That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Dirty Dancing

Sunday, September 27th, 2009 8:15 am—Film

Dirty Dancing (USA 1987, Drama/Romance), Writer: Eleanor Bergstein; Director: Emile Ardolino

I don’t think I can really write a review of Dirty Dancing; it would be like writing a critique of my mom’s cooking. Dirty Dancing is less a movie to me and more a childhood experience. Like the summers we went to music camp, or the years we spent on a farm.

There is no other movie in my life that’s on par with Dirty Dancing. I can’t think of another film I’ve seen more than a few times, but I’ve literally lost track of the number of times I’ve seen Dirty Dancing. It’s in the dozens. For a while in grade school, my younger sister and I watched the movie on VHS every afternoon with the sisters who lived next door. It was a ritual, and much better than doing our homework.

I’m writing this non-review of Dirty Dancing now as a tribute to Patrick Swayze. I haven’t seen many of his movies, although I’m going to try to watch Road House today because my sister’s eyes light up every time someone mentions it. She loves how unabashedly hokey it is. I saw enough of the film’s opening to know it’s not a movie I’m likely to recommend to anyone else. But I’m looking forward to seeing Swayze play Dalton, the tough-as-nails bouncer with a soul, and really looking forward to watching the special features to find out how real-life bouncers answer the question, “What would Dalton do?” Family antics and inside jokes about Road House aside, the tie my sisters and I have to Patrick Swayze is through Dirty Dancing—and the television miniseries North and South which utterly swept me away; we even named our fluffy white cats Orry and George after the two main characters (Swayze was Orry).

But back to Dirty Dancing. I’m not going to review it, per se, but I will say that it’s a special movie that stands out among other films of its ilk. It’s set one summer in the 60s when Baby (Jennifer Grey) and her family stay at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills. The movie is Baby’s coming of age story, as she falls for dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze), and learns to dance and to question everything she thought she knew before arriving at Kellerman’s. There’s more to the story than you’ll find in most dance movies, and, as my sister pointed out, the casting is exceptionally good. Swayze and Grey are perfect and the supporting performances are very strong (especially Jerry Orbach as Baby’s father and Cynthia Rhodes as Johnny’s dance partner).

I don’t know much about Patrick Swayze “The Person.” And I don’t want to go there. To me, he was just Johnny (when he wasn’t Orry). Lines from the movie evolved into a secret language between me and my sisters and countless friends. I spent so many nights dancing around my apartments to candlelight and music from the soundtrack, when the floors became the log or the stairs or the stage in the movie, and the doorframes became Johnny himself. (The lifts didn’t go so well.) And in those ways, Swayze is still as much alive to me as he ever was.

Several years ago, a dear family friend died of cancer. He used to work at the National Gallery of Canada and most of my memories of him are in or around that building. So, to me, he’s still alive there, striding through the hallways with his purposeful but boyish gait, his eternal smile lighting up the rooms. (I always say a quiet “Hello” when I pass by the Gallery.) In that same way, Patrick Swayze will always be alive to me. I guess that’s how it is with people who touch you greatly but aren’t part of your daily life; their impact doesn’t have to lessen with their passing. In the back of my mind, I still think I can pop into the Gallery any time I want to visit my friend. And I know I can always pop Dirty Dancing into the DVD player when I feel like catching up with Johnny.

I was genuinely sad when I read that Swayze was ill. I’ve thought about him off and on over the last year or so since he announced that he had pancreatic cancer, and was struck by a surprising amount of grief when he died on September 14. Two weeks ago tomorrow. I won’t think of him every day, and his death won’t change my life in any significant way. But it is a loss for so many people—especially those close to him—and truly sad that someone with such a life force should have it extinguished so early.

Swayze has left behind a legacy of films and television shows. From the little I know of him, he was a good actor and a great dancer, and he’ll be remembered through his work and the countless websites devoted to him. I guess this post is the virtual bouquet I’m leaving at the collective monument his fans have created. Dirty Dancing will forever be enmeshed with my childhood and adolescence. I think everyone should see it. It’s awesome. And it’s what Dalton would do.

PS, I don’t hope you rest in peace: I hope you’re still dancing your ass off.

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