The year was 1987. And everybody but everybody was falling in love…with Dirty Dancing. Affectionately known as “the Star Wars for females” points out the BBC in the article Time of your life?, Dirty Dancing is the ultimate chick flick dancing movie, that went on to inspire not only dance crazes but fashion trends of the 80s and 90s.
“One thing I remember about seeing the movie for the first time was that it was really sexy,” says dancer and dance teacher, Sophie Luxton. “We don’t come from a culture of couples dancing together like that. It’s that romance and nostalgia that people are interested in.”
The movie has since become a classic and resonates with both old and new audiences, sparking a pop culture phenomenon that turned into a sequel (never a good idea) and an anticipated Canadian theatrical production. ELLE Canada got a chance to chat with the female lead of the show, Monica West cast as Frances “Baby” Houseman. Here’s what she had to say about this iconic movie, theatre production and its impact on her life.
1. Describe your first time watching Dirty Dancing.
I should tell you that when Dirty Dancing was in the theatre, I was not allowed to see it! My friends and I would make up dances to the sound track, but I didn’t actually see Dirty Dancing until years later. And even then, I don’t think I told my parents that I had seen it.
2. What kind of an impact did Dirty Dancing have on you as a dancer?
The scene when Baby enters the staff quarters and sees the Dirty Dancers for the first time made a huge impression on me. As I watched the opening credits, I remember thinking I want to be like that girl with the long dark hair. Her partner was rolling her back and whipping her up to look in her eyes — they were dancing with abandon. Dancing with that heat and the connection between them really appealed to me.
3. What pulled you towards this role?
The relationship between Baby and her father is close to my heart. Dr. Houseman is Baby’s hero — Baby deeply loves and respects her father. In turn, Dr. Houseman is proud of his daughter’s character and Baby’s achievements in her young life — in the summer of 1963, their relationship is turned on its head. I too, have always respected and loved my dad. I spent a lot of my life trying to emulate him exactly, and one day I realized — we are different people. That shift was heart breaking to me, and yet very necessary to my coming of age — Baby negotiates this difficult transformation right in front of our eyes.
Image of Monica West courtesy of Mirvish Productions
4. How have you prepared to play the role of Baby?
In rehearsals, I’ve worked closely with Dirty Dancing‘s creator, Eleanor Bergstein and the director, James Powell. Eleanor has a very specific view of the characters in the world of Dirty Dancing, and her knowledge of the people of the play and the 1960s has been invaluable to me. In turn, James is a brilliant director. He knows how to explain what is needed in a scene, in a moment, or for the feel of the entire play without saying, “Just do it like this.” It has been a true gift to be able to discover these moments together as an actor and director.
5. Your schedule sounds chaotic, what does a typical day look like for you?
Until we open on November 15th, we are in previews. The preview period is when we rehearse during the day and have a show a night. Today we have two shows, so the rehearsal will be short. The longest day I’ve had so far was from 10 in the morning for a video shoot and then rehearsal until 10 at night. The days are long, and yet the story we are telling, and the cast we are telling it with makes all the hours of work fun.
6. What do you hope people take away from the stage production of Dirty Dancing?
Audiences can expect to take away a greater understanding of the characters and the story. The audience can spend more time with Baby, Johnny, Penny, the Housemans and Kellerman’s Staff kids, so they have the chance to experience everything they love about the movie and more. Something I really like about the performing the play is that I finish the show feeling joyful. As I have spoken with audience members, they express leaving the world of the play with a feeling of joy as well.
Image courtesy of Mirvish Productions
Dirty Dancing opens November 15th, 2007 to the public at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto. To find out more head to www.dirtydancingonstage.com.
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