'Dirty Dancing' Creator On The Epic Dance Move That Inspired Countless Reenactments
When "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" starts playing it's almost like muscle memory: get a good running start and jump high into the arms of any ready (or unsuspecting!) dance partner to recreate the iconic Dirty Dancing lift. Thirty years later, Baby's (Jennifer Grey) climactic dance move with Johnny (Patrick Swayze) has become one of pop culture's defining moments. But for the film's screenplay writer, Eleanor Bergstein, Dirty Dancing's legacy is more than just what kind of impact it made on pop culture.
"I don't think it's made an impact on pop culture necessarily, but I think it's had an impact on people's hearts and that means much more to me," she tells Bustle over the phone celebrating the release of Dirty Dancing 30th Anniversary Edition on Limited Edition Collector's Box Set, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital HD on February 7th. "I get a huge number of letters, still, that tell me how it's changed people's hearts and attitudes."
As for why the film has enjoyed so much success over the past 30 years to the point where ABC is now remaking it into a TV movie, Bergstein believes it's how audiences are able to relate with the characters and the choices they made. "I think everyone has a secret dancer inside of them that connects them to the world and this puts them in touch with their secret dancer," she says. "There are so many things it does for everyone. I've met so many people who told me they grew up with it being a big part of their moral and ethical sense of what is right and wrong."
But going back to that incredible finale lift, there have been so many reenactments of the big dance number and homages in all kinds of pop culture moments on TV and in movies. While Bergstein appreciates any and all attempts at copying Baby and Johnny's move, she has one all-time favorite tribute.
"I loved the film with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Crazy, Stupid, Love," she says. "I found that very charming."
And it's not just in pop culture that Bergstein sees the lift recreated. "I'm always touched by these wedding couples who practice, practice, practice it and do it at their weddings," she says. "I'm always so frightened that the bride will fall and break her leg or something. I'm always a little worried."
Her worries come from a real place, too. "I heard a story from young woman, and there was a young man scowling at me [while she was talking]," Bergstein says with a laugh. "And I find out that his sister made him practice it in the pool with her and he fell and broke his wrist, and he had a soccer tournament that weekend. So I'm always a little scared. But it's a delight."
In addition to the lift, another iconic moment comes from the line Johnny says right before the big dance scene: "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."
"I wrote that line," Bergstein says. "I know that people use that line, but that is actually not the line that people quote most when they write to me or talk to me. It's the other line, 'Most of all I'm afraid of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you.' That's the more central line in the movie. Everyone thinks either back to something that happened to them or is waiting to happen to them and they're wondering if they did walk into the room or walked out too soon or didn't walk in at all and if they had the bravery and courage to do it. That's the real iconic line in the movie."
It was personally important for Bergstein to include that line in the film. "At every moment in your life, you have to judge whether you're making the bravest and most honorable decision," she says. "If you didn't, you'll look back at it forever, and if you did, whatever happens from it you will feel that you did your best. I think that's what everyone, men, women and kids, react to the most. There is one moment in your life when you have a shot at living your life fully, being entirely in the moment, and either you're brave enough to walk towards it or you're not."
Bergstein faced that when she fought to get Dirty Dancing made 30 years ago, and her bravery continues to inspire millions.