Some notes on Dirty Dancing

There are two types of music in Dirty Dancing. The diegetic music is from the era in which the film is set; the sixties, and the non-diegetic music is from the era in which the film is made; the eighties. There is one exception to this. The final dance is to ‘I Had the Time of my Life’ a song newly composed for the film. Given the film’s explicit parallel between dancing and sex (surely sex is dirty dancing), we are warranted to inspect the metaphor a little more closely.

In a previous scene Baby is unable to do ‘the lift’. She struggles to reach orgasm because she lacks confidence and is hidden from the paternal gaze. Only when performing the sex act in full view of her father can she finally perform ‘the lift’. The lift involves Swayze (vertical, firm) and her gracefully horizontal above him. The young working class stud has of course frequently lifted other dancers, the problem is not his but purely hers. Baby cannot masturbate, she requires Swayze for gratification but is still having difficulties. They have previously practiced lifts ‘in the water’. Twice she came close but ultimately, she failed and dived under water. In The Water his body below this waist is submerged; she needs more than just his fine chest, face and luscious locks.

What is the meaning of the new musical frontier associated with the final dance scene? The whole film is clearly the fantasy of an old woman remembering her first sexual encounter (there are some minor diversions from topic such as a lazy critique of Ayn Rand: the toe rag who gets that peroxide blond pregnant (fake hair = fake love) offers Baby a copy of The Fountainhead. Presumably an allusion to Rand’s arguably pro-rape ideology (the middle classes can both patronise the irresponsible immoral workers and out-philosophise them)). As she masturbates furiously she first inserts the young working class stud in to the fantasy which is not enough. Finally, she must have her father watch her with the working class stud at which point the pure sexual virility of the peasantry can flow through her exhibitionism under the gaze of her father, two realms of reality and fantasy are combined (the two musical types are one) and she successfully does ‘the lift’. I jest when I say this middle aged Jewish woman is masturbating! She is of course, making love to her husband. The only way she can bear this is to dissociate and think of her happy youthful sexual awakening. Unfortunately the power of imagination is not strong enough to completely banish the present (eighties music). However, the orgasm only comes when the reality is melded with the fantasy. She imagines her father’s gaze and the working class lover, but the real present of sex with her hideous husband (actual physical stimulus) provides the final phantasmagorical push and orgasm is achieved. The film must finish immediately.

I had the time of my life. Yes I swear. It’s the truth, and I owe it all to you. The only question remaining is whether this ‘you’ refers to her father, the young stud, or the idea of working class virility in the mind of a middle class Jewish woman. There is, however, a more radical possibility: you.