Dirty Dancing Plot Summary (Spoilers):
Dirty Dancing begins, as you might expect, with a bunch of people dancing. The scene shifts to a family, riding somewhere in their car. A girl, named Baby, played by Jennifer Grey, provides a voiceover in which she declares it is the summer of 1963. The family is on their way to a resort called Kellerman’s.
Shortly after arrival, the family heads over to the gazebo for a Merengue class, taught by a former Rockette. That evening, Baby heads up to the main house, where she eavesdrops on Mr. Kellerman telling the wait staff to make sure they show all the daughters, even the dogs, a good time. The entertainment staff, lead by Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, enters the room. Johnny makes a snarky remark and Mr. Kellerman tells him that the entertainment staff’s job is to dance with the daughters, but to otherwise keep their hands off them.
At dinner, a medical student named Robbie Gould, is assigned to wait on Baby’s table. Robbie flirts with Baby’s sister Lisa. Mr. Kellerman fixes Baby up with his nephew Neil, who is studying hotel management. Lisa spends the evening with Robbie, while Baby ends up with Neil. When Johnny and Penny, the Rockette from the Merengue class, show up to show off the mambo, Baby is quite taken with them.
Baby’s father volunteers her to assist Neil in running the games for the night and she ends up being the girl getting sawed in half in the magic show. While walking up an outside path, Baby runs across Johnny making out with one of the resort guests. He promises to try to meet the woman later and then sneaks off through the woods and Baby follows him.
She runs across Johnny’s cousin Billy, who also works at the resort, carrying watermelons up to a party in the staff quarters. Baby tries to help him with the watermelons, but he tells her guests aren’t allowed. However, he reconsiders and allows Baby to tote one of his watermelons up to the party.
Baby stares, with her mouth hanging open, as she watches a number of young people dancing suggestively with each other. Johnny and Penny arrive and begin dancing together. Baby comments that they “look great together,” and Billy agrees, remarking that “you’d think they were a couple.” He goes on to clarify that they used to date when they were kids, but aren’t together anymore.
Johnny spots Baby and asks his cousin what she is doing there. Billy proudly proclaims, “she’s with me,” but Baby interjects that she, “carried a watermelon,” much to Billy and her own horror. Johnny pulls Baby out on the dance floor and teaches her a few dance moves. He dances with her for a while and then wanders off.
The next day, Robbie continues to flirt with Lisa and Lisa asks Baby to cover for her, while she is out with Robbie that night. Baby tells Penny that she’s a wonderful dancer and that she envies her. Penny says her mom kicked her out when she was 16 and she’s been dancing ever since.
That evening, Baby watches Johnny dancing with an older woman named Vivian at the pavilion. Mr. Kellerman gossips with her father, telling him that Vivian is one of the “bungalow bunnies,” a group of women who stay at the resort all week, while their husbands are away on business. Neil interrupts and demands to know where Penny is. Johnny tells him that she’s taking a break.
Neil gathers up Baby and tells her to come walk with him. Baby tries to come up with an excuse to get away from him, but he is oblivious and assures her that he is the “catch of the county.” Baby spots her sister limping, adjusting her clothing and demanding an apology from Robbie. Robbie tells her to go back to mommy and daddy and maybe she’ll hear one in her dreams.
Neil takes Baby up to the kitchen to get something to eat and she spots Penny sitting on the floor, against the wall, crying. Baby tells Neil that she needs to go check on her sister and they return to the pavilion. Baby tells Billy about Penny and Billy tells Johnny and the three of them rush back to the kitchen.
Along the way, Baby asks what’s wrong with Penny and Billy tells her that she’s “knocked up.” Baby asks what Johnny is going to do about it and he is angry that she assumes the baby is his. Johnny tries to comfort Penny and then carries her to some sort of dressing room, where he scolds her for not coming to him for help. Penny tells him that she didn’t want to take the rest of his salary and it wouldn’t be enough anyway.
When Penny learns that Billy told Baby that she is pregnant, she fears Baby will tell Neil that she got knocked up by Robbie and they will all get fired. Baby is shocked to hear that Robbie is the father. Billy explains to Baby that there is a doctor that will be in town for one night that could perform an abortion for $250. Baby assures Penny that Robbie has the money, but Penny tells her that Robbie already knows about the baby and he isn’t going to pay for anything. She tells Baby to “go back to your playpen.”
Baby tries to shake Robbie down for the money, but he tells her that he’s not going to spend his money bailing out a chick who has probably slept with every guy in the place. He then tells her that “some people count and some don’t” and hands her a copy of The Fountainhead. Baby tells Robbie he makes her sick and commands him to stay away from her and her sister, or she’s going to get him fired. She then pours a pitcher of water on him and leaves.
Baby tells her father that someone is in trouble and she needs to borrow $250 to help them out, but she can’t tell him what for. She assures her father that it’s not illegal and he agrees to give her the money. That night, Baby hands Penny the money and Penny is ecstatic, thinking Baby convinced Robbie to come through, but Baby tells her that she was right that Robbie wouldn’t help. When Penny asks where Baby got the money, Johnny snarkily remarks that, “it takes a real saint to ask daddy,” and Penny refuses the money. Johnny urges Penny to take the money. Billy explains to Baby that he could only get an appointment for Thursday and that’s the day she and Johnny have to perform at the Sheldrake, otherwise they lose their money for the whole season. Baby asks if someone else can’t fill in and Johnny explains that the other dancers all have to work. Billy suggests that perhaps Baby could fill in and Johnny vetoes it, but Penny tells him that he’s a strong partner and he could teach anyone.
The scene shifts to Johnny trying to teach Baby the mambo. Johnny and Penny put Baby through a dance boot camp and she makes a lot of progress, but Johnny is still frustrated that she isn’t progressing as fast as he’d like. When Johnny makes a snarky comment to Baby, she fires back that the performance is in two days, he won’t teach her lifts, she’s not sure of turns and she’s doing all this to save his ass, when all she really wants to do is drop him on it. Johnny decides they need a change of venue.
Johnny takes Baby out into the woods and tries to teach her the lift on a log over a creek, saying that the most important thing about lifts is balance. After dancing on the log and then practicing the lift in a field, Johnny decides to move to the lake, where Baby appears to be making some progress.
The night of the show, Penny is helping Baby get fitted for her costume and she thanks her and tells her that she wants her to know that she doesn’t sleep around and that she thought Robbie loved her. She also confides that she is scared and Baby assures her that everything will be fine.
Baby asks Lisa to cover for her with their parents and Lisa refuses, saying she’s going to tell their parents that Baby has been coming and going at all hours and there’s something “fishy” about it. Baby threatens to tell her parents that Lisa left her alone when they were out-of-town, to spend the weekend with a boy, even though that isn’t the truth, and that they’ll believe her, because she never lies.
Baby makes a few mistakes and doesn’t do the lift, but overall, the performance at the Sheldrake goes well and Johnny is pleased with it, telling her that she did a good job. They thought they were caught when an older couple from the resort showed up in the audience at the Sheldrake, but they didn’t seem to notice them.
When they get back to Kellerman’s they discover Penny in a great deal of pain. Billy tells them that the doctor didn’t even use any anesthetic and had a dirty knife and a folding table. He tried to get in to stop the procedure, but the door was locked and he could hear Penny screaming in the hall. Baby rushes off to get her father, who is a doctor.
Baby’s father takes care of Penny, but gives Johnny the cold shoulder when he tries to thank him, before taking Baby back to their suit. Baby’s father demands to know if that’s what his money paid for. Baby apologizes for lying to him, but he is angry. He tells Baby that she’s not the person he thought she was and forbids her to ever see “those people” again.
Baby ignores his command and goes to see Johnny in his room that night. She apologizes to him for the way her father treated him. Johnny says it’s OK and that people treat him like he’s nothing, because he is nothing. Baby tells him that isn’t true. Johnny praises Baby for thinking she can make the world better and says she’s not scared of anything. Baby tells him she’s scared of everything, but most of all, she’s afraid she’ll never feel again the way she feels when she’s with Johnny. The two dance briefly, and then have sex.
The next day, Baby tells her sister that she wouldn’t really have lied to their parents, but Lisa isn’t convinced and tells Baby that she used to admire her. The family has an awkward breakfast together. When Neil asks if everyone is going to be in the end of season show, Baby’s father tells him they have decided to leave early to miss the weekend traffic, even though they are paid up through Sunday. Lisa protests, saying she was going to sing in the show and Baby’s father changes his mind and decides to stay.
Baby goes to see Penny and Johnny shows up. Penny tells them that Baby’s father said she’s going to be fine and she can still have children. Penny figures out, from the way Baby and Johnny are acting, that they are having sex and asks Johnny what he’s doing. After all, he has told her a million times never to get mixed up with “them.” Johnny assures Penny that he knows what he’s doing, but she tells him that he has to “stop it now.”
Johnny doesn’t listen and continues his relationship with Baby. After having sex, Baby asks him if he’s “had many women.” Johnny explains to her that the women at the resort are always throwing themselves at him and at first, he thought it was because they actually cared about him, but eventually he realized they were just using him. He then asks Baby what her real name is and she tells him, “Francis,” which he declares is a real grown-up name.
That night, Lisa tells Baby that she plans to have sex with Robbie. Baby tells her, her first time shouldn’t be with someone like Robbie, it should be with someone she loves. Lisa tells Baby that she doesn’t really care about her. She thinks Baby is just jealous, because she’s not daddy’s girl anymore and he actually listens when Lisa talks now.
Neil interrupts Baby and Johnny in the dance studio, but thinks she’s just taking lessons. Neil tells Johnny that he’s in charge of the final show and he wants to do something different and more progressive for the final dance. Johnny gets excited and tells him he has a lot of ideas, but Neil condescendingly tells him he’s out of his depth and that his brilliant idea for the final dance is to do the Pachanga instead of the Mambo. When Johnny is obviously not impressed, Neil threatens to find another “dance person” next season and Johnny assures Neil that the Pachanga is a “great idea.” Neil leaves, advising Baby to make sure she gets the full half hour she’s paying for.
When Johnny rants to Baby about Neil and his idea, Baby scolds him for letting Neil talk to him that way and suggests that he should “fight harder.” Johnny tells her that these people are rich and they’re mean and he needs this job lined up for next summer. When Baby hides, when she spots her father walking with Robbie and Lisa, Johnny accuses her of being a hypocrite. She assures him that she plans to tell her father about their relationship, but he doesn’t believe her.
Baby goes to Penny’s cabin to find Johnny. When Robbie spots the two of them kissing on Penny’s front porch, he accuses Baby of “going slumming,” but says it’s OK, because he went slumming too. Johnny leaps off the porch and attacks Robbie, knocking him to the ground, but eventually lets up, saying that he’s not worth it.
Vivian propositions Johnny at the practice run for the final show. Her husband offers Johnny a wad of cash to give his wife some “extra dance lessons,” during his all night card game. Johnny refuses the money, saying he is booked up all weekend and Vivian looks stunned as he walks away.
That night, Lisa heads to the staff quarters to surprise Robbie with the news that tonight is the night they’re going to get it on. However, she discovers he is already occupied, with Vivian.
The next morning, Johnny tells Baby that he dreamt that he met her father and he put his arm around him, just like he did with Robbie. While leaving Robbie’s cabin, Vivian spots Johnny kissing Baby outside his room and she does not look pleased.
At breakfast, Mr. Kellerman tells Baby’s father that Vivian’s husband’s wallet was stolen while he was playing cards last night and Vivian told him that she saw Johnny walking by and she thinks he took it. Johnny claimed he was alone in his room reading, but Mr. Kellerman didn’t believe him. Neil adds that there have been similar thefts at the Sheldrake. Baby insists that Johnny didn’t do it and tries to convince her father, but he no longer trusts her word. She suggests maybe the Schumachers did it, because she saw them with a couple of wallets and they were also at the Sheldrake, but Baby’s father admonishes her for accusing them without proof. When Mr. Kellerman tells Neil to come with him, so he can learn how to fire an employee, Baby tells him that she knows Johnny was in his room all night, because she was with him.
Baby apologizes to her father for lying to him, but tells him that he lied to her also. She accuses him of telling her that everyone is the same and deserves a fair chance, but then treating people who weren’t just like him differently. She tells her father that she’s sorry she let him down, but that he let her down too and then rushes off in tears.
Johnny tracks Baby down and tells her that they caught and arrested the Schumachers for the wallet thefts, but that he was fired anyway, because of his relationship with Baby. Baby rants that it was all for nothing, and that Johnny was right that you can’t win, no matter what you do. Johnny tells her that it wasn’t for nothing, that no one has ever stood up for him the way she did and that he doesn’t want to hear her talk that way.
Johnny goes to talk to Baby’s father and tries to tell him how wonderful Baby is, but her father won’t listen. He tells Johnny that he sees someone who got his partner in trouble and then moved on to an innocent young girl. Johnny tells him, “I guess that’s what you would see,” and storms off.
Johnny packs up his things and says his goodbyes to Penny and Baby. He tells Baby he’ll never be sorry and she agrees. They kiss and he drives away.
Lisa tries to comfort her sister and the two appear to make up. However, Baby’s father continues to give her the cold shoulder. At the final show, Baby’s father hands Robbie a letter of recommendation for medical school. Thinking Baby has already told him, Robbie thanks him for helping out with the “Penny situation,” and then tries to back pedal, saying he can’t be sure the baby was even his, after all a girl like that is liable to pin it on anyone. Baby’s father grabs the letter away from Robbie and returns to his table.
Johnny shows up and spotting Baby sitting in the corner at her table, marches over, announces that “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” grabs Baby’s hand and leads her away from the table. Her father starts to pursue them, but her mother stops him.
Johnny leads Baby up on stage and then tells the crowd that he always does the last dance of the season, but this year, someone told him not to, so he’s going to do his kind of dancing with a great partner. He tells them Baby taught him that there are people in the world who are willing to stand up for others, no matter what it costs them and that’s the kind of person he wants to be. Meanwhile, Baby’s father is steaming at his table, but when he starts to stand up, Baby’s mother tells him to sit down.
Billy puts “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” on the record player and Johnny and Baby proceed to dance. Baby’s mother and sister watch on, admiringly, and her mother tells her father that she thinks, “she gets it from me.” Johnny leaps off the stage and dances his way up the aisle and gets the rest of the staff to join him as he dances his way back towards the stage. He motions to Baby and she nods and then proceeds to do the lift she was unable to attempt at the Sheldrake.
The staff begins to pull the crowd into the dance and even Neil gets into it. Mr. Kellerman begins to see this new style of dancing as a way to attract a younger crowd to his resort. Baby’s father approaches Johnny and tells him that he knows he wasn’t the one that got Penny in trouble and that when he’s wrong he says he’s wrong. He then tells Baby that she looked wonderful up there and the two embrace.
Everyone gets into the dancing, including Mr. Kellerman and Baby’s parents. Johnny mouths the words of the song to Baby, before kissing her and then resuming the dancing and the film ends.
Dirty Dancing Commentary(Spoilers):
I was in the 8th grade when this movie was originally released. The movie was a huge hit with my classmates and I’ve Had the Time of my Life was even the theme of our 8th grade dance. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” became the girl power catchphrase of the year.
I loved the movie as much as my classmates, but probably not for exactly the same reasons. I didn’t really care much about the romance aspect of the story, but I was fascinated with the movie all the same.
It was probably Baby’s desire to break out of her good girl mold that spoke to me the most. I didn’t have Baby’s ambitions to change the world back then, but I was definitely the smart, obedient child, who got good grades and never got in trouble, up until my high school years.
I didn’t become a wild child or anything, but I did engage in some minor mischief (prank phone calls, hitching rides, ditching class, etc.) and my parents pretty much flipped out about it and I went from that good kid, who my parents trusted, to the bad seed who suddenly wasn’t the person they thought I was and it wasn’t much fun and they didn’t even know about the “worst” stuff.
In spite of all that, I do kind of feel like Baby’s father gets an undeserved bad rap in this film. Sure, he was a bit uptight and the fact that Johnny was a working class member of the entertainment staff, while Robbie was a wealthy pre-med, student likely played into his initial attitudes about the two of them. But, I think he did have some legitimate beefs. Baby did lie to him. She used his money to fund an illegal and dangerous back-alley, abortion. She was sneaking around behind his back to carry on her relationship with Johnny and while I don’t think Johnny was supposed to be as old as Swayze was, he was still at least in his mid-twenties or so, while she was 17, so there was a significant age and experience gap involved, that I think her father might reasonably be concerned about.
However, in an ideal world, it would have been nice if her father had listened to her and her reasons for doing what she did, instead of just freaking out, because his perfect, innocent daughter, turned out to be a horny teenager, just like everyone else’s 17-year-old.
That’s the part of the movie that I think most of us can identify with on some level. We were all teens once, dealing with our parents expectations and our own struggle to transition from childhood to adulthood and all the crazy, confusing stuff that goes along with it.
The movie also tackles class issues. Mr. Kellerman, Neil, Robbie and likely many of the guests, treat the “entertainment staff” like second-class citizens. It’s OK for the bungalow bunnies to treat the men like prostitutes, and the wait-staff to bone the daughters, but it’s off-limits for the entertainment staff to have any sort of meaningful relationship with any of the wealthy guests.
I think it’s perfectly legitimate for Kellerman’s to have a policy against employees fraternizing with the guests. However, the double standard between the instructions given to the rich, college boys in the wait staff and the entertainment staff is difficult to condone.
The end of the movie is mostly pure fantasy. Johnny wins over all the snobby rich people through the power of dance and everyone makes up and presumably lives happily ever after. I think it’s more likely that Mr. Kellerman would have called the police to haul Johnny out of there and while I can see Baby’s father easing up on Johnny a bit, once he realized it was golden-boy Robbie and not Johnny who impregnated Penny, I doubt he’d actually want him dating his daughter. The movie ending is more fun though.
On a shallow note, I have to admit that I’ve always found the scene where Baby dances with Penny to be kind of hot.