Castle in the Clouds
Johnny Castle isn't just the best name in 1980s movies; he's also one of the best leading men you can ask for. When we first see Johnny, he's all swagger and machismo. During the Kellerman's server orientation, Johnny stands up to the elitist Robbie Gould with a clever put down.
JOHNNY: You just put your pickle on everybody's plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me.
This exchange shows us a lot about Johnny's character. He's looked down on by the "college boys" for being uneducated and working class. The servers at Kellerman's take the job because they choose to—and it's a great way for them to meet babes. Johnny's a dancer because he has to be. For him, dancing is about paying the bills. It's a good thing he's passionate about it, not to mention insanely good at it. (Patrick Swayze was a trained dancer who performed with a couple professional troupes in New York before knee surgery ended his career and he had to settle for being a star of stage and screen.)
The class difference between Johnny and everyone else at Kellerman's, including Baby, makes him come across as a bit of a jerk at first. He's had many summers having to deal with this attitude from the guests and waiters like Robbie, and he's had it. He's got his own classist assumptions. When Baby helps Penny get money for her abortion, this is how Johnny responds:
JOHNNY: Yeah, takes a real saint to ask Daddy.
Um, we think the words Johnny is looking for are "thank you."
It seems like the people in positions of power chuck metaphorical tomatoes at Johnny every time he dances, speaks, or simply enters the room. And Johnny gets frustrated, just like you would if you had to wash tomato juice out of your dance clothes every day. He has to find a way to wash tomato juice out of his spirit.
We see his frustration at the end, when he's fired. His bad attitude is a defense mechanism, and it manifests itself in different ways. Pretty much all of these ways are evident in the following conversation between Johnny and Baby shortly Baby's dad saves Penny's life.
JOHNNY: The way he saved her, I mean, I could never do anything like that. That was something. The reason people treat me like I'm nothin' is because I'm nothin'.
BABY: That's not true! You, you're everything!
JOHNNY: You don't understand the way it is, I mean, for somebody like me. Last month I'm eating jujubes to stay alive. This month, women are stuffing diamonds in my pockets. I'm balancing on s*** and quick as that I could be down there again.
BABY: No, it's not the way it is. It doesn't have to be that way.
JOHNNY: I've never known anyone like you. You see the world and you think you can make it better. Somebody's lost you find them. Somebody's bleeding and you…
BABY (interrupting): I go get my daddy. Yeah, that's really brave, like you said.
JOHNNY: That took a lot of guts to go to him! You are not scared of anything!
What we see here, when we're able to look past Swayze's shirtlessness (his clothes must be in the wash), is anger, insecurity, and somebody who's been broken down by life. He also might be a little jealous. Johnny doesn't have a dad to run to. That could be why he longs for the approval of Baby's father. If Johnny Castle were an actual castle, he'd be a sandcastle kicked over by a bully and washed out to sea.
To continue our cheesy metaphor, Baby rebuilds Johnny. She loves him for himself, not because he's hunky or a good dancer, although those certainly help. Johnny feels like he's used as a sex toy by the rich women at Kellerman's, who'll sleep with him, but never leave their husbands for him.
Johnny thinks Baby is different, which is why he gets so upset that Baby's keeping her relationship with him a secret from her father. To him, that's no different than how the bungalow bunnies treat him.
Johnny isn't afraid to tell Baby how he feels.
JOHNNY: I don't see you fighting so hard, Baby. I don't see you running up to daddy and telling him I'm your guy.
Baby's a logical thinker. When Johnny points out her hypocrisy, she takes it to heart, and she tells her Dad about Johnny.
In return, Johnny takes Baby's advice. She wants him to fight against "the man" at Kellerman's, who's holding him back. And that's exactly what he does when he returns for the final dance number. Baby's the one who inspires Johnny to dance outside the box.
It's a big risk for Johnny, one that could kill his career. Although, arguably, he's already been fired, so maybe he doesn't have that much to lose. But what matters is that he shows everyone at Kellerman's who he is. He and Baby are on stage, their relationship out there for everyone to see. You can see that he's done feeling less than everybody else, and the joy in that dance lights the room on fire in that climactic scene.