This weekend I caught the last bit of Dirty Dancing and had a big Ah-ha moment.
I’m not sure if it’s coming in at the end or not having seen it in a long time or being surprised it was on so not entering with my childhood misconceptions, but something happened that sometimes happens when reading favorite books from childhood: I saw things thru a completely new perspective.
So, Baby has admitted to sleeping with Johnny to save him from losing his job and going to jail (how did my parents allow me to see this in the theater when I was little???) and she’s really hurting. Her dad has gone from just snubbing her after the abortion storyline came to a head to outright ignoring her. Her mother (who typically felt like a forgettable character in the past) confronts her. Mom is angry, she’s more than angry. She tells Baby that she had a first love too, but she didn’t destroy an entire family over it. And walks away.
Later, when Johnny busts in to the final moments of the talent show and says that iconic (really bad line) Nobody puts Baby in a corner, it’s Baby’s mom that allows it all to happen. She puts her hand out, stopping her father from storming after them and grabbing Baby back. And, as Baby and Johnny dance their little hearts out, she leans over to the father and says, “I think she must get this from me.”
I’m going to share something very personal (not something I typically do here) — very private — my mother and I have had a very hard relationship since I was very small. I won’t air that here. She’s changed a lot and I’m learning about those changes and the last year has been wonderful. A real growth to the fact that I feel, if not really close, growing there.
Before, when I was younger, I used to watch the mother say, “She must get that from me” and think Wow lady, you’ll grab the good and snub the bad. But, watching it this time I realized something. Something amazing. Something that makes me want to the writers and say BRAVO – the mother is the under-character (who knows if that’s a real phrase. let’s just admit I made it up). The mother’s character and relationship is the foil for Baby and her dad’s. But, not just a foil – that would be too simple. The writer’s were better than that. It was also an under current — between Baby and her mom, Baby and her dad, and all three women.
It dawned on me then that the mother wasn’t trying to take kudos for Baby’s success. She was trying to find a connection. Throughout the movie we’re told Baby’s just like her dad. They’re so close. They do things together. They talk. They have a little world inside the family the other two women aren’t allowed in. And when it collapses, Baby is on her own.
Until the mother sees her dancing – a star up on that stage and knows there’s no way she got that from her dad – she must have gotten it from me! Finally, a connection! Something that ties these woman together. I don’t care if her mom has no rhythm and two left feet, if she’s finally able to see something that claims Baby as her baby too, go mom!
In the end, the music is slowing, the people are dancing and we have no idea what the future holds. I always wondered what happens to Baby and Johnny (I’ve also been shocked no one has written that with all these sequels people decide to do) but, for the first time, I realized everything was going to be okay. Not because Johnny comes back, because that might not work out. He’s not really a sticker, ya know. Not because of her dad, because even though he’s seeing his way slowly to loving her again, their relationship will never be the same. Everything is going to be okay because of her mom. Her mom is going to make this family overcome things. She’s going to keep standing by her man, but she’s also going to claim her daughter — HER daughter — and love her and reach for that middle ground.
Because that dancing thing….she get’s it from her.
Such a small part. So few memorable lines. And yet, as an adult, I can see what she truly is in this family – she’s the glue.
Now, go surprise your writer with a character who is more than what either of you would have ever thought.