1 of 4
Scenes, then and now
Top left: Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, in a scene filmed at Mountain Lake. Top right: Grey in the Housemans' cottage (filmed at Mountain Lake). Bottom right: the hotel at Mountain Lake, in a scene from the film. Bottom left: Edith Bond, a banker in Lake Lure, N.C., danced as an extra in the film’s final scene.
2 of 4
Behind the scenes
Jennifer Grey talks with an unidentified member of the crew.
3 of 4
Near Lake Lure
Ruins are all that’s left of a boys camp where part of the filming was done in North Carolina.
4 of 4
The car that became a star
Kurt Rheinheimer’s grandmother’s ’63 Olds sits in Radford, Va. Above (in strip), it makes its film appearance.
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.
Hotel manager H. M. “Buzz” Scanlan, Jr., says, “We’re probably going to reproduce some signs from the movie – show where things were.”
Scanland is also hoping, of course, that no one gets put in the corner – and whoever visits has the time of their life.
The "Dirty Dancing" Oldsmobile: It Still Carries A Family's Memories
by Kurt Rheinheimer
My grandmother’s ’63 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was the fanciest, newest car I knew, and it took us to the very best places we ever went.
When I was a teenager and my mother, father, sister, brothers and I came down from Baltimore to Radford, Va. to visit for the summer, the Olds was the first thing we saw there in the driveway at the corner of Fourth and Harvey streets. It sat long and white and stately, and dwarfed my grandfather’s 1950 Ford parked next to it.
Where it took us – in wonderful luxury and comfort – was to places like the Clover Creamery for ice cream cones. To Claytor Lake State Park to swim in the lake and tie June bugs onto string and fly them around in a circle like tiny model airplanes. And all over the back roads of southwest Virginia to discover the region’s mountains and streams and sights. It was the perfect multi-generational family car.
But I’m not sure whether it ever made its way to Mountain Lake before, many years beyond its heyday, it became a car star in “Dirty Dancing.” By that time – 1987 – the Olds had been passed down to my cousin and her husband, and subsequently sold to the person who sold it to the movie people.
I suspect Jerry Orbach, his movie family along with him, was the first to drive it into Mountain Lake Resort. But not until long after my brothers and sister and I and our cousins had done the work to have that car ready for its role. We’d trained its seats to hold a lot of kids, trained our grandparents to aim it all over the Virginia counties of Montgomery and Pulaski and Giles, trained that big Olds to be at ease when its big moment came.
The memories of my grandparents – Fred and Lillian Hurt – remain keenly alive in the mountains, and in those of us who survive them. And among the physical markers, memorials and mementoes to their lives, the Olds 88 about to make its comeback in the new edition of the movie is perhaps not only the most public, but also among the most private. Yes, everyone watching the movie gets to see “our” car, but it is only we four surviving back-seat kids who know the precise scent of it, who know the feel of the upholstery when you put your hands on the back of the front seats to reach up and ask to stop for a Dr. Pepper, who know the kind, gentle expressions on the faces of the first adults who sat up front and aimed that car so carefully through those days of our lives, so very long ago.