WATCH: The Sweet Story Behind 'Dirty Dancing' 's Iconic "Lift" Scene

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey practiced the iconic "lift" scene for days to get it right

It’s one of the most iconic dance scenes in movie history.

In the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, the entire plot led up to a climactic dance scene in which Frances “Baby” Houseman (played by Jennifer Grey) is lifted over the head of Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze).

Audiences swooned – and Swayze was propelled onto the A-List.

In a featurette on the 30th anniversary Blu-Ray of the film, those involved with the iconic dance sequence share how difficult the scene was to pull off. Better yet, they share behind-the-scenes footage of the rehearsals. (Watch the exclusive clip above!)

Swayze was a trained dancer; Grey was a novice. Choreographer Kenny Ortega was tasked with turning them into something something magical.

Fortunately, there was an undeniable chemistry. “We all became very good friends,” Ortega tells PEOPLE. “We spent hours and hours together, both at work and off the set. We were very tight knit.”

Ortega acknowledges that there were many long, difficult days – like when they practiced the lift in the water. “It was fall in North Carolina, and that water was really cold. Jennifer actually got hypothermia.”

Both Grey and Swayze have said that there were days they didn’t see eye to eye, but Ortega believes that their intensity showed on film. “Both of them brought so much every day,” he says. “Sometimes, it was conflict; sometimes it was love. There was something there between the two of them that was unexplainable. They were human fireworks.”


Swayze, who died in 2009, took the lead in the dance scenes. “He had so much charisma,” Ortega says. “He was just so patient. A beautiful human being.”

As for Grey, “she worked very hard, and it showed,” he says. “Because she was an untrained dancer, the lifts were actually big moments for her personally. She was aspiring to do them as an individual, not just as a character. She brought that to the role, and her reactions were so genuine and honest.”

Swayze and Grey were not the only famous actors to audition for the film. Billy Zane and Val Kilmer were considered for the role of Johnny; while Sarah Jessica Parker and Sharon Stone both considered the role of Baby.

So would the film have worked with anyone other than Swayze and Grey? Ortega doesn’t think so. “It would have been a different film,” he says. “The chemistry would have been different. It wouldn’t have been what it was. I can’t imagine it with anyone but the two of them. It was magical”

The Dirty Dancing30th Anniversary Edition is available now on a limited Collector’s Edition numbered box set, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD.

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