42 Secrets That Will Forever Change How You Watch Dirty Dancing

Oct 18 | 219 sharesEmma Guinness

Ask anyone to name their top five romantic movies from the eighties and Dirty Dancing will inevitably be on their list. This tale of summer love and self-discovery is undoubtedly a classic thanks to the talents of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey - and that's not to mention its, quite frankly, brilliant soundtrack.

However, while the final product might have got most of our pulses racing (and let's face, it the pulses of generations to come), it turns out that its storyline could have taken a very different turn.

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1. The movie's all about heart

To begin with, contrary to what the title suggests, there's nothing dirty about the movie, like I've said, it's about love and self-discovery and my opinion is shared by the late, great Swayze who said in an interview:

"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. On a certain level, it's really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because of what she's got in her heart."

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2. Jennifer Gray almost didn't play Baby

And while the chemistry between Swayze and Grey might have been electric on screen, she almost didn't agree to star alongside the hunk after a less than pleasant experience filming Red Dawn in 1984. Thankfully, he managed to talk her into it.

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3. The water scene wasn't as romantic as it looked

One of the great things about Dirty Dancing is that it's filled with so many magical scenes that, over time, have become nothing short of iconic. But despite looking oh-so-romantic on screen, the reality of filming the water lift was far from pleasant.

So what was up? Did Swazye and Grey struggle to pull off the lift and get a little too wet in the lake? Nope. What happened was that the lake scene was filmed in North Carolina and the rest of the movie was filmed in Virginia. The scene was also filmed in October which meant that the lake was freezing. In fact, there were no close-ups ups because their lips had turned blue!

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4. Grey really had to prove herself to play Baby

And while Swayze might have thought that Grey was the perfect person to play Baby, the directors did not share his opinion and had their reservations about her playing a woman who was 10 years younger than she actually was at the time.

So how did she manage to land the role? Well, they gave her five minutes to show that she could successfully act younger than her years and it's safe to say that she impressed - and landed what turned out to be the role of a lifetime.

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5. Producers wanted Val Kilmer to play Johnny

On the subject of casting, while it's nigh impossible to imagine Johnny being played by anyone other than Swayze, he too wasn't the directors' first choice for the role and it was actually offered to Val Kilmer first who turned it down.

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This was because Dirty Dancing was being filmed in the wake of Top Gun, so he was already a big star and said he didn't want to play Johnny out of fear of consistently being type-cast as a hunk - although I imagine he came to regret this decision.

6. The movie was a smash hit at the box office

In terms of set, Dirty Dancing wasn't all that elaborate and as a result, it cost a modest $5 million to make. And producers definitely did the right thing by releasing the flick in theatres as it went on to make a whopping $214 million worldwide.

While there's no telling if a movie will be an enduring classic until some time has passed, I think this profit was a pretty good hint!

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7. Its setting wasn't what it appeared to be

Another secret about the movie which I've already alluded to comes in the form of its setting. Athough Dirty Dancing is set in Upstate New York, it was actually filmed predominantly in Virginia and North Carolina.

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What's more is that while it set during the summer and as a result, its cast had to act like it was hot, in reality, it was filmed in the autumn. In fact, production even had to spray paint leaves green to help further the illusion that it was the summer.

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8. A talent for performing runs in the Grey family

Sure, Swayze might have been the movie's natural-born dancer, but there's no doubt that Grey also had a knack for it too as talented genes run in her family. Her father Joel is actually a legendary cabaret performer so it's more than likely that he gave her a few dance lessons as she was growing up.

9. This actress turned down a role in the movie because of her image

Another role from Dirty Dancing which was originally intended to be played by someone else entirely was that of Mrs. Schumacher. Famous therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer was the first choice for the role, but she turned it down because she was worried about how it might affect her image professionally.

This was because Mrs. Schumacher was an onscreen thief and she was worried that it might affect her career, so she was eventually replaced by Paula Trueman.

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10. There's a Dirty Dancing musical

Because of Dirty Dancing's enduring popularity, it was actually turned into a musical in 2004, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage. And just like the movie, it was a roaring success in Toronto, Chicago, and Europe.

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While it's yet to reach the dizzy heights of Broadway, I think that we can all agree that if Dirty Dancing made an appearance there, it would be a guaranteed hit too. After all, even after 30 years, we still can't get enough of Johnny and Baby.

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11. The spin-off TVshow

But a lesser known fact about the movie that it actually had its own spin-off TV show. Seriously. This was done in an attempt to capitalize on the story's success on the big screen and the series premiered in 1988 and starred a number of big names including Paul Feig and Melora Hardin.

I bet that you never knew that before Hardin was Jan from The Office, she was Baby on the small screen!

12. The movie marked the time of Bill Medley's life

When we think of Dirty Dancing, the song that immediately comes into our heads is Bill Medley's '(I've Had) The Time of My Life'However, it turns out that he was actually pretty skeptical about it, to begin with.

But clearly Medley realized that Swayze was his lucky charm and three years later lent his voice to Ghost. In which, 'Unchained Melody' by the Righteous Brothers is played in the now iconic pottery scene.

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Medley's life was changed so much by his musical work on these movies that in 2014 he titled his autobiography The Time of My Life. 

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13. Grey still gets starstruck by other actors

After starring in such an iconic movie, you'd think that it would be impossible for Grey herself to get starstruck, but apparently, that was the case when she saw Ryan Gosling use the Dirty Dancing lift to woo Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love. 

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"I'm such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden he's saying my name [in the movie]," Grey revealed. "I'm just in the theater with my husband, and I look at him like, 'Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name.'"

14. You can attend a Dirty Dancing-themed weekend

As is the case for so many iconic movie locations, Pembroke, Virginia, is now capitalizing on Dirty Dancing's success and actually hosts three Dirty Dancing-themed weekends a year.

So what exactly can you expect if you attend? Well, obviously, you'll be treated to a screening of the movie, a watermelon toss, dinners, a sock hot, group dance lessons, and a Dirty Dancing scavenger hunt.

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That being said, we can only assume that the group dance lessons don't involve teaching people Johnny and Baby's famous lift - although there's no doubt that at least one pair of guests will have attempted it!

15. Swazye can sing

And while it was obvious in Dirty Dancing that Swayze was a multitalented man, he actually sang in the movie too. Seriously. He contributed a song on the soundtrack, 'She's Like The Wind,' which he co-wrote with Stacey Widelitz!

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16. Swayze turned down a sequel

However, like so many hardcore movie fans, Swayze didn't want to ruin Dirty Dancing by starring in a lackluster sequel, so even when he was offered $6 million to reprise his role as Johnny, he still turned it down. Good on him, that's what I say.

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17. The crawl scene wasn't planned

The great thing about learning the secrets of a movie like Dirty Dancing is that it enables fans to see it in a whole new light. One of its most famous scenes is when Johnny and Baby crawl towards each other - and it wasn't even in the script.

This moment of movie brilliance happened when Swayze and Grey were warming up during filming. The directors took note of what they were doing and decided to turn it into a scene and voilà! A classic scene made from improvised brilliance.

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18. Sarah Jessica Parker could have played Baby

Although Swayze might have wanted Grey to play Baby, she was up against some tough competition as far as producers were concerned and one of the many actresses who also auditioned for the role was Sarah Jessica Parker.

While we might love her work (it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Carrie Bradshaw), I think that we can all agree that Grey was the best person to play Baby. Her chemistry with Swayze was, after all, off the scale.

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19. The Borscht Belt was a big thing in the 50s

The resort Kellerman's was located in the Catskills. However, it was just one of many in an area came to be known as the Borscht Belt. They got their name because they were extremely popular with Jewish families from the 1920s until the 80s.

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Since their height of popularity in the 50s and 60s, however, many of these resorts have disappeared. And although they might be largely gone now, they will have a special place in many people's hearts including that of comedians Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld, who started their careers in them.

21. The movie nearly had a very different title

Movie titles are incredibly important when it comes to piquing an audience's interest and shockingly, Dirty Dancing was not the story's original title. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein revealed that it was almost called Was A Teenage Mumba Teen.

Why? Well, it's because the movie had trouble being accepted across the Canadian border with the name Dirty Dancing, which as far as authorities were concerned, implied it was an adult movie.

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22. There was a Dirty Dancing remake

And while the movie never got a sequel, it did, in fact, get a remake called Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Needless to say, it did not have the original cast, however, the same choreographer from the first movie worked on the dance scenes.

Like Dirty Dancing, the movie is full of beautiful people and a lot of sensual dancing, even if the plot does stray from that of the original.

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23. The movie had a big impact in Eastern Europe

What's more is that although Dirty Dancing is an American movie, it's had a considerable impact in Eastern Europe:

"In Russia, it's policy in the battered women's shelters, when a woman comes in for help. First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing. When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing T-shirts; they were saying, 'We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!'"

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25. Swayze and Grey clashed on set

We know that Grey had her reservations about working with Swayze after they didn't exactly get on while filming Red Dawn and their relationship on the set of Dirty Dancing could hardly be classed as rosy either. This is what Swayze said about it:

"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. Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she'd start laughing."

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26. Johnny's nationality was changed for Swayze

Producers of the movie originally wanted Johnny to be Italian-American and it was for this reason that they had considered Billy Zane (who became famous the world over for playing Cal in Titanic) for the role. But poor Billy just didn't have the moves to for the role when he did a screen test, so they made Johnny Irish so that Swayze could play him.

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27. The movie had a title before a solid plot

Prior to the movie's development, scriptwriters only had a vague idea about what they wanted its plot to be. That all changed when the producer, Lisa Gottlieb, asked writer Eleanor Bergstein to tell her about herself and she said, "I grew up in Brooklyn, my father was a doctor, I was one of those kids who used to go across the tracks to go dirty dancing."

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Gottlieb was subsequently struck by the phrase and said, "That's a million-dollar title! Now we'll figure out the story."

28. Swayze hated this iconic scene

While Dirty Dancing had a lot of iconic scenes, there was one phrase which stood out above all others, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner!" But shockingly, Swayze was far from impressed by it. In fact, he tried to get producers to remove it from the movie.

Once the movie was complete, he changed his tune and agreed that leaving it in was the right decision.

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29. The famous lift had to be temporarily grounded

Jennifer Grey's lift scene in the movie might look like an impressive and effortless feat, but after one take in their audition, she refused to do it again because she was so scared. As a result, the version you see in the movie is the second time she ever did it.

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30. Swayze really wasn't happy when Grey got the giggles

As is the case in so many movies, a lot of moments in Dirty Dancing weren't planned and one of them was Baby's giggling fit. In real life, Grey is pretty ticklish, so that was her genuine reaction to Swazye touching her - and his annoyance was his genuine reaction. Producers liked this impromptu moment enough to keep it in the final movie.

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31. There was a remake in 2017

Amazingly, Dirty Dancing hasn't had one remake, but two - and the second was abysmal, to say the least. Starring Abigail Breslin as Baby, it got terrible reviews, with critics slamming Breslin's uncharismatic dancing.

Well, they do say that if something isn't broken, don't try to fix it...

 32. No one who inspired the movie was in it

Since she was responsible for the movie's title, discussion of Eleanor Bergstein's old dance partners making an appearance did happen, but she revealed, "My old partners are either in jail or out on parole… it was a very rough neighborhood."

And while these people might not have actually made it into the movie, there's no doubt that their colorful personalities helped influence its characters which were ultimately the key to Dirty Dancing's success.

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33. Dirty Dancing was a musical hit

The movie wasn't just a box office hit either, it was a musical one too, and shortly after its release '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' topped the charts in 1987, selling more than 50,000 copies.

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Better still, it was honored at the Grammys when Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes were awarded Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. Then, at the 1988 Academy Awards, the Dirty Dancing writers were given the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1988.

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34. Kelly Bishop got her role in an unexpected way

Kelly Bishop, who has roots as a dancer, was actually supposed to play Vivian Pressman. And while she's better known today for playing the snarky grandmother on Gilmore Girls, she got the role of the nice mom in Dirty Dancing in an unexpected way.

Shortly before filming, the original choice for Marjorie Houseman, Lynne Lipton, fell ill and producers asked her to take the role.

35. Fans campaigned for the movie's re-release

Ten years on from the movie's original release, fans wanted to have the time of their lives on the big screen again and they called for a theatrical re-release. This actually happened thanks to Conan O'Brien who asked fans to put their demands in writing.

Amazingly, fans' tenacity paid off and the Dirty Dancing was re-released - and this was before the days of social media.

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36. Dirty Dancing is a reflection of its writer's life

As we've established by now, screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein wrote Dirty Dancing with her own life in mind. In fact, she even visited the Catskills, was nicknamed "Baby" and learned how to dance at parties - I wonder how much of herself she saw in Grey!

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37. Medley didn't want to sing '(I've Had) The Time of My Life'

Despite the movie's musical success, singer-songwriter Bill Medley didn't actually want to sing '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' because he said it sounded like something that would feature at the start of a bad adult movie.

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Thankfully, the director managed to talk him into it and his decision to say yes changed his life for the better.

38. There was a Dirty Dancing reality TV show

At this point, you're probably thinking that surely there can't be any more Dirty Dancing secrets out there, but you're actually wrong. Incredibly, the movie even inspired its own spin-off reality TV show in the UK in 2007.

Appropriately titled Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life, it was a dancing competition judged by some actors from the movie.

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The show, however, only ran for two years, so it's clear that the moves were only really destined to be in the movie and didn't resonate quite as much when they were incorporated into a reality TV show.

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39. The movie was Wayne Knight's big break

Wayne Knight might be best known these days for his role on Seinfeld, but his talents actually first came to light in Dirty Dancing. Prior to this, he was a small-time actor, featuring only in minor TV shows.

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However, thanks to his performance in this movie and a number of other hits, he eventually landed the role that made him a household name. 

40. It was almost released straight to VHS

And while Dirty Dancing might have been a box office smash hit, shockingly, there was a very real chance that the movie was only going to make an appearance on the small screen as the producers wanted to release it straight to VHS. They must have been glad that they changed their minds when the box office ratings started to come in, that's all I'm saying!

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Plus, it would have been even more magical for fans of the movie to see Swayze and Grey's incredible chemistry for the first time on the big screen.

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41. Johnny and Baby's outfits were strategically coordinated

Speaking of Swayze and Grey, when it came to what they were wearing, the colors they wore were always strategically coordinated. Johnny was always dressed in black and Grey in light, pastel colors - which makes it super easy to dress up as them for Halloween if you're wanting to recreate some Dirty Dancing magic this fall.

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42. The actors had only two weeks to rehearse

And finally, even though we are still talking about and loving Dirty Dancing thirty years on, the cast was given a shockingly small amount of time in which to prepare for it - two weeks. So the fact that Swayze and Grey were able to pull off those dance routines is a true testament to their ability as actors.

The entire shoot actually took a mere 44 days, which makes its success even more impressive.

So, the next time you sit down in front of the TV to watch this 80s classic, it'll be hard not to think of how very different Dirty Dancing could have been. One thing's for sure - if any of the near misses on this list had actually happened, I doubt that it would be the movie that's still loved the world over 30 years on.