Why you should care
Thanks to Dirty Dancing, you can be a feminist and lean in, way in.
Despite having a low budget, no stars and producers who feared a flop that would go straight to video after a single weekend, Dirty Dancing (1987) not only became a box office sensation thanks to word of mouth; it emerged as a true cult classic. It was the first movie to sell more than a million copies on home video, and teenage girls watched it over and over, at first for Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and his gyrating hips and preternatural good looks, but ultimately for Frances “Baby” Houseman’s (Jennifer Grey) gutsy character and coming-of-age story
“I wanted to tell the story of a little girl who took her life in her hands, no matter what it cost her,” says writer Eleanor Bergstein, who intentionally wove an abortion into the film, making it so integral to the story that it could not be removed, even when it cost the film a major sponsor (Clearasil) prior to release.
Bergstein’s script, which delights on so many levels, has managed to enthrall everyone from feminists, who still greet her with raucous applause, to Australian truckers who tell her they still watch the film. And the one line that everyone knows, the linchpin that holds the film’s many layers together, is the unforgettable command that Johnny issues in the closing moments:
Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
The line — which Swayze fought and thankfully failed to exclude from the movie — may have sounded odd the first time you heard it, and the idea that a young man’s willful decree would become a feminist proclamation even stranger, but it provides the movie’s transformative moment. When the German version of Dirty Dancing was made, translators had to change the line to synch with the actor’s lips, and it was dubbed as, “My baby belongs to me. Is this clear?” Surely a phrase you will never see emblazoned on a T-shirt — and all the proof you need that the original line is as perfect as the lift Baby nails in the triumphal last scene.
Take a minute and relive the moment.