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Tuesday September 25th 2018

Dirty Dancing | 1987

Dirty Dancing filming location: Mountain lake Lodge, Roanoke, Virginia
Dirty Dancing film location: the 'Catskills' resort: Mountain lake Lodge, Roanoke, Virginia | Photograph: Mountain Lake Lodge

Looking back, I was a bit sniffy about Dirty Dancing in the first edition of The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations but it’s stood the test of time both as a musical romance and as a reminder of that period when the Fifties began to morph into the Sixties.

It’s the summer of ’63, Kennedy is still President and the Houseman family heads off for the annual holiday at a time when many resorts were still openly anti-Semitic in their policies. The Houseman’s destination is the Catskills area of New York State, home to hotels owned by and catering to Jews – becoming dubbed the ‘Borscht Belt’.

More formally the Catskill Mountains, the area is in the southeastern part of New York State, about100 miles northwest of New York City or 40 miles southwest of Albany.

The fictitious ‘Kellerman’s Mountain House’ was based on Grossinger's Catskill Resort, which stood near the town of Liberty from the Twenties until closing down in 1986, just a year before the film was released.

The film knits together two separate locations to represent the resort, neither of which is in the Catskills or even New York.

The main location is the hotel itself, which is the Mountain Lake LodgePembroke, off I-460 west of Roanoke, Virginia.

The main building still overlooks what was the Houseman family’s cabin and the waterside gazebo where Mr Houseman (Jerry Orbach) sulks after beloved daughter Baby (Jennifer Grey) admits spending the night with cocky dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze).

But what has happened to the lake? A geological anomaly has seen the water of Mountain Lake fluctuate dramatically until today it’s rarely more than a dry bed.

It’s unlikely you’ll find enough water to practice your lifts like Baby and Johnny in the spot just down the path from the gazebo.

It’s often claimed that this famous scene was filmed at Lake Lure in North Carolina, but it wasn’t. Yes, Lake Lure, southeast of Asheville, is the film’s other location but it hasn’t fared so well as Mountain Lake in terms of what’s left to see.

Dirty Dancing filming location: Mountain lake Lodge, Roanoke, Virginia
Dirty Dancing film location: the remains of the dance hall: Firefly Cove, Lake Lure, North Carolina| Photograph: Getty Images / Davis Turner / Stringer

The closed and abandoned Chimney Rock Camp For Boys at Lake Lure provided the staff cabins where the naïve Baby first glimpses the hip-swinging and pelvic thrusting that heralds a new age of sexual openness.

The camp’s gymnasium was converted into ‘Kellerman’s’ ballroom and also, with a change of dressing and the addition of a thrust stage, into that of the ‘Sheldrake’, where Baby and Johnny present Mambo Magic and the deceptively sweet old Schumachers continue their reckless crime spree.

In the Eighties, movie locations hadn’t become such a tourist draw and after filming the cabins were demolished. To compound the sites bad luck, the gymnasium burned down leaving nothing but stone foundations.

Much of the land is now a gated residential development called Firefly Cove.

Dirty Dancing filming location: Mountain lake Lodge, Roanoke, Virginia
Dirty Dancing film location: the steps down to the bridge: Lake Lure, North Carolina | Photograph: Getty Images / Davis Turner /Stringer

Even the little wooden bridge on which Baby practised her moves is gone – according to perfectly credible legend dismantled bit by bit over the years by fans of the movie.

What does remain is the instantly recognisable narrow flight of stone steps which once led down to the bridge, and the golf course on which Baby asks her father for $250.

Nevertheless, the Lake Lure Inn & Spa, 2771 Memorial Hwy, Lake Lure, does host the Annual Dirty Dancing Festival. You can stay in ‘Baby’s Bungalow’ and ‘Johnny’s Cabin’, though these are replicas and not the actual filming sites.

Lake Lure is a picturesque area which had been used as a location during the silent movie era. In 1992, Chimney Rock Park itself became a location for Michael Mann’s The Last Of The Mohicans.