Tag Archives: dance movies

Why Dirty Dancing is the Best Dance Movie Ever

Dirty-dancing 2This perfect movie starts out with the perfect soundtrack that perfectly meshes two seemingly disparate, but upon closer look, rather parallel generations. Something about the late 80s meeting the early 60s feels so right. Both were precursors to major cultural upheavals. Both featured peppy, upbeat music. But one’s fashion sense was waaaaay better than the other’s. And throughout this movie, 80s fashion sensibility can’t help but sneak its way in. Case in point: the film starts with a classic 1960s car driving down a winding rural road in upstate New York while credits roll in a hot pink pizzazz font.

“That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn’t occur to me to mind.”

Baby: not conventionally attractive by Hollywood standards, but still beautiful in her own right. She has a slightly larger nose, unruly hair, and a somewhat homely fashion sense…she’s me. Awkward, gangly, fond of the chunky mom sweater. You wouldn’t see Jennifer Grey (as she was in 1987, pre-nose job) in a lead role in a movie today.

The owner of Kellerman’s gives a really sleazy speech to the staff about showing the female guests a good time, “even the dogs.” He tells the waitstaff to romance the girls, but warns the dancers “no funny business and keep your hands off!” I’m curious, why the distinction? Like, why is it cool for the waitstaff to fuck the girls, but the entertainment has to stay away? Is it because you put the waiters in white tuxes, but the dancers wear muscle tees? Are all the waiters going to Yale medical school? As a side note, I’d also like to resurrect “put your pickle on everybody’s plate” as a euphemism for being slutty.

Let’s all take a moment to reflect on how ridiculously hot Patrick Swayze is in this movie. The first five times I saw Dirty Dancing, I didn’t even notice the fantastic dancing or interesting plot. I just saw Patrick Swayze, my husband.

Patrick Swayze

Baby takes a walk with a tiny penis of a man. “Are you going to major in English?” he asks. This is a dick 1960s assumption about chicks in college by the dick grandson of the dick Kellerman’s owner. “No, economics of underdeveloped countries,” she answers. BAM, BITCH.

All of a sudden, a gorgeous blonde does a backbend to end all backbends and starts dancing the mambo with Johnny (Patrick Swayze). “Oh them? They’re here to keep the guests happy,” says dickface, rolling his eyes. You kidding? (Penny, the blonde, high kicks behind her head.) Penny and Johnny are insanely good dancers. People would pay good money to watch people this talented perform. These are not your background dancers who pump up the crowd at batmitvahs. (Penny throws her leg over Johnny’s shoulder and he drags her across the room in a split.) Later on, when I was 16 years old in the local theater production of Guys and Dolls, the choreographer made all of us dancers do this move in the Havana scene, and I cursed Dirty Dancing a little for making this a thing.

Baby walks into a sweaty den of dance-grinding and her world is turned upside down. I’m really curious: did people actually dance-fuck each other in the 1960s? I know all the dudes in the 90s/2000s tried to press their junk against me in the clubs, and even then it felt pretty ick. Maybe I’m just underestimating how sexually repressed people were in the early 60s, but I’m thinking if everyone flipped out over the Beatles daring to have bangs in 1964, then dry humping each other on the dance floor in 1963 might be a bit much.

Johnny and Penny are still dancing together, but they’re all “we’re just friends” even though they’ve got more sexual energy between them than anyone in the room. Also, they used to be a couple. But God help anyone who assumes they are still an item in this movie.

Baby then sees Johnny and says what any female coming face-to-face with that much hotness would say: “I carried a watermelon.” Yup. IN MY PANTS.

Baby and Johnny dance. She has no idea what she’s doing, but he’s patient and a good teacher and she starts to semi get the hang of it by the end and you can just tell that MAN he would be amazing in bed.

Cut to Baby and her sister trying on wigs. Baby walks up to Penny to give her a compliment on her beautiful dancing. Penny responds with an attitude-infused backstory about her mom kicking her out when she was 16 because no one asked. Then she rudely walks away. Oooooookay.

Sir Dickface McDickerson hounds Johnny about Penny’s whereabouts, because he obviously knows where she is every second of every day. Then, when Johnny says she’s taking a break, dick replies, “As long as it’s not an all-night break.” You mean, like sleeping? The entertainment staff is not allowed to sleep at Kellerman’s? Oh, and then he delivers an unbelievably patronizing speech to Baby and I keep wondering why she hasn’t punched him in his dickhole yet.

So Baby sees Penny curled up on the floor crying and after being treated like shit by her, she runs off and finds Penny’s friends to help. Baby is a way better person than me. I would have been “sucks to be you” and left it alone. Once Baby informs Johnny and his random cousin about Penny, instead of being all, “thanks, we’ll take it from here,” Johnny’s cousin just casually lets slip that Penny is knocked up. Guess who’s never telling Johnny’s cousin any of her secrets? This gal.

When Baby asks “what’s [Johnny] gonna do about it?” Johnny gets super defensive because she assumed, after seeing them dance together like a couple and knowing they used to be a couple, that it was possible they were sleeping together. Dude…take it easy. I think it’s a pretty natural conclusion to draw.

This next scene is what elevates Dirty Dancing from great dance movie to great movie, period. It was, and frankly still is, revolutionary. Penny is pregnant and instead of completely avoiding abortion as an option like they would in any movie in 2014, they discuss trying to find the funds to obtain an illegal abortion while Penny drinks a glass of whiskey. I’d just like to bring that point home once more. In 1987, nearly 30 years ago, we could include a scene like this in a major motion picture. We could have a woman chose to have an abortion, even an illegal one, and not have her wrack herself with guilt and regret and not have the world heap mountains of judgment on her. It was the move that was right for her. Period. And since Fox News wasn’t around then, no one flipped out about it. It was just part of the backstory.

Unfortunately, revolutionary act aside, Penny is still a raging bitch to Baby for no reason. She tells her to go back to her playpen when Baby tries to offer encouragement. At this point, I would TOTALLY have written this woman off and let her deal with her problems herself. But instead, Baby confronts Robbie, the rich baby daddy who won’t pony up the cash for the abortion. “You make me sick. Stay away from me, stay away from my sister, or I’ll have you fired.” Then she pours water on his crotch. This is the move she should have pulled on King Dickwad the Third.

Then, because Baby is trying to solve the problems of the world one abortion at a time, she asks her dad for the money (but won’t tell him why she needs it). This dude thinks his daughter is so great that he just hands over $250 (a very large sum in 1963) no questions asked. I promise you, as much as I will love and trust my son in the future, I will never hand over a huge chunk of money without knowing what it’s for. That’s just irresponsible parenting right there.

Now we come to the least believable storyline of the movie, which is unfortunately the entire impetus for, basically, the rest of the plot. Penny now has the money but can’t make the appointment for her abortion. I guess they can only do it on a Thursday, which is the night they do their act at the Sheldrick hotel, and if they cancel, they’d lose the entire season’s salary and next season’s gig. So, say someone came down with the flu…that’s it, you’re fired? Not just fired, but you lose the whole season’s salary and any future gigs? Not to say that it’s completely unbelievable, because I’ve read some horror stories about the ways in which hotel staff are horribly abused, but that seems a bit much, especially considering what awesome dancers they are.

So okay fine, they can’t cancel, but Johnny can still dance. Johnny and Penny run down this laundry list about how the other staff is working and they don’t have time to learn the routine, and this is where they get the brilliant idea to teach the girl who has zero dance experience the number. I’m just going to lay this plothole out there and let you do with it what you will: If the rest of the staff—who are trained dancers and could probably learn and practice this routine in far less time than someone with zero training and very little natural talent could—don’t have the time to learn the routine, HOW DOES JOHNNY HAVE THE TIME TO TEACH IT? That’s all I’m going to say.

Still, I’m not complaining, because watching Baby learn to dance and grow ever more confident in herself and her womanhood is the best part of this movie. I will take any excuse to watch Patrick Swayze dance, even if it’s from the knees down and I have to stare at terrible white Keds. And then this line happens:

“The steps aren’t enough. You have to feeeeeel the music. It’s a feeling, a heartbeat. Gah-gong. Gah-gong.” This scene still gives me butterflies.

Dirty Dancing sceneNext we have more gratuitous dance montages featuring more unfortunate 80s dancewear. Sorry Penny, your leotard is too high cut and your thick leopard print belt is a fashion era fail. Johnny doesn’t care. He makes Penny and Baby sexy dance together while he watches. Then we all get to witness Patrick Swayze shirtless and twisting, his pecs and abs and delts and spine and ribs all flexing and bulging and shifting, and he runs his hand down Baby’s side boob and the ladies of the 80s all do a collective shudder.

This whole time Baby is busting her tail, Johnny is giving her shit. Finally, she serves him up a little realness and tells him she’s doing all this to save his ass, and they go dance in the rain. But not before Johnny discovers he’s locked his keys in the car, so instead of calling Triple A (was there roadside assistance in the 60s?) or using a hanger to jimmy the lock or any other less destructive method to get the keys, he takes a tree stump and busts a hole in his car window (because he can afford to fix that no problem). Then Baby goes “you’re wild…you’re WILD!” And they go do a little barefoot soft-shoeing and ankle-rolling on a log.

Now it’s the night of the big performance and Baby’s hair and makeup make her look middle-aged (though the dress and heels are fabulous). I sort of love that they don’t nail the number. She screws up a couple times and doesn’t do the lift, but it’s not a total disaster. This is pretty realistic. Even as hard as they’ve been practicing, she’s never performed before and she is not a dancer, and she learned a fairly difficult routine in what, a week? Which begs the question: Why wouldn’t Johnny just change the choreography to make it easier? Why include moves she clearly couldn’t pull off (at least not just yet)? It’s not like the Sheldrick could fire him for taking out the lift.

We return to Kellerman’s to discover that Penny’s abortion has gone wrong. My 7-year-old self had no idea what was happening in these scenes, only that some doctor screwed up. Baby gets her dad, even though she knows she’ll be in deep trouble. Also, when Baby’s dad goes “who is responsible for this girl?” I sort of want to say, what do you mean by responsible? And when Johnny answers that he is, I sort of want to go, why would you say that? You flipped out on Baby for assuming you were the father, but then you tell the doctor  dad you’re the sleaze who got her pregnant and sent her to a quack? Or are you just saying you’re her caretaker in general? Confusing moment for me still, as an adult.

And then the first time Baby and Johnny Do It happens. This was THE sex scene of the 80s. Moms everywhere were fast-forwarding this part (even though we just watched a doctor treat a patient after a botched abortion), and when we finally sneak-watched it in the basement when mom was out, it made us feel adult feelings. Now I watch it and I’m like…we don’t see boob, we don’t see ass, we don’t see sex-like movements or hear sex-like grunting. It’s so very tame but still so very hot. Take note, Hollywood. Sometimes less is more.

There are so many good scenes in this movie…this blog is getting LONG. I haven’t even talked about the “Sylvia? Yes, Mickey!” scene where Dickliest Dickfart comes in to tell Johnny that this year he will dance the pachanga OR ELSE. Baby tells Johnny to fight the man, but right in the middle of her argument, she sees her dad walking by and makes Johnny duck and hide. Oh yes, girl. You’re a hypocrite.

After tapping some of that virgin ass some more, Johnny decides he’s all set with old vagina and turns down rich lady Vivian with the side banana clip hairdo (another 80s slip up). This will come back to bite him in his sweet, sweet ass. Even though rich side-pony lady goes and bangs Robbie later than night, she sees Baby exiting Johnny’s room and gets super jealous. As she balls up her nylons and puts them in her purse, she plots her revenge by casually accusing Johnny of stealing wallets from the guests.

Baby then has to awkwardly provide alibi for Johnny when he is falsely accused by Vivian by admitting she was sleeping with him in front of her dad. Dad is more angry about this than he was about his daughter taking $250 of his money so she could pay for another woman’s illegal abortion.

After all this goes down, Baby and her dad’s relationship is severely damaged. They have a heartbreaking talk (or rather, Baby talks while her father pretends to ignore her).

I’m sorry I lied to you. But you lied, too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m in this family too, and you can’t keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that aren’t what you thought, but if you love me, you have to love all the things about me. And I love you. And I’m sorry I let you down. I’m so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down, too.

Then you see the dad crumble.

After all the drama, they find out it’s the old couple the Schumachers who are guilty of stealing wallets. But Johnny gets fired anyway for banging a rich girl. Baby gets a taste of adulthood by losing a bit of her idealism. “You can’t win no matter what you do.” This lesson helps her hop off her white savior horse. But what’s beautiful about this movie is that it’s not just working class hero teaches rich girl about reality. It’s also smart, caring woman teaches a hardened dancer “from the streets” to have a little faith in humanity. No one is saving anyone. They are just helping each other grow up.

Final dance scene: Dad finally realizes what a douche Robbie is, Johnny gets redemption and…

NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER.

nobody puts baby in the corner

Baby just happens to be wearing the perfect footwear and dress for an impromptu dance number. And now she and Johnny execute the routine perfectly because it’s not just the steps, it’s the feeling! And then my favorite thing happens that musicals and dance movies are infamous for: random people get up and join in on the intricate choreography, stepping into perfect formation and nailing the movements in perfect synchronization. Nevermind that NO ONE AT KELLERMAN’S HAD TIME TO LEARN THIS ROUTINE, REMEMBER?!?! I don’t care, because Patrick Swayze does this incredible tuck jump off the stage, slides on his knees, throws his hair around a little, and grinds his hips before totally nailing the lift with Baby. Now all the problems at Kellerman’s are fixed! People can dirty dance in public! Douchebags get their comeuppance! Dads accept that their college-bound daughters are in love with guys making minimum wage! The entertainment staff is finally allowed to bang the guests!

But shhhhhh…because we have to have one more swoon-worthy moment with Patrick Swayze. As the music slows, he adorably mouths the words to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and crinkles his nose as he emphasizes “I owe it all to you!” No, Patrick Swayze. It is us who owe it all to you.

Why Center Stage Might Be the Best Worst Dance Movie Ever

Center StageBefore I officially begin this review, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Lindy West, my favoritest of Internet writers. She has something of a movie review series on Jezebel wherein she rewatches movie favorites and tears them to shreds. It makes me snort-laugh while I slap my knees (I’m a knee-slapper). This is an homage to that, only with classic dance movies. And I will begin with what is arguably one of the best.

We open on an audition scene, cut to the chase, these girls get the job and it’s on to the American Ballet Academy, the fictional feeder school for the American Ballet Company (Hollywood’s attempt at mirroring the real-life, uber-prestigious American Ballet Theatre). Zoe Saldana hangs out with her “ethnic” Queens friends and chain smokes while she ponders working at Hooters instead of taking the scholarship to ABA. 1. Do dancers still smoke? They sure as shit did in 2000, when this movie came out and when I was still dancing. Sure, cigarettes didn’t help so much with stamina, but they did help with dealing with stress and curbing the appetite and dealing with the stress of having to curb the appetite. 2. No one in their right mind with the technique and the ticket into ABA (ABT) would ever consider working at Hooters. No one trains a bajillion hours and puts herself through ballet auditions and gets into a top program…and goes to Hooters. This is the least plausible storyline in the entire movie.

However, I’ve got to bow down to the dance gods/casting directors of Center Stage. This movie features the best dance technique, outside of anything Baryshnikov does in White Knights, that has ever made a motion picture splash. Step Up? Yeah. Amazing hip hop. But the best breaker doesn’t have to train the way a serious principal ballerina does. He (generally) doesn’t need the years and years and years of obsessive striving for perfection and body mangling that a true ballerina needs. Ballet is just harder. I say this having studied both ballet and hip-hop. Other movies purporting to showcase ballet during this time, like the laughable Save the Last Dance, were just NO. I’m sorry, but Julia Stiles is maaaaybe passable as an actress. Prima ballerina, she is not. Her arabesque made me want to cat vomit into her shoes.

Moving on. Jonathan, the caterpillar-eyebrowed director of the ABA/ABC, gives students a little pep talk to start the program. He tells them: “Maybe you were the best dancer in your class. You received praise from your teachers, you won awards, you got into this program. You think, it’s only a matter of time before you are dancing before packed houses at Lincoln Center. For most of you, that will never happen. I don’t say this to be cruel, I say this to help you clarify your expectations.”

This speech is supposed to be mean. I think it’s merciful. The truth is, the chances of making it into one of the very best ballet companies in the world are very slim. I think it’s far less cruel to tell dancers the truth than it is to sell the idea that if they only work hard enough and love it enough, they can make it. Newsflash: that’s bullshit.

Also, to be clear to audiences, anyone good enough to get into the ABA (ABT) student program will likely have a long, happy career in dance. With ABT? Not guaranteed. But with other regional ballet companies, very likely.

Onward. We are introduced to one of the TWO ridiculously contrived “love triangle” subplots of this movie. Cooper Nielson, ballet’s bad boy and superstar, loses the girl to the thick-browed company director. Cooper Nielson is now bitter and out for ballet revenge. Cooper Nielson sounds like the name of my leather-jacket-wearing crush I wrote about in my 4th grade novel about a girl named Jordan Byer who…did something, I don’t remember.

Next, Center Stage does the requisite “I’m busting my ass in dance class” montage, only this time we can see that the ballet teachers are not pleased about the star of this movie, Jody Sawyer, and her shaky technique and un-ballet body. Those unfamiliar with ballet might not see what they are seeing: her turnout is about 2 degrees shy of perfect, so that means it sucks, and she has, I dunno, a big head? I never quite saw the body issues they were talking about, but this is Hollywood so Lord knows they can find something.

Still, Jody finds solace in the friendships she’s forming (awwww) and all the kids sneak out onto the empty Lincoln Center stage (get it? get it?) to pretend they are dancing to packed houses, even though Jonathan told them that was likely to never happen. This scene gets me right in the depths of my beating black heart because I’ve done that before. I stood on an empty Broadway stage and gestured at a pretend audience and imagined what it would be like to really be up there, and even just thinking about it sends chills up my spine into my head, out my face, down my arms, out my fingers, into my gut, shooting down my legs, and straight out my toes.

Anyway, the good feeling doesn’t last long because the friends go out one night to escape their dance troubles and…dance. They go to a salsa club and get sweaty and hook up with women three times their age and smoke and drink and regret it the next day, when they show up to class still loopy drunk from the night before and promptly get tossed out.

Would this ever happen in the real dance world? Yup. If you’re a serious dancer, chances are, you’ve done this. You dance so much that there will come a point when you make a stupid decision the night before class and then arrive totally unprepared. It’s the worst. Guess what? You will get thrown out. That’s real. You’ll also get thrown out just for being a jackass or unfocused. This happened to me twice in my life. It was embarrassing enough for it to never happen again.

Meanwhile, Jody is still being shit on for her crappy technique while Maureen, the princess of the program, gets all the eyeroll-inducing praise from the teachers, and you just want to punch her in her leotard crotch. So Jody once again escapes the confines of the ABA program to forget about her dance troubles and…dance. She arrives at a professional New York studio that is so trying to be Broadway Dance Center, but its attempts at showing “cool” jazz dancers are laughable. These guys are cool because they wear colored leotards and bandanas in their hair, okay? Also they do hitch-kicks.

Center Stage jazz class

Jody shows up to the jazz class and they immediately launch into a full choreographed routine. I have to shoot down this Hollywood dancer stereotype right now. No one knows the goddamn steps right away at the first shout of “5-6-7-8.” You need to break it down first, and it takes nearly an entire class to learn a combination. It moves fast, yes. At a professional studio, you better be able to pick up the steps lightning quick. But yeah, teacher doesn’t turn on the music and say “Go!” and students don’t immediately know half a song’s worth of choreography.

Jody ends up hooking up with bad boy Cooper Nielson. Mistaaaaaaake! After having stinky post dance class coitus, she goes full  stalker status, showing up backstage unannounced in the middle of one of his shows. Guess what? Dude needs to focus. He just finished doing about a million fouettes. He ain’t got time for you.

Meanwhile, Zoe Saldana’s character Eva has attitude problems (surprise). So her teacher gives her this speech about practicing at the barre: “If you come back here [the barre], you’ll be home.” This is why I’m not a ballet dancer. The barre is the fucking worst. Still, for some reason, I get a lump in my throat when I see Zoe Saldana at the barre at night.

Blah blah blah, there’s also a bulimic subplot (another surprise), and it’s Maureen, the princess with an uptight asshole-clenching stage mom (yet another surprise). Maureen’s got a pre-med boyfriend from Columbia who makes her realize she’s not just a ballet dancer, she’s a person. Thanks, boyfriend, for saving the day. You just ruined her ballet career.

So all the students are preparing for this showcase at the end of the year where the fate of their ballet futures will be determined. In a surprise twist, Maureen ditches the lead role in Jonathan’s ballet all “fuck you, Mom!” and Eva comes out and kills it in her place. (By the way, Eva was not the original understudy for this part. She learned an entirely different part for this showcase. But she magically knows all the right steps.) P.S. that would never work in real life. Her partner, having never worked with her, and her, having never practiced with him, would have ate shit come performance time. Also, company directors don’t like insolent fucks. So no, she’d never get hired.

But ladies and gentlemen, the very best part of this movie is Cooper Nielson’s “ballet for the people” to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” There is nothing so iconic as Jody pirouetting out of her white costume into that red tutu, and the mid-performance pointe-shoe change and insta-cornrows. (For the uninitiated, it takes a solid five minutes at break-neck speed to put on a pair of pointe shoes. Not two seconds.)  Here’s all you need to know about this scene: Cooper Nielson drives a motorcycle on stage. He has choreographed an on-the-nose story about his love triangle that involves him and another milquetoast ballet dude pulling Jody’s arms from opposite directions. I wonder what that’s a metaphor for? This is something I would have choreographed in my 7th grade talent show dreams. But it works. It’s fantasy ballet choreography porn at its finest.

Center Stage love triangle

So the movie ends with Maureen going to regular college, Jody getting a lead role in Cooper’s new ballet company, and most of the other dancers we’ve been following getting into the American Ballet Company, even though Jonathan told them that would never happen. Happily dancing ever after!