History of ‘Dirty Dancing’ in Lake Lure

LAKE LURE, NC (WSPA) – It’s been 35 years since moviegoers started having the time of their lives.

Dirty Dancing debuted in movie theaters on August 21, 1987, and much of the film was shot in Lake Lure.

Western North Carolina was one of two locations used to create the “Kellerman’s Resort” for the movie set in the Catskills during the summer of 1963. The other was at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia.

Most of the filming in Lake Lure happened at a closed boys’ camp. It served as the fictional quarters for the movie’s resort staff. However, there are only a few rocks remaining.

“Over the years people would just come and see what was left,” Michelle Yelton, co-founder of the town’s annual Dirty Dancing Festival, said. “People would take pieces of Johnny’s cabin or a rock from the rock wall. So, over the years it just fell apart.”

There are two sets of rock stairs in that general area. One is visible the by boat that was used in one scene, but the steps where Baby (Jennifer Grey) practiced her dance steps is on private property and is out of public view. The bridge – at the end of those steps – is gone.

Another scene was shot on the 16th hole at Rumbling Bald Resort’s golf course where Baby asked her father for money. We’re told a plaque on the hole marks the spot.

Otherwise, you can follow in the footsteps of Gray and Patrick Swayze at the 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa.

“That is where the cast and crew stayed while filming Dirty Dancing here in Lake Lure,” Yelton said. “There is a room that ‘Johnny’ stayed in, Patrick Swayze and a room that Jennifer Gray stayed in that people can still reserve. Although I recommend reserving that years in advance because it does stay booked.”

Yelton tells 7NEWS the producers of Dirty Dancing wanted to shoot the entire film in Lake Lure in 1986, but the town’s leadership at the time didn’t go along with the idea.

Dirty Dancing was produced on a budget of $6 million according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, but it made nearly $215 million at the box office worldwide. The film established Swayze as a major Hollywood star.

Shooting days were long at Lake Lure, and the film’s producers decided to hire a band to help keep the cast entertained at night.

Michael Hall – owner of Tempo Music in Hendersonville – was one of seven musicians from the city that were hired to create a band. “We were expected to be the human jukebox,” Hall said. “They would throw out the songs and ask us to play them and that was our job.”

The band played six hours a night, four days a week from mid-September 1986 into the holidays. Hall said the requests from the actors ranged from classical to rock to even rap music.

The band also had a special visitor with them during those performances. Swayze sat right with them.

“We found out he was a musician too and not just an actor. So, he was quite interested in how our band worked. He would take a folding chair and sit behind the amps,” according to Hall.

“Patrick was very nice. Jennifer was a sweetheart. So, they made us feel at home.”

Lake Lure celebrates the film each year. The 13th annual Dirty Dancing Festival is scheduled for September 10 at Keeter Field next to the 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa. The festival is limited to 2,500 people and 800 tickets were sold in the first week, according to the festival website.

“I’m blown away by how strong the legacy of this movie is,” Yelton said. “Because people are now showing it to their children and their grandchildren. So, it continues to be so popular.”

One of the most popular parts of the festival comes when people attempt to recreate the iconic “lake lift” scene from the movie. It’s the scene where Johnny lifts Baby into the air – while in water – to prepare for their dance performance.

However, according to David Chapman – the production designer of Dirty Dancing – that scene was filmed at the location in Virginia. He still has a drawing showing the shooting locations of the fictional resort.

But there is a caveat for fans who want to recreate the lift at Lake Lure. The lake in Virginia at Mountain Lodge – where Swayze and Gray shot the scene – doesn’t always contain water. A resort official said the lake slowly dried up since the 1980s. A natural phenomenon fills and empties the water cyclically every year.

Dirty Dancing will be back in theaters to mark the 35th anniversary of its release. Fathom Events has scheduled showings across the nation for August 14 and 17.

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