Dirty Dancing: The Catskills Connection and Movie Locations
There is a very big connection between the Catskills and the movie Dirty Dancing. Enjoy the following information about the real life experiences of people in the Catskills and the actual locations of the movies used to capture the special quality of the Catskills.
Dirty Dancing was actually filmed in two main locations, Mountain Lake Hotel in Virginia and Lake Lure Inn in North Carolina, which were used to perfection to represent the Catskills. It is said that the film could not be made in the actual Catskills due to budget restrictions.
Great efforts were made to make the movie look like it was made in one place. Actually, this is how the scenes were divided between the two main locations. Mountain Lake is where the Houseman family pulled into their car to the main lodge, Johnny walked into the dining room and told the college boy where to put the pickle, Penny crouched crying on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, Baby and Johnny practiced their lift in the lake, Johnny danced with Vivian in the gazebo, and so on. Now I must say that both the people of Virginia and the people of North Carolina claim that the famous scene of the uprising took place on their territory.
At Lake Lure Inn, scenes filmed include the indoor dance scenes (the grand finale of course), the scene where Johnny and Baby practice dancing on a log, the scene from Johnny’s cabin, the scene from Baby in the stone staircase and the scenes from the employees’ hut. Did you know that a third filming location, Rumbling Bald Resort in North Carolina, was used to film the golf course scene? What’s absolutely fantastic about all of this is that fans can still visit each of these three locations and get their fix of Dirty Dancing. You can even stay in the same rooms Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze lived in while filming in the two main locations.
Returning to the original desired setting, the Catskills in 1963 are the backdrop to the Dirty Dancing story. The Catskills is a tourist area less than two hours from New York City. The area has been affectionately nicknamed the “Borsch Belt” because in its heyday (1920s to 1980s), there were more than five hundred resorts (plus many guesthouses and bungalow colonies) open where many Jewish families vacationed and many artists. Jews had their start and perform on a regular basis there. The holiday region became a cultural entity that became a very special way of life. Many prominent people visited and performed at the resorts. Some of the performers included: Woody Allen, Pearl Bailey, Joey Bishop, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Katz, Jennifer Grey’s grandfather, Jackie Mason, Don Rickles, Nipsey Russell, and Henny Youngman. Sadly, there are only about twelve complexes open.
Eleanor Bergstein, the Dirty Dancing writer, spent a vacation with her family (her father was a doctor) in the Catskills. It’s very obvious that Ms. Bergstein captured the special moment that took place in the heyday of the Catskills, the allure of a simpler pastime, and that’s part of what makes Dirty Dancing so popular. It is interesting to note that Eleanor Bergstein used some of her other life experiences in the story. For example, they called her Baby until she was twenty-one, since she was the youngest daughter. Additionally, she won dance competitions as a teenager and was an Arthur Murray dance instructor.
Jackie Horner, a legendary dancer / entertainment icon who still works as a dance and entertainment professional in the Catskills, claims that she was a history consultant for the film (see special on-screen credit for Jackie Horner at the end of the film’s credits ). She reports that many experiences that she and her Catskills dance partner Steve Schwartz (known professionally in the Catskills as Steve Sands) had are in the film. For example, she informed me (I was lucky enough to interview her about the movie) that the watermelon had spikes and that she would be taking it to parties, and that Shelly Winters had raised the idea of lifting in the lake. Also, an interesting note is that Steve Schwartz (I was lucky enough to interview Steve too) used to spend summers in the Catskills with his family before his father died and then ended up dancing professionally there. It tells many stories about “babies,” “bungalow bunnies,” dance activities, and everyday life in the Catskills.
In conclusion, the Catskills connection is key to Dirty Dancing. There are a multitude of authentic experiences used from the heyday of the Catskills that help make this movie so popular and special. Viewers experience things as real and return to a time when things were simpler.
Link: Patrick Swayze Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at Stanford Cancer Center http://med.stanford.edu/cancer/features/research_news/Patrick_Swayze_Pancreas.html.