Throughout primary school I spent most weekends in the company of a dear friend named Cleo. Our friendship is defined in my memory by dance classes and two films which we watched incessantly. Shaping the cushions of her brown velour couch around us to make dashboard and roof, we pretended we were at a drive in that played weekly reruns of ‘Grease’ and ‘Dirty Dancing.’
When I logged on to facebook this morning, my feed was filled with messages of woe, commemorating the death of Patrick Swayze. I sat on the train and reminisced in his honour, about two 7 year olds, fascinated by the movement and energy of films that (pre-High School Musical and the like) dealt with real youth themes such as sexuality, parental control, class difference, trust and peer pressure. We may not yet have understood what exactly Rizo and Kenickie were doing in the car, but we were transfixed.
I have fond and vivid memories of my early years spent at Cleo’s Queen St abode. I remember the food her parents cooked; I remember the mosquito net over her bed and how it made me feel regal; my fascination at her asthma apparatus; choreographed dances to Grease songs and Ace of Bass; and the way her older sister pronounced ‘Swayze’, all fancy and Sean Connery-esque. It made us laugh to try and copy her tone.
Some films stick with you throughout your life and Dirty Dancing was one of them. In later years, new friends feigned irony when we pumped ‘Hungry Eyes’ out of p-plated car windows on the way to school. When I took up salsa with a friend in 2007, “I carried a watermelon” became a repeated joke, along with “this is my dance space, this is your dance space,” when the bachata got a little flirty. Just recently I joined the hordes at Carriageworks for the Dirty Dancing Wrong Prom and we cackled with glee through each hip thrust and spin.
I think sometimes I am still 7 years old and waiting for Patrick Swayze to sweep me off my feet and turn me into a dancer. I want strong arms to lead me and teach me and one day, I’d like to look good in a pink leotard and denim shorts. It’s strange reaching this age when the idols of early childhood start to die. I felt sad today, not for the death of a man I never knew, but for the loss of that wide-eyed wonderment I experienced with a friend I no longer know; that sense that a whole life could change in one summer and that someone would one day lift me high into the air.