Dirty Dancing: Cementing Mount Holyoke’s place in pop culture

 

Credit: Noa Kasman
Credit: Noa Kasman

At the end of last semester I was walking around campus after a hectic day. Instead of heading straight to my dorm, I paused at the amphitheatre where Dirty Dancing was being screened for a group of prospective students.

Several of my friends had also gathered-just in time for the climactic scene when Johnny says that infamous line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Then the final dance sequence began. Several girls got up and began dancing along with the onscreen characters. Only movies of a certain kind, those that are singularly cherished and beloved, can generate an audience response like this. Dirty Dancing, in particular, generates a special reaction because of its unique place in Mount Holyoke culture. This fact has been more apparent than ever these past days following the death of the film’s star Patrick Swayze on Sept. 14.

Frances “Baby” Houseman (played by Jennifer Grey) is a young, ambitious woman who is about to start college at Mount Holyoke. She is the daughter of a successful doctor and of a certain social status. When Baby and her family spend three weeks at a Catskills resort, she meets Johnny Castle (Swayze), a working class dance instructor. Their romance blossoms, her father disapproves and Johnny eventually gets fired. But he returns in the film’s final moments, utters those famous last words and the pair dances for the once crusty upper middle class audience. Dirty Dancing concludes with everyone, young and old, black and white, high and working class, dancing together.

Baby is a woman of the 1960s who aspires to change the world. But despite her intelligence and ambition, she is awkward and shy; her first dance with Johnny is horribly uncomfortable to watch as Baby unsuccessfully imitates more skilled dancers. It takes her relationship with Johnny to help her come into her own and vice versa. The final sequence becomes a testament to how these characters have grown from knowing each other.

Post-Dirty Dancing, Jennifer Grey, wanting to distance herself from Baby, got a nose job and has since disappeared into oblivion. Unlike Grey, Swayze embraced his Dirty Dancing role, appearing in the film’s 2004 sequel and as a guest star on Dancing with the Stars. His career since then-Ghost, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and his last role on A&E’s The Beast– has gathered the highest level of respect from his peers and fans.

For the most part, we represent a generation that grew up with Dirty Dancing, whether it was shown repeatedly on television (it frequently appears on 24- hour Labor Day marathons) or just from hearing its infamous lines, such as “I carried a watermelon,” constantly recited. It is not surprising then that the first place I read about Swayze’s death was on a friend’s Twitter page. This was followed by countless friends paying tribute to Swayze via their Facebook status and these tributes overwhelmingly came from my Mount Holyoke friends. For many Mount Holyoke students, Dirty Dancing is a vital part of the Mount Holyoke experience.

While we will never know if Baby actually got her B.A. in Economics and joined the Peace Corps, the mere fact that Dirty Dancing mentions Mount Holyoke gives this college a unique place in American pop culture. Patrick Swayze’s role in that has added a new phrase in the Mount Holyoke lexicon: “Nobody puts a Mount Holyoke woman in a corner.”

Published: Mount Holyoke News
Sept. 17, 2009

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Patrick Swayze (1952 – 2009)

Really sad news…

After nearly a two year battle with pancreatic cancer, Patrick Swayze, the star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost has died. The NY Times reported the news about 20 minutes ago.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Patrick Swayze has died after a nearly two-year battle with
pancreatic cancer.

Swayze’s publicist Annett Wolf says the 57-year-old “Dirty Dancing” actor died Monday with family at his side. He came forward about his illness last spring, but continued working as he underwent treatments.

It was 1987 when Swayze became a star with his performance in “Dirty Dancing,” a coming-of-age story set in a Catskills resort. The 1990 film “Ghost” cemented his status as a screen favorite.

Swayze played a murdered man trying to communicate with his fiancee through a spirit played by Whoopi Goldberg.

He kept on working even after it was disclosed in March 2008 that he had a particularly deadly form of cancer. He starred in “The Beast,” an A&E drama series, and said he and his wife were working on a memoir.

Because of his role as Johnny in Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze has always been a favorite actor of mine. You see, Baby is attending Mount Holyoke in the fall and as a current Mount Holyoke student, you always encounter someone who have heard of my college because of this movie; on perspective student weekend Dirty Dancing is screened in the amphitheatre. So Patrick Swayze is apart of the MoHo lexicon along with Emily Dickinson, Wendy Wasserstein and Animal House.

He will be missed.

The Time of Your Life

dirty dancingNot only is Dirty Dancing one my all-time favorite movies, but it is also the quintessential Mount Holyoke film. Now that I’ve been a student at MHC for almost two years, Dirty Dancing takes on a whole different meaning.

Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, class of 1967, is one of our most celebrated (fictional) alumnae. Dirty Dancing is ranked in the top 10 favorite movies for Mount Holyoke students on Facebook (the go to guide for all statistical evidence about a college). There is even an on-campus push to have t-shirts made that say, “Nobody puts a Mount Holyoke woman in a corner”.

When watching Dirty Dancing with a group of MoHos you are bound to encounter several eerily familiar moments. They include but are not limited to:

1) The fear that you will end up with that chauvinist who goes to Cornell or Yale because he is the only guy who ever heard about Mount Holyoke and therefore will be able to appreciate your intelligence.

2) The coming into your sexuality. For Baby it involved learning how to dance and changing her clothes. For a Mount Holyoke student, it requires chopping off your hair, wearing flannel and joining the Rugby/Crew/Ice Hockey teams.

3) That awkward, AWKWARD first encounter with your crush. For Baby, it was “I carried a watermelon” and for the current Mount Holyoke student… I’m not revealing that.

Dirty Dancing Watermelon

4) Having life goals like studying the Economics of Underdeveloped Countries and joining Peace Corps that just scream overachiever.

5) Falling for the wrong person although you’re expected to marry the bro who expects to get into Yale on his last name.

I do have more of point to this post than just sharing stereotypes about my school and classmates that probably aren’t really comparable to Mount Holyoke. (This is all more of a coming-of-age teen comedy thing after all.)

When my friends and I were watching Dirty Dancing for the umpteenth time, we started discussing whether or not Johnny Castle actually deflowered Baby. I’m not kidding. In true Moho fashion, we analyzed the scene where Baby goes to Johnny’s tent/cabin and they dance, leading to their first time together. We paused and rewound the DVD like true investigators.

Some argued, “Of course he was her first! They were first loves”; other argued, “Look at how she is acting. Girl, clearly knew what she was doing.” We never decided anything.

I Should Be Studying…

But I’m kind of burned out after taking a final.

Here’s an article I thought was interesting.

What are the Top 10 most watched movies by men and women?

Top 10 Most Watched Films By Women
1 Dirty Dancing
2 Star Wars trilogy
3 Grease
4 The Sound of Music
5 Pretty Woman
6 The Lord of the Rings trilogy
7 It’s A Wonderful Life
8 The Terminator
9 The Matrix
10 Jaws

Top 10 Most Watched Films By Men
1 Star Wars trilogy
2 Aliens
3 The Terminator
4 Bladerunner
5 The Godfather
6 Alien
7 Jaws
8 Die Hard
9 Terminator 2: Judgment Day
10 The Lord of the Rings trilogy

————
I’m not surprised that Dirty Dancing tops the female list, considering these stats about my college (remember I go to a women’s college).

Top 10 Movies at Mount Holyoke: (according to Facebook)
1 Love Actually
2 Garden State
3 Amelie
4 Finding Nemo
5 Little Miss Sunshine
6 Crash
7 Fight Club
8 The Notebook
9 Mean Girls
10 Dirty Dancing


Let’s just say this: MoHo’s love Dirty Dancing.

Baby is, after all, one of Mount Holyoke’s most famous students.

Tonight’s Viewing Selection: Center Stage

I rented All The President’s Men and Il Postino to watch tonight. Two perfectly good movies but I’m not quite in the mood. So instead I’m choosing to watch the ballet school drama Center Stage instead.

Well, it’s actually very simple. I LOVE dance movies, the ones where you can fall in love and save the world. There is something incredible and mesmerizing about the craft of ballet and watching those who are incredibly talented than me perform.

Have a good night!