Emma O'Neill

The stars of Dirty Dancing teach Northern Lights a few moves

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Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing is returning to the Sunderland stage at the Empire Theatre and, to celebrate, Northern Lights were invited along to an exclusive workshop headed by the production’s Associate Choreographer, Glenn Wilkinson.

Most of us are already familiar with the film – set at Kellerman’s resort in Catskill, New York during the summer of 1963, we follow Frances “Baby” Houseman and her budding relationship with the resorts dance instructor, Johnny Castle. The film is completed by a multi-platinum soundtrack including Academy Award winning (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

Released in 1987, with only a $5 million budget, it was considered an independent film and had a limited release. They couldn’t even afford their first choice for the production – John Travolta, instead giving relative newcomer Patrick Swayze a chance, which would go on to become his big break. The film went on to make $210 million in its first year, and became the first film to sell over one million copies on VHS.

The stage production first went on tour in the UK in 2011, breaking records across the country with ticket sales of £42,000,000. Produced by Karl Sydow and Joye Entertainment, the stage tour brings the much-loved characters and some original dialogue from the film to life. Teaming up with Sassy Girl Fitness studio, choreographer Glenn Wilkinson brought along two dancers – Lucy Martin and Faisal Khodabukus, who have both worked on the production – to teach us a few moves – but not before showing us some of their own.

Glenn has worked on productions of Dirty Dancing across the world – from the West End in London, to Hong Kong and South Africa. He says this can bring about some challenges when working on the production in other countries.

“It can’t be adapted. It’s like an amazing piece of literature – I’m not comparing what I do to like, Beethoven’s music. You can’t change the notes that he put on the page – you can interoperate how you might play that, but you can’t change the notes on the page. You’ve got to have the same idea, really. That’s where it gets difficult as I’ll just go in and insist that that’s the way it has to be done.”

The UK tour has been performing phenomenally across the country and Glenn thinks it’s a testament to our love for Dirty Dancing.

“I think in the UK, we have a love affair with the movie, for sure. This is what I hear when I go out into the bar, and listen to people talk during the interval. Lots of people who loved the movie when they were young, they’ve grown up and had children of their own and passed that love on to their daughters and it’s had exactly the same affect. It’s become sort of ageless for some reason – I don’t know why that is, some things just seem to not age.”

Glenn held a Dirty Dancing workshop where we had the opportunity to try out a few (very basic) dance moves from the film. While learning the cha cha with a few of the Empire theatre’s members, we were treated to a short dance from Lucy Martin and Faisal Khodabukus.

Choreographer Glenn says that he really loves doing these workshops across the country. “I’m used to working with really highly-trained professional dancers, and actually an event like today can be more rewarding. You know if I can reach out to somebody and make someone’s day, who’s not a fully trained dancer, that’s an amazing thing to be able to do”

Dirty Dancing comes to the Empire Theatre from January 27 until February 14. Tickets from £12.90#####