For our work Christmas party this year, we were treated to a screening of 80’s classic Dirty Dancing – just one of the many benefits of working for a company that owns a cinema network.
Unlike most of my colleagues who have seen the iconic film multiple times, it was only my second viewing — the first being back in 2006 when an exasperated friend insisted it was insane that I had yet to see it and lured me to her house to watch it with the promise of homemade pasta (which was delicious by the way.)
What was lost on me at the time of my first viewing, perhaps due to the numerous glasses of wine that accompanied the aforementioned pasta, was how ahead of its time Dirty Dancing was — a theme I was very aware of the second time around.
I loved that, in addition to Baby (Jennifer Grey) being a smart, feisty, confident woman, Johnny (Patrick Schwayze) was completely okay with this without the usual “shouldn’t I try to tame her or put her in her place?” narrative that usually occupies most of a movie’s real estate before the male protagonist ultimately accepts and celebrates his “strong woman.”
Additionally, I enjoyed that Baby was level headed instead of whiny or hysterical, even as Johnny was leaving, seemed to own her sexuality and enjoyment of sex despite her inexperience, and really gave it to her old Dad about the fact that the only world he actually wanted her to change was the very comfortable one they already occupied.
It got me thinking about a few other classic dance films in which the ladies were not taking any s–t from anybody.
The film adaption of Bob Fosse’s incomparable Broadway smash (and my favourite musical) featured a cast of murderous women who often saw their husbands as anathema to their ambitions instead of crucial to it.
Renee Zellweger was incredible as Roxy Hart, who kills her lover, manipulates her husband and cosies up to her sleazy lawyer, but it was Catherine-Zeta Jones in her Oscar-winning role as Velma Kelly that just epitomised the “don’t mess with me or my dreams” mantra that makes Chicago so delightfully on point.
Highlight: Zeta-Jones and her fellow manslaughtering mavens singing “He Had it Coming” as a way of justifying their actions.
Fun fact: Zeta-Jones was pregnant at the time of filming but was still able to pull off those costumes and those dance moves.
Where to watch it: Stan Australia
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Before she was Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker was Janey Glenn, whose overbearing military father is strict and overprotective and absolutely does not want her to be a dancer, have a boyfriend or, apparently, any fun whatsoever. Janey doesn’t let that stop her from doing allll of the above though, teaming up with best friend Lynne (Helen Hunt) and hottie Jeff (Lee Montgomery) to audition for her favourite show “Dance TV.” Janey’s disobedience even sees her disabling her father’s security system and shimmying down a tree to get to the “Dance TV” finals, but all is forgiven by Pops when she wins the competition.
Highlight: The peak 80’s fashion and big hair.
Fun fact: Shannen Doherty makes an appearance in the film as Jeff’s little sister and Cyndi Lauper herself makes an uncredited cameo!
Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video
A film for the ages that features actual, professional dancers, there is little not to love about this cheesy, amazing dance flick. Set at New York’s fictitious American Ballet Academy, the plot revolves around aspiring prima-ballerina Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull) who just wants to be the best ballerina she can be, despite the “bad feet” she is constantly reminded she is in possession of. Jodi does all of the things you are supposed to do in a teen-drama-dance-movie: breaks the rules, gets on the bad side of the star pupil, befriends a talented but rebellious girl from a tough neighbourhood (hey, Zoe Saldana!), participates in a few montages, has some inexplicably quick costume changes and gets her heart broken by a ballet dancing bad boy. Standard stuff, really.
In the end, Jodi steps into her power when she tells the school’s director (Peter Gallagher) that she is the best dancer she can be and she doesn’t want the place in the school she has been killing herself to get for the whole movie. Oh! And then she tells bad boy ballerina Cooper that she’ll join his school but that he is a terrible boyfriend, ultimately choosing herself. Okay, she actually chooses Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) whom she had previously friend zoned, but you get my point.
Highlight: The dance routine at the end that features a motorbike and a magical hairstyle.
Fun fact: Center Stage was Zoe Saldana’s film debut.
Where to watch it: Netflix
Although it is the ever-so-dreamy Kevin Bacon that is the star of this film, we have to give credit to his onscreen love interest Ariel (Lori Singer) who has been living under the rules of her minister dad played by stage and screen legend John Lithgow who has outlawed dancing and rock music in the town. His reason for such a rule is that his son (Ariel’s brother) was killed in a car crash after attending a dance party. While banning dancing as a reaction to a drunk driving death seems as pointless as banning peanut consumption in the wake of someone drowning, we are where we are. At any rate, Arial’s rebellion against her Dad’s mandates, although reckless at times, eventually sees her standing up to the patriarch(y) and helping Bacon’s Ren get dancing reinstated once more. Cue Kenny Loggins.
Highlight: Sarah Jessica Parker’s cameo as Ariel’s best friend Rusty.
Fun fact: Kevin Bacon had four stunt doubles in the film for his warehouse dance scene.
Where to watch it: Netflix