How to do the dirty dancing dance

The secrets behind the final lift scene from “Dirty Dancing”

Now I've had the time of my life… Ever since the Summer of 1987, every wedding has been accompanied by this song, which transformed a romantic comedy into an irreplaceable cult oeuvre. Dirty Dancing, with it's colourful characters and ultra-sexy dance scenes, is one of the most popular romantic comedies of all time. The most memorable scene of all is without a doubt the last dance sequence where Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze display the extent of their on-screen chemistry with a now iconic mambo. Although the final result was a perfectly paced and romantic choreography, the filming process was not without its challenges. 

A turbulent relationship 

In order to create this perfect on-camera romance, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze had to get past their mutual misunderstanding. The two actors had met a short while before on the set of Red Mist and did not want to work together again. However, fate and the studios decided otherwise and brought them together again for a sensual love story. During filming, the Johnny Castle actor found his partner to not be serious or invested enough in her role. While their minor disputes added some authentic additions to the script, when Johnny teaches Baby to dance, for the grand finale, they needed perfect chemistry between the two actors. Before filming, the actors met for two weeks to train and get into their roles. With more than just lines to learn, they had to memorise dance sequences. While Patrick Swayze already had a cheeky shimmy and rhythm in his blood, for Jennifer Grey it was a totally different ball game. However, the actress followed Swayze's lead and managed to learn the complicated footwork in a few days.

Express filming

Much like her character, Jennifer Grey is an anxious person. The idea of dancing those quick and complex steps to perfection then throwing herself into the arms of Patrick Swayze stressed her out so much that she refused to rehearse for the sequence. Her mantra? Come what may ! As a form of training, she practised doing some small leaps into her partner's arms and took advantage of the lake sequence to relieve some stress. But for fear of being able to do the leap during the rehearsal and not in front of the camera, she asked to film the sequence in one go and without a trial run beforehand. And it worked ! From the first take and in the euphoria of the moment, Jennifer Grey performed the most sensual dance ever to grace our screens, followed by the most iconic lift in cinema history. Interviewed by The Guardian in 2015, the actress admitted to having had cold sweats when she thinks about this legendary lift “God, no! I only did it on the day I shot it. Never rehearsed it, never done it since. I don’t know how all these people who re-enact it have the guts to throw themselves into the arms of anyone other than Patrick Swayze. It’s insane!” To ABC News, she confided that her partner was perfectly confident: “I was terrified by this lift but it's something that Patrick Swayze couldn't understand. He was a fearless person who had no qualms about the extent of his physical capabilities." Later on, when Jennifer Grey was taking part in the American version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in 2010, she refused to re-enact the famous lift, despite the insistence of production. Once the lift was in the bag, they had to reassure her for the many other lifts of the sequence. The pair performed the mambo, followed by Patrick Swayze's stunt of jumping off the stage to rejoin the troupe of dancers. The whole thing was done on a demo of The Time of My Life because at the time of filming, the Bill Medly song wasn't finished yet. 

Injuries and jump cuts

Shot in the Fall of 1986, Dirty Dancing put the actors' bodies to the test. Despite his professionalism, the numerous dance scenes did take a toll on Patrick Swayze's health. After falling on his knee during the tree-trunk balancing sequence, he injured himself during the lake carry sequence. In addition to the icy water, Patrick Swayze had to hide his pain. He made it through so many jumps, slips, and dance steps… but during the final scene, the actor twisted his ankle. Even this millionth injury did not stop him from performing the cult dance finale. Fans of the film have noted a few faulty jump cuts at this point: Patrick Swayze appears with wet and then dry hair, sweating at one point, then completely tranquil in the next one… It's proof that the shots were cut several dozen times in order to obtain the perfectly formed sequence which we know today. 

Watch Choreographers Break Down the Final Dance Scene from Dirty Dancing | Movies in Motion

♪ 'Cause I had the time of my life ♪

♪ And I owe it all to you ♪

[upbeat music]

I'm Lauren Grant.

And I'm Christopher Grant.

And we are professional dancers and choreographers.

And today we're gonna break down

the Time of my Life dance in Dirty Dancing.

[Man] Mark.

[upbeat music]

We are breaking down Dirty Dancing,

which was released in 1987.

It takes place in 1963

at the Kellerman's Resort in the Catskills.

It was written by Eleanor Bergstein.

Choreographed by the amazing...

[Christopher] Kenny Ortega.

With assistance from Miranda Garrison.

When they went into making this film and even while shooting

no one really thought it was gonna be anything.

Jennifer Grey says it herself that she thought

no one would see the film.

She even saw a screening of it with her agent

and her agent was like, oh this is bad.

Fast-forward, it's like does

incredibly well at the box office.

There were even a group of women called the 100 Plus Club

that saw the movie in theaters over 100 times.

Eleanor Bergstein wrote the story of Dirty Dancing

and it was really based off of her childhood.

She grew up going to the Catskills, to these resorts.

She even based the Johnny Castle character

off of a teacher that she met

at one of the Catskill resorts.

So it was really near and dear to her heart.

We're gonna break down The Introduction of the Finale.

Johnny walks in.

He grabs Baby's waist.

She grabs his arm.

They set up for the first dip.

Brings her up.

Classic dirty dancing move.




Into full basic half basic step.


Step away.

Shoulder check.

Then basic.

♪ Had the time of my life ♪

♪ No I never felt like this before ♪

♪ Yes I swear ♪

♪ It's the truth ♪

♪ And I owe it all to you ♪

♪ 'Cause I had the time of my life ♪

♪ And I owe it all to you ♪


♪ I've been waiting for so long ♪

♪ Now I finally found someone ♪


You know that part of the film?

You know, remember that.


The director of Dirty Dancing was Emile Ardolino.

And he was a great appreciator of dance.

The choreographer of the film is Kenny Ortega.

He grew up dancing.

He was a musical theater kid.

He has some Latin roots.

One of Kenny Ortega's idols was Gene Kelly

who he had the great opportunity to work with

in the movie Xanadu.

Kelly would invite him back to his home

and they would literally dissect some of Kelly's films.

And discuss why he choreographed

and how he choreographed for camera.

Emile discovered Kenny Ortega, and auditioned him,

and loved his work.

And then Emile was like, okay, Eleanor like,

you have to meet him.

They flew Kenny Ortega to New York,

to Eleanor Bergstein's apartment.

And ended up dirty dancing in her apartment for hours.

And apparently it got like super sexy and hot.

He got the job.

He just had the right flavor and it reminded

Eleanor Bergstein of her childhood and that feeling.

It was like a feeling rather than the steps.

Kenny comes in to convince Patrick Swayze

to do the film, but Patrick wanted to make sure

that he felt safe with Kenny Ortega.

He was kind of done dancing, he wanted to pursue

more serious acting roles and he didn't want to be

completely known as a dancer.

Because he felt that that would be stunting to him,

moving forward as an actor.

And he would always be cast in all those roles.

And then he ends up doing Dirty Dancing,

which became-- Thank god.

[Christopher] This incredible hit and he was able to do

sort of both things.

He did what Gene Kelly did in his time,

where it was okay for a man to dance.

And you can look super masculine and strong.

And thank god for Kenny Ortega for convincing him

to do this film because ah, we wouldn't have

this wonderful piece of art.

Jennifer Grey, she was not necessarily a dancer,

but she's a mover, you know.

And I think she's an actress first

and she went into it knowing that

she was gonna have to carry the film as Baby.

She found the character first,

and that's what we fell in love with.

They purposely didn't teach her stuff,

and only taught it to her when they were actually shooting

to keep that realness alive.

And to really witness something truly happening

versus an actor pretending she doesn't know how to dance

and then discovering how to dance.

For instance, even just the opening into the staff quarters

where she first sees dirty dancing, they purposely

kept her out of that rehearsal space.

So that when they shot, that was really her

seeing it for the first time.

Let's break down the second section,

what we'll call The Turning Section.

So Johnny's holding the hands.

Baby's thumbs are pointing in.

We're gonna do a little twist.

Jump, pivot, turn.


Baby turns.

Johnny turns.

Half basic.

Crossbody lead.

Shoulder check.

It's hard to do slow.

Into a basic with a sidebody lean.

Into a basic step.

Crossbody lead.

♪ With passion in our eyes ♪

♪ There's no way we could disguise it secretly ♪

♪ So we take each other hand ♪

♪ 'Cause we seem to understand the urgency ♪


Your hair.

So this film is set in 1963.

And in the early 60s in America

it was definitely a little bit of a time of innocence.

In regarding dance there was like partner dancing,

but not a lot of touching.

And certainly not a lot of like

hip thrusting and hip movement.

And the style of dance at this finale scene

Kenny Ortega calls it Dirty Mambo.

Dirty Mambo.

So it's combining ballroom, it's combining mambo,

and it's combining street style.

Dances that he did as a kid that he remembers.

Some dancing that Eleanor Bergstein remembers as a child.

The beginning of the dance when we see the basic step

is mambo, also salsa.

Also ballroom.

Yeah, there's many different techniques.

And everyone has their own kind of

salsa on one, salsa on two, mambo on one, mambo on two.

But it's a blend.

We're just gonna call it a happy blend.

So now we're gonna break down the section

that we call The Carousel Section.

[humming] ♪ Open door ♪

So it's gonna start with a half a basic.

Prep for lift around.

Really supporting the lady.

We come down, we do a turn

to set up for half a basic.

Crossbody lead with a turn.

Wow, that was not it.

Let's do that again.

♪ 'Til I found the truth ♪

♪ And I owe it all to you ♪


You gonna do the woom, woom.

That's a dirty dancing move right there.

We got it.

The song, Time of my Life, was recorded

by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

And it was composed by Frank Previte.

The song was such a hit it won a Grammy,

it won an Academy Award.

Yeah, it's such a classic song.

I think you hear the song and you think of the dance.

And when you see the dance you think of the song.

So it's really like so seamed together.

So the song, Time of my Life, is basically

teased throughout the entire movie

and played simply by a piano.

And we hear it in different scenes

as Baby makes her journey.

Until the very end we have it in the final scene.

We hear the whole lyrics.

[Christopher] The full connection.

The whole orchestration.

Let's break down the big finale epic Angel Lift.

She's carried down off the stage

and then she runs into Johnny.

She does a little assemble jump.

And then she just thinks about jumping

as high as she can, she arches her back.

Her right leg is on the bottom,

left leg is on the top.

And she just holds it.

So the important part for Johnny

he separates his legs to give him

a little support underneath.

Baby runs in.


Finds her hipbones to balance her perfectly.

And then press up through his strong space.

And then extend the arms right overhead.

Keeping the core tight.

And holding up Baby in the Angel Lift.

And then slowly bringing her down

to cap off the wonderful moment.

Let's see if we can do it.

Oh I slipped, sorry.

Not our best.

Yeah it was like.

It's like rocky, it's rocking.

That was a great jump though.

I'm doing the wrong leg.

She has her right leg forward.

Oh my god. I know.

Missed your hips.

Let me shake it off for a second.

I think I'm getting a little tired too.

You lift me next.


♪ I had the time of my life ♪

♪ Oh I never felt this way before ♪

♪ Yes I swear ♪ ♪ Yes I swear ♪

♪ It's the truth ♪

♪ And I owe it all to you ♪ Ta-da.

So that lift, we call it, we've heard it called

the Angel Lift, the Triumph of Baby,

just that big overhead press.

It's been such a pop culture reference.

You go on YouTube, you see about

one million videos of people's weddings

and them trying to do this lift,

or doing the lift.

Oh, the NFL commercial with Eli Manning

and Odell Beckham Junior, it's like.

There you do the lift.

The lift is also in Crazy Stupid Love

with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

In fact, we were just at a pool the other day

and there was like a little girl, she must've been around

the age of six, and she's telling her daddy,

Daddy I wanna do the Dirty Dancing lift.

So this lift is so iconic from every generation,

every age, it is like the classic dance step of all time.

Take it from the corner.

To the top. To the top.

Out of the corner to the top.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

Nobody, nobody.

Favorite line.

Dirty Dancing: Dance to the Heartbeat

Dirty Dancing is a 1987 cult American melodrama starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. social dances.

This is how sparingly and uncomplicatedly Wikipedia describes the film, after which the name of Patrick Swayze became the catalyst for red cheeks and stupid giggles among young ladies. Watched it in the late 80s and early 90's only in the circle of close friends and friends, hiding from their parents as far as possible. Now times have changed, but the goosebumps from Dirty Dancing continue to tickle your back.

Baby and Johnny are in the center of the audience's attention. Baby is a girl from a wealthy family of a doctor who personifies the American dream. Johnny is just Johnny. A free dancer who earns a living by entertaining the public.

What is Dirty Dancing?

Dirty dances in the film are dances performed at a service staff party in a small American boarding house where the main character is resting. There, Baby is faced with the other side of her own life: people who plow until they pass out during the day, and in the evening splash out emotions in dances. Half-naked, tart, very intimate. There she meets Johnny, who will become her partner, first in dancing, and then in life.

“Yes, I am afraid of everything, I am afraid that I will leave this room and not feel what I feel now. Dance with Me.

— Here?

- Yes.

In fact, classic dirty dancing is shown in only one scene - just at the very party in the boarding house. They are not tied to any of the styles, although they have much in common with Latin American genres. They were performed spontaneously, many movements were invented directly in front of the camera.

Everything that starts after the party - training and performance - is a Cuban mambo with a splash of salsa and other Latin American revelations.

Mambo in Dirty Dancing

Mambo is a Latin American dance brought to the New World by African-American black slaves. It was performed in stuffy rooms to rhythmic music (4 by 4) after a hard day's work. In the middle of the 20th century, it also spread among the white population, but until the end of the era of racism in America, it was customary to hide its social origin.

The name of the dance comes from the name of the militant deity "mambo", and some of the movements are references to the ancient ritual dance.

Dirty Dancing staging

Baby and Johnny's performances were choreographed by Kenny Ortego, the most famous Hollywood choreographer, who became famous not only for Dirty Dancing, but also for staging Michael Jackson's show tours.

The film's final dance, which is especially complex and especially intimate, used unique supports that are used in modern. These supports became the highlights of the production. The frame is rhythmic steps, rotations, hugs, characteristic of mambo, rumba, salsa.

Today the final dance was dismantled every second and put together again to be staged at weddings, festivals, dance studios. It is complex, but its beauty is worth working on yourself and your movements.

However, it is easy to create your own "dirty dance": it is enough to get acquainted with Latin American programs a little and memorize a couple of movements. Dirty Dancing is only possible when it comes from the heart.


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Learn to Dirty Dancing - I Know

Take the time to learn "dirty dancing", which can be an interesting variation on the normal social dance spectrum. Sure, everyone can foxtrot and waltz, but can you swing like Swayze?

Down and Dirty

Dirty Dancing is actually a dance style depicted in the popular 1987 film Dirty Dancing . It was a style of free form and sultry, sensual movements, symbolizing the urge to grow up of rebellious teenagers emerging from the influence of their parents. The basic form is a dance frame with close hugs where the hips are close together, and sometimes the woman sits on one of the man's legs bringing them even closer. From this basic position, a range of movements can be performed, from simple back and forth rocking to full-body sit-ups, push-ups, and more.

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After the film became popular, more and more people wanted to learn how to dance this way. Although the style of the film was specifically designed by Kenny Ortega, many other dance teachers from different styles have created curriculums that teach the style. The sources of the dances vary widely, from swing, blues, Argentine tango, samba, to traditional lead-following traditions for most social dances. Teachers such as Johnny LeRock from the UK, along with others, demonstrate this style of dance and give workshops. Much of the music used for this type of dance comes from a movie soundtrack or other R&B style.

You can learn how to dance dirty

If there is no qualified dance instructor nearby, you can still learn how to dance dirty on your own. Because the style is derived from the movie, there is no "official" set of steps to learn. However, you can follow these basic principles and move on.