Monday, September 14, 2009
The Time of His Life
About the time Dirty Dancing was in theatres, back in the oh so different 1980s, I was a young struggling (and oh so skinny) dancer, scraping by with various small jobs for downtown dance companies in New York City.
While Manhattan offered an environment of respect for such a performer, inside I always felt inadequate; never good enough to pass first cuts of the companies I longed to perform for, struggling to make my body work better when I moved.
And then, that silly sappy movie came along. The country club setting, although set in an earlier time, was all too familiar from my upstate catering jobs. The "help" never mixed with the guests.
But romance had its way, and the studly character played by Patrick Swayze proved that real men can dance. Decades before Dancing With the Stars, Swayze shook his hips, lifted Baby up high, and gave audiences the time of their lives, or at least a few hours.
Patrick Swayze fought a tough battle with cancer, finally succumbing today. His films will live on. Sure, most remember his performance in Ghost. But he also brought a gravitas to even the lousiest of scripts, including my guilty pleasures Red Dawn and Roadhouse.
Of course, who could forget the intense fraternal homoeroticism of The Outsiders, and the restrained fabulism of his Vida Boheme in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? One of his last performances, in the strangely amazing Donnie Darko, showed his ability for satire, as did his hilarious work on Saturday Night Live.
When acting work tapered, he devoted himself to important causes. "Off-screen, he was an avid conservationist who was moved by his time in Africa to shine a light on 'man's greed and absolute unwillingness to operate according to Mother Nature's laws,' he told the AP in 2004."
But for me, Dirty Dancing was the best. Patrick wore those tight black pants like a glove, and damn, that man could dance.