Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

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Looking at “Dirty Dancing” through the lens of the “Victim Triangle”

In the “victim triangle” there are three roles: Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.

When there is drama and conflict, people enter the drama triangle and work their way around, although if one stays in the victim triangle for long enough, apparently you are likely to end up a victim.

I am not sure what I think about the “Victim Triangle” idea, but it surfaced in my mind when I looked at the moral wasteland and the flat characterisation in “Dirty Dancing”.


Let’s start with Baby. I think she is a “Starting Gate Rescuer”. She carries her own bag. She carries a watermelon. She gets Daddy’s cash. She gets Daddy. She rescues.

She is also aware of a band of persecutors: Robbie, Neil and Mr Kellerman. They bully, they boss, they discriminate. Odd that they should work in hospitality…

Then we have our victims: Johnny and Penny the “dance people”. Put down and used. Undervalued, underpaid, despised and kept in their place. “They were using me.”

Do any of them move around the Victim Triangle?

I think the Axis of Kellermans are pretty entrenched. But there is some movement on the Baby/Johnny axis.

Baby is trapped in her need to rescue. She gets the cash, she trains for hours, she provides Johnny with an alibi – but it doesn’t work. He is fired.

This is crushing for Baby as a Rescuer. She has failed, and the failure detracts from who she is. So she turns persecutor and has a go at her dad – who, in fact is of the rescuer type also. He gave his money, his time, his expertise to rescue Penny.

When Baby’s rescue attempt for Johnny fails, she becomes a victim. She blames herself and her father. She feels let down. She is impotent and sidelined.

Johnny is a “Starting Gate Victim”. He feels others look down on him and use him, and as his career has gone on longer, the more he is aware of this and the more shame he feels. He feels powerless, and unable to change things – which is where little miss optimism comes in. She pushes him into a rescuer role for Penny, but he leaves Kellerman as a victim: sacked for having an unjustifiable alibi.

Of course, it is Johnny that is the rescuer in the end: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” He comes in and rescues her, names her to respect her true idenity as “Frances Houseman”.

Robbie, the persecutor of Penny and Johnny has also become the victim. Baby has poured water over him, Johnny has beaten him and Dr Houseman has withdrawn his cash and his approval.

So here we go round the victim triangle…

“Dirty Dancing” Watch-along-a Sanstorm: “I’ve had the time of my life…”

After I blog-alonga-ed “The Sound of Music” my readers heaved a sigh of relief that they would never have to watch the movie again. Especially the scary bit in the graves. What effect will this have?

So, you make the tea, I’ll make the pop corn, and come back with me… to 1987…

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A twelve! A twelve? This was a fifteen in my day! (OK OK so I was only fourteen, but that’s another story…)

Here we go…

We start with the song “Be My Baby” which makes my instantly have a flashback to the episode of Moonlighting when David and Maddie finally got together. That ruined the whole next season and eventually killed the show – but anyway, I suppose it was inevitable. And when you watch Moonlighting now, it is mince…

“Big Girls don’t Cry” – now I am having a flashback to “Mermaids” with Cher… taking us back to 1963 pre-Kennedy assassination. Baby narrates, taking us to Kellermans – a kind of holiday camp.

Now, who is the guy with the megaphone? What’s he in? It’ll come to me.

So far we have Baby’s sister characterised as shallow and materialistic. Here comes Mr Kellerman. Baby carries her own bags.

Some sidestepping feet. Not Baby’s forte. And what’s with the blue three-quarter-length socks?

Baby’s off out. Twighlight piano music. Very peaceful. Baby stumbles upon the truth about Kellermans: the waiters are high class college boys to woo the daughters. “even the dogs”. And in comes Johnny. And Mr Kellerman’s intonation spits poison as he sees the “entertainment staff”. Ooh. He’s very angry. Ooh, Johnny, what a one-liner.

Robbie is introduced to the Houseman family. There’s a general ignorance and mocking of Baby’s political and social conscience. Baby in turn mocks her superficial sister.

Baby dances with Neil. It’s a little staid and awkward. Nice tap-dance though.

Mambo! Yeah Come on!

There’s that tone again, as Neil spits “dance people”. OK OK so we get the class distinction. She’s thin, I’ll give her that. Kellerman approaches and growls at them and cuts the routine. The dance-floor re-fills.

Ninety degree perspective and Baby’s being sawn in half. Ta-da!

“Staff Quarters: No Guests please”

So, along she goes. Here’s the wee guy with too many watermelons. “Do you love me?” and here we have it: “Dirty Dancing”. Baby’s jaw drops. “Watch me now-hey!”

Here’s Johnny! And then Baby finds out the dance couple are only a dance couple. Baby starts to get into the groove. Change in track and they are off again. Johnny spots the interloper in their midst and quizzes his cousin.


More feet. Not too sure about that cummerbund. Johnny beckons. Quick lesson and she’s away. Kind of. She’s entranced, following his lead. Even after he’s left. And she looks and looks, and he’s gone…

They are playing with wigs? Here’s Robbie to chat up Lisa. Baby talks to the thin ex-rockette who is in a bit of a pessimistic mood.

Johnny is dancing with an old woman in sequins. Little Neil is looking for Penny. She needs a break, apparently. That’ll be the ex-rockette.

Neil’s chatting Baby up again, but she’s not too impressed. Robbie and Lisa pass by, having had something of a disagreement in the undergrowth. How patronising is Neil?

They are in the kitchen. This time I am having a flashback to Jurassic Park, waiting for a velociraptor to peek around the edge of the kitchen units, but no. It’s Penny, shaking and crying, crouching against the wall.

Baby makes her escape, and runs to get the watermelon guy who gets Johnny. Off they go to the kitchen. Baby discovers that Penny is knocked up. She accidentally assumes it’s Johnny and he is none too pleased with her prejudice.

He gives Penny a nice cuddle and lifts her and her ruby slippers up and takes her home. She is blanketed up and despairing. And blurts out that it was Robbie that got her pregnant… the self same Robbie that is with her sister as they speak…

*MORALITY OBSERVATION – in the world of Dirty Dancing morals are unconvincing and fixed. It seems the top priority is employment, then honesty. Promiscuity is presented as a necessary state of victims. Abortion is seen as “the only option” given the employment priority. Hypocrisy is despised. Class distinctions are upheld. And the moral codes seem unconvincing, but are not questioned within the movie*

Billy tells Baby the abortion plan and she comes up with an immediate solution: cash from Robbie! Robbie is an abhorrent character. Baby threatens to have him fired.

So. Plan B. Money from Dad. Yay! Success. Baby should have used moral imparative number 2: honesty, here – but failed. She was trying to sustain employment. But honesty may have given way to alternatives for Penny. But we don’t know.

Back to the staff quarters. Don’t know about those shorts, Baby. Waistband a little high. And here they are, dancing away and she gives Penny the money. Johnny puts her down.

Then there is the complicating factor of the gig at the Sheldrake Hotel. They can’t miss it, or they lose… everything ( Imperative 1: Employment). Bubbly optimist Baby suggests a replacement. Johnny suggests Baby, as a joke. She rises to the challenge and gets her white jimmies on.

Learning to dance montage.

Change of clothes. More learning to dance.

“The steps aren’t enough FEEL the music”.

Oh no! It’s the gu-gung bit… close your eyes…

In the dance studio in polka-dot pink with thin, thin Penny. And Johnny. Luckily she packed enough dance outfits for her holiday.

Parallel fish-nets. Lip stick. Enormous hands over tiny hips. Seems to be getting warm. I don’t think she’s taking this entirely seriously. OK, maybe she is now.

Now it is raining and she has a horrible skirt on and there’s a bit of tension. She’s angry. Never mind the rain. Off they go. He smashes his own car window, just so that can go out?

Very Edenic. And a bit like Hakuna Matata. He’s all black, she’s all white. And off they go on the balance beam.

Running and jumping. Little House on the Prairie.

In the water – and lift. And in again. But I think it is funner than the tension back at the ranch.

Enter the seemingly innocuous character of Mrs Schumacher that Baby and Penny help when she drops her bag and its contents spill.

Baby is thinking through her routine with last minute panic. Penny should be panicking. She’s about to have an operation that is not going to go well. She is scared. Baby is ever the optimist.

Baby sets her cover story and we cut to the Hotel gig. And off they go. She has too much eye make up on. It’s going ok. Kind of. I don’t think she’s feeling the music. Big licks with the skirt. Lift fail. Random hand jive. One lift works and a kind of half hearted ending. And there’s the Schumachers…

That was the end of that then. They are back at Kellermans – Billy dashes over – Penny is in a state. Dirty knife and a folding table. No anaesthetic.Baby runs off to get her Daddy. She gets his doctor’s bag and off they go.

Then the conversation:

“Who is responsible for this girl” and Johnny says “I am” – which gives all kinds of inaccuracies.

They all stand outside the chalet while he treats her. He takes Baby away. He puts two and two together and bans her from seeing the staff again. He agrees with me about the make-up also.

Johnny’s room. Baby’s at the door. Sparsely furnished. Great room? You decide. He clears a seat for her. He’s impressed with her Dad and thinks he’s nothing. He tells her that she doesn’t understand the way things are. She’s such a crushing optimist; he finds it refreshing.

But she’s scared… “… the way I feel when I am with you…”

Oh. She’s said it now. What’s he going to do? I think she wants to dance. I think this conversation is taking a turn.

*averts eyes*

It’s the morning after. Breakfast. Talent show is announced. Lisa wants to sing in the show. Dr Houseman wants to leave early. He relents. They are going to stay.

Baby goes to see Penny. And here’s Johnny. Ooh. Dingied. All a bit stilted. Awkward. Penny can see right through him. Advises him to stop. She has a fair point. Baby doesn’t look too happy. He smiles. She smiles.

And it’s raining again. Think they built the resort in the wrong state. Baby’s off out again. Off to see Johnny. I think her father would have something to say. And we get a tour of Johnny’s poor self-esteem. He feels used. And he asks her her name. Frances.

Disaster. Lisa has plans for her and Robbie. Baby advised against. Hypocrite.

And she’s having a dance lesson? I thought she was supposed to be avoiding “these people”. Almost rumbled by Neil. There’s a patronising pigeonholing bullying conversation with the conclusion being the Petchanga, however you spell it. Johnny is raging.

Rich and mean.

There’s Dad and Robbie and Lisa. Johnny is feeling used again. He thinks she’s never going to tell her parents about him. Id have thought he’d not want her to mention is as he would get SACKED – and employment is the be all and end all in the world of Dirty Dancing.

She goes looking for Johnny and finds him with Penny. She apologises? What for? Ooh and they are sprung by Robbie. Who Johnny then beats up. I think he feels better for that.

And now the singing. Lisa has high shorts and an ambitious party piece. That she is struggling with. The old sequiny lady moves in on Johnny. But he has other plans, I suspect. Johnny is offered money to entertain the woman, but he turns it down.

And the tuning gets worse.

But Baby is pleased.

Lisa goes out to get her man. There’s a towel on the handle, but she goes in anyway. And that was the end of that.

New music.

Baby and Johnny. Dreaming of acceptance from Baby’s father. And Mrs Sequin sees them – and figures why she was ditched. What will she do with the information? Or will she just silently fume?

There’s a thief on the loose. Sequin woman blames Johnny, knowing he has no alibi. Oh yes he does. Baby isn’t going to let him go down as a thief. She points the finger at the Schumachers. That isn’t going to work.

Dr Houseman is none too pleased. He has a fair point. He hasn’t been watching his daughters closely enough. She accuses him of hypocrisy. She loves her Daddy. She’s sorry. I don’t think she really has a leg to stand on in this argument.

Here comes Johnny. The Schumachers have been sprung. So her optimism…. isn’t going to pay off after all.

He’s sacked. But he goes down anyway, for being with her.

Is she going to lose her pathological optimism?

Johnny chaps on the Houseman chalet. Dr Houseman is not in the mood to listen. You can see his point of view. So can Johnny.

So, it’s time to say goodbye. And the car disappears into the dust…

At least the sisters are friends again. Not that they look remotely related. Glad they’ve made up anyway.

Here’s Mr Annoying singing cheesily into the mic, and Baby’s in the corner and Lisa’s on the stage. She has a rare talent. Here comes Robbie. I think he is about to land himself in it with “the Penny situation”. At least Dr Houseman knows now.

Kellerman laments change. “It all seems to be ending.”

Here’s Johnny!

Hey Johnny!


Johnny sees Frances as an aspirational figure. And they are going to dance.

I’ve had the time of my life…

Her mum and sister are impressed, at least.

Slow motion leap. His knees are all dirty

Unlikely group dance.

Up she goes.

Her dad is smiling now, if awkwardly.

And the dance takes off. Everyone into it, except Mrs Sequin. Dr Houseman owns up to being wrong about Johnny. Penny is up grooving too. And the Housemans.

What happened to the chairs?

Age Lies – Dirty Dancing

It was 1987: the year of La Bamba and Livin’ on a Prayer. Unlike now, when a decade can flash by and I haven’t seen or heard anything – 1987 was a vivid sound and light show of future classics.

The flea-pit at Muirend was a dirty fusty cinema – now converted into flats. The first film I ever saw there, without parents, was “Back To the Future”, then “Legal Eagles”, then “Howard the Duck”…

This time we were going with my friend’s big sister. We were going to see “Dirty Dancing”: a 15 Certificate.

My friend and I were famous for being uncool. With brains and glasses – branded “two squares” – we probably looked as if we were 10, rather than the 14 we really were.

We went to the ticket booth, and the grumpy woman said, “You don’t look 15! What year were you born?” Now, this was only a year after I had had the postaday “worst teacher” for maths – and my numeracy was a bit unreliable. I knew the correct answer was either 1974 or 1972, but couldn’t think for the life of me which one was which.

Luckily, my more numerate pal said… well…..whatever the right answer was. Phew. The woman didn’t believe her. Luckily her big sister turned on her skills of persuasion with “Well, she’s my little sister – and I think I’d know how old she is and I am telling you she is 15!” and we got in.

Brilliant movie.

I carried a watermelon.

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