Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flashback On: Dirty Dancing

1987 was a strange year. The NY Giants defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Kylie Minogue released her first remake hit "The Loco-Motion." Microsoft released Windows 2.0. The Simpsons first appeared on The Tracey Ullman Show. And Dirty Dancing was released on August 21. Today's flashback feature is on Dirty Dancing - the film that launched thousands of people to attend dance classes in the wake of its success. (Photo above is from its Wikipedia entry.)

So why focus on Dirty Dancing since it doesn't have apparent hip hop elements? Well, it doesn't really matter. Many of us who were old enough and physically able to groove in 1987 will remember this film. What the film captured was universal. Partner dancing was hot way before Dancing with the Stars hit the airwaves. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey sizzled on screen, and for 100 minutes we were having the time of our lives. Although it's been documented that Swayze and Grey didn't have that onscreen chemistry off-screen, they were completely believable as Johnny and Baby. Directed by Emile Ardolino with cinematography by Jeffrey Jur, their escapades made a deep impression on anyone who even had a slight desire to dance. Inspired by the actual experiences of screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, Dirty Dancing speaks to the romantic and sensual sides of all of us dancers. It was a coming-of-age story that has helped many boys and girls come of age years later.

Who can forget the final dance scene with Johnny and Baby performing their duet as "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" plays? Although there are many memorable dance scenes in the film, this finale continues to inspire and delight years later. There's something about the sensual chemistry of the two leads as they rock together on stage. And then it radiates out, infecting everyone in the room. For hip hop and street dancers, we can take a cue from this scene if we venture into romantic themes in our work. Once again, it's the fusion of film and dance together that triumphs. The cinematography is revealing as the camera lens shows us the little details of where hands are placed, where facial expressions change emotions, and how bodies intertwine together gracefully. Kenny Ortega, who would later go on to direct and choreograph the High School Musical series, works with the camera to bring us into the world of these dancers, rather than having us stand aloof at a distance. The choreography is natural, informed by the world established in the film, and builds on the onscreen chemistry of the two leads. It's a perfect marriage of creative circumstances.

Dirty Dancing has had a tremendous legacy; spawning a film sequel, a short-lived television series, and a successful stage musical run. But it's greatest impact could be how it inspired so many of us to dance, regardless of our affiliations. It showed us how beautiful it is for a woman to express herself through her body. And it revealed to us how a man can convey his strength through his movements. Together, as partners, they can move as one and rock the world around them. While we know that a woman can convey strength and a man can also convey beauty, it's clear that this film conveyed a special kind of magic that hasn't been duplicated since.

For hip hop and street dancers, Dirty Dancing can be an aspirational guide. To be sensual without being crassly sexual. To be romantic without artistic compromise. To delight in moving together with that one other person you're connecting with. It's a beautiful thing.

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