A cinematic journey of transformation

By Dylan Bowman

Knightly News Reporter


Do you like dancing? Music? How about movies?

Well, if you said yes to any (or all) of those questions, then the Capital Blue Cross Theatre on the Central Penn College campus was the place to be on Aug. 5.

This term’s presenter in the CPC Film Series was Dean of Student Engagement Adrienne Thoman, who has a major passion for her film of choice, listing it as her “favorite, 100%”: “Dirty Dancing” (1987).

Central Penn Dean of Student Engagement Adrienne Thoman fills the Capital Blue Cross Theatre audience in on the nitty-gritty of “Dirty Dancing,”
Photo by Dylan Bowman

Dancing since youth

When asked about the significance of this film to her life and why she cared so deeply for it, Thoman didn’t hesitate to answer.

“I remember I had a VHS tape, and we would watch it over and over. Even today, at any point in time, I could watch that movie on repeat, and I did it since I was little. I love it!”

Thoman first saw the film, released in August 1987, when she was 7 years old, and it instantly became a staple in her life. However, unlike films we watch as children and forget about, this one left an impression on Thoman.

“In 2020, my girlfriend and I packed up all of our ‘Dirty Dancing’-themed apparel and arrived at Kellerman’s (AKA: Mountain Lake Lodge) for their ‘Dirty Dancing’ Weekend,” Thoman said. “It was so much fun. We did a photo scavenger hunt throughout the resort to find key filming locations, watched a screening of the film and even had dance lessons with a dance instructor named Johnny.”

Thoman continued.

“Everyone there was so much fun, and we can’t wait to return on the 40th anniversary of the movie – this time with Heather’s daughter. We definitely hope our love of ‘Dirty Dancing’ continues to the next generation!”

Painted leaves and other transformations

Upon deeper examination, “Dirty Dancing” holds far more behind-the-scenes magic than meets the eye. Shot at two resorts, Mountain Lake Lodge (seen in the film as Kellerman’s Resort) in Virginia and Lake Lure in North Carolina, filming began in September with temperatures reaching into the triple digits. Filming lasted only 44 days.

Due to production delays, filming was pushed into autumn, which spelled trouble for the continuity of the scenes regarding the season. The film was to take place during the summer, but as leaves began to change color, the film crew was forced to take dramatic action by spray painting the leaves green.

Image used under license

Temperatures also dropped rapidly as fall approached, measuring 40 degrees at times, including when lead actors Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey performed the infamous lake-lift scene.

The show had to go on.

According to Thoman, it was not just these ingenious innovations of the film’s making that should be noted when looking at transformations in the film.

“It’s such a great ‘coming of age’ movie,” Thoman stated. “We see Baby transition to womanhood through costumes, confidence, the use of her real name and her dancing ability.”

Dancing in the dark

As Thoman’s presentation ended, the Blue Cross Theatre became dark and whispers faded. Then, in a blur of swirling grays and swinging music, the film began. The movie centers on Frances “Baby” Houseman, a teenage girl vacationing with her wealthy family in 1963. However, her summer changes when she meets and falls in love at the resort with a dance instructor, Johnny Castle, who isn’t of her family’s financial status. As she continues meeting with Castle, she “finds herself,” and finds happiness in their relationship.

The film is filled with impressive choreography and numerous aspects (including music) that envelope the viewer in the 1960s environment presented on the screen. The film also contained great performances from the actors involved, including Jennifer Grey (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Red Dawn”), Patrick Swayze (“Pointbreak” and “Red Dawn”), Cynthia Rhodes (“Runaway” and “Staying Alive”) and Jerry Orbach (“Beauty and the Beast” and “Law & Order”).

“Dirty Dancing” was a smashing success at the box office, grossing $214.6 million worldwide against a small budget of $6 million. Though it is the only film of its kind (without prequel or sequel for such a successful film – a “Dirty Dancing” TV show was created in 1988 and an unrelated prequel — “Dirty Dancing: Havana Heights” – in 2004), “Dirty Dancing” has a confirmed sequel on the way, rumored to be tied directly to the original film and to feature the return of Grey’s “Baby” Houseman character.

After the credits

The Central Penn showing of “Dirty Dancing” drew a crowd of about 25. Throughout Thoman’s presentation and the film’s 1-hour and 40-minute runtime, the crowd’s response was overwhelmingly positive.

This mirrored Thoman’s online research of “What makes ‘Dirty Dancing’ so great,” a question to which she asked for responses on Facebook. Many answers were received, including “The music,” “It’s the best movie of all time” and “Patrick Swayze was a hunk.”

“I hope everyone enjoyed the amazing music and dancing from this film,” Thoman said after the program. “I also hope they are inspired by Baby to take risks and stand up for others like she did. She wanted to change the world, and she did. We all have that power.”

The CPC Film Series will return in the fall, with Dr. Flora Armetta, assistant professor of English, presenting the 2019 film “Knives Out” on Oct. 21. Watch for a preview story and announcements. Refreshments will be available for donation.

If you have any questions about the CPC Film Series or upcoming presenters, contact Professor Paul Miller at paulmiller@centralpenn.edu.

Bowman is The Knightly News’ CPC Film Series critic. He is also The Knight News Media Club co-president and one of the News’ photographers.

Comments or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.