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By Jess Fenton
20th August 2017

How many times have you seen your favourite movie? 10? 20? 100? Ever watched it every day for a year? Because I have. It was my extreme and unrelenting love of ‘Dirty Dancing’ as a child that made me take up dancing at the age of five. I wasn’t bad either, even nabbing a scholarship when I was 13. Now in my 30s, my dancing days are over (save for the occasional Sydney Dance Company open class or Salsa lesson) but my borderline obsession with this classic has never wavered.

Time is a fickle mistress. When I was 10 years old I would come home everyday from school, put my well-worn tape of ‘Dirty Dancing’ in the VCR and not tear my eyes away from the screen for the next hour and 40 minutes. Then once it was over I would rewind to the beginning of the final dance and watch it over and over and over again, longing for my own Johnny Castle to dance with and trying desperately to memorise the steps for the day he came along. That was my routine everyday for an entire year - in between my many dance lessons, school and netball practice. Oh, to be young again. After so many viewings you start to believe you know it backwards and forwards, inside and out and that there are literally no surprises left, just pure unadulterated love and spectacular dancing - so perhaps now you don’t have to watch it every day, you can skip one or two, here and there. Then that one day hiatus becomes two days, then a week, then a month, then a year. Then before you know it you’re 18, it’s on TV one night, you realise how long its been since you’ve seen it and decide to sit down and revisit old friends... holy shit, there's a backyard abortion in this!!


My mum loves to tell me the story of when I was five, sitting next to her at the movies watching ‘Dirty Dancing’ then so innocently looking up at her and asking, “What’s wrong with that lady?” to which she replied, “She has an upset tummy sweetheart.” Yes, at the tender age of five all I saw was beautiful women in beautiful dresses dancing beautiful routines, and one of them had diarrhoea. Before the age of 13 I’d probably seen ‘Dirty Dancing’ well over 300 times and not once did it ever cease to be a film about a girl on holidays with her family who takes up dancing!

As an adult, new layers begin to form around this beloved film. There’s a class divide, the civil rights moment, sexual assault, adultery, loss of virginity, objectivism, and of course the aforementioned illegal abortion. It seems appropriate that a film about growing up and the loss of innocence is exactly the effect it has on its younger audience over time. This got me thinking - how many of our favourite cinematic childhood memories are now tainted with the absence of ignorance? My three favourite movies of all time are ‘Dirty Dancing’ (obviously), ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (duh!) and ‘Back to the Future’, the most perfect film ever made. It’s pure coincidence that two of these star Jennifer Grey. It’s only once I gained some life experience and wisdom under my belt that borderline incest is suddenly clear as day in ‘Back to the Future’, as well as a questionable friendship between an elderly mad scientist and a teenage boy. As for ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’... nah, I got nothin’ except perhaps the Whiteout-sniffing secretary and an adult Dean with a weird obsession with a student.

Before the age of 13, I’d probably seen ‘Dirty Dancing’ well over 300 times.

So is my youth ruined? No. It’s almost like two different films exist. There’s an awesome dancing one I had as a kid, and then the socially aware one that just happens to have dancing in it that I have now. Both are equally brilliant and both hold a special place in my life and heart - and I ain’t willing to put either of them in a corner.

RELEASE DATE: 21/08/1987
RUN TIME: 1h 40m
CAST: Jennifer Grey
Patrick Swayze
Jerry Orbach
Cynthia Rhodes
Jack Weston
Jane Brucker
Kelly Bishop
Lonny Price
Max Cantor
Charles 'honi' Coles
DIRECTOR: Emile Ardolino
WRITER: Eleanor Bergstein
PRODUCER: Linda Gottlieb
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