Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dirty Dancing

I just finished watching Dirty Dancing for the thousandth time and cried through most of it. I can't believe Patrick Swayze is gone. He was only 57. It was too soon for him to go, too soon for him to stop dancing.

Another icon from my childhood has vanished: Micheal Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, John Hughes, and now Patrick Swayze. All of these people had a big influence on my life, but none more than Patrick Swayze. I saw Dirty Dancing five times in a week and a half when it was at the theater, all just to watch him leap off that stage. I wanted to dance, too.

That was the era of the dance movies: Flashdance, Fame, Dirty Dancing, Staying Alive... and I was an aspiring dancer. I once got in a argument with my step-father when I was 17 about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

"I'm going to be a dancer," I said.

"What the hell are you going to do dancing?"

The Solid Gold Dancers were on TV and I pointed at the television and said, "That."

My step-father burst out laughing, which only made me more determined.
"I can dance on TV, and in the movies."

He shook his head and walked away, mumbling about how I was out of my mind.

"You'll see!" I yelled.

I didn't factor in to my future plans that I'd never taken a dance class in my life (there weren't any classes in Kelseyville, where I grew up). But I was determined. Armed with how-to-do-ballet books and a subscription to Dance magazine, I practiced every move I saw, from the ending scene in Flashdance to the merengue in Dirty Dancing. Luckily I was a natural dancer and when I moved away to college my dream came true when I made it into the Humboldt State Dance troupe. I performed in several shows and even choreographed one. But I could never leap high enough or get my untrained legs to turn out enough. I was competing with students who'd been dancing since they were five years old, while I took my first class at age 19. I wasn't stupid. No amount of determination could make up for lack of training.

So I hung up my dancing shoes and focused on acting.

20 years later, I'm a mom and a writer. Funny how life turns out. But the thrill of dancing never went away. I studied belly dancing for a while and fell in love with ballroom dance. When I'm finished with grad school I have plans to take up Flamenco. And every time I hear the theme song from Fame or Flashdance I get a tingly, move my hips feeling. "What a feeling...Take your passion... And make it happen..."

Patrick Swayze did. He wasn't the greatest actor in town, but boy could that man move.


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Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post for many reasons, but not the least because I love to dance and did take dance in a recreational way as a kid--it's something i still enjoy doing with my children.
and flamenco! I just listened to an interesting highlight on the California Report (NPR) on a local flamenco artist---I am feeling moved to look into this further.