Study Guide

Dirty Dancing Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

It's summer at Kellerman's. Vacationing at a mountain resort and doing the merengue with your parents might seem strange to some, but for Baby, this is her life. She might have been spending summers there since she was born.

Call To Adventure

Blame it on the watermelon. That big fruit is Baby's call to adventure. When Baby helps Billy carry watermelons, the fruit leads her to the dancers' cabins where some dirty dancing (not involving watermelons) awaits.

Refusal Of The Call

Baby is shocked to see the movements of the dancers inside the cabin. They get a lot closer than anyone else does in 1963, wherever Baby comes from. She's barely even that close to the watermelon.

Meeting The Mentor

Johnny Castle is an amazing teacher because of his ability to get anyone to do anything. Baby has seen him before, dancing at Kellerman's down the hill. Now she has the opportunity to dance with him. Don't drop the watermelon, baby.

Crossing The Threshold

Baby literally walks over the threshold into the dancers' cabin. There, she learns that Johnny and Penny are partners in dance only. That fact gets Baby's imagination running wild when Johnny teaches her some dance steps. Maybe he'll teach her more than the mambo?

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Baby is tested when Penny needs money for her abortion. At this moment, Penny treats Baby like an enemy. Johnny's a neutral Switzerland, although he doesn't seem to like Baby much either. Robbie, the baby daddy, is definitely a deadbeat and an enemy. When Baby borrows money from her father, she becomes an ally to Johnny and Penny at last.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Johnny agrees to train Baby to be Penny's replacement. The training is constant and grueling, but Baby learns she has some talent. She might just become a dancer in no time.


The dance at the Sheldrake is Baby's first major ordeal. She's paralyzed when the lights come on, but as she starts to move, she gets out of her head and instead feels the music. The show's a success, and Johnny tells her she did a great job.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

After Baby's dad forbids her from seeing Johnny, that's all Baby wants to do. She visits him in his cabin, and Johnny finally opens up to her emotionally. Baby's reward is getting to know the person behind the no-nonsense dance instructor façade Johnny puts on. Baby asks him to dance, and then some. Any seizing of swords takes place off camera.

The Road Back

Baby and Johnny have a passionate affair, but things soon go wrong. Johnny's fired and Baby's dad finds out that she went against his wishes. Johnny leaves. Baby confronts her dad. She isn't sure if her relationship with either man will ever be the same.


Johnny busts up into Kellerman's dance show. He's doing the finale his way, or it's the highway. He gives a moving speech about how much Baby means to him and drags her on stage. Time for the final dance, and the death-defying— or at least faceplant-defying—lift. Baby looks so angelic up there, you'd think she'd died and come back to life.

Return With The Elixir

Both Baby and Johnny have earned back the respect of her father. Also, they have proven their love to one another. Now the only question remains is this: Is their relationship forever, or is it just a summer thing?

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