I had never seen Dirty Dancing before I met Nadia. Just the name alone made it feel taboo. Dirty Dancing. I was eight and when Nadia asked her mother if we could watch it she picked up the video tape and said “Oooo, Dirty Dancing? Very sexy,” and took Nadia’s hand and twirled her around the television room right off of the kitchen.
Nadia and I met in 4th grade after she moved from South Africa. It confused me how white her family’s skin was until I learned about the region and Apartheid so many years later. I just figured they were the odd ones in Africa.
They lived in my development in a big house with sharp 80’s architecture; enormous ceilings that slanted down into triangles and windows taller than my dad. We played outside with our bikes, inside with Barbie dolls, and our moms sewed clothes together.
Everyone told me Nadia was going to grow up to be a model because she had white blonde hair, coral blue eyes, and the slender figure that I had never been able to obtain. I cared so much, but pretended not to when people, both familiar and random, would say this to her in front of me. That’s okay, I’d think, because I’m going to be a writer and a comedian when I grow up and it won’t matter how pretty I am because people will be too busy laughing…which doesn’t sound awesome now that I think about it. I looked the opposite of Nadia in nearly every way. I was chubby, of average height, brown haired, and always valued a good meal. It’s something I thought about constantly, being skinny, but never openly acknowledged. So, for people to pay attention to her appearance while I was with her was brutally uncomfortable.
I blushed watching them dance together. Nadia clearly got her height from her mother, who towered over the both of us. And was she allowed to say sexy in front of me? Especially in that lovely, foreign accent of hers? They seemed so comfortable dancing and with the word sex. Like…was that okay, though? I felt guilty but also really excited that the movie was suddenly mom-approved…even if it wasn’t by my own mom.
To be fair, the movie is pretty tame compared to movies now, or even some select movies back then. My parents had a copy of A Clockwork Orange in our cabinet at home and there’s a super good reason why I never watched it until this past December. Dirty Dancing is not like this.
Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, the year I was born, and it was about hope and love and excitement and sentiment and sexiness, but not in a dirty way, like the title claimed. It felt sexy, but safe. Like Patrick Swayze.
We plopped down on Nadia’s over-stuffed white couch in the TV room, surrounded by the other white furniture and the white carpet under our socked feet. Shoes were not allowed past the front door and I kind of liked that rule until Nadia’s older brother yelled at me once when I stepped one foot onto the carpet with my sneaker because I wasn’t going to take them off just to get my backpack I left behind by accident. GOD.
As we watched the movie I had no idea I was witnessing iconic scenes. The line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” sent chills down my 4th grade spine and I hoped one day I would find my Johnny who could swivel his hips like that and lift me up over his head and would like me even if I didn’t look like Nadia. (I did, by the way, find my Johnny, although we’ve never tried the flying/lift thing, that seems a little much…especially 8 months prego)
The movie made me feel nostalgic, even though I had never experienced anything remotely close to Jennifer Grey’s summer. I did have the time of my life, just watching the two of them dance and laugh and cry. I fell in love with Patrick Swayze, a required action for any young girl watching. I was sad when it ended but felt just a little bit more grown up. Baby and Johnny were so different yet so similar, I’d hypothesize, feeling really smart. What’s that thing I heard my mom say once? About fish and birds, or water and air or whatever?
After the movie, we played Dirty Dancing with our Barbies in her room. I was usually Johnny, which was frustrating, but I was happy to be playing. We tried to make the stiff plastic of the dolls mimic the dancing in the movie until their little limbs started falling off and Nadia got really upset.
Nadia and I never made it past 5th grade. She began hanging out with a different group of girls, ones that I thought were pretty un-nice…but they were pretty. I don’t know if she ever modeled or went to college or has a family of her own, we parted before Facebook days.
Just recently I heard “Time of my Life” in the car and it rushed all of those memories back. I turned it up really high and rolled the windows down. That song is still great. That movie is still so good. And that girl in 4th grade is still very much a part of who I am now; beautiful in her own way, self-conscience about her appearance, happy when people laugh at her jokes, and possibly still in love with Patrick Swayze.