it seem as though it was still summer time.

Cheesy Lines

“Nobody puts baby in a corner,” is arguably the most famous line of the entire film and has made its way into the pop culture lexicon as an unforgettable quote. It was even rated by the AFI as the 98th greatest movie quote ever. However, not everyone was on board with the way the line was written. Apparently, Patrick Swayze (who is the one who had to deliver the line) was not a fan of it.

Patrick Swayze later wrote about having to say the super cheesy line in his 2009 biography. Patrick said, “I could hardly bring myself to say: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ It sounded so corny.”

Impressive Dancing Skills

One of the facets of Dirty Dancing that has made it live on through generations is the amazing dancing. One scene, in particular, is a real show-stealer. The moment where Baby leaps into the arms of Patrick Swayze pulling off the perfect lift. Earlier in the film, the two characters, Baby and Johnny, are seen practicing the lift over and over again with many failures.

However, something particularly interesting about this amazing moment in cinema history is that Jennifer Grey didn’t actually rehearse for the impressive move. In 2015, Jennifer recounted the famous scene saying, “I only did it on the day I shot it. Never rehearsed it, never done it since.”

Conservative Sponsors

Although the film was shot in the 1980s, and one might think that viewers were not as conservative as they had been decades before, this was not the case. Due to the fact that the character Penny had an abortion, a sponsor of the film pulled out. While many films seek out investors or sponsors in order to get their project made, Dirty Dancing was no different and was made on a very tight budget.

The producers were able to find a sponsor in a company that made acne cream, however, after the revelation that an abortion was in the plot, the company pulled out. The company was afraid that there might be backlash to their product because of their involvement. Although, if you have seen the film it certainly does not show abortion in a glamorous light.

Injuries On Set

While many films over the years have been rumored to have been cursed, they are typically horror films. For example, both The Exorcist and Poltergeist are said to have cursed both cast and crew members. Dirty Dancing cast and crew also began to believe they were cursed very early on. First, the set was broken into and property was stolen. Then the Catskills flooded, causing the roads to be blocked off and cause major damage including a destroying one of the production team’s van.

Then, several crew members got injured while working, followed by three separated cast members coming down with food poisoning. The real kicker is that all of these incidents apparently happened within 24 hours of one another.

The Iconic Crawling Scene

One of the most iconic scenes in the entire film is when Johnny and Baby are in the dance studio for practice and they begin crawling around on the floor lip syncing to the song “Love Is Strange.” However, it turns out that this particular scene was neither choreographed nor scripted. In fact, it wasn’t supposed to appear in the film at all.

The entire routine was really supposed to just be a warm up, however, the director Emile Ardolino thought the entire interaction looked great on film so he decided to keep it as an actual scene in the movie.

“I’ve Had The Time Of My Life”

Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) and Jennifer Warnes song “I’ve Had The Time of My Life,” became an immediate star upon release of the film. It was used during the classic ending sequence of the movie, where Baby and Johnny end up performing for the entire audience of guests including Baby’s parents. The song even won an Academy Award later on. However, that was the only accolade given to this classic song.

The song is also known to be among one of the most played at funerals according to a 2006 survey. Also, perhaps aptly, the song garnered some renewed attention in 2016 after someone dubbed it over footage of a debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the election.

Editing Disaster

Dirty Dancing was not an instant hit from the producer’s point of view. After editors and the director Emile Ardolino first handed producers the first cut of the movie and they were able to see what was done with it, they thought it was a total disaster. Apparently, the producers hated what they saw so much, they thought the entire film needed to be scrapped.

Allegedly, one producer told director Emile, “burn the negative and collect the insurance.” Obviously, he was given another shot and now we are left with the film we all love and cherish today.

Jennifer’s Giggle Fit

The scene where Johnny and Baby are practicing dancing is one of the most iconic montages in the whole movie. Particularly the scene where Johnny runs his hand down Baby’s armpit and onto her side and she cannot stop laughing, was actually more organic than the audience ever knew.

Apparently, Jennifer wasn’t acting at all and her laughter was totally natural. Jennifer had a giggle fit and could not control herself. Johnny’s annoyed look was actually Patrick Swayze’s natural reaction as well. The scene definitely ended up being one of the most iconic parts of the film.

Patrick’s Injury

Patrick was a lifelong dancer who was taught by his mother how to dance when he was a young boy. In fact, she owned a dance studio and even worked on the film. However, even the most tenured of dancers can get injured doing what they love. One of the famous scenes in the film is when Johnny and Baby are at the lake and he is teaching her to do the famous “lift” and the famous dance down the lo scene.

Apparently, during this entire scene Patrick was in massive amounts of pain. It turns out that he had sustained a really bad knee injury. Allegedly, the pain was so severe he almost couldn’t get out of the water.

Jennifer’s Injury

Patrick Swayze was not the only one who got injured on set. The rumored “curse” also came after his co-star Jennifer Grey. Much of the filming was done outside, so it’s no surprise that wildlife and insects became a problem. They were almost done filming when a huge swarm of wasps decided to come to set. Jennifer ended up getting stung multiple times on the arm. If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp, you know that they are quite painful to deal with! Wasp stings can also cause major swelling and temporary disfigurement.

In Jennifer’s case, she needed a makeup artist to help her cover up the stings. However, in yet another case of “the curse” it turned out that the makeup artist quit the same day as the stings occurred. They were subsequently forced to get a new makeup artist. However, that poor woman also fell victim to the curse after only one week later, breaking her wrist and two fingers. She also had to leave the movie set.

The Lodge Exists

Dirty Dancing filmed on location in two places. One was in Lake Lure, NC, at a boys camp that’s now a residential community. The other location was the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia and fans can even stay at the lodge, right where filming took place! The Lodge really plays up the connection to the film too and even includes similar activities that were once showcased in the movie like watermelon tossing.

If you visit the lodge today you are even able to stay in the same cabin which once housed Baby Houseman. Sounds like it would be one terrific summer.

Patrick Was The One

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kwpub/Pinterest
kwpub/Pinterest

For many years, it was rumored that writer and producer Eleanor Bergstein wanted a different actor to play the character of Johnny Castle, and that Patrick Swayze was not the first choice. However, this is totally untrue. Eleanor did an interview with Yahoo Movies in 2017 and set the record straight.

She said, “Patrick was the only actor who was ever offered this [role], and he’s the only one we ever wanted.” Funny how rumors can get started and totally get out of control based on fake information. We guess this is one rumor that could definitely be categorized as “fake news!”

Editor’s Puritanical Sensibilities

Dirty Dancing was named for the borderline salacious dancing that took place during the movie. The movie, including the dancing, was based on the writer’s real life as a young woman visiting the Catskills. She was not as much of a “mambo queen” back in those days and would regularly participate in the dirty dancing contests that would take place in the area.

Apparently, the editor of the film was not pleased with the dancing, nor did he realize the message intended to empower women. While he was splicing the scenes featuring Baby, he said to writer-producer Eleanor Bergstein, “How can you have respect for a girl who dances that way?” Apparently, Eleanor responded with nothing but silence.

Dancer Rules

Dirty Dancing was definitely aptly titled and there were some routines that were quite raunchy on the set of the film, to say the least! However, the filmmakers had to make it clear that their routines should only stay on the dancefloor. Apparently, writer-producer Eleanor Bergstein had to put a rule in place that said the dancers could not cavort with each outside the dance floor.

No grinding was allowed anywhere else. The actual rule was said to say that the dancers could not have any physical contact with each other unless they were filming on the dance floor.

Jennifer’s Nightmare Situation

Not long before the premiere of Dirty Dancing, actress Jennifer Grey was involved in one of the worst situations of her entire life. While Jennifer was with her boyfriend, Matthew Broderick, in Europe, the two were involved in a horrifying car accident. If you remember, Jennifer and Matthew had previously worked together on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where she played his little sister. The car accident took place in Ireland where Matthew was driving. He crossed the line and slammed head on into another vehicle. The other two people in the other vehicle were a mother and daughter named Anna Gallagher and Margaret Doherty and were killed instantly.

He was later convicted of dangerous driving but only ended up having to pay a fine. The victims’ family was outraged by the result. Jennifer sustained minor injuries in the wreck but had to show up soon after for the Dirty Dancing premiere. Although the movie greatly increased her fame, it was not enjoyable due to her coping with the horrible accident.

Age Is Just A Number?

Baby Houseman is only supposed to be 17 years old in the movie, but during filming, Jennifer Grey was 26 going on 27. Apparently, during her audition, Grey only had five minutes to convince producers that she could play someone who was ten years younger than she actually was. She ended up succeeding in that challenge since she was obviously cast in the film!

She’s not the only actor in the film who played a character that was aged differently from themselves. Kelly Bishop, who played Baby’s mother, was only 16 years older than Grey while filming.

On Set Parties

There was a lot of drinking and dancing on the set of Dirty Dancing. Because a lot of the movie included dance scenes, filming these scenes would often turn into one big dance party! As a result, there was a lot of drinking among the cast and crew members as well.

You would think that the director and producers were very dismayed about this, but quite the contrary. Producer Eleanor Bergstein actually encouraged the actors to go with it and begin improvising as they were able to feel out their characters more.

Which Country Loves Dirty Dancing???

You might be surprised to find out that Russia loves the movie Dirty Dancing. Eleanor Bergstein told The Guardian in 2006, “[In] Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help. First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing.”

“When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing T-shirts; they were saying, ‘We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!'”

She Was Too Beautiful

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The actress who played Johnny’s dance partner Penny was apparently too beautiful for the camera. Cynthia Rhodes had to undergo some extensive makeup in order for it to look like she was in agony. Apparently, Rhodes’s makeup-less face was not convincing since she naturally looked pretty. So the makeup crew made an extensive effort to make her down in order for her to look convincingly agonized.

Most of the time people need makeup to be made more beautiful, not more unattractive. Must be nice to be considered that beautiful! We’re sure it was a huge compliment to Rhodes.

The Inspiration Behind Johnny

While Baby was inspired by producer Eleanor Bergstein’s real life, the character of Johnny was inspired by a real person as well. Bergstein knew a dancer named Michael Terrace in Brooklyn, and had this to say in an interview:

“I remember when I was making the film, I was going through the dance steps with the director and choreographer and they said ‘Eleanor, maybe you should get some of your old partners to dance with you’ and I said, ‘My old partners are either in jail or out on parole.’ It was a very rough neighborhood.”

She Was A Bit Like Johnny

Even though Baby was based on Bergstein’s life, she might have also poured a little bit of herself into Johnny as well. In order to pay her way through college, Bergstein was a dance teacher at an Arthur Murray dance school where she not only knew conventional dance steps, but the “dirty” ones as well.

In a 2005 interview, Bergstein admitted, “So, while everybody thinks I’m Baby, there’s actually a lot of Johnny in me, too.” It looks like Bergstein wrote a story that was very close to her own life. She may as well have just written an autobiography!

She Got The Role By Accident

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Kelly Bishop played Baby’s mother Mrs. Houseman to a tee, but it wasn’t the role that she had tried out for. Bishop was originally cast to play cougar Vivan Pressman since the role of Mrs. Houseman was outright given to actress Lynne Lipton. Unfortunately, Lipton grew incredibly ill and was no longer able to film.

Bishop was then transitioned to Mrs. Houseman and was replaced by an assistant choreographer, Miranda Garrison, in the role of Vivian. Bishop was so successful at playing the mother role in Dirty Dancing that it is what helped her being cast as Emily Gilmore on Gilmore Girls.

A Bad Porno?!

Singer-songwriter Bill Medley was the one who was asked to perform the theme song of the movie, which turned out the be the now legendary “The Time of My Life.” When Bill was first told about the movie, however, he was certainly eyeing the production questionably. In fact, it’s said that he felt like the movie’s title sounded more like the title of a “bad porno” than a blockbuster flick.

He also wasn’t impressed that the top names of the film, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, were not well known. Either way, he eventually came around and wrote a huge hit for the movie.

Swayze Loses Big Bucks

Dirty Dancing was so wildly popular that, of course, a sequel was in the works. Producers allegedly offered Swayze six million dollars to film a sequel but he turned it down. Why would Patrick Swayze turn down such an incredible amount of money? Apparently, Swayze hates the idea of sequels. But time was enough to wear this actor down since he appeared in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

With the 2004 movie serving as a prequel to the original movie, Swayze didn’t have a major role in it. Maybe he relented because it was a prequel and not a sequel.

Patrick Wants To Do Everything

Patrick Swayze apparently wanted to perform all his own stunts. This was a fine idea since Swayze already did all his own dancing. Despite having the honor of doing all his own stunts, it did backfire at times. At one point while filming the scene on the log, Patrick Swayze kept falling off of the log.

He apparently injured his knee pretty terribly from falling so much and ended up having to have the fluid drained from his knee to reduce all the swelling. Poor Patrick! But knowing that all the stunts were his own performance is pretty respectable!

A Stressful Timeline

With the seasons changing, the tight budget, the on-set injuries, and the tensions flaring between Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, you would think that those things made filming already stressful enough. But to make things worse, the cast and crew only had a total of 44 days to film the whole movie.

Before that, they only had two weeks to rehearse all of the dance numbers! Talk about hard work! It’s crazy to think that a movie with so many dance numbers was only made in about a month and a half.

Baby’s Like The Wind

Remember the song “She’s Like the Wind” in Dirty Dancing? The song was originally written in 1984 by Stacy Widelitz and Patrick Swayze, himself. However, it wasn’t even meant to be used in Dirty Dancing.

Swayze and Widelitz originally wrote the song for another Patrick Swayze film, Grandview, U.S.A., and was supposed to be about Jamie Lee Curtis’s character. It obviously wasn’t used in that film so Swayze showed it to the producers of Dirty Dancing and they loved it. It ended up being a song about Baby instead.

Please, No Close Ups

The iconic lake scene was one of many memorable scenes in Dirty Dancing. But do recall that earlier in this article we mentioned that filming took place at the end of summer and into the autumn months. Well, this was certainly the case when filming the lake scene in October.

If you haven’t noticed, none of the shots with the lake are close up shots. This was intentional. The filmmakers didn’t use any close-up shots of the actors in the lake because it was so cold, that their lips were blue!

A Strange Connection

Despite their apparently contentious off-screen relationship, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze were connected before they were in movies together. Jennifer Grey’s father is Joel Grey, an Oscar and Tony award winning stage actor. At one point in Mr. Grey’s career, he starred in a short-lived Broadway musical called Goodtime Charley, which was about the son of Charlemagne.

According to the Playbill for that show, which was in 1975, Patrick Swayze was one of the ensemble dancers! Who knew that Swayze would end up being in a successful film with the star’s daughter?! We’re sure no one did at the time.

Before He Was Newman

Actor Wayne Knight might have Dirty Dancing to thank for his acting career. His film debut was in Dirty Dancing in 1987, but before that he only had bit parts in commercials and television. After the film’s success, however, Knight’s career took off as he went on to star in other movies such as Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Basic Instinct.

After his role in Basic Instinct, he was the first actor cast by Steven Spielberg in Jurassic Park. He would later go on to more iconic roles, such as that of the mailman Newman on Seinfeld.

The Weather Worked Against Them

Because Dirty Dancing was filmed during a shift in seasons, the cast and crew underwent some pretty extreme weather conditions. At one point, the outside temperature rose to 105 degrees Fahrenheit! With all the film equipment needed, scenes that were filmed indoors on those hot days rose the temperature to 120 degrees.

The sweltering heat was also met with frigid coldness. When filming on the lake, cast and crew wore coats, gloves, and boots, while Swayze and Grey had to wear summer clothes. Grey would later say that if she wasn’t “young and hungry,” she would not have dove into the “horrifically cold” water.

A Jewish Movie?

Eleanor Bergstein herself characterized Dirty Dancing as a Jewish movie “if you know what you’re looking at.” In addition to the Houseman family and other characters being Jewish, the Kellerman resort that they stayed at is based off Grossinger’s Hotel.

Grossinger’s Hotel and other resorts in the Catskills were located on the “Borscht Belt,” known to house a string of resorts that welcomed vacationing Jewish families back in the day, since back then it was common for popular resorts and hotels to reject Jewish customers. Not many people would consider this a Jewish movie, but if you really think about it, it kind of is.

Why Dirty Dancing Leaves A Lasting Impression

Dirty Dancing became a phenomenal success and is a classic over many generations to this day. In an interview with AFI, Patrick Swayze was asked about why he thought this movie was such a classic to many viewers.

Swayze said, “It’s got so much heart, to me, it’s not about sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves – this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things.”

Nobody Nose

After the success of Dirty Dancing, Jennifer Grey was quite popular into the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was around that time that she decided to do what a lot of celebrities do and get a nose job, but it didn’t work out so well for the actress. She had to undergo two rhinoplasty procedures and she only did the second one due to complications that stemmed from the first one.

Afterward, she was so unrecognizable that she briefly considered changing her name and starting her career over! Needless to say, it was a road bump in Grey’s career.

Grey Is Gosling Fan

The scene in which Baby nails the lift with Johnny is an iconic movie scene, so much so, that many people have tried to recreate it. This is exactly what went down in the 2012 movie Crazy, Stupid, Love. starring Ryan Gosling. In that movie, Gosling performs the move with actress Emma Stone, in order to get her to sleep with him (it works).

When Jennifer Grey saw the film, she was shocked, telling Yahoo! “I’m such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden he’s saying my name [in the movie]. I’m just in the theatre with my husband and I look at him like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name. What’s going on?'”

An Unfortunate Passing

Two people who worked on Dirty Dancing have lost their lives to cancer and unfortunately, one of those people was the main actor Patrick Swayze. In 2008, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given just weeks to live. He was put on an experimental drug in addition to chemotherapy and appeared to be responding well for the following months.

He even came out publicly to announce that he was alive and well after his initial diagnosis. Unfortunately, by 2009 he grew ill again and developed pneumonia from the chemotherapy. Swayze passed away on September 14, 2009, at the age of 57.