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7 Secrets From Behind the Scenes of ‘Dirty Dancing’

In 1987, Dirty Dancing took the world by storm. Made with a budget of $6 million, the movie went on to earn $214 billion at the box office and become a cultural touchstone. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can’t quote the line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” even if they don’t know its origin.

This movie is the origin, a story of tantalizing forbidden romance. While on vacation with her family at a sleepy resort in the Catskills, Frances “Baby” Houseman, a privileged teen yearning for freedom, falls in love with Johnny Castle, a world-wise, blue collar dance instructor. The chemistry between the two — played by Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze — was wholesome and steamy all at once. They locked eyes, moved their hips in time to the music (and each other) and bam! Audiences were hooked. 

MUST-READ: Jennifer Grey’s Best Movies — From ‘Ferris Bueller’ to ‘Dirty Dancing’

Several juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits have been shared by the cast over the last 30 years, and Jennifer Grey, now 62, recently published a memoir that provides even more insight into her life in the limelight. Out of the Corner (a reference to the film’s most famous line — turns out Grey also felt cornered in her life off-screen) discusses everything from her (in)famous nose job, to her love affair with Johnny Depp, to the heart-felt apology she received from Patrick Swayze before the filming of Dirty Dancing even began.  

Dying to discover where “Baby” ended up? You’re in luck: a Dirty Dancing sequel has been announced, with Jennifer Grey set to reprise her classic starring role. The film is expected to go into production later this year for release during the summer of 2025, and while Swayze will not be a part of it (he died of pancreatic cancer in 2009), Grey has slyly suggested Harry Styles, a much younger heartthrob, to dance alongside her. Now, on to those behind-the-scenes secrets.

MUST-READ: Dirty Dancing Cast Then and Now — And the Latest Scoop on a Long-Awaited Sequel

Matthew Broderick hoped then-girlfriend Jennifer Grey wouldn’t land the starring role

Matthew Broderick in 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Matthew Broderick in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

Before he was married to Sarah Jessica Parker, actor Matthew Broderick dated Jennifer Grey for several years. The two met on the set of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — and it doesn’t sound as if he was the most supportive boyfriend in the world. The night before Grey auditioned for the starring role in Dirty Dancing, Broderick told his then-girlfriend he doubted her chances. “He said this odd thing, as if to reassure himself, like he wasn’t aware he was using his ‘out loud voice,'” Grey writes in her memoir. According to her, Broderick said, “I don’t know what I’m worried about. There’s no way you’re gonna get it. I’m sure they’re seeing everybody for this part.” Based on how things turned out, it seems likely his lack of confidence could’ve inspired Grey to give it her all.

There was bad blood between Grey and Swayze before filming even started

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, 1987
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, 1987©Vestron Pictures/courtesy

Appearing on The View to promote her memoir, Grey revealed that she didn’t want Patrick Swayze to land the male lead role. The two had already worked together on the 1984 film Red Dawn, and Grey didn’t enjoy the experience. “Patrick was playing pranks on me and everybody,” Grey said. “[He was] late and the boss of everybody and it was just, like, macho and I just couldn’t take it. I was just like, ‘Please, this guy, that’s enough with him.’”

Grey was staunchly against auditioning Swayze as her love interest in Dirty Dancing — even though he was a dancer and thus an ideal match for the part. But she agreed to do a screen test with him, and Swayze turned things around by making an unexpected apology. “He pulled me down the hall and said to me, ‘I love you, I love you and I’m so sorry. And I know you don’t want me to do the movie,’” she recalled. “He got the tears in his eyes. And I got the tears in my eyes, not for the same reason. I was like, ‘Oh, this guy’s working me.’ And he goes, ‘We could kill it. We could kill it if we did this’ and I was like, ‘OK, honey.’ We go in there and he takes me in his arms and I was like, ‘Oh, boy. I’m done.’ There was no competition.”

MUST-READ: Patrick Swayze Movies — Celebrating the Charismatic Star’s Most Iconic Roles

The two leads did not have chemistry on-set. 

No chemistry? You gotta be kidding!
No chemistry? You gotta be kidding!©Vestron Pictures/courtesy

You’d think the stars of a film known for prolonged eye contact and sweaty embraces would fall in love both on-screen and off — but that was not the case for Grey and Swayze. As Grey recently told PEOPLE, “the same way Baby and Johnny were not supposed to be together … a natural match, right? We weren’t a natural match.” Swayze was also married at the time, and Grey was dating Broderick. 

Ultimately, the actors’ differences contributed to the sensual push-and-pull dynamic you feel between their characters. “The fact that we needed to be a natural match created a tension,” Grey continued. “Because normally when someone’s not a natural, you… both people move on, but we were forced to be together. And our being forced to be together created a kind of a synergy, or like a friction. I actually just had a thought about Patrick. I feel like if I could say anything to him now I would say, ‘I’m so sorry that I couldn’t just appreciate and luxuriate in who you were, instead of me wishing you were more like what I wanted you to be.'”

Grey refused to practice her show-stopping lift before filming it

The famous list from Dirty Dancing, 1987
The famous list from Dirty Dancing, 1987©Vestron Pictures/courtesy

During a recent appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show, Grey admitted she refused to practice her gravity-defying lift with Swayze until the actual day of filming. The lift is a metaphor for trust and vulnerability throughout the story: Johnny tries to teach it to Baby as the climax of their big dance routine, but she falters time and again, too scared to let go and trust his arms will break her fall. Finally, at the story’s conclusion, Baby jumps into Johnny’s arms and he swings her over his head with ease. But as scared as Baby was, Grey was even more apprehensive. 

“I did not do it until the day we shot it,” Grey told Barrymore. “I feel like it must have been making the producers, and Patrick and the director, everyone insane because I refused. I was too scared, I refused and I basically just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself until the day when all the people were watching and then I had to do it.”

In her memoir, Grey also remembers Swayze’s semi-desperate encouragement. “He would say, ‘C’mon now! I’ve been doing this forever. I’ve never dropped anyone yet. And you’re tiny,’” she wrote. “I wanted to let go of the fear, but the fear wouldn’t let go of me. Hating myself and feeling shame wasn’t enough to get my body to take the leap. I feared that if I didn’t do my part perfectly, there might be sudden death, paralysis, or at least some broken bones. From either or both of us.” But Swayze was as good as his word, and no broken bones or deaths were suffered.

Swayze hated the line he’s best remembered for

Patrick Swayze, 1987
Patrick Swayze, 1987©Vestron Pictures/courtesy

This isn’t necessarily a recent revelation, but it’s worth noting all the same for how strange it may seem to those fans of the film. In Patrick Swayze’s 2010 autobiography The Time of My Life (similar to Grey’s memoir, the title is a reference to a song that plays in Dirty Dancing), Swayze called his most famous Johnny Castle line “corny.” That line, of course, is “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” uttered with conviction by Johnny when Baby is forced by her parents to sit at a corner table — until he pulls her onto the dance floor. Grey has confirmed her co-star’s annoyance with this dialogue. 

“Patrick didn’t want to say it, and I didn’t blame him!” Grey told Yahoo! Entertainment last year. “He did really great by it,” she continued. “For some reason there are certain things that feel bad when you’re doing them, [but] you have no idea how they’ll resonate in the world. [That line] means so many things to so many people: There are so many ways that we put ourselves in the corner or we think other people are putting us in the corner, and unless we agree with them that we belong in the corner, then they really can’t — they don’t have that kind of power. But you have to be able to recognize that you don’t belong there.” 

One of the film’s sweetest segments was improvised — and not in a friendly spirit.

We already know Grey and Swayze weren’t each other’s biggest fans. But it turns out, their friction was directly responsible for one of the film’s most memorable and evidently improvised moments. It happens during a montage of Baby and Johnny training, him tirelessly teaching her how to dance to the yearning strains of Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes.” Amid a lot of very serious whirling and twirling, Johnny tries a move in which he slowly slides his hand down Baby’s arm and torso — but Baby is ticklish, and breaks into laughter every time (until the last). Apparently, Swayze’s frustration at Grey’s inability to keep a straight face was genuine. 

According to The Telegraph, Swayze discussed his impatience with some of Grey’s antics in his autobiography. “[Grey] seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her,” Swayze wrote of their working relationship. “Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she’d start laughing.” He also wrote that he “didn’t have a whole lot of patience for doing multiple retakes.”

After the film’s release, Grey couldn’t land further roles.

Although she was only 26 while filming Dirty Dancing, Grey claims she did not receive any further movie offers after the movie’s release, despite its enormous success. In her memoir, Grey says she suspected her very distinctive nose was the problem — a suggestion her mother also made — and so she went to “the granddaddy of nose jobs” for a consultation. After discovering she had a deviated septum and was only breathing at 20 percent capacity, Grey decided a nose job was the way to go. “I was almost thirty and had spent much of my adult life trying to love and accept myself as I was,” she wrote in her book. “So going under the knife felt dangerously close to an admission of defeat.”

But Grey was happy with the procedure, until some cartilage at the tip of her nose began poking out — and so she underwent a second nose surgery, intended only to fix that issue. Unfortunately, something went wrong; she emerged from the surgery looking like a completely different person. “It was like I was on mushrooms, having a bad hallucinogenic trip,” she wrote of seeing herself without a cast for the first time post-surgery. Paparazzi stopped following her, red carpet photographers didn’t pick up their cameras, and even her own friends failed to recognize her at first.

For many years, Grey felt she had lost her identity with the loss of her once-indistinguishable face, and she became “a cautionary tale, a punch line,” as she describes it. “It seemed that I had committed an unforgivable crime: willfully stripping away the only thing that made me special.” However, with the release of this memoir, her recent appearances on talk shows, and her slot in the hotly anticipated Dirty Dancing sequel, it seems like Grey has reclaimed her narrative and is making up for lost time.

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