My Mother Half Penny's Abortion: Dirty Dancing Revisited Kourtney Bitterly

I didn’t have the types of parents who monitored the movies and television shows I watched as a young child. You could say it was a little lax as far as parenting goes, but they just assumed anything inappropriate would likely go over my head. It turned out to be a completely accurate assumption. As a six-year-old, I’d enthusiastically name Grease and Flashdance as some of my favorite movies completely unaware of their teen pregnancy and stripping plot points (I just thought Jennifer Beals was dancing in a bathing suit as a hobby).

But if Grease and Flashdance were some of my favorites, then Dirty Dancing was an all out obsession. My sisters and I knew every song, step and line of the movie. I even have a scar on my forehead from an unfortunate accident involving using our coffee table as a makeshift stage to reenact the final routine.

Clearly, the dancing was really the only part of the movie I cared about at the time. The dirty, or really most major plot points, didn’t register, which made for quite the surprise when I watched the movie again as a teenager. First of all, this movie took place in 1963? Seriously? Am I the only person who missed that? Admittedly, the year is the first thing Baby mentions in the opening scene, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person who fast-forwarded straight to the dance sequences. It wasn’t like the soundtrack helped matters. I think I can be forgiven for my timing confusion when the movie featured ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,’ ‘Hungry Eyes,’ and ‘She’s Like the Wind.’ That is unless than the synth and sax were a popular combo in an underground doo-wop scene or something.

Beyond my timing mistake, I realized that Dirty Dancing gave me completely unrealistic expectations of adulthood. Actually, pretty much all ‘80s movies did. (See: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Footloose, Flashdance, etc.) I was convinced that I better take my elementary school extracurricular dance classes very seriously, because roughly 75% of your time over the age of sixteen was spent on a dancefloor. I’m truthfully super disappointed that didn’t turn out to be true. Every night at Kellerman’s turned into a wedding reception-esque dance party. Even the resort staff got their own dance club. This movie promised dancing on a daily basis for all. It’s a cruel expectation to set for a six-year-old.

But honestly, false dance expectations and decade confusion were minor surprises compared to missing the pivotal plot. Oh, you know, that PENNY HAD AN ABORTION! And a sketchy one at that. Penny’s need for an abortion set the entire movie in motion, just apparently not the movie I was watching in my head. Baby and Johnny never would have fallen in love, been offended about corner placements on the other’s behalf, and perfected the lift had Baby not needed to fill in for Penny in her time of need. When Penny told Baby that she didn’t ‘know sh*t’ about her problems, I thought she had the flu. I assumed she couldn’t afford proper medical care and was at the mercy of a random doctor. Her parents weren’t around, so who else was going to take care of her (keep in mind this line of thinking is logical if you are six). I didn’t realize Penny’s storyline could have been an If These Walls Could Talk vignette. What a shock to find all that character depth beneath those awesome leotards and absurdly flexible legs.

My mind was blown once I finally understood what it meant that ‘Penny got knocked up by Robbie, the creep.’ Now if only I could get to the bottom of ‘I carried a watermelon…’

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  1. One of my favorite movies when I was a kid was “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. I’d say the name of the movie and not know what a “whorehouse” was. All I knew was that there was singing, dancing, girls in pretty dresses, cowboys, and that funny duo Burt and Dolly. That is all I cared about. Until one day, I was in my 20′s and watched that movie all over again…O-M-G! Between that movie and “Grease”…my little mind was blown!

  2. Don’t even get me started on Jenny having AIDS. It was too hard to watch her and a young Haley Joel Osment…

  3. This movie and Forrest Gump were completely different movies when I watched them as an adult. As a child, that LSD laced sugar cube was a marshmallow at a campfire, and Jenny died of AIDS, WHAT?!?!

  4. I totally missed it too. When Billy said that the guy had a “dirty knife,” I thought that meant she had been stabbed!

  5. LOL I totally think about this whenever I see this movie! Got the VHS in 1987 and had NO clue what was going on -