Strictly Come Dancing | Guest Judge Jennifer Grey
“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
First things first. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone, anywhere, has watched Dirty Dancing more than I have, but I never watched it for Jennifer Grey’s performance as Baby, good though it was. Patrick Swayze, a classically trained ballet dancer, was the star of the movie and it’s main attraction, cast as dance teacher Johnny.
Neither Swayze nor Grey were huge stars when they were cast in the low budget film which had a shooting schedule of only 44 days. Dirty Dancing Director Emile Ardolino insisted that they chose dancers who could also act – a bold decision that proves it’s possible but one that wasn’t repeated by the director of the movie Black Swan, with regrettable consequences given the resulting negative press surrounding who actually danced what.
Grey was cast to play a role that put her on the receiving end of Swayze’s attention, which she allegedly wasn’t keen on, but the core of the film is the on-screen chemistry between the two main characters. The final scenes, with the iconic (and fiendishly difficult) ‘Dirty Dancing lift’ showcased the acting and dancing abilities of the cast members to spectacular effect. Whose feet don’t itch when you hear that “I’ve had the time of my life” music ?
The news of Swayze’s premature death on September 14th, 2009 was met with great sadness around the world and he is much missed.
So when the BBC announced that Grey would replace Head Judge Len Goodman for one show as he takes a holiday in Los Angeles (he jets across the Atlantic with Bruno Tonioli every week during the Strictly season to judge the US version of Strictly; Dancing with the Stars), I had reservations about the casting. Grey is the current champion of the US version of Strictly, and her experience mirrors fellow judge Alesha Dixon’s as a former contestant. Dixon has received criticism of her judges comments and one questions why a second judge with similar credentials was flown over, quite probably at some expense, from the US.
I can think of a number of candidates for the role and top of my list would be Karen Hardy – former Strictly champion, yes, but also a professional ballroom dancer and teacher who is popular and really gets to the root of the dance, crucially – in a way that lay people can understand without being condescending, in Choreography Corner on Strictly’s sister show, It takes Two (BBC Two every week night from 6.30pm) and on the red button commentary for the main show.
Grey’s comments as a judge appeared to have been quite heavily scripted (though I did spot her writing at one point) and she managed to quote the most famous line from the show – one that Swayze reportedly disliked – “nobody puts Baby in the corner” – after Chelsee and Pasha’s dance. She seemed quite fond of the 8 paddle, and overall she was less pernickety as Len Goodman would have been, unsurprisingly – she doesn’t have his experience in ballroom dancing/judging.
It was actually quite a contrast from her appearance last Friday on It Takes Two, where she was a good sport and imitated Goodman at Zoe Ball’s request with the number 7 paddle among other quips. She also seemed well briefed on the celebrities, their dances and their training, and I was looking forward to some more insightful comments from her than were forthcoming on the night.
Strictly professional dancer Ola Jordan has credited Dirty Dancing with inspiring her to take up dancing, and there did seem to be a general concensus among the dancers on the show to be exceptionally reverential towards Grey. Why ? Since Dirty Dancing she has hardly been seen professionally, and I’m not even going to comment on her dramatically changed appearance since that film. Sure, Dirty Dancing is an iconic film but Swayze is the star who went on to forge an ever more successful career and he was a professionally trained ballet dancer.
What did you make of Grey’s stint as a judge on Strictly ?
All photographs © BBC Pictures. No unauthorized reproduction.
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