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How Old Are Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Grey In Dirty Dancing (And Is It A Problem)?

When "Dirty Dancing" hit theaters in August 1987, everyone — including the studio that produced the film — expected the project to flop. Nobody anticipated that the romantic drama set in 1963 about a love affair at a Catskills resort would become a sleeper hit that made over $213 million at the box office or be named 1988's most popular video rental. And that's to say nothing of the film's success at the Oscars, where it won in the music (original song) category for "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

"Dirty Dancing" has remained a cultural touchstone for the last 36 years, and while Kenny Ortega's enduring choreography (including that famous lift) has aged almost as well as Helen Mirren, the relationship between the film's leads has not. In the story, Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) spends the summer at a resort with her family where she falls in love with the camp's dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). The chemistry between the two actors is apparent from their first interaction, but what concerns modern audiences is their age gap. 

While the characters' ages are never explicitly stated in the film, Baby is a recent high school graduate estimated to be around 17 or 18 years old, and Johnny is significantly older, in his mid-20s. And as conversations around age-appropriate relationships and grooming have become more culturally mainstream, the relationship between Baby and Johnny has come under a microscope.

If the relationship is legal, does that make it less concerning?

"Dirty Dancing" was written by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein and based on her own childhood trips to the Catskills with her family. Bergstein leaves the ages of her two leads ambiguous but does drop in clues that give the audience context as to the gaps between Baby's and Johnny's levels of mental and emotional maturity.

According to the script, Johnny was born in 1938 (the same year as Bergstein), making him 24 or 25, depending on when his birthday takes place. When he meets Baby, he is already in a relationship with a married woman. Baby is a sheltered recent high school graduate who intends to attend Mount Holyoke College in the fall. She is still reliant on her family and her father is fiercely protective of her, suggesting she might still be a minor. The New York Times certainly thought so: In 1987, they described her character as a "17-year-old innocent and serious daddy's girl."

Baby's and Johnny's ages might have room for interpretation, but the actors who depicted them were much older than their characters. Jennifer Grey was 26 when she played Baby in the movie and Patrick Swayze was 34 years old. Regardless, the significant age disparity between Baby and Johnny has left some viewers feeling squeamish. One Reddit user pointed out that the uneven dynamic between the two characters is most evident in the film's climactic scene when Johnny announces, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," a reference to what is typically viewed as a punishment reserved for a child.

In spite of the controversy, a Dirty Dancing sequel might be on its way

Hollywood loves reboots, remakes, and sequels, and "Dirty Dancing" is no exception. Following the publication of her book, "Out of the Corner; A Memoir" in 2022, Jennifer Grey spoke with the Los Angeles Times about her plans to executive produce and star in a sequel, after years of reportedly not wanting to make one. She said, "I have no desire to remake the first one or to compete with the first one or to make it better than the first one or as good. It's more about: What's a fresh story to be told?"

Grey shared that the new film is targeted for a Valentine's Day 2024 release date, and that she will reprise her role as Baby. This time, however, the film is expected to be set in the '90s and will chronicle how Baby has evolved in the three decades since the last film. The actor added that the movie will concentrate on "What happened to her and what is now relevant about the original story at a different moment; looking at it through a different lens."

Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 and as such, won't be involved in the upcoming project. But it will be interesting to see if Baby — now all grown up — will address the effect her formative relationship with Johnny had on her life.