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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Ficitional Characters, #179: Frances "Baby" Houseman

About to have the time of her life.

I suspect 1987's Dirty Dancing has long been a guilty pleasure for many of my vintage, both women and men. It's a fairly uncomplicated tale, a coming-of-age narrative garbed in a thin shawl of social commentary, but it's mostly well-acted, and boasts a lively musical heartbeat that sustains some of the more boring plot points. While Patrick Swayze's Johnny has his moments, and Jerry Orbach's father figure is enjoyably grumpy, my favorite part of the story has always been Baby's journey.

1963 wasn't so different from 1993 (or probably even 2023 if we make it). There were good girls and bad girls. And Baby, played with fresh innocence and naive social optimism by Jennifer Grey, was very much a good girl, from a good family, with prospects of higher education and appropriate romantic pairings. Naturally, she falls in with Johnny and his wrong-side working-class crew of resort staffers, and predictably discovers how narrow her sheltered world view has been. I enjoy the practice montages, showing her progression from novice to manageable competent. Most of all I enjoy her at the beginning, with her discomfort and awkward first attempts to expose herself to something new. There's a courage and strength in that. And of course there are subsequent integrity-trying moments that result in failures and successes, which seems appropriate for young people of any era. As Baby works to learn a new art form, she also endeavors to grow as a person, confronting the inequity and class prejudice rife at the Catskills and everywhere else. It's a movie, so in the end she does the right thing, drawing courage from Johnny's example. She learns a little, her father learns a little, everybody dances, everybody wins.

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