By Scott Baughman
A light rain is drizzling across the lens of M.R. Fletcher’s sunglasses. Although it has been many years since he last visited Lake Lure, the journeyman dancer and Hollywood choreographer is defying the gray skies as he beams with pride about spending one of the most important moments of his life in this town – the making of Dirty Dancing more than 30 years ago.
But he also recalls how the movie almost wasn’t “Dirty Dancing” at all.
“When we came here to film parts of the movie 35 years ago, we never expected it to be a big hit or to become this iconic,” Fletcher says while taking a break from fan photos and autographs at the Lake Lure Dirty Dancing Festival this past September. “And we couldn’t call it Dirty Dancing when we were here filming it.”
The year was 1986. And using a title like that would evoke ideas of an entirely different kind of movie.
“We had to call it ‘Dancing in the Night’ while we were here all those years ago or else we would have gotten kicked out of town,” Fletcher recalls with a laugh. “But it was a huge deal for me, because this was my first film.”
And it wasn’t the first time the title of the film provoked a reaction.
“When I first heard about getting the role, I was sent a copy of the script and I thought it was porn! I mean, with that title back then?” Fletcher says. “I was in New York City taking jazz class and my teacher had (film choreographer) Kenny Ortega in town. It was an open audition. They loved us. Half of the principal dancers in the film were from Los Angeles and the other from New York. A few weeks later I was on a plane to Mountain Lake, Virginia and then here the next month. Lake Lure is where we actually did the dancing.”
Fellow cast member Andrew Koch joined Fletcher at the ’22 festival and also reminisced about getting his role in the movie.
“I was buddies with Kenny Ortega so I didn’t have to audition,” Koch says. “I didn’t really read the script, he just said do you want to do a motion picture? And I said yes! Are you kidding? It was my first film but I did more movies after that. I got an invite to be in Roadhouse with (Dirty Dancing star) Patrick Swayze after that.”
Both Fletcher and Koch say the best part of being in Dirty Dancing was the chemistry and bond the cast all still have three decades later.
And both men say they are still dancing and still artists.
“I volunteered for the festival and they actually sent me a note that they were full up and maybe next year,” Koch says with a laugh. “The rhythm still is in me, I’m a writer and I still love that feedback.”
Fletcher is also still creating. “I’m living in Santa Fe these days and still doing choreography. But this festival is my big new project. Andrew and I want to come back in ’23,” Fletcher says.
For both men, they are concerned about the future of cinema and having unexpected, breakout hits like Dirty Dancing even happen again in the current Hollywood environment.
“Bringing art back to the school and getting kids interested in art is the only way for us to have classic stories like Dirty Dancing be movies and become hits again,” says Koch.
“I’m an arts school graduate and so I agree completely,” Fletcher adds.
But as for the lasting appeal of Dirty Dancing today? Both dancers think they have some ideas.
“Well, nostalgia is so powerful right now, here in 2022 because while we can’t predict the future and it can sometimes be scary, we can certainly still enjoy the predictable and comfortable past,” Koch says.
For Fletcher it’s more about the immediacy of the themes of Dirty Dancing even here in a new century.
“This film was a period piece but brought it up to the present day so much with women’s rights,” Fletcher says. “And it was relevant in the 1980s and is very relevant today. Eleanor Bernstein, the producer, couldn’t get Dirty Dancing picked up as a studio project because of the abortion scene even back then. And abortion is still such a huge issue today. But if you take that part out of the story then it affects the entire movie. The film was a phenomenon and all I can say is how blessed we are to have been a part of it.”