Dancing Through Time

©Tristram Kenton

This is something I originally wrote for work – I’m giving my age away with this one…

Nostalgia, of course, is nothing new – it’s probably as old as humanity. When people first started building houses, there were probably people talking about the good old days when they used to live in a cave.

Slightly more recently, a whole industry has grown up to serve nostalgia. Sixties tribute shows have been a mainstay of the touring circuit for years – indeed, they’ve been so successful that many actual sixties bands (especially those that got ripped off by their managers back in the day) have been tempted out of retirement and back into the tour bus. Radio stations have sprung up all over the place, based on playing people the music they loved when they were fifteen (reputedly the year of our lives we feel most nostalgic about.)

Recently, we’ve seen the rise of eighties nostalgia. (Incidentally, why isn’t seventies nostalgia a thing? Was the decade really that awful?) As someone who grew up in that decade, it’s slightly alarming to realise I’m now a target audience for nostalgia shows.

Which brings me to Dirty Dancing. I wasn’t actually fifteen, when it came out in 1987 – I was nine (go on, do the maths on my age…I dare you) – far too young to see the film at the cinema, given it was a fifteen certificate. But even in those pre-internet days, video releases meant such niceties as age ratings could be ignored, and the film became a mainstay of sleepovers at friends’ houses long before any of us ever reached the age of fifteen. I loved the film back then, and – whether for reasons of nostalgia or not – I still do. And I’m far from the only one, as the success of the stage production has demonstrated.

Dirty Dancing UK tour - Lewis Kirk as 'Johnny' and ensemble - cTristram Kenton
Dirty Dancing UK tour – Lewis Kirk as ‘Johnny’ and ensemble – © Tristram Kenton

Of course, most of those coming to see the production are of a similar vintage to myself – putting Dirty Dancing firmly in the eighties nostalgia show bracket. Which is weird, given that it’s set in the sixties, even to the extent that it’s partly based on the real-life experiences of writer Eleanor Bergstein.

Thinking about the story now, what strikes me is that the whole story is actually an exercise in nostalgia in itself. Think about lead character Baby’s opening voiceover: “That was the summer of 1963. When everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came…”  That line is nostalgia encapsulated in one sentence – looking back to something that felt like a more innocent time, to some mythic ‘before’.

But why did my generation (or at least the female half of it) come to invest so much in this story, set two and a half decades earlier? Well, I guess the themes of young love, and teenage rebellion are fairly universal. Perhaps it’s just a good story. Perhaps the nostalgic feel of the story has contributed to its longevity, meaning it’s survived in a way a story more obviously relevant to 1987 wouldn’t have. Either way, if you ever need anyone to carry a watermelon, you know where to find me.

Jessie Hart as ‘Baby’ (c) Tristram Kenton

Dirty Dancing is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 22 August as part of a national tour.