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I Had the Time of My Life at Dirty Dancing

26 Jul

Dirty Dancing at McCarren Park

Yesterday my friend invited me to see a movie at McCarren Park that night. My usual M.O. is to say no to fun plans. Especially last-minute fun plans. Because they’re inconvenient. And take me out of my routine. And a whole host of deeper psychological reasons to be explored at another time in another post.

But I’m trying to say “Yes!” to fun plans. To bring more joy and spontaneity into my life. Plus, this particular friend had recently invited me on several fun plans, all of which I’d said no to, and I was a little afraid that if I didn’t start saying yes soon, she was going to stop asking. What really put me over the top though, and convinced me that I had no other option but to say yes, was that the movie was none other than Dirty Dancing, my all-time favorite movie, symbol of my adolescence, and the unofficial theme to my Bat Mitzvah.

So last night, inconvenient and spontaneous as it was, I met my friend and her friends on patchwork of pieced together picnic blankets to watch Dirty Dancing, which, as it turns out, is tremendously fun to watch with a crowd of fellow Brooklynites. The opening shot of Baby and her family driving down a Catskill road listening to Cousin Brucie and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” on the radio immediately transported me back to 1987 and my 12-year-old self. The crowd screamed and cheered at all the places you’d cheer in your head–when Johnny decks Robbie, “She’s Like the Wind” plays, and Baby finally does the lift. During the finale, everyone in the audience jumped up and danced to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” and the announcer said that that was without question the most magical moment he’d ever seen in the seven year history of SummerScreen.

Throughout the night, I leaned in towards the group, piping in with little tidbits of memories and associations I had with the movie.

“I love your history with Dirty Dancing,” one of the girls said as we were walking to the subway afterwards.

“Thanks,” I shrugged, remembering back to when it all began.


In 1987, I sat on the family room floor leafing through the movie section of the local paper. I flipped to a full page ad for Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in the same pose that they’re in in the picture above, and my breath caught in my chest. I have to see this movie, I thought.

Shortly thereafter, my BFFEAE (best friend forever AND EVER) Beth* and I went to see it one night at a movie theater on Central Avenue in Yonkers. Someone’s parents must’ve bought us tickets, because we were only 12 and the movie was PG-13. I was mesmerized and it instantly became my favorite movie EVER. Of course, BFFs that we were, Beth loved it, too, and our bond was strengthened by our mutual obsession with this movie.

Seeing it once was not enough. I had to live it. I got the record and listened to it all the time. When the follow-up record, More Dirty Dancing, came out, I got that, too. I saw the movie over and over again, with Beth, my parents, and anyone who would go with me, and rented it multiple times when it came out on video. In between classes, Beth and I would practice our dirty dancing moves with invisible partners around the middle school hallways, occasionally enlisting beams as stand-ins for Patrick Swayze. There was a Dirty Dancing concert tour at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Eric Carmen and the back-up dancers (but sadly, no Patrick), and Beth and I went with our mothers, having dinner before the show at Hard Rock Cafe, and each buying a Dirty Dancing t-shirt afterwards.

Dirty Dancing, filled with music and passion, offered the promise of sex, electrifying to the mind and body of a 12-year-old girl. In seventh grade, I’d gone to Spin the Bottle parties in Jack Howe’s basement, but I hadn’t yet French kissed a boy or gotten to second base like some of the other girls in my class. But Dirty Dancing brought the hope of more, further down the base line. Of someday having sex with (or making love to?) a muscular shirtless dancing Patrick Swayze lookalike as “Cry to Me” played in the background. That, at 12-years-old, was my dream anyway. It might not come as a surprise that at 36, as of yet, that has never, ever happened.

As electrifying as that first sex scene between Johnny and Baby was, it was also mortifying. One of the many times I went to see the movie was with my Dad and I wanted to die during that part. It was like watching TV with your Dad when a tampon commercial came on. Mort-i-fy-ing.

That year I was planning my Bat Mitzvah, and it was a no-brainer what my theme would be. But some might not think that Dirty Dancing was an appropriate theme for a religious rite of passage for a 13-year-old. So it was my secret theme. My official theme was “5-6-7-8 Dance!” but I, another curly-haired Jewish girl named Jennifer, knew the truth. My real theme showed up in the photo on my sign-in board, in which I was smiling at the camera, wearing my t-shirt from the Dirty Dancing concert tour, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze on it in the same pose as they’re in in the photo above, except with more clothing on. It showed up when “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” played at my party and Beth and I jumped up and down with excitement, and like all good theme songs, returned during the closing slow motion montage in my Bat Mitzvah video.

Then, as often happens in middle school, my BFF became my arch nemesis. Jealousy and resentment drove a wedge between me and Beth as we moved on to other friends. But we’d always have Dirty Dancing.

In 2007, as soon as I heard that Dirty Dancing was going to be in movie theaters for its 20th anniversary, I emailed Beth, whom I hadn’t been in touch with since high school, to ask if she wanted to see it together. She wrote back right away saying yes, and that she’d been planning on getting in touch with me to ask if I wanted to see it.

The night of the movie, I arrived at the theater early to get good seats, and I scored two towards the middle. A group of girls arrived before Beth did, and asked me if I could move so they could all sit together, pointing to an empty seat in the corner.

Nobody puts me in a corner! I thought, holding my ground and refusing to move. The girls talked shit about me through the whole movie, adding to the feeling that I was back in seventh grade again.

Afterwards, Beth and I caught up over drinks.

“You look great!” she said. “You haven’t changed at all.” I was wearing a jeans jacket so that helped my transcendence of time, but still, I felt like our 20 year feud was finally over, our wounds and resentments healed, united as we were in our love for Dirty Dancing.


Five years later, 25 years after I first saw that breathtaking full page ad in the paper, Dirty Dancing still has the power to create magical moments. Watching it still fills me with hope, possibility, that pure joy that is natural at 12 and harder to come by at 36, and the feeling that, as long as Baby and Johnny are still dancing somewhere, all is OK in the world.

*Names have been changed


So You Think You Can Dance Season 4 Makes Me SO Happy!!!

13 Jun

Last summer I got hooked on So You Think You Dance, and back in July of 2007 it was one of my favorite blog topics (see:  So…You Think You Can Dance?  Why Not SHINE? and Arrogance Vs. Confidence & How This Relates to So You Think You Can Dance & YOU)  Sooooo…as the countdown to Season 4 began, my excitement intensified daily.  I half-heartedly sort of watched, sort of didn’t watch the auditions, but I what I was really waiting for was for THE COMPETITION to begin!  (and by the way, why is this phenomenal show only on once a year???)

The real show began this week.  So my friend K, who got me hooked on the show last summer, and I texted back and forth on Wednesday confirming our plans to watch it that night.  I remember the exact moment my So You Think You Can Dance obsession/addiction began last summer:  I had stopped by to visit K while she was watching SYTYCD, and sat, transfixed, breathless even, on her easy chair as as Danny & Anya danced Tyce DiOrio’s contemporary routine to “Apologize” by One Republic.  Transfixed.  Breathless.

Wednesday night, I sat on that same easy chair, giddy with anticipation for the new season to truly begin, and wondering, not for the first time, how I’ve made it all these months without Nigel, Mary and the Gang.  And then it was finally time:  Cat Deeley (unquestionably the best television host of all time) came on the screen and in her trademark British accent announced:  “And this is SoYouThinkYaCanDance!”  K and I spontaneously both broke into wild applause, as if we were in the studio audience, only we weren’t; we were in a studio apartment.

I’m not gonna lie – the first few moments were rough.  We missed our “friends” from last season, we were attached – me especially to Danny, and K to Neil.  The show kicked off with a montage of what turned out to be highlights from this season’s auditions, but what I had hoped would be highlights from last season’s show – I just couldn’t let go, I wasn’t ready to move on.

But then, about 4 numbers into the show and I was like, “Danny, who?” and K was like, “Neil, what?”  These new peeps were good.  Having watched obsessively last season, I have gained, by osmosis, my own dance critique vocabulary, and I often know what the “jidges” will say before they even say it.  For instance, I knew that the first couple, Rayven & Jamie, didn’t hit their hip hop routine hard enough, and that they needed to “get down” into it more, but overall, this season had a strong beginning and the dancers were poised and confident right out of the gate.  There were a lot of good, solid performances and my attachment to the Season 3 cast was starting to loosen, but still, I wasn’t totally blown away by anyone, the way I was last summer on that fateful hot, July evening, by Danny/Anya/One Republic.

Until.  Katee.  Joshua.  “No Air.”  Jordin Sparks f. Chris Brown.  I got that same, breathless, punched in the stomach (in a good way) feeling from their dance about a couple the night before the boyfriend has to go to Iraq.  First of all, the choreography was, well, breath-taking.  (side note:  Tabitha & Napoleon are officially my favorite choreographers, and also, such an adorable little hip-hop couple!  And K pointed out, and then paused and rewound her DVR to illustrate her point, that whenever Tabitha talks, her husband Napoleon gazes at her with that perfect mixture of awe, love, and admiration.)  And then, this dance required Joshua and Katee to act, which had the potential to go in a way cheesy direction, but they totally nailed it and it went in a way moving one instead.  Their emotion was genuine, like they felt their way through every second of their performance, and on top of that even, their chemistry together was incredible.  And most of all, the dance was so phenomenal, that I didn’t even notice the individual steps or technique, I just got completely swept away in their love story.  Transfixed.  Breathless.  And also endearing:  Joshua, who looks like this tough, badass hip hop guy, is so humble, and cried every time he advanced to the next round throughout the auditions, and last night on the results show.  Katee and Joshua infused hip hop with heart, and to quote Adam Shankman re: last season’s Sabra & Dominic dance to “Make It Work” by Neyo, “Hip hop just had a nice breakthrough tonight.”

Watching the results show last night, I was overjoyed that Katee and Joshua made it through and I will get to see them dance again next week.  On the flip side, seeing Will in the bottom 3 couples brought back my feelings of outrage and helplessness when Danny kept getting in the bottom 3, week after week.  But that is par for the course when you love SYTYCD as much as I do – with the intense highs, come the devastating lows.

Season 3 will always hold a special place in my heart, but I am ready to move on, and so excited to get to know my new “friends” of Summer ’08, Season 4.  And I wait here, breathless, as if there is “No Air,” for next week’s episode and what it will bring.  According to the ticking countdown clock on the FOX website, there are only 5 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes, and 29 seconds until Week 2….

Dancing (Awkwardly) With the Stars: A Brand-New Beginner Takes the Stage

24 Sep

Hey there! Well, I’ve been away from blogging for a few months but I’m back, and yes, it is my other favorite dance-reality show that has brought me back: Dancing With the Stars, which premiered tonight as part of ABC Premiere Week.

One of my initial thoughts about this season (after: I can’t believe Beverly Hills 90201 was half my lifetime ago! It seems like just yesterday I was at my BFF Kate’s house eating Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream and pondering the age-old question – “Who’s cuter – Dylan or Brandon?”) popped into my head while Josie Maran was receiving a scathing critique from the judges. She was smiling in that multi-purpose way, when a smile is used to cover up other, un-happy emotions, and I swear I thought I saw her gulp down some tears. The judges told her, among other things, that she was “out of her element.” Curious, I looked up her element in her bio, and it turns out that it is: supermodel/actress/entrepreneur/activist and new mom. Hmmm. Seems like quite a big element to me. And these are the things that she is good – probably even exceptional – at.

This leads me to one of the reasons that I like (love) this show – it takes people who have achieved some level of success in a various area(s), rips them out of their element, and then plunks them smack-down into a new element, where Olympic athletes and Indianapolis 500 champions and supermodel/actress/entrepreneur/activist/new moms must be, once again, brand-new beginners.

While Josie was gracefully taking her critique, even though she had been less than graceful on the dance floor, I wondered, “Why would she put herself through this? She has already proven herself in a ton of highly competitive and/or challenging realms, why would she subject herself to being such an awkward beginner? Like, in front of people???”

Well, some things are worth busting out of your comfort zone for, and in her pre-dance video package, Josie stated that she went on this show to fulfill her lifelong dream of “being a rockstar without the singing.” I admire her for following her passion even when it took her away from proven success and back to the beginning, and for attempting something so new, so imperfectly in a very public arena.

This awkward, imperfect, new beginner phase is one that most of us would rather skip. However, trying to avoid it is what can keep us trapped in the familiar ruts of things that we are already good at, but that may no longer challenge, serve, and/or inspire us, when our potential is really so much greater.

For instance, I love to write. And there are certain forms that I feel comfortable and confident writing, such as plays, and blogging. I know how to do it, and I have gotten positive feedback to reinforce this. There are other forms that I am totally unfamiliar with, but would like to explore. However, to do this, I have to be willing to be…bad. I have to be willing to take critique, and it might be harsh. I have to be willing to fail. I have to be willing to not know. This is, unfortunately, the only way to learn something new, and to (gulp!) grow.  Reminiscent of that other fine ABC program of years past, Growing Pains…

I am not a person who likes not knowing, who enjoys being awkward and imperfect and mistake-ridden. But tonight on Dancing With the Stars Josie Maran reminded me that if I want to “be a rockstar without singing,” I have to be willing to streeeettttttttttch and 5-6-7-8 Dance! outside of my comfort zone by being a teetering, awkward, messy, imperfect, uncomfortable beginner. Ick.

While me trying something new doesn’t involve Cha-Cha-Cha-ing in front of millions, it is never fun to fail in front of small groups either, or even in front of a crowd of one.  However, Josie Maran’s awkward, botched Foxtrot gave me a little kick of inspiration to step out into a new element myself.  And maybe if Josie keeps it up, she will be able to add dancer to the end of her already impressive title and be a supermodel/actress/entrepreneur/activist/new mom/dancer.  And if I keep it up, who knows what I can become.  As Thomas Edison, one who was on intimate terms with failure (he had over 10,000 of them), said, “If we did all the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

This month, give it a whirl and astound yourself!

Other random Dancing thoughts, in no particular order:

1) It’s so great to see Mel B. on the scene – I wanted to BE Scary Spice in 1997. Click herefor a reminder of why the Spice Girls were the coolest evah, circa 1996 (“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want…”) or here for a heart-felt ballad (“Set your spirit free, it’s the only way to be…”).

2) Jane Seymour is the oldest woman to ever be on Dancing With the Stars at 56 and she rocks!!!  I saw an interview with her on Access Hollywood (Yes, I watch this.  Rarely, but I do) where she said she had thought about getting plastic surgery prior to going on Dancing but then she decided to be honest about what a 56-year-old woman looks like.  Hooooorayyyyyyyy!  She looks gorgeous and is a fantastic dancer and she rocks like, SO MUCH!

3a) What’s a Cheetah Girl, and

3b) Did you notice Sabrina Bryan used some form of the word “Cheetah” as an adjective, and a verb, and maybe even an adverb? Kinda like the idea behind “Smurfalicious.”

AND, as a sidenote, The Bachelor premiered tonight, and ABC is touting this season’s Bachelor, Brad Womack, as “the sexiest/best looking Bachelor yet/ever (depending on the promo).” So much to absorb in one night…

Enjoy Premiere Week!



I’d love to hear from you! What did you think of tonight’s Dancing? Do you have something new you want to branch out and try but you’re afraid of being an awkward beginner? And who’s cuter – Dylan or Brandon?

Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Garam. All rights reserved.

So…You Think You Can Dance? Why Not SHINE?

13 Jul


Danny & Anya’s radiance on this week’s So You Think You Can Dance


I often tell my students that they can find inspiration for writing topics everywhere – in the lyrics of a pop song, on a walk through a park, in a snippet of an overheard conversation (side note: I frequently overhear interesting conversations at Starbucks that could potentially serve as jumping off points for stories and/or characters. I once heard a woman declare (actually quite loudly so I didn’t really even have to eavesdrop) to her friend, about a freshly-ended relationship: “I JUST MISS THE SEX!”, and more recently I caught a conversation that involved smeared fecal matter). So as you can see, inspiration abounds all around. This week, I took my own advice, and found inspiration in…So You Think You Can Dance.

I used to be a Dancing With The Stars snob, and I’d only ever watched So You Think You Can Dance one time last summer, primarily because Natasha Beddingfield was the musical guest and I loved that song “Unwritten.” But this season, my friend KB has shown me the error of my ways in disregarding So You Think You Can Dance in seasons past, and I have come to the realization that I have room for two dance-based reality shows in my life. (As a recent convert, I have already spread this Dance gospel to my Mom, to whom I emailed the below SYTYCD YouTube links, and then, while on the phone, I forced her to press play at the exact same time as I did so that we could simultaneously watch and enjoy my favorite dance numbers together.)

This week, in my attempt to live a more balanced life, I took time out of my workaholic schedule for both the Wednesday performance show and the Thursday results show (OK, I only caught the end of the results show, but that is when all the crucial who-is-cut-who-is-coming-back information is imparted anyway, and besides, I was late tuning in because I was coming from a yoga class, which also contributes to a balanced life, and not because of any work-related reason).

Watching this show, I feel exhilarated, inspired, and invigorated, much like I have felt watching all those somewhat-cheesy dance-themed movies in years past – such as Center Stage in 2000, featuring dancer/actress Amanda Schull, and Ethan Stiefel of the American Ballet Theatre, and culminating in an exuberant, edgy, and ground-breaking dance number to that Jamiroquai song “Canned Heat”- which is to say, like I want to swing by Broadway Dance Center, pick up a schedule, and DANCE like my life depended on it!

Back to reality: this week on So You Think You Can Dance, my favorite number was Anya & Danny’s contemporary routine. I was watching the dance, mesmerized, and then it was over, and I realized I had not bothered to breathe in the past 3 or so minutes, and I felt like the dance itself had punched me in the stomach, and taken my breath away, in the best possible sense. Ohmygoodness, the heat, the passion, the longing and raw desire. Um, WOW. Anya and Danny are both phenomenal dancers in their own right, and as a couple, they have the kind of chemistry that jumps out at you and punches you in the stomach, which is to say, breathtaking.

I was however, disappointed with the critique they received. First of all, Danny was criticized for “disconnecting” from Anya in moments, but hello, this was a timeless love story of coming together and then ripping apart, only to, unable to deny the intense magnetic attraction any longer, come back together again, much like, well, life. Haven’t you ever had any relationships like that? (Only they usually don’t include such elaborate leaps and partner tricks…or maybe they do…)

But even more upsetting was how Danny was lambasted for his arrogance. This was after being referred to by one of the judges as “unquestionably one of the most beautiful male dancers I have ever seen, uh, ever,” and being told by another, “when you leap, nobody leaps as high and with such power and explosive…” So I’m asking you judges, what’s wrong with a little arrogance? I mean personally, he doesn’t come off as arrogant to me, but what if he did? He is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. He is doing seriously freakin’ hard things, like leaping through the air in a single bound, and contorting his (gorgeous) body in the name of art!!! Clearly, he is passionate about dancing and works hard, so what’s wrong with knowing he is talented and exceptional and wonderful and fabulous, and further radiating and celebrating that? He is great, so why not rock his greatness, and SHINE like the light that he is? Sure, he could fake humility, but how annoying and obnoxious is that? He was told: “With the kind of technique you have, you dance like you think you know you already won the competition.” Well, why not imagine a positive outcome? Why is it better to imagine and anticipate the worst, that you will lose, fail, that things will not work out for you, that nothing will go your way? Why is that “humble” stance more revered?

And in conclusion I say, rock on with yo’ talented hot self, Danny! Most of us could use a lot more unabashed appreciation of our own fine, talented, exceptional, wonderful, fabulous selves. We can stop playing so small – JUST STOP IT RIGHT HERE & NOW – and play instead to our big, bold, beautiful juicy talents that we ALL have – regardless of whether or not we can “backbend and then grande off the floor.” So this week, don’t be afraid to boldly, unapologetically, rock YOUR best, biggest, brightest talents, whatever they may be! Perhaps you can even sneak them into play more than once. Why not? GO FOR IT!!! And don’t even try to be humble about it…

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of my other favs from this week’s show. Post a comment and let me know what you think! Should Danny pretend to be humble? Who is your favorite? It can be like a book club, except with dance reality!

  • Lauren & Neil’s jazz routine (choreographed by Wade Robson – ‘member his (short-lived) dance reality show The Wade Robson Project (aired from August 18, 2003 – October 13, 2003) – a great example of a successful guy having a “Failure” Chapter in his Success Story (see: “The Glorious Success of Failure,” May 4, 2007)
  • Sabra & Dominic’s hip hop routine – sooooooooooooo steamy! Hip hot + heart! (“Hip hop just had a nice breakthough tonight,” Adam Shankman, SYTYCD Guest Judge.) By the way, Sabra has only been dancing for 4 years! We can all live the dream!

Have a ROCKIN’ weekend and I will see you at Broadway Dance!!!



Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Garam. All rights reserved.