On this day in 1987, Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze as a dance instructor at a summer resort, opens in theaters across the United States. The film was a surprise box-office hit, earning some $64 million and turning Swayze into a Hollywood star. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack went multi-platinum and included the hit singles “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen and “She’s Like the Wind,” co-written and sung by Swayze himself. The film also contained the now-famous line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
Set in 1963 at the fictional Kellerman’s resort in upstate New York, Dirty Dancing told the coming-of-age story of the well-to-do teenager Frances “Baby” Houseman, played by Jennifer Grey, who develops a crush on the resort’s working-class dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze) while vacationing with her family. The term “dirty dancing” referred to a sensual style of dance that the resort staff engages in during off-hour parties. When Johnny’s dance partner gets pregnant, Baby becomes her unlikely replacement, and the two end up falling in love, against the wishes of Baby’s protective father (played by the future Law and Order star Jerry Orbach). The film ends with a triumphant dance sequence in which Johnny and Baby dance and he lifts her high in the air.
Written by Eleanor Bergstein, who based the script on her own experiences growing up, Dirty Dancing marked the feature-film debut of director Emile Ardolino, who won an Oscar for the 1983 documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’. The film’s choreographer Kenny Ortega, who trained with Gene Kelly, later directed the High School Musical movies.
Before Dirty Dancing, Swayze studied with the Joffrey Ballet and appeared in such films as The Outsiders (1983) and Red Dawn (1984), also featuring Jennifer Grey. Following his breakout performance in Dirty Dancing, the actor co-starred in another blockbuster, Ghost (1990), with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Swayze’s later film credits include Point Break (1991), City of Joy (1992) and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), for which he earned his third Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of the drag queen Vida Bohemme.
Re-released in 1997 and again (briefly) in 2007 for its 10th and 20th anniversaries, Dirty Dancing is now recognized as one of the best loved female-oriented films–dubbed “chick flicks”–of all time. In 2004, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a reworking of the original film set in Cuba in the 1950s, just before Fidel Castro’s revolution, was released to a tepid response from critics and audiences. The still-fit Swayze appeared in a cameo role as a dance instructor.