What Really Happened Behind The Scenes Of Dirty Dancing


When Dirty Dancing hit theaters in 1987, no one could get enough of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, and they quickly became America’s sweethearts. Many of the romantic scenes had generations of fans dreaming of having their own Johnny and Baby moment. Although you may have watched the film countless times, these behind the scenes secrets will bring you back to the first time you watched it.

Grumpy Grey

Swayze revealed in his autobiography that despite their on-screen chemistry, he and Grey did not get on all the time. He said “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.”


Accidental Tickle

The scene where Baby was uncontrollably laughing as Johnny stroked her arm, turned out to be a complete accident. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein explained that “It was very late at night and we were all exhausted. Jennifer [Grey] is ticklish and she started to laugh, and Patrick got exasperated.” She added,”When we saw it, we burst out laughing, and when Jennifer and Patrick saw it for the first time, they burst out laughing because we’d completely forgotten that this had even happened.”

dancing-johnny tickle

Fake Set

You would never have guessed it, but it turns out that the entire movie was shot in the fall and not the summer. The different sets and clothing of the cast suggested otherwise, but in their loose and light clothing, they were often shivering and bundling up in coats in between takes. In addition, all of the leaves that were seen on the trees in the movie had to be spray painted green to hide the fact that it was fall.


Impromptu Dance Moves

Some of the most iconic moments in movies have actually come from a raw, unscripted moment, and that was no different in Dirty Dancing. In the dancing scene where Johnny and Baby were crawling towards each other, they were just messing around and warming up for the scene, but producers loved the moment so much that they kept it in the movie. They had no idea that it would eventually become one of the more recognized scenes.


24 Hour Party

On the set of Dirty Dancing, there was a constant party atmosphere and everyone was quite happy to join in with everything. The dance rehearsals often turned into discos where all the cast members had a drink and let loose. Instead of it becoming a problem, it was actually an excellent way for the cast to bond and get to know one another in a more relaxed setting. The familiarity with one another resulted in the actors improvising, which was encouraged on set.


No Time To Lose

The filming schedule on Dirty Dancing was extremely tight, which meant that there was no time for mistakes or rehearsals that ran overtime. For the whole movie, the cast were only given a mere two weeks of dance training before filming. The entire movie was shot in just 44-days, something that is almost unheard of in Hollywood considering the physically demanding nature of the shoot. In the end, it paid off and the film was a huge hit.


Not Far From The Truth

Although Kellerman’s Resort was a fictional place, the general idea of it was very much real. The whole concept was based on a popular trend that took place in the Catskill mountains in New York. Jewish families would often come together and visit these type of resorts for the whole summer between 1920 and 1980. Some famous names have also graced these resorts and it is where Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld started out. Today, the majority of the resorts have closed down.


Swayze Or Bust

Eleanor Bergstein revealed that the only person she wanted to be Johnny was Swayze. She explained “No other actors were ever considered for Johnny except Patrick. It was always him and only him.” She continued saying “We went after him, and when I met him, I said, ‘Now that I know you, if you decide not to do this, it’s hard for me to think that I’ll make the film.’” Bergstein also noted that she couldn’t have been happier with the decision to cast him.


The Freezing Lake

In the famous lake scene of the movie, there were no close-up shots of the Grey and Swayze for a reason. The lake was around 40 degrees and they were in there for so long that their lips went blue. Swayze explained, “It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over.” Seeing as the film was set in summer and they wanted to give off the impression that the lake was warm, blue lips would have given it away!


Based On Bergstein

Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein based Dirty Dancing on her adolescent experiences in the 1960s. She came from a Brooklyn family and her father was a doctor, and they all visited the Catskills every summer. It was there that Bergstein adopted the nickname “Baby,” that she wasn’t able to get rid off until way into her twenties. As for the dancing, she had an experience with an older instructor who was much more experienced than her. From this, the movie was born.

dancing-real life

Playing Young

It is quite common in Hollywood that actors and actress play roles who are a couple of years younger than their real age. In Dirty Dancing, Grey was challenged to convince producers that she could play the naive and innocent 17-year-old Baby. Grey was actually 27 at the time so playing someone 10-years younger than her wasn’t an easy feat, but she evidently succeeded and producers loved her. Similarly, Swayze played 24-year-old Johnny, even though he was 34-years-old at the time.


Make Down Needed

It was a tough feat to make Cynthia Rhodes look bad on screen. In order to make Johnny’s dance partner, Penny actually look like she was in agony after a botched abortion, production had to rethink. They ended up making her down and using different techniques to make her appear tired and drained to be in keeping with the storyline. It must be hard to look so beautiful on camera that they make up teams are brought in to make you look bad!

dancing-make down

Whole Lot Of Heart

When Swayze was asked what he believed made the film so successful, he explained that, “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves—this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things. ” He further suggested it’s “really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because what she’s got in her heart.”


Past Tension

From watching the film you never would have known it, but Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey did not have the best of relationships going into Dirty Dancing. In 1984, the two also starred in Red Dawn and did not get along at all. When it came to casting for the film, Patrick Swayze was less than thrilled that Grey was in the running to play his love interest. In the end, the two were able to put their differences aside for the cameras.


Unexpected Success

Initially, the test screenings from Dirty Dancing were so poorly received that executives were considering skipping the theater openings and going straight to video. After plenty of discussions, they decided to go ahead with the big screen as planned. Shortly after, everyone was shocked to see that the movie brought in a whopping $64 million at the U.S. box office, as well as making a huge $170 million worldwide. Not too bad for a movie that cost $5 million to make.


Dancing Comes First

When the movie’s producer Lisa Gottlieb met the screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein for lunch to discuss ideas for the film, Gottlieb explained “I said, ‘Well what’s the story?’ And she said, ‘I don’t really have a story, but it should involve Latin dancing…'” Bergstein clearly envisioned a movie that encapsulated dancing and a feel-good theme, but the rest of the themes were left till much later. Considering the title was Dirty Dancing, you’d expect the cast to bust some moves.


Dirty Title

Bergstein explained that authorities held them up at the Canadian border when they thought the movie was an adult film, based on the title. Due to his event, Bergstein added, “When we thought we had to change the title, we were going to call it I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen because when I was 11 and 12, I would do the mambo [at] these Champagne contests in the country.” Luckily they were able to keep the original name and it became one of the most iconic movie titles.


Get Baby Out The Corner

Dirty Dancing, birthed the saying “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” but even though everyone else couldn’t get enough of the line, Patrick Swayze was not in favor of it. In fact, Swayze hated the line so much he asked a number of times to get rid of it altogether. His requests were declined and it became one of the more recognized lines of the movie that is still reused today. In hindsight, Patrick admitted that it worked.

dancing-baby corner

One Chance

The dance lift was what really made Dirty Dancing, but even though the amazing dance move was wonderful to watch on screen, Jennifer Grey was not nearly as excited about it as everyone else. Grey was so scared to do the gravity-defying dance move that she only did it once in the audition and refused to do it again until the cameras were rolling. Luckily, Swayze and Grey nailed the move and it was a big hit with everyone.


Controversial Themes

During the time of Dirty Dancing, abortions were illegal in the U.S. which led sponsors to pull out. Producers begged Bergstein to take it out, but she refused, saying “‘Hey, I would love to, but I can’t because if I take it out everything will fall apart.’ There’s no reason for Baby to meet Johnny, for Penny not to be able to dance, for Baby to learn to dance with Johnny, for her to make love with Johnny — there’s no story without that.”


Big Break

Prior to landing the role of Stan, Wayne Knight was a small-time actor who was trying to make it big in acting. He only had a handful of small TV roles under his belt when he was cast as one of the main characters in Dirty Dancing. In fact, after his role in the hit movie, Knight’s talent shone through and his career went big. He went onto land his infamous role in Seinfeld and then appeared in films including Jurassic Park. 


Say No To Sequel

Due to the mass success of Dirty Dancing, it was no surprise that there was plenty of talk about a sequel. However, one of the people that was strongly opposed to it was none other than Patrick Swayze. It was said that Swayze was offered a whopping $6 million to reprise his role as Johnny in the sequel but turned it down. As a result, the sequel never went ahead as it just wouldn’t be the same without Swayze.

dancing-johnny sequel

Helping Hand

Screenwriter Bergstein based the story of Dirty Dancing on her own life and drew from her past experiences at the clubs in the Catskills. While there were many others who could have helped her put the pieces together of the summers, she explained that none of the people could help, saying “My old partners are either in jail or out on parole … it was a very rough neighborhood.” Who knows how the story would have unfolded if there were more truths in it.


From Baby To Carrie

It was revealed that one of the main actresses in the running to play Baby was none other than Sarah Jessica Parker. Years ago, at the beginning of her career, the Sex And The City icon auditioned for the role, but it went to Jennifer Grey in the end. However, it wasn’t all bad for Parker and after roles in Hocus Pocus, Ed Wood, and Mars Attacks!, she got the part to play Carrie Bradshaw which completely transformed her career.


Time Of My Life

The hugely successful theme song for Dirty Dancing, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” was originally intended for Donna Summer and Joe Esposito, but they both turned it down. Following this, Bill Medley was then approached to sing it, but also turned it down at first. When the directors finally convinced him, the song became including an international success, selling millions of copies and winning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Grammy Award.

dancing-time of my life

Keeping The Dancing Alive

The vast majority of the film was shot in Pembroke, Virginia and in order to keep the spirit of the movie alive, they host three Dirty Dancing-themed weekends a year. The whole event is very popular and it involves a screening of the movie, a watermelon toss, dinners, a sock hop, group dance lessons and a Dirty Dancing scavenger hunt. 30 years after the movie was first hit theaters, it seems that everyone is still determined to keep the excitement alive.


Cursed Set?

When the ball started to get rolling on production, everything was stopped in its tracks on the sixth day of filming where it seemed as though everything was starting to go wrong. Over a 24 period, some of the crew’s property was stolen by burglars, flooding completely blocked the surrounding roads on the set and a van was destroyed, three crew members had workplace accidents and three more contracted food poisoning. It is astonishing that they ended up going ahead with everything following this.


First Cut, Worst Cut

The process of editing a movie is always a complex and demanding process. There are so many people to please and there will never be a movie where the first cut becomes the final cut. However, in the first cut of Dirty Dancing, director Emile Ardolino had to go back to the editing room immediately as producers absolutely hated it. They reportedly told the director to “burn the negative and collect the insurance.” After many other edits, it became a hit.

dancing-first cut

Swayze’s Knee

The famous lift scene almost didn’t happen in Dirty Dancing as Swayze developed a harsh knee injury back in college, resulting in him leaving the prestigious Eliot Feld Balet Company. He explained, “Because most of the cartilage in my knee was gone, the bones were just grinding painfully on each other.” He added that it became too much to lift Grey, saying “And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you’re lifting someone in water, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds.”

dancing-swayze knee

Surprise Sequel?

Screenwriter Bergstein was asked if she had a vision of what happened to Baby and Johnny after the credits rolled on the movie, to which she replied, “I do have a very clear sense of a very complicated, long future that they have when this is over but I never answer that. I think maybe now I’ll do a sequel. But that’s the question that people are incredibly interested in.” Could 2018 be the year that a Dirty Dancing sequel is finally announced?