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May 1, 2007

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Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze and a bunch of extras had the time of their life when “Dirty Dancing” was released two decades ago. This year, visitors to the Virginia and North Carolina lakes where the movie was filmed might well find at least some of its cinematic remnants.

I hiked behind Mountain Lake Hotel, just like Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze did in “Dirty Dancing.” And I drove through the hotel’s tiny tunnel – going the wrong way on a one-way street, just like the actors did in the movie.

It's now been 20 years since Swayze and Grey starred in “Dirty Dancing,” a coming-of-age love story filmed on location at Lake Lure, N.C., and Mountain Lake near Pembroke, Va.

Today, much of the Mountain Lake Hotel remains the same – stately and stone. But, at first glance, I could not easily recognize the resort’s Virginia Cottage, where the movie's Houseman family stayed. That cottage has since been updated with new trim. And the cottage’s stone steps – where Grey’s “Baby Houseman” character was seen skipping – have since been removed.

Likewise, the tempting blue waters of Mountain Lake do not now kiss the sands of the small beach seen on screen.

What happened to all the water?

“Jennifer Grey drank it,” retired biologist Bruce Parker says with a smile.

Getting serious, Parker explains how the water level of Mountain Lake actually runs in cycles. And, right now, it’s gone down.

“It was full when Jennifer Grey jumped in. She didn’t like that, by the way. It was cold water,” Parker says. “It’s that scene where she jumps into Swayze’s arms.”

No, wait. Pause.

Now, rewind to my summer cruise aboard a pontoon boat at Lake Lure, where the other half of “Dirty Dancing” was filmed. There, I had met “Skipper” Steve Berger, who regularly gives tours of Lake Lure. Berger tells guests that the water scenes of “Dirty Dancing” were filmed at Lake Lure and points to a secluded cove.

On the cove’s banks, he says, once stood a boys camp, where more scenes were shot. Yet many of the camp’s stone buildings burned down a few years ago. When I visited, I could find only ruins, surrounded by lush greenery.

But I did find a place at Lake Lure that still looked like a scene in the movie – on a golf course – at Hole No. 16 of the Rumbling Bald Resort. While also at Lake Lure, I met Edith Bond, a banker who fondly recalled how she – and other extras – danced in the movie’s final scene, filmed at the boys camp.

Another movie extra, retired teacher Bob Lilly, welcomed me to his home at Narrows, Va., and he promptly cued up “Dirty Dancing” on a DVD. Laughing, Lilly showed me how Grey stepped on his foot in a segment filmed inside a gazebo at Mountain Lake.

That wooden gazebo actually starred in several scenes of “Dirty Dancing.” And it’s still standing. This year, you can even find it on tours of the Mountain Lake property during “Dirty Dancing” weekends, held May 4-5, June 1-2, and Nov. 16-17, with trivia games, food and dance lessons.

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May 1, 2007

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