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Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Shmoop Study Guide About "Dirty Dancing"

A website called Shmoop provides study guides on various subjects for students at all levels, from elementary school through college. The website earns money by selling subscriptions to students and teachers. For example, a student subscription costs $150 a year. As I understand it, all the website's materials can be read during the subscribed time. The students can use the study guides as a resource for writing compositions and studying broad subjects such as literary theory.

Shmoop includes many study guides about movies, including Dirty Dancing. I was able to read this movie's entire study guide for free, without a subscription. This study guide seems to be written for young high-school students -- perhaps freshmen and sophomores. This study guide's jocular style is inappropriate for older students.

Perhaps the jocular style is common in Shmoop's other study guides. The website describes itself as follows:
A Trusted Source for Knowledge

Shmoop speaks student, but never at the expense of reliability. All of our original content is written by teachers and experts in each field, and our editorial team is made up of PhDs and teachers from top institutions. All that plus a super-powered Labradoodle makes for a trustworthy and authoritative source that won't put you to sleep.
In this short paragraphs we see the jocular expressions "speaks student", "super-powered Labradoodle" and "won't put you to sleep". This style fills the Dirty Dancing study guide, and I don't like it.


I don't think that high-school students should spend school time watching movies like Dirty Dancing. This movie in particular deals with at least two controversial subjects -- abortion and premarital sex -- that public high schools should avoid in class-time discussions.

However, writing compositions and term papers on such movies that they watch during their personal time can be worthwhile. Dirty Dancing is an thought-provoking movie for high-school students to watch, discuss and analyze. This study guide would help a high-school student write a paper intelligently.

The study guide would be helpful also for a teacher whose students submitted a paper about the movie. I assume that the Shmoop study guide is organized to apply literary concepts as they are taught in high schools.

I don't have experience teaching high-school students. Perhaps the Shmoop's jocular style is necessary for maintaining the interest of high-school students, even though I don't like that style. Below I provide some passages from the study guide, and there you can see the jocular style. The style would fit a book titled The Movie "Dirty Dancing" for Dummies.


 The Shmoop study guide about the movie is organized as follows:





Behind the Scenes






Best of the Web

The Introduction includes a sub-section titled "Why Should I Care?", which generally evaluates the movie as follows:
Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age movie. ...

Coming of age often includes sexual activity as a defining moment in transitioning to adulthood. Baby's "first time," as icky as that phrase might sound, is part of Dirty Dancing, but this film redefines "loss of innocence" by keeping Baby in control of her sexual agency at all times. Baby doesn't "lose" her innocence. She examines it, realizes she wants to grow up, and makes a conscious decision to set it aside. ... Baby's the one who makes the first move.

Eleanor Bergstein, the film's writer, never liked the fact that people initially tagged the movie as just an "ugly duckling gets the guy" story:

I conceived of her and made her a fighter. A girl who just won't give up... and who doesn't expect the world to be handed to her. There's a lot she doesn't understand, but she works very, very hard.

Decades after the film came out, Bergstein got piles of mail from women who watched the movie as teens and thanked her for pretty much writing their lives. They related to how Baby, despite being scared to death, stood bravely up to her father, took risks (although, honestly, is Patrick Swayze a risk?), and learned to make her own decisions. These women never thought it was just a girl-gets-guy flick. They knew that Johnny may lead Baby on the dance floor, but Baby takes the lead everywhere else.....
That's a rather good encouragement for female students to care about the movie. Perhaps something should be added for the male students. The movie is about Johnny Castle too.


The Summary summarizes the entire story, beginning as follows:
Lights, camera, action !

That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me 'Baby' and it didn't occur to me to mind. 
This is the opening line of Dirty Dancing, and one of the greatest opening lines ever. Eat that, James Joyce.

Baby (Jennifer Grey) is traveling with her family to Kellerman's resort in the Catskills. Upon arrival, it appears to be your typical family vacation: boring dinners with the parents, silly activities, and Newman from Seinfeld annoying everyone.

Resort owner Kellerman himself tries to set Baby up with his smarmy grandson, Neil. While clumsily dancing with Neil, Baby's eyes are drawn to the professional dancers hired to entertain the guests: Penny Johnson and Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Their dancing, while not that dirty, intrigues her.
Then each scene is summarized in more detail. For example, the first two scenes are summarized as follows:
Scene 1

Our opening credits are set over a montage of people dancing.

They all look freshly showered and shampooed. Where's the dirty dancing?

After the credits, we're introduced to Baby Houseman, in the backseat of her parents' car in the summer of 1963.

They're heading to Kellerman's Mountain Estate for a summer getaway.

When they arrive, Baby's sister frets that she didn't bring the right shoes.

Her family tries to convince her there are greater problems in the world, like "monks burning themselves in protest."

They're interrupted by Newman from Seinfeld introducing the day's activities. Horseshoes, a water class, art class, volleyball, croquet.

Baby helps Billy, a member of the staff, get the family's bags from the trunk. He offers her a job. We wish all jobs were this easy to get.

Scene 2

Baby attends a merengue dancing class with her parents.

Maybe she thought merengue was a pie, because she's terrible at dancing.

The men and women dance in a circle before pairing off.

Baby ends up dancing with a little old lady in a sun hat. Not the summer fling she was hoping for.

That night, Baby leaves the cabin to go exploring the resort grounds.

She eavesdrops on a staff meeting at the big house.

The boss is giving the waiters a stern talking to, in which he tells them to show all the daughters a good time, "even the dogs." Charming.

This meeting is interrupting by a sunglass-wearing stud who is the head of the entertainment staff. Hello-o-o, Patrick Swayze.

Johnny's told to dance with the daughters and nothing else. All dancing, no dirty.

The Themes section discusses four themes 1) Society and Class, 2) Principles, 3) Innocence and 4) Love. The discussions of these are too rambling, casual and vague. For example here is the discussion of the first theme.
A film called Dirty Socioeconomic Class Differences would never do well at the box office. It's not a catchy title. It wouldn't fit comfortably on a poster. And who would star in it? Martin Shkreli? No, too dirty.

We don't need a movie like that because Dirty Dancing is brimming with commentary on society. You've got the guests at the resort, who are obviously affluent enough to have a summer vacay in the Catskills, and the dancers, who have to accommodate their every request and deal with condescension and insults. Robbie's relationship with Penny is exhibit A in the class war: he can get away with bad behavior, and she and Johnny are presumed guilty.

We're still not sure what the Pachanga is, but maybe it has something to do with not looking down on someone because of their social class.

Questions about Society and Class

How are the staff and the entertainment at Kellerman's divided? How is each group treated differently?

How do Johnny and Penny initially see Baby? What does Baby do to change their minds?

Why would Baby rather mingle with the dancers than with other guests at Kellerman's?

Why does Baby's dad not want her to see Johnny? Do his reasons have to do with class or with something else?

Chew on This

Take a peek at these thesis statements. Agree or disagree?

* By separating the dancers from the rest of the resort, Kellerman emphasizes the attitude that the dancers are social outcasts.

* Baby doesn't see social class, but a big reason for that is that she's grown up with a lot of privilege. What she learns at Kellerman's is truly eye-opening, and she wants to change it.

The Quotes section provides some quotes for each of the four themes. For example, on the theme of Society and Class there are three quotes, the first of which is:
KELLERMAN: There are two kinds of help here. You guys are all college guys, and I went to Harvard and Yale to hire you. And why did I do that? Why? I shouldn't have to remind you, this is a family place. That means you keep your fingers out of the water, your hair out of the soup, and show the goddamn daughters a good time. All the daughters. Even the dogs. Schlep them out to the terrace, show them the stars. Romance them any way you want.

[Interpretation] Kellerman divides his staff into two camps: the haves and the have-nots. The "haves" are the rich kids who have his permission to do whatever they want with the girls at the resort. The "have nots" are the poorer kids who are dancers and will be out of a job if they so much as touch any of the guests at a time when they're not doing the tango.

The Cast section provides a character analysis for every significant character. For example, here is the character analysis for Lisa:
Character Analysis

She Feels Pretty

Baby's the sister who thinks about joining the Peace Corps. Lisa's the sister who says:
LISA: I should've brought those coral shoes.
Doesn't Lisa realize that there are starving children halfway across the world who would love to eat those shoes?

Baby and Lisa are typical sisters, although Baby sometimes uses her intelligence to insult her simpler sibling.
JAKE: Max, our Baby's gonna change the world.

[…] BABY: Lisa's gonna decorate it.
A Baby vs. Lisa battle of wits is unfair. Baby has an arsenal at her disposal. Lisa has a flip-flop.

Underneath it All

On the surface, Lisa is your typical comic relief character. She's ditzy, goofy, and a bad singer in an age before auto-tune. If you look beneath all that, though, you'll see a deeper character than Lisa leads you to believe.

Lisa knows that Baby's their father's favorite. Because of her jealousy, Lisa's happy when there's a rift in Baby and Jake's rock-solid relationship. She expresses this to Baby one night in the cabin.
LISA: Oh come on, you don't care about me. You wouldn't care if I humped the entire army, as long as they were on the right side of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. What you care about is that you're not Daddy's girl anymore. He listens when I talk now. You hate that.
There's a moment where we see Lisa attempting to take Baby's place. She talks about Vietnam and China with her father instead of talking about shoes and wigs with her mother.

However, everything Lisa does is in an attempt to get a boy. She wants to look pretty for Robbie, and since he fancies himself an intellectual—as anyone who reads Ayn Rand does—she tries to impress him with her smarts, too.

When Lisa discovers that Robbie's a scumbag, she learns a key lesson: you do you, girl. And the real Lisa turns out to be a kind-hearted big sister who wants to pass the same lesson onto Baby. She does it in a sweet scene before the talent show.
LISA: Baby, I'll do your hair. It would look pretty if… No. You're prettier your way. This way.
So we hope Lisa finds herself, and that this self doesn't want to be a singer. Because wow, she's awful.
Written for high-school students.


The Behind the Scenes section provides brief essays about the Director Emile Ardonino, the screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, the Production Studio, Production Design, Choreographers, Music, and Fandoms. For example, here is the essay about Bergstein:
Eleanor Bergstein

In a different world, Eleanor Bergstein would be on Dancing with the Stars. Not as a star, but as a pro. Her screenplay for Dirty Dancing is largely autobiographical. Her father was a doctor, and as a girl Bergstein vacationed in the Catskills with her family. Her family called her "Baby" until she was 22 (source). But back in Brooklyn, she "would do this really, really raunchy street dancing".

Pics or it didn't happen, Eleanor.

For ten years, Bergstein toted her script around Hollywood just like Baby carrying a watermelon. Although the film was an unexpectedly huge hit, Bergstein herself never had another success like Dirty Dancing. She wrote one other dance film, Let It be Me (1995) starring Flashdance's Jennifer Beals.

In 2004, Bergstein adapted Dirty Dancing into a musical for Australian audiences. A few lines were changed for Aussie audiences. "Spaghetti arms" became "digeridoo arms" and "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" is now "Crikey! Billabongs and bushrangers!" Actually, the show was a smashing success. People were probably hoping Patrick Swayze might make an appearance.
The rest of the study guide remains at this high-school level.


The Analysis section addresses these subjects: 1) Symbols and Tropes, 2) Hero's Journey, 3) Setting, 4) Point of View, 5) Genre, 6) What's Up With the Title, 7) What's Up With the Ending, and 8) Shock Rating.

Here is the first part of the Setting analysis:

Kellerman's Resort, 1963

Bergstein probably based Kellerman's on Grossinger's, the now extinct Catskills resort where she spent summers with her family in the 1950s and '60s. (Although handful of resorts have claimed the honor of being the inspiration for Kellerman's.) Kellerman's is the quintessential Catskills Resort, and it defines a very particular culture, place, and time.

The Catskill Mountains in upstate New York were dotted with a thousand resorts in the '50s and '60s, from luxury hotels to boardinghouses and no-frills bungalows, that catered mostly to Jewish families escaping the hot New York city summers. Moms and kids might go for a few weeks, with dads showing up on weekends. In the first part of the 20th century, lots of hotels refused to rent to Jews, so they created their own communities. The area became known as the "Borscht Belt" because of its Jewish cultural connections, although anyone was welcome to stay there.

Working class families went to the bungalows and cooked their own meals or ate cheap camp food. Middle class families went to the more upscale resorts known for their ridiculous amounts of food, entertainment, and goofy activities. (It occurs to us that cruise ships are the new Catskills.) Some of the fancier places recruited famous musicians and comedians; Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen had gigs there early in their careers.

In a different movie, Kellerman's would be the stuff of nightmares, more like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining than a fun family retreat. It has all the makings of being the worst family vacation ever for a 17-year-old: being stuck with your parents and doing a lot of lame activities with people who have more wrinkles than a pug's face.
That is about a fourth of the Settings essay. The section addresses also the 1960s.


The Questions section provides some good questions for high-school compositions. Here are four:
What drives Baby to be a dancer?

Johnny initially doesn't like Baby. What changes his mind?

Was having a storyline about abortion a big risk for the filmmakers at the time? What does it add to the narrative that something else couldn't?

Is Baby's relationship with Johnny authentic? Do you think part of it is rebellion against her parents and what they stand for?

The Best of the Web provides some links to various websites and articles about the movie.

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