A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dirty Dancing is a 1960s-set forbidden romance starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. It's a guilty pleasure for many due to several campy scenes, flashy dance sequences, and appealing performances by its main characters. Although some parents may find the dancing a little too dirty, teenage viewers will be captivated by the flashy fantasy of star-crossed summer romance. Sexual references abound here beyond the dance moves: one character has a botched abortion, the main character loses her virginity, and another talks about her plans to go all the way. An older married woman propositions younger men on staff at the resort and sleeps with one.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In DIRTY DANCING, Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family spend their summer vacation at a Catskills resort where Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) works. Baby runs into this handsome dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks at a forbidden, wild "dirty dance" party that his friends throw after work. To supplement their meager earnings, Johnny and his partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), do a mambo show at a neighboring hotel. But then Penny gets pregnant by one of the hotel waiters, and the only time she can get an abortion is the night of a big mambo show. The naïve Baby steps in, determined to help, asking her father (Jerry Orbach) for money to help Penny, no questions asked, before desperately trying to learn the mambo in time. Romance takes off on the dance floor, accompanied by a great '60s soundtrack (a cute touch: many of the tunes have "baby" somewhere in the title). Johnny is drawn to Baby's fierce optimism and Baby is drawn to -- well, he's Patrick Swayze! What will happen when they're found out?
Is it any good?
Unabashedly schmaltzy, this movie is also a lot of fun. Grey is touching as the shy and idealistic Baby, whose sexuality is awakened by Swayze's energy. Both are exceptionally well cast, and their skillful and convincing performances bolster some of the story's weaker elements, like the many stock characters and predictable events. Johnny gets some of the worst dialogue, and it's remarkable that he's able to make the immortal line "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" sound almost natural. Teens will get past such corny dialogue because of the dance sequences, which effectively mirror Baby and Johnny's emotions.
As the two become more drawn to each other, the dancing becomes more seductive, culminating in the liberating energy of the final scene. Dirty Dancing's content may well be more mature than many parents remember; be sure to talk to kids about Penny's situation, and why things were so dire for her during the movie's '60s setting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Dirty Dancing's sexual themes. How is sex treated? What are the different aspects it takes? Parents, talk to your kids about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
As a teenager, what would you do if you were pressured to have sex?
How do you feel about the conflict between Baby and her father? Is one right and the other wrong, or is it more complex than that? Does their relationship feel realistic?
For kids who love falling in love
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.