May 1st - 3rd, 2020
May 1st - 3rd, 2020

Behind the Scenes of Dirty Dancing: An Interview with Eleanor Bergstein

Ready for a Getaway to the Catskills?

Pack your bags and pile the family into the car because you’re heading to the Catskills!! While on vacation you’ll bask in the summer sun, engage in outdoor activities, be surrounded by friendly families and even have a hot summer romance. Given the current state of affairs that sounds impossible, right? Perhaps in reality it is, but you can have the next best thing: watch the movie Dirty Dancing  and escape to a fantastic summer getaway. 

It’s hard to believe the iconic movie Dirty Dancing is over 30 years old. This classic film continues to charm audiences with its endearing characters and heart-warming storyline. Not to mention those racy dance scenes! The gifted screenplay writer Eleanor Bergstein shared some insight into the creation of the movie and its evolution to date.

How did you come up with the concept for Dirty Dancing?

I used to go to the Catskills with my parents when I was a little girl.  While they played golf (it was the only place women were allowed to tee off early in the morning along with the men and my mother was a champion golfer) I hit the dance studios.  I pressed my ten year old nose against the glass windows and finally got to go inside.   Every other night there was a champagne contest at the hotel, and I danced the mambo and the cha chas with the professionals and always won.  My parents drank the champagne.  I think it was the idea of this appetitive little girl in her organdy ruffled dress doing these sultry dances with such determination, that brought the house down each night.

Then in high school I dirty danced in basements with the street kids in my class.  My parents were okay as long as I kept my grades up and was going on to college.

 

Did you have any idea when you were writing the screenplay it would become one of the most iconic films of all time?

 

No, it took me a long time for anyone to agree to make it after I wrote it — even though I had many pages of dance description in it, and a cassette of the soundtrack culled from my old 45s.  I sent it all around together with no success. 

While many aspects of the movie have been referenced in pop culture, it is the lift that comes up time and again. When it was filmed did you know the impact that one dance move would have for years to come?

We had no hope of any impact of anything at all.  We were told repeatedly, even by our studio producers that it was a movie that would go straight to video bins after a few days in the theater. It was our wonderful audiences who kept it in the theater and still keep it alive after all these years.  By now a number of generations. 

 

In this coming of age movie you also incorporated powerful social issues such as abortion and the division of classes. Can you share why you tackled these in the film?

 

I had little hope that anyone would see the movie and even less hope that it would influence anyone — but just in case I put in the things that were important to me.  Just in case.  I think you can make a brilliant black and white documentary abortion and everyone who sees it probably agrees with you before the first frame.  But if you make a movie in color with pretty people and music and sensual dancing and a beautiful blonde young girl with a face like a delicate princess having no choices and screaming in a hallway under a dirty knife — maybe you’ll change somebody’s mind about what they assumed before.

Dirty Dancing has been adapted for the stage! What is the screen-to-stage process?

 

I imagined that people saw it over and over because their face hits the flat screen at the end.  I thought they wanted to be there while it was happening — more days at Kellermans and you are there.   There’s more about the parents, Baby and Johnny, the world they live in, the summer of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.  

Eleanor you continue to have a full plate, any interest in lightening your workload?

The busy days with my wonderful husband Michael Goldman give me both energy and peace. In these terrible times—looking across the room to see your true love is everything. I wish that for all of you reading this.

 

 You are also working on a manuscript. Can you give us a sneak peek of what we can expect?

 

I’ve just finished an over 500 page memoir, and I’m going through it now to adjust the commas.  It was surprising and emotional for me to write.  It connected so many things in my life I hadn’t realized were connected. 

Do you have any tips for other screenplay writers who wish to follow in your footsteps?

Oh, just be ready to pick yourself off the floor again and again and again.

 

You are so accomplished, anything else you wish to tackle? 

Yes, I’d like to try television which I never have.  It’s so influential.  I’d like to adapt my first novel “Advancing Paul Newman” into a television series.  It’s the story of young girls doing hands on political work in the sixties — in the anti-war movement — and all the excitement and hope and vitality and music and joy that went in it.   I want to inspire young people now to move in and do hands on political work as we did in the sixties.  I think it’s the only thing that will save us. 

Lauren Stannard
About the author

Lauren, when not chasing after her three sons, writes. Her experience includes work in marketing and education, as well as, screenplay writing. When possible she ditches the carpools and escapes to the nearest mall, concert or comedy show

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