Everyone remembers their first time: the awkwardness, the excitement, the uncertainty. For better or worse, the first foray onto a dance floor is something you remember. For many, it’s among the first occasions when you start to sense where, and with whom, you belong. A time when you really believed something different might happen, and when you hoped that this dance, with that boy or girl, might finally change your life forever.
The first time I saw the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, it was that electrifying dance floor scene, 20 minutes in, which stayed with me. The doors to the staff quarters burst open to reveal a seething den of sensuality. The Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’ poses the essential question as the camera pans across the hips of couple after couple, locked in the rhythm of the music, pelvises asking and answering each other, back, forth, up, down, swinging and swaying with luscious abandon. You can practically taste the sweat – apparently director Emile Ardolino filmed during a relentless heatwave. As the camera eyeballs undulating bodies, it becomes clear how much fun the dancers are having. Oblivious to the camera’s gaze – and to protagonist Baby (Jennifer Grey), who stands, mouth agape, in the doorway – they smoulder and smile, hands lovingly lingering on bare backs, arms clasped around necks. Dancing like no one’s watching.