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Dirty Dancing: A soundtrack to endless summers when we had the time of our lives

In a weekly series, Irish Independent writers share the books, films and songs that always give them a boost. This week, Weekend Magazine Editor Rachel Dugan on her enduring love for Dirty Dancing.


Dirty Dancing. Photo: 1987 Vestron Pictures / Courtesy: Pyxurz.

Dirty Dancing. Photo: 1987 Vestron Pictures / Courtesy: Pyxurz.

Dirty Dancing. Photo: 1987 Vestron Pictures / Courtesy: Pyxurz.

'That was the summer of 1963 - when everybody called me 'Baby', and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before The Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps and I thought I'd never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman's."

This is the opening voice-over of the 1987 coming-of-age classic Dirty Dancing, and the monologue is spoken by Frances 'Baby' Houseman, an 18-year-old heading off on the family summer holiday where she'll meet, learn to mambo with and ultimately bed, streetwise dancer Johnny Castle.

For me, it was the summer of 1991, when everybody just called me Rachel. It was before Bertie Ahern was elected, before the Spice Girls and girl power, and Mary Robinson was President.

'Baby' is en route to Kellerman's, a fictional Butlins-esque holiday camp in New York state, but I was decamping to a mobile home in a picturesque seaside town in Donegal. I would return there every year until I was 18, meeting up with the same close-knit bunch of friends I made that first summer.

Fine days were spent outdoors, much of it on the water messing about on borrowed kayaks or windsurfers. Mini snorkelling expeditions took us out along the conch-shaped bay's cliff-lined edges, our final destination a sheltered inlet where we would hurl ourselves into the clear water from what, at the time, felt like a great height, but couldn't have been more than 8ft. On wet days, we could be found in the village's makeshift arcade, home to a few Pac-Man machines and a ripped pool table.

And in the evenings, we hung out together, chatted and listened to music - that summer we had the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack stuck on repeat.

My friends and I had all seen the film earlier that year when it made it on to terrestrial TV for the first time. That airing sparked a resurgence in interest in the film that saw the album's 1987 Oscar-winning big-ticket ballad, '[I've Had] The Time Of My Life', return to the Irish charts after a four-year hiatus.

Musically, I am not sure why it appealed so much to a bunch of Irish pre-teens. It was a strange brew that nodded to its retro setting and its 1980s roots in equal parts. But the mix of classic 1960s hits, Latin-infused instrumentals and schmaltzy new material sung by artists who, even in 1987, would have kindly been referred to as veterans, provided the soundtrack for that summer, and many more to come.

Sometimes we would sing and dance along to it, sometimes play out entire scenes, ping-ponging lines back and forth. I remember once re-enacting the film's famous 'log scene' (look it up) while standing on long boards all the time crooning the lyrics to Bruce Channel's 'Hey! Baby' across the bay.

It's only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I can see how modern this retro film was. 'Woke' Baby is an ardent feminist who wants to put the world to right, and the film touches on some relatively weighty issues, including class, politics and abortion. The whole reason Baby and Johnny start dancing together is so she can fill in for his dance partner Penny, who wants the night off to have a backstreet abortion.

That subplot went over our heads at the time, but the fizzing sexual tension, ubiquitous dry-humping - sorry, dancing - and the inescapable lure of Patrick Swayze's brawny bad boy did not go unnoticed. In fact, as the summers passed and our surging hormones fell into synch with Baby's own, it all become even more pertinent.

And my fondness for Dirty Dancing and its music has not waned in the intervening years. It has the power to instantly transport me back to those endless, care-free summers in Donegal when I was so blissfully happy, it almost hurts to remember them.

Every now and then, I meet up with some of those same friends from almost 30 years ago, and it's never too long before we log on to Spotify and search for our favourite album.

We didn't have a hunky dance teacher to lust after, I didn't even know what a watermelon was, let alone have the opportunity to complain about carrying one, and we definitely didn't get to play charades in the west lobby, but I most definitely had the time of my life those summers.

Irish Independent