Dirty Dancing: Patrick Swayze couldnt dirty dance and secret fury behind iconic scene

Dirty Dancing: Patrick Swayze stars in trailer for 1987 film

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Patrick Swayze was a superbly accomplished dancer. Trained since childhood by his mother, he was a ballet star before he broke into acting. But after a mixed experience on the cheesy 1979 roller-disco film flop Skatetown USA, he swore he would never dance on screen again. He almost turned down Dirty Dancing because of it but, ironically, when he started to rehearse, they discovered he “couldn’t dirty dance.” Meanwhile, tensions grew with Gray and their co-stars remember “lots of talks about them not getting along.”

A new documentary, Patrick Swayze: The Demons and the Dance, delved into the backstory of one of the most beloved films of all time.

Swayze himself said: “I read the script for Dirty Dancing one evening. Right away it filled me with emotion but not the kind it was supposed to. I didn’t like it. In the eight years that had passed since Skatetown I had avoided roles that involved dancing or had any kind of teen idol flavour. Now with Dirty Dancing I had a choice, should I stick to my guns.. or was this a different kind of movie that would allow me to dance and also stretch me as an actor?”

His wife and fellow dancer, Lisa Niemi, helped him decide to take the risk but the entire shoot proved far more challenging than Swayze could have imagined.

Dirty Dancing producer Linda Gottlieb said: “Patrick had classical ballet training and he actually did not know how to do dirty dancing at all. I remember vividly the choreographer Kenny Ortega standing there saying ‘No Patrick! Relax the hips.’ He had to unlearn years of technique that his mother had trained him in as a ballet dancer.”

Word also soon spread of problems between the two leads, who had clashed previously on the film Red Dawn.

Gottlieb added: “It was after we had cast both of them that I began to hear rumours of trouble on the set of Red Dawn. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we in for? What can we do?'”

Lonny Price, who played the sleazy Neil Kellerman, son of the holiday park’s owner, said: “When I first got to the set there was a lot of talks about them not getting along.”

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Extraordinarily, although it drove Swayze crazy, his difficult relationship with Gray became the secret ingredient that made so many scenes so memorable. Some of their real irritations were even left in the finished film.

Gottlieb said: “Patrick and Jennifer were fundamentally different. Jennifer was in a way babyish. She was 27 years old but she was all emotion, she was all loose ends… He felt like she was a wimp. She was genuine, naïve; you would do a take eight times and Jennifer would do it differently every time. Patrick was a pro; he would deliver the same thing again and again. She would cry easily, she was emotional and he sort of made fun of her. He was a macho guy.

“The other bone of contention between Jennifer and Patrick was that he insisted on doing all his own stunts. And Jennifer was basically afraid but Patrick was a wild man. It was a sign of his being macho. Nobody could do his stunts, it was absolutely non-negotiable. One of them feared nothing, one of them feared everything.”

Patrick Swayze: Actors on 'tension' with Jennifer Grey

Swayze, who died in 2009, wrote in his autobiography, The Time of My Life: “She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her. Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she’d start laughing… I didn’t have a whole lot of patience for doing multiple retakes.”

This was used to fantastic effect in the rehearsal montage to the song Hungry Eyes. Gray’s constant giggling “ruined” multiple takes as Swayze’s irritation grew.

Gottlieb said: “They were doing the scene in which they are standing together and he is running his finger down the side of her arm and he did it and she burst out laughing. It tickled her. And Patrick was pissed off. It’s one of the best known and best-loved sequences in the film, which really came from the clash in their personalities.”

WATCH THE FULL SCENE BELOW:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/-sYKI4A3uhc

Jennifer refused to do another one of the classic scenes where Johnny teaches Baby to dance on a log lying across a small ravine. Patrick fell off a few times and then his troubled knee swelled up so much he had to be taken to hospital to have fluid drained out. 

In fact, an old injury caused the star considerable crippling pain throughout much of the shoot.

Swayze said: “Because most of the cartilage in my knee was gone, the bones were just grinding painfully on each other. And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you’re lifting someone in water, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds.”

Patrick Swayze: The Demons and the Dance is available on Channel 5 Catch Up.

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