How Dirty Dancing Sparked My Romance Career

A couple of weekends ago, I was down in The Bahamas. It was cold and rainy, so what did I do? I turned on the TV. What should be playing but the final scene of Dirty Dancing. Of course I was riveted (in spite of it being the TV version where they put the credits over all the cool dancing). As I watched with a sigh, I realized that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Johnny Castle and Baby for inspiring me with a love, no, a longing to write Romance.

Yes, Dirty Dancing is one of the reasons I became a Romance writer.

dirty-dancing-movie-posterDirty Dancing came out in 1987. I was in 7th grade, and I was not allowed to see it. My mom, who was sweet and gentle and conservative and divorced under heartbreaking circumstances (my dad cheated and left us) didn’t want me going anywhere near this reportedly steamy film about an inappropriate relationship. I was a good girl too and I didn’t see it. … Until it came out on video. My mom may have been conservative, but she wasn’t dictatorial. We watched it together.

I remember the scandal of that love scene between Johnny and Baby in Johnny’s cabin. I can still hear my classmates talking about it. “Did you see that??? He kissed her neck!” “And oh my gosh, she touched his butt!” I can still remember the pre-adolescent fascination – delighted or disturbed depending on which classmate you asked – over the sheer sexiness of the whole scene! And I’m not gonna lie. Thirteen year old Merry’s socks were knocked off! I must have watched that scene, the Sylvia & Mickey scene, and every dance scene in the movie about a million times … and we didn’t even own the tape! But believe you me, that was one of the first VHS tapes and then DVDs that I bought.

The funny thing is, by today’s standards that epic love scene – the first I ever remember seeing – is really tame. There’s hardly any skin, there’s no deep-throat snogging, and for the five seconds that you see them in bed there is no realistic forward and backward movement. Today’s thirteen year old girls probably watch it and say “Psht! Whatever!” (which is a whole other kind of problem).

dirty dancing love sceneBut in all honesty, that’s still one of the hottest love scenes on film as far as I’m concerned. The heat and chemistry between those two is amazing. All the nudity and realistic motion and face-sucking is right there in their eyes. As they dance you can see them both smoldering on the inside. Every look sizzles. And she touches his butt! Oh my gosh, does she! Never have two people on screen so obviously wanted to rip each other’s clothes off and do naughty things so blatantly.

THAT is what Romance is all about. Sure, I like the graphic love scenes, both reading and writing them. But what really toasts my crackers is the build-up, the slow burn, the dirty dancing. When you can capture a thousand emotions and a hundred thousand years of human wanting in a single touch, you know you’re in the presence of greatness. It isn’t about the horizontal hokey-pokey, it’s about discovery and instinct, about need and acceptance. It’s about finding your soul-mate.

I have a distinct memory of smiling at the screen as the credits rolled that first time watching Dirty Dancing and happily saying, “And they meet up again wherever they both live and get married and live happily ever after.” To which my mom replied, “I sure hope so,” in ominous undertones.

Of course, that begs the question, Did Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman get married and live happily ever after?

Of course thirteen year old Merry was certain they did. No question. Then I got older and wiser and started to think about it more. Would they? I mean, they come from completely opposite worlds. Could Johnny handle the pressure and perfection of an upper-class life (and let me tell you, he doesn’t look that Jewish to me). Would Baby be content to compromise her dreams to fit Johnny’s into her life? She wants to join the Peace Corp. I would assume Johnny wants to do something with dance. Is there a middle ground to those two things? Jaded late-twenties Merry began to think things wouldn’t turn out so great.

sylvia mickeyIt had actually been years since I’d seen Dirty Dancing when I found myself catching that last scene in the Bahamas. So once I got home I found a copy of the movie and watched it in full again. Yep, still an awesome flick! Still one of my favorites. I know it by heart and can tell you what order the songs will play in. The moves of the dance routines are like comfortable muscle memories from years past.

But what does late-thirties Merry think about Johnny & Baby’s chances?

You know, I think they just might be able to make it. I do! Baby may be super young (eighteen seems like a child to me now), but Johnny wasn’t all that old either. Both of them were bound to go through a lot of changes before they settled on what they really wanted to do with the rest of their lives. I think there is a strong chance that Baby’s dad might just concede that his daughter is a good judge of character and do something to help Johnny get enough of a job doing what he wants to support Baby.

Granted, it was 1963 and they would have gotten married or broken off entirely. But I think there is a strong chance Johnny would have put his dreams on hold to support Baby’s. They would have gone into the Peace Corp together for a while. It would have been good for Johnny to see more of the world and to have a chance to help people even less unfortunate than him. The thing is, you can’t stay in the Peace Corp indefinitely. At some point you have to leave and get another job. That’s when they would have gone back to real life … and opened a dance studio.

See what I mean? All those years ago Dirty Dancing got me thinking like a Romance writer. We’ve definitely got to have a Happily Ever After, but how we get it and where it goes is what the story is all about.

So there you have it. My love of Dirty Dancing will go on and on as long as I can imagine Romance. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there either.

3 thoughts on “How Dirty Dancing Sparked My Romance Career

  1. Merry, I so wish I could go back to begin 18 again and watch this for the 1st time! Loved it so much my friend and I hid in the movie theater and stayed for a 2nd showing. I was Baby’s age and wild with youth and summer. RIP Patrick Swayze. This movie represented the time of my life too. I will love it forever too! I can see how it spawned a romance writing career.

    • Oh I know! And as I rewatched it for the hundredth time last week I was struck by how sad it is that Patrick Swayze died so young. And yet, he will forever be that hot young dancer with a big heart in my mind. Also, did you know he was married to his wife for, like, 30+ years? I always admire celebrities who stay married over the long haul.

  2. I was one of the oddballs. I still can’t stand the movie, and I don’t know why. It plays and I flinch. BUT – I also know it appealed to many for reasons more varied than I could list. My daughter loves it, my Hubby loves it. I don’t say a word as they watch – I go and write a book instead 🙂

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