Have the Time of Your Life with These Secrets from Dirty Dancing

By Rachel RossLast Updated Jun 29, 2020 1:58:12 PM ET
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Despite being a low budget film, Dirty Dancing quickly took the world by storm when it strutted into theaters in 1987. The fun coming-of-age film propelled the careers of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, and it continues to stand as an icon in pop culture to this day.

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However, many unexpected events took place behind the scenes, leading to some secrets that even Dirty Dancing fanatics don’t know. The vibe off screen was sometimes tense, especially between the main actors. Let’s dive into what really happened on the set and in private. Get ready to have the time of your life with these secrets from Dirty Dancing.

The Film Was Based on True Events

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Dirty Dancing was written by Eleanor Bergstein, who inspired the film's female protagonist, Baby. Bergstein's real-life experiences from the 1960s are retold in the movie, from summer trips with her family to her nickname.

In fact, friends and family didn't stop calling her "Baby" until she was 22 years old. Do you remember the resort? Her family actually traveled to the Catskills’ resort every summer. Her father was a doctor in real life too. Also, Bergstein has been in love with dancing for a very long time.

One Iconic Scene Was Unscripted

The flirty floor dance scene is one of the most unforgettable moments in Dirty Dancing. But, as the saying goes, "The best things in life are unexpected." Believe it or not, this scene was not part of the script.

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Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, who portray Johnny and Baby, were actually warming up by crawling on the floor and lip-syncing the song "Love Is Strange." Director Emile Ardolino loved the natural engagement, so he added it to the film.

Filmmakers Almost Changed the Movie’s Title

It's hard to imagine Dirty Dancing with a different title, but it almost happened. Canadian authorities at the border held up the film footage because they thought it was an "adult" film. The misunderstanding almost led to a name change.

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Bergstein considered switching the film's title to I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen. At the age of 11 or 12, she recalls performing a lot of mambo and cha-cha steps. Thankfully, everything worked out, and the rest is history.

A Series of Unfortunate Events...

It's not uncommon for films to have bad luck behind the scenes, especially for horror flicks like Psycho and The Conjuring. However, Dirty Dancing didn't fit the bill, considering it's a romantic drama. What went wrong in this dance flick?

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During filming, the set was burglarized, severe flooding made shooting difficult, crew members got food poisoning and the cast suffered frequent injuries. For instance, Patrick Swayze often hurt himself as a result of performing all his own stunts. He even had to go to the hospital at one point.

The Creator of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” Doubted Its Success

When Dirty Dancing was released, one of the film's songs flew to the top of the charts. "(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes became a smash hit, selling more than 500,000 copies and winning an Oscar.

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Of course, there's a good story about the song's origin. Medley initially declined to work on the film's soundtrack. When he first heard the film's title, he thought it was an "adult" film. However, he changed his mind and produced the tune, not thinking much of it. Look at the song now.

Dirty Dancing Didn’t Wow an Important Businessman

It's easy to believe that Dirty Dancing was a big hit to anyone who feasted their eyes on the movie. That wasn't the case for everyone, especially for one expert in the entertainment industry.

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Bergstein recalls a terrible day when Vestron executives brought in film producer Aaron Russo to review the film. Russo didn't have anything nice to say about Dirty Dancing. In fact, he encouraged Vestron to "burn the negative and collect the insurance money." Luckily, the studio didn't listen to his advice.

Swayze Hated a Popular Line from the Film

Many romance films have corny lines, and Dirty Dancing is not an exception. Swayze’s "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" is a cheesy line that audiences fell in love with — hard. However, not everyone was fond of the line.

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The person who despised it the most was Swayze himself. In his 2009 memoir, he admitted that he tried to have it cut from the script. Bergstein told him the line might not be used, so she encouraged him to say the line just once. Of course, it obviously made the final cut.

The Catskills Resort Was Actually Filmed in a Different State

The film takes place in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where Baby and her family vacation at a resort called Kellerman's. Known for its stunning natural landscape, the Catskills is actually a real place visited by families for generations.

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Every summer, many travelers visited resorts in the Catskills, including Bergstein and her family. However, New York wasn't the film's real shooting location. Instead, the scenes were shot at a lodge in Virginia that closely resembled the resort from Bergstein's memories.

Grey Has Dancing in Her Blood

As one of the greatest dance movies in history, Dirty Dancing showcased Grey's amazing moves. The actor was actually nervous about working with her co-star, Swayze, a ballroom and ballet expert. However, she mastered the steps in no time.

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How did Grey learn so fast? Maybe she was born with it. After all, she comes from a dancing family. Her father, Joel Grey, is a legend in the cabaret dance world. Plus, her grandfather is Mickey Katz, the musician, actor and comedian.

The Studio Gave Them a Challenging Budget

A small studio called Vestron picked up the rights to Dirty Dancing. However, small studios mean small budgets. As a result, filmmakers received only $4.5 million to work with to complete the entire movie. "It’s really hard to make a movie on that kind of budget," explained producer Linda Gottlieb.

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"We realized the only way we could shoot the Catskills was not to shoot in the Catskills. So, we went to right-to-work states — Virginia, North Carolina — and used non-union extras," said Gottlieb. Thankfully, everything panned out. Dirty Dancing went on to gross almost $214 million globally.

Who Was the First Johnny?

Sources have claimed that Val Kilmer was the original choice to play the role of Johnny Castle, but he turned it down. Some rumors have also suggested that Billy Zane was the casting directors' second choice. The problem was Zane and Grey had no chemistry.

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Bergstein shut down all the rumors in a 2017 Yahoo interview, stating, "Patrick was the only actor who was ever offered this, and he’s the only one we ever wanted." When she looked at his audition photos, she knew he was meant to portray Johnny.

The Tickle Scene Was Unplanned

Sometimes, it's hard to control your laughter. Just take a look at Grey's experience. While portraying Baby, Grey couldn't stop laughing in one of the film's most memorable scenes — the dance rehearsal with Johnny. However, Swayze didn't find it funny.

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In fact, Swayze was really losing his patience in the scene. When he ran his hand down Grey’s arm, it tickled her. He recalled, "She slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she'd start laughing." But the screenwriter thought it was funny and put it in the film.

There Was a Rule About Physical Contact Between Cast Members

Practice sessions often turned into parties that many cast members attended. This helped the actors identify with their characters more. Bergstein used this opportunity to encourage the cast to be extra creative in scenes.

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She also wanted to build up more tension and intimacy between the dancers during their performances. As a result, she didn't allow anyone to dance with each other off set. The rule also banned any type of physical contact for six months.

The Dirty Dancing Lodge Is Real

Despite taking place in New York, Dirty Dancing was taped at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Fortunately for fans, the lodge is a real place where people can spend the night to recreate the magic.

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After the film's release, many fans traveled to the lodge. Of course, the building's owners help make the experience even better. Every summer, the lodge hosts Dirty Dancing events. Visitors can even book the same room that Baby stayed in.

Swayze and Grey Didn’t Love Each Other

Swayze and Grey portrayed their characters very well. The two also had incredible on-screen chemistry. It's easy to believe they could have fallen in love in real life too. The truth is that wasn't the case at all.

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In fact, Swayze and Grey barely got along with each other. Grey couldn’t stand him. Swayze's memoir claimed, "We did have a few moments of friction when we were tired or after a long day of shooting. She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her."

The Leading Lady Could Have Been Played by Another Popular Actor

According to many sources, Sarah Jessica Parker was considered to portray the role of Baby. In 1983, she was finishing her work in the TV series Square Pegs. The actor went on to appear in Footloose and Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

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However, Grey caught the attention of producers first. Surprisingly, it only took five minutes to win them over. At the time, Grey was 26, but her audition convinced everyone she was a 16-year-old high schooler. As a result, the lead role of Frances "Baby" Houseman belonged to her.

Grey Was Involved in a Tragic Accident

Before Dirty Dancing premiered, Grey planned a relaxing vacation to Europe with her former boyfriend, Matthew Broderick. The two actually starred in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off together in 1986. After they finished wrapping up their own projects, they were ready for a break.

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Unfortunately, fate had different plans for them. As the pair traveled through Ireland, they got in a serious car accident, and Grey and Broderick were treated at a hospital. Sadly, the driver and passenger in the other vehicle passed away.

Which Country Loves Dirty Dancing the Most?

When it comes to loving Dirty Dancing, the U.S. may have some competition. Another country is known to enjoy the film just as much as Americans. Who would have thought that was possible? Bernstein gave The Guardian the exclusive details in a 2006 interview.

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According to Bernstein, Russia is a huge fan of the film. "[In] Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help," Bernstein said. "First, they wash and dress her wounds; then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing."

Baby's Mom Was Originally Played by Another Actor

The talented Kelly Bishop portrayed Mrs. Houseman. However, when Bishop auditioned for Dirty Dancing, she was first cast in the role of Vivian Pressman, the resort's cougar. The actor received the role of Baby's mom at the last minute.

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Who was the first Mrs. Houseman? Actor Lynne Lipton, who, sadly, became ill during the first week of shooting, so she had to give up her role. When Bishop replaced her, the film's assistant choreographer, Miranda Garrison, portrayed Pressman.

Who Is Johnny's First Dance Partner?

As the first actor to be cast, Cynthia Rhodes played the role of Penny, Johnny's first dance partner. There are a couple of interesting details about the actor's character. For instance, Rhodes asked the screenwriter to include a last-minute scene, where Penny tells Baby that she doesn't fool around.

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Also, Rhodes had to pretend to be in anguish for a scene, but the filmmakers had a hard time believing the moment because she was too beautiful. She wasn't wearing any makeup, so the beautician had to make her look convincing.

Johnny Was Inspired by a Real Person

A few characters in Dirty Dancing were inspired by real people, including Baby, the Houseman family and even the handsome dancer, Johnny. In fact, Bergstein revealed that Johnny is based on a man she met — Michael Terrace, a dancer hailing from Brooklyn.

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Many parts of Bergstein’s life are retold in the film, so the film crew asked her if her previous dance partners could help. She told her team that her old partners were from the rough side of town, so they were probably in jail or on parole.

"She’s Like the Wind" Wasn't Supposed to Be in the Film

Besides "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," Dirty Dancing featured another unforgettable ballad: "She’s Like the Wind." The famous song wasn’t actually intended for the film. However, it was written and sung by Swayze.

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The big-time actor wrote the song for another movie, Grandview U.S.A., but it wasn't used for that film. When Swayze shared the song with Dirty Dancing producers, they thought it was beautiful, so they gave the tune a new home.

The Cold Secrets of the Lake Scene

Despite being a memorable moment, actors and the film crew agreed that the lake scene wasn't fun to shoot at all. The water was freezing, causing Swayze and Grey’s lips to turn blue. Swayze also got injured while filming the scene.

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"You have to be really young and hungry to get in water that cold for that long. It was not good," Grey recalled. The actor thought her body might explode because the lake was so cold. "It just didn’t feel healthy to be in that water," she said.

Where’s the Sequel?

Despite premiering in the 1980s, Dirty Dancing is still a popular film to this day. Of course, the executives put a possible sequel on the table. However, there was one big problem. One important actor didn't want to be in it.

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Executives supposedly offered Swayze $6 million to reprise his role as Johnny for a sequel, but the famous actor turned it down. Did he have a bad experience on the film's set? According to rumors, Swayze was against making sequels.

Fans Argue That It’s a Jewish Film

Some fans probably never suspected that Dirty Dancing is somewhat of a Jewish film. Bergstein pointed out a few details about the movie that make the sentiment true. The movie features the Housemans, a Jewish family. Plus, the actual resort has religious ties.

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The film's lodge is based on the real-life Grossinger’s Hotel that lies in the "Borscht Belt" of the Catskills. Many Jewish vacationers stayed at the resorts in this area because other hotels refused them service.

The Fate of the Famous Lake

Do you remember that iconic lake scene where Baby and Johnny practice their dance number? The lake was actually located at the famous Mountain Lake Lodge. However, if fans try to visit today, they will discover that the lake is gone.

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The lodge's lake actually dried up in 2002, and, unfortunately, the water never returned. However, the lodge owners decided to replace the lake with something just as significant — a memorial for the late actor Patrick Swayze.

Grey’s New Dream Partner

The famous final scene in which Johnny lifts Baby has appeared so many times in pop culture, from videos on social media to cameos in other films. In fact, the iconic moment was recreated in the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

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Grey saw the 2012 film and was impressed with the results. On the radio show Just Jenny, the actor admitted Gosling should play Johnny in a Dirty Dancing remake. She revealed, "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 theater with my husband, and I look at him like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name. What’s going on?’"

The Impact of Fame on Grey

It's no surprise that Dirty Dancing‘s enormous success skyrocketed Grey's celebrity status. From the '80s to the ‘90s, she became a superstar. After starring in the film, the actor's physical appearance and career both changed to a certain degree.

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In the early ’90s, Grey underwent two rhinoplasty surgeries, the second to fix issues from the first one. However, the major change in her appearance made her unrecognizable, damaging her career. For a period, she thought about changing her name to restart her career, but she didn't go through with it.

Dirty Dancing Couldn’t Find a Studio for a Long Time

Dirty Dancing was released more than 30 years ago. However, it's as popular as ever today. Each year, the film attracts more and more fans. However, the film almost wasn't produced. The problem? No one wanted to make it.

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In fact, Gottlieb admitted to the Huffington Post that Dirty Dancing was rejected 43 times. However, she and her team believed in the movie, so they didn't give up. They tried one more time and got lucky. Vestron agreed to make the film, which became a hit and grossed almost $214 million worldwide.

The One and Done Scene

Pop culture ate up everything Dirty Dancing served, especially the iconic lift scene in which Baby jumps into Johnny's arms. The scene was flawless. Grey and Swayze must have practiced the routine so many times, right? The answer is actually no.

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Grey and Swayze never practiced the move before it was filmed. However, it worked out perfectly because she nailed it in one take. "The day you see me do it in the movie is the first time I do it," she said.