Study Guide

Dirty Dancing Summary

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Dirty Dancing Summary

"That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me 'Baby' and it didn't occur to me to mind." 

This is the opening line of Dirty Dancing, and one of the greatest opening lines ever. Eat that, James Joyce.

Baby (Jennifer Grey) is traveling with her family to Kellerman's resort in the Catskills. Upon arrival, it appears to be your typical family vacation: boring dinners with the parents, silly activities, and Newman from Seinfeld annoying everyone.

Resort owner Kellerman himself tries to set Baby up with his smarmy grandson, Neil. While clumsily dancing with Neil, Baby's eyes are drawn to the professional dancers hired to entertain the guests: Penny Johnson and Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Their dancing, while not that dirty, intrigues her.

That night, Baby helps Billy Kostecki, one of the workers at Kellerman's, carry a watermelon to the employees' cabin. Up on the hill, Baby witnesses some bumping and grinding like she's never before seen back home. And who's there being the bumpiest and grindiest of them all? Penny and Johnny, of course. Baby looks at Penny with envy, but Billy lets her know that Penny and Johnny aren't a couple.

This is what every girl at that time wants to hear: Patrick Swayze is single.

Johnny teaches Baby a few moves, and boy, does Baby let loose. This dirty dancing might be her new talent.

Later, Penny misses an evening where she's supposed to be teaching dance classes. Baby accidentally finds Penny crying in the kitchen. See a Penny, pick her up, right? Baby runs to Johnny for help. Baby learns that Penny is pregnant. Sleazy Yalie waiter Robbie is the father. Penny can't keep the baby (not the Baby), but she doesn't have $250 for the abortion. That's about $2,000 smackers in today's money.


Baby tries to get the money from Robbie, who's a deadbeat baby daddy. He refuses, so Baby dumps water on him. Take a cold shower, Robbie. After that, Baby turns to her own dad (Jerry Orbach) who's as far from a deadbeat as one can get. He loans Baby the money, even though she won't tell him what it's for. Baby delivers the money to Penny, but learns about another problem: If Penny has the abortion, she can't compete in the resort's dance competition.

Time for Baby to step it up.

Oh wait, that's a different dance movie.

Baby agrees to stand-in for Penny, which means she must learn to dance. Johnny takes on the role of teacher and Baby learns fast. It only takes her three or four dance montages and voilà—she's ready for the big show.


The dance they're going to perform has a daring lift. They practice the maneuver in a nearby lake, for safety's sake. In the water, Baby's white shirt clings to her, and she clings to a shirtless Johnny. This is one wet, hot American summer.

Ready for the dance, Baby and Johnny travel to the Sheldrake for their performance. Penny helps Baby get ready, and she thanks Baby for helping her. Penny also confesses that she's scared for the abortion. Baby comforts Penny and lets her know everything will be okay. Really? Abortion was illegal in 1963; no clinics.

Baby's nervous when the dance begins, but she shakes her hips and shakes off the nerves. However, she's too scared to do the lift. Despite that, Johnny says she did a wonderful job when they get back to Kellerman's. When they get there, Billy runs toward them. Penny's abortion went horribly wrong. She's in her bed, bleeding.

Baby runs to get her dad, who's a doctor. He tends to Penny, no questions asked. But that doesn't mean he's happy with Baby. He forbids her from seeing "those people" again. This, of course makes Baby want to see Johnny even more, and she goes to his cabin immediately. After a passionate discussion, the two get down to some dirty dancing between the sheets.

For the rest of her vacation, Baby sneaks away from her family to spend every minute she can getting new lessons from Johnny, if you catch our drift. However, their little affair comes to an end near the final days at Kellerman's. Vivian Pressman, known at Kellerman's as a "bungalow bunny," or today a "cougar," wants to be with Johnny. Johnny now only has eyes for Baby, so he denies Vivian. When Vivian later sees Johnny with Baby, she accuses Johnny of stealing her husband's wallet, and Johnny's fired. He refuses to use Baby as his alibi even though that would exonerate him. He doesn't want her to get in trouble.

When Baby finds out what Johnny was accused of, she realizes she has to admit to being with Johnny. She confesses to being with Johnny on the night the wallet was stolen. She says she was in his cabin all night. Dad knows that they weren't playing charades.

Her dad is disappointed in Baby yet again. Baby decides to tell her dad that she's not his little baby Baby anymore: "There are a lot of things about me that aren't what you thought. But if you love me, you have to love all those things about me. And I love you. And I'm sorry I let you down. I'm so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down, too."

Everyone cries.

Kellerman fires Johnny anyway for sleeping with a guest, and he leaves. But he makes a dramatic return during the Kellerman's talent show. Dad has sat Baby in the corner, which honestly is a pretty good seat with a great view of the stage. But Johnny declares, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," and brings her up on to the stage where she belongs.

They perform their amazing dance for everyone at Kellerman's, including the lift. By the time they're done, everyone, even the oldest of fogeys, are grooving in the aisles. Johnny gives Baby a passionate kiss, which is the best way to end this memorable vacation.

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