What I Learned From Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies. I have seen this movie so many times, it has probably become detrimental to my well-being. For example, I honestly believe it takes exactly three weeks to fall in love and learn to mambo. In real life, this is impossible because no matter what you will end up with spaghetti arms. As I was watching Dirty Dancing this past weekend for the one millionth time, I made some of the same old observations as well as some new discoveries. Here they are.

1. Never get involved with the entertainment staff.

He only exists to teach you the mambo. Keep your hands off.

If you hang out with the entertainment staff, you will find yourself mixed up with a bad crowd. You will disobey your parents, help a complete stranger get an illegal abortion, learn the mambo (going “ugh” is optional) and fraternize with people of different socioeconomic status. You will also have the time of your life. The entertainment staff is clearly terrible at their jobs.

2. Watermelons are awful conversation starters.

Or are they? Because Baby got to meet and dance with Johnny Castle. The rest is history.

3. The Catskills in 1963 were a progressive wonderland.

Max Kellerman must not have known it was 1963 when he hired several African American staffers. Clearly his only criteria for judging his employees is your (parents) income.

4. Rick and Sam retired to the Catskills

Sam and Rick 2.0

Once his beautiful friendship with Louis was over, Rick and Sam returned stateside and opened a mountain resort. They lived happily ever after, playing music, gambling, and quietly judging the youth of America.

5. Trying on wigs for fun is something only rich people do.

I initially thought this scene when Baby and Lisa try on wigs was completely bizarre. I spent many summer vacations in the Catskills and I never once thought, “Why would I swim in this lake when I can try on wigs instead?” Then I saw a commercial for Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Kim appears to be in the middle of schizophrenic breakdown as indicated by her sudden interest in wigs. Thus wearing wigs for pleasure is something only rich, delusional women do.

6. Guys who attend the Cornell School of Management are the worst.

Shut up, Neil.

Neil is the absolute worst character in this movie. He thinks he is enlightened but he is really a judgmental bore. He belittles Baby and talks smack about every character who isn’t Ivy League educated. He likes the Pachenga. What a dreadful human being.

7. Older women, snobby waiters, and elderly Jewish couples are also terrible.


Every supporting character who isn’t “the entertainment staff” or related to Baby is an absolutely terrible human being. Vivian Pressman is bored New York City housewife who throws her husband’s money and her cleavage at any Kellerman’s male staffer. Robbie the waiter slums it with Penny and then refuses to take responsibility for his actions. The Schumachers are wallet thieves living on the lamb. All the riff raft vacation at Kellerman’s.

8. You should want a sister like Lisa.

Lisa Houseman, American treasure.

Lisa probably seems like a throwaway character the first few times you watch Dirty Dancing. But I’ve grown to appreciate Lisa. Not only is she enjoyable comic relief but she also has a sweet relationship with her sister. Baby and Lisa couldn’t be more different but they always have each other’s best interests at heart. (Like when Baby defends Lisa against Robbie, the sleazy waiter.) At the end of the film, Lisa supports Baby after their father has been disappointed by her actions.

9. Jake Houseman is the ideal father.

When Jerry Orbach cries, we all cry.

Baby thought she would never find a guy as great as her dad. She probably won’t. (Sorry Johnny Castle.) Dr. Houseman has high expectations for his children and as a result he raised two pretty fearless daughters. Even if they don’t always agree with him.

10. Everybody dances and America wins.

Sam 2.0 is about to have a stroke.

What I love about the final dance number is that it brings all of the characters together. Suddenly, the issue that dominates every discussion at Kellerman’s – class – vanishes. Everyone dances and life is good.

11. All smart, somewhat shy, and sometimes painfully awkward young women should be more like Baby.

Hell hath no fury like a Baby Houseman scorned.

There are few truly great female characters in movies and Baby Houseman is one of them. Baby is intelligent and ambitious. She is also idealistic and naive. She can easily stand up to those she sees as her intellectual equals or as beneath her. But she is in awe of anyone who actually challenges her and her sense of self. This is why her relationship with Johnny Castle works. Otherwise Baby will end up with someone like Neil and as we have established, Neil is a dreadful bore.

12. And the most important lesson of all.

Because if you’re anything like Baby Houseman, good things in the form of Johnny Castle will happen to you. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

So, yes, Dirty Dancing is fantastic and I will never get tired of it. When the remake comes out (allegedly in July 2013), I will probably crawl into the fetal position and cry. Until then, I will continue to bask in the glow of this glorious movie and the pure joy it brings me. If you want to share any lessons you learned from Dirty Dancing, sound off below. And if you hate Dirty Dancing (because apparently those people exist), feel free to comment as well.


8 thoughts on “What I Learned From Dirty Dancing”

  1. I’m sorry Joana, I can’t endorse this post (okay, fine I endorse it, but only with 75% love) because Kelly Bishop didn’t get a point of her own. The #1 thing I learned from DD was that she is FREAKING AWESOME and not just a Gilmore Girl. (http://encorentertainmnt.blogspot.com/2011/07/forgotten-characters-41.html)

    Also, I’m wondering about #1, so you’re saying we SHOULD get involved with the entertainment staff, right? I mean, they way I see it they’re just entertainment…staff is optional. *Shrugs*

    1. Oh, but you did a much better job writing about Kelly Bishop in DD than I ever could! And yes, you should hang out with the entertainment staff. They are way more fun than boring Neil Kellerman.

  2. Where’s my footnote for the “watermelons are bad conversation starters” suggestion? Tsk tsk. ;) Love this post. You forgot one important thing: DD also taught me that it’s completely acceptable to learn to dance while wearing only your underwear and a pair of heels.

  3. Sweet writeup – the final dance is pretty awesome. I’m keen on the first few dancing scenes though. The contrast helps out the foreshadowing that’s thrown in there. Classic heart-warmer, with a few bonus leg humping scenes. Kudos!

  4. The one thing that really doesn’t make sense to me is how you truly feel about the entertainment staff. In lesson 1, you say that they’re bad people. But in lesson 7, you’re saying that they’re good people. Which one is it?

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