Adult eyes: Realizing how dirty Dirty Dancing really is, 26 years after my first viewing

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I'm naive to a fault. Last week, when my car was hit for a third time in eighteen months (the second time it was creamed while parked in front of my house), I was naive enough to tell the insurance company the truth. They are now doing $2,700 worth of a repairs on a $1,900 car, one which I won't ever be able to sell because it has been in three accidents. I should have lied.

But I've come to understand that my naïveté is just part of who I am -- it's the reason I've never been able to tell which of my friends does coke; I just assume no one really does it. Same goes for why I'm unsure if I've ever been cheated on: I can't imagine that happens, though it does everyday, to people I care about.

And when I watched Dirty Dancing this past weekend for the first time since childhood, I saw how far back my blindness toward adult behavior went -- all the way to 1987, when I was seven and I thought I fell in love with a movie about dancing.

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After a conversation with Gina Cuomo, the curator of Hey Girl, a new film series opening with Dirty Dancing this Wednesday, April 24, at the Sie FilmCenter, I realized that I hadn't seen the movie as an adult. She promised me that I would view it in a totally different light, and that it wasn't the easily-brushed-off '80s dance flick I half-remembered.

From my memory, all I knew was that Dirty Dancing was about, uh, dancing -- but in truth, it's a movie about lying to your parents, back-alley abortions and a romance marred by classist attitudes. Oh, and as for that romance between Johnny Castle and Frances "Baby" Houseman? I didn't catch on to it at all as a child. I just thought that they, like me, loved to dance.

I think this movie became an instant favorite for pre-teen girls for a lot of reasons -- less naive girls probably liked the diet version of a forbidden love kind of plot (though we would all go on to read Flowers in the Attic, the really scary kind of forbidden love). But girls like me, well, we just loved all the fuckin' dancing.

It was the era of Fame and Footloose and Flashdance. It was the era of leg warmers. It was the era of Harvey Edwards's tattered ballet slippers posters. It was the era of living to dance and dancing to live!

Gina was right: I did see Dirty Dancing in a whole different way as a grown-up. But really, it just made me see how far away from my dreams I had strayed. No longer did I dance every day for hours to Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual, until the cassette split in half. No, now I only danced if I was high or by some off-chance ended up at a bar playing "The Music Sounds Better With You" or "Young Folks." I had forgotten all about my love of freeform dance. As an adult, I was also able to see the love story that my naive, seven-year-old brain didn't pick up on. Beyond the dancing, this movie was about Baby's liberation, her desire to help a fellow woman out of a tricky situation and her will to love who she wanted to love. Baby was like a feminist icon.

But back to the dancing. Sure, the final dance scene is the memorable climax, but the actual dirty dancing is the best part. The face Baby makes when she stumbles upon the secret after-hours grind-off -- all while juggling a giant watermelon in her arms -- is pretty much how I look whenever I accidentally see another girl's boobs in the locker room at the gym. I guess I'm happy to be terminally naive.

Hey Girl starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 with salsa lessons with Sahar Pazirandeh of the Free Your Star Foundation, shellac manicures and happy-hour drink specials in Henderson's Lounge. The screening of Dirty Dancing begins at 7:30 p.m; tickets are $7 to $10. For more information on future films in the series or to purchase tickets, call 303-595-3456 or visit the Sie FilmCenter's website.

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