How to Do a "Dirty Dancing" Themed Party

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Close-up of couple pretending to be Dirty Dancing's Johnny Castle and "Baby"
Close-up of couple pretending to be Dirty Dancing's Johnny Castle and "Baby" (Image: Luca Teuchmann/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

"Dirty Dancing," the 1980s hit movie set at a Catskills resort in the summer of 1932, makes a versatile party theme. The resort staff teaches ballroom dance to guests, but that same staff dances "dirty" when they're off duty. Invite your guests to experiment with both dance styles -- or, as in the last dance of Patrick Swayze (Johnny Castle) and Jennifer Grey (Frances "Baby" Houseman,) a blend of both. Add cutoffs, gowns and dance music -- from early 1960s rhythm and blues, doo-wop and rock 'n' roll hits to the Academy Award-winning "The Time of My Life" -- and you have inspiration for your themed party.

The Time of Your Lives

Send invitations that encourage guests to wear costumes in the "Dirty Dancing" theme. Add pregame fun by playing on one of the movie's most famous quotes, "I brought a watermelon." In the invitations of two or three guests, include a request to bring a watermelon. If they do, reward them with prizes and display the watermelons on a table. Host the party at a place that reflects the movie's mountain lakeside family resort setting. Alternatively, have a dance platform delivered to your backyard or rent an indoor hall with dance floor. Decorate with faux fir trees for the mountain look. Add twinkle lights around the room. Purchase a life-size standup of Johnny and Baby.

Let Us Entertain You

Create a playlist with all the songs from the soundtrack and early 1960s dancing music. Plug in your MP3 to speakers. If your party is large, hire an MC to play the music and lead the activities; you might find an MC who will dress up like the resort's owner and add some impersonations and quotes. Play the movie with the sound off on a large-screen TV. Bring in a dance instructor to teach some of the ballroom moves performed by Johnny and Baby like the mambo and cha-cha, as well as some of the sultry dirty dancing moves.

Fun & Games

Give prizes for the best costumes. Categories could include best guest attire in the preppy, golf and cocktail dresses categories; best semi-formal attire a la Patrick Swayze (Johnny Castle) and Jennifer Grey (Frances "Baby" Houseman) during their first and final performances; and best employees' off-duty clothes -- think cutoffs, crop tops, capris, Johnny's black tank top and trousers. After the dance instruction and everyone has warmed up, announce a dance contest. Give trophies, which you can find at party stores, or prizes to the winners. Follow the lead of the movie's talent contest, decorating a "stage" with Hawaiian props like cardboard palm trees. Award prizes for the best and wackiest talents. Party games popular in the early 1960s such as limbo and charades are also fitting.

Keep the Energy Flowing

Dancing burns a lot of energy. Set up a buffet table with lots of finger foods that reference "Dirty Dancing" such as deviled eggs, cocktail meatballs, other 1960s party foods and, of course, watermelon. Take a cue from the Hawaiian decor at the mountain resort's talent show and add teriyaki chicken with pineapple on sticks and other Hawaiian finger foods. If you're outdoors, serve appetizers and then grill hamburgers and hot dogs. Again, don't forget the watermelon. Fitting drinks may include everything from sodas and beer to martinis and mai tais.

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