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The secret dancer inside

Thursday, November 2, 2006 by Marianne Elliott

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Last night on Euronews they were covering the opening of the musical 'Dirty Dancing' in London.

This movie has lots of special memories for me – from the original memories of being a teenager and listening over and over to the soundtrack, remembering the scenes of the movie (in the days before DVD or even home VHS), dancing around my bedroom.

I also have lovely memories of special birthday screenings of 'Dirty Dancing' in Wellington – the lovely Jason providing the projector and screen and the Brunette Mafia providing the commentary and collective recitations of key dialogue (and playing spot the 'overactor' in the final dance scene).

The Brunette Mafia even considered travelling enmasse to Melbourne to see the musical when it opened. My mother and sister did go to see it, and loved it.

So what makes 'Dirty Dancing' so popular with us all? Why, as women in our 30s, are we still drawn to watch this teen movie over and over again?

Maybe Eleanor Bergstein, the original 'Dirty Dancing' screenwriter who adapted her own screenplay for the stage version, has the answer. There she was all silvery and gorgeous at the premier, and when someone asked her why this movie, and now the musical, was so popular she answered that she though the story "connects with the secret dancer inside people, and that they suspect that dance could transform their lives".

When I think about the films that really engaged me as a teenager, the ones that I replayed in my mind over and over again, they were all dance movies. I loved 'Footloose' and my Brunette Mafia ladies know that my favorite scene is the one where Keven Bacon teaches Chris Penn (may he rest in peace) to dance – thus transforming his teen life in a significant way.

I loved 'Flashdance' and like millions of other teen girls I practiced the audition dance routine in my bedroom, with the soundtrack running on the cassette player and dreams of a life of dance, travel, mystery and glamour running through my head.

Perhaps most of all, I loved 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' with Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. Like all great dance movies this has the audition scene in which all sorts of weird and wonderful dancers get their 30 seconds of fame, it has the montage of SJP's character being taught by her older, more experienced dance partner to let her passions out into her dancing and in which she slowly learns to dance with more abandon. It has a finale dance-off in which she finally pulls off the "big move".

They are formulaic, they are entirely predictable (although let's give DD the credit it is due for tackling heavier social issues than most teen dance movies), and they are pure viewing pleasure.

In our 30s dealing with our careers, our mortgages, our children, our relationships and our car repairs, we all need to reconnect sometimes with the secret dancer inside, we all need to remember our belief that dance can transform our lives, and we all need sometimes to turn up the Flashdance soundtrack and dance like mad around the bedroom.

This posting is a tribute to Eleanor Bergstein for knowing that.



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2 Responses to "The secret dancer inside"

  1. Mary Parker says:

    Considering that my flatmate is the Head Bitch of the Real Hot Bitches Dance Troupe – I know too well about the secret dancer. I was lucky enough to be a little girl who did ballet dancing and rode ponies. I still dream of my ideal tutu. This weekend I am going to a party with the theme ‘Circus’. I am going as the girl who rides the stunt horses. I am going in a tutu skirt with feathers on my head and knee high riding boots. I am finally combining my two childhood loves of ballet and ponies. My secret dancer will be outed and I will be thinking of you and Eleanor…

  2. Alex aka Gypsy Girl says:

    I love this post! I was crazy about dance movies in my teen years. I confess that the new wave of dancing tales has not captivated me as much… Perhaps a lost of innocence on my part. But still… I always did feel that dance could transform my life! And in a way, it did (I danced ballet for several years). I’ll also have to rent DD one of these days for some “dancing therapy” around my room. x

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