‘The Time of My Life’: Locals from Pat’s School of Dance are in new ‘Dirty Dancing’ film

Sher Shepherd Phillips and Dustin Phillips sync in a move to up-tempo “Love Man,” as they did in “Dirty Dancing.” Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- The “Dirty Dancing” film remake which airs Wednesday night has a half-dozen from Pat’s School of Dance out of 20 regular dancers, and also the Kanuga Conference Center among locales.

ABC is telecasting Lionsgate Television’s three-hour film one time — this Wednesday, May 24, at 8-11 p.m. The TV airing is in place of a theatrical release.

Many scenes were filmed locally in mid-April to mid-May of 2016. Dance rehearsals were done in Pat’s studio in Hendersonville, typically in one room while usual youth sessions went on as normal in other rooms.

Abigail Breslin plays reserved, innocent teen Frances “Baby” Houseman at a summer resort camp in 1963. This is the role that made Jennifer Grey famous 30 summers ago, in the PG-13 romantic drama known for festive music and sensual dancing.

Abigail Breslin as Baby and Colt Prattes as Johnny start a dance scene, in the new “Dirty Dancing.” Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Snazzy dancer Colt Prattes recreates Patrick Swayze’s Johnny Castle. The perky, womanizing, working-class dance instructor romances spoiled, wealthy Baby. He literally puts her on a pedestal in the climactic dance move.

Johnny brings Baby out of her shell, joining the camp crew’s provocative dance parties. She gains self-confidence, evidenced by the boast “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” The late Swayze has said the coming-of-age drama’s main theme is self-discovery more than sensuality.

Locals abound in the film, amidst a select group of 20 supporting dancers. Sheraton Shepherd Phillips and her husband Dustin Phillips dance together in two critical scenes of the new film. April Freeman, Brittany Roland and Sarah DeVore — all also main Pat’s dance instructors — also were filmed dancing for the new movie.


Sher’s parents, John and Pat Shepherd, are part of the closing number just as they were 30 years earlier playing resort guests. Their family-run local dance studio is Pat’s School of Dance.

Original choreographer Kenny Ortega crafted grinding and rocking “dirty” dance steps to early R&B music that scriptwriter Eleanor “Baby” Bergstein once did. There is far less grinding in Andy Blankenbuehler’s new choreography but dancing is in much larger groups, Dustin Phillips told The Tribune. Her further noted the plot loyally followed the original film, with more character development scripted.

In the new version, the Phillipses and other locals are part of a fiery up-tempo soulful R&B medley of Otis Redding’s “Love Man” then the Contours’ “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance”) from 1962. They cross right in front of the camera at the start. Chances are good they are in the final cut, they figure. They are in a Soul Train-like conga line.  To quote the Contours, dancers sure do the Mashed Potato and Twist dance moves, to “work it out baby” and “drive you crazy.”

The local duo is also featured supporting dancers to the main song, in doing jazzier ballroom moves to the slower and more graceful “The Time of My Life.” They shot that full routine merely three times, but redid  portions with varied camera angles. In all, they spent three days on the two routines, once going 13 hours minus a quick dinner break.




John and Pat Shepherd flank Nicole Scherzinger, one of the film’s stars. Photo by Sher Shepherd.

Ten main dancers from New York rehearsed routines, ahead of 10 more (also five males and five females) chosen from auditions in Hendersonville, Phillips said. Sher portrays a resort activities leader.

Dustin Phillips and Robert Hart are among four refined camp waiters by day, and dirty dancers in private parties at night. Hart trained in Pat’s studio as a youth. He is now a professional dancer, based in L.A.

Dustin said director Wayne Blair told him to act “prim and proper” as a waiter, then “let our hair down and be ourselves” when raucous after hours. They naturally sweated for a sexy look as the bunkhouse where they danced was kept warm, during daytime shoots with windows blackened for illusion of nighttime.

Sean Anglin, among the film’s actors-dancers from New York, is The Cool Waiter in credits. Phillips quips about how ugly the yellow tuxedo waiter coats were they had to wear. Phillips is near Johnny when Johnny walks by, tosses his coat and asks “what’s up?”

The Phillipses sensed “they liked our chemistry” dancing together. They are keys to Dance Educators of America. Sher, 32, is its national title director; Pat once was overall vice-president. Dustin, 39, has led choreography of recent college football bowl game halftime shows. Sher helps him. Next up as a big show, local dancers will be in Pearl Harbor Day festivities Dec. 7 in Hawaii.

April Freeman who actually dances fluidly is up to task, playing a flirtatious resort guest who does not yet dance that well. Co-star Johnny picks her from a crowd of guests, to dance with him. In actuality, she was suddenly singled out for that moment and vaulted into the shot. That gave her less time to get nervous. Brittany Roland also plays a resort guest. DeVore portrays a camp dance instructor, a colleague of Johnny.

The local dancer-actors said how they enjoyed being in the film. Pat Shepherd said she is proud of so many of her workers being in the film, and that she and husband John get to recreate their extra roles.

Local scenes are again used. The new version was shot a year ago largely at Kanuga Conference Center. The Episcopal-affiliated retreat is the rustic setting for the summer camp, in place of Lake Lure from the original.

In filming in October, 1986, Lake Lure’s water was so frigid that actors’ lips reportedly got so blue that the director scrapped close-ups. Trick photography made a small gym-dance hall look much larger, post-movie tours revealed.

Scenes shot at Kanuga include the conga dance line early on, and Baby’s pivotal watermelon scene in meeting Johnny. Johnny’s cabin scenes were filmed in the Fox Pavilion at Camp Kanuga, while its Fox Cottage on main campus served as the camp owner Max Kellerman’s cabin.

“We hope the movie provides a chance for viewers to fall in love again with Western North Carolina’s beauty,” Kanuga Pres. Michael R. Sullivan stated. He equates Kanuga in real life to the film’s fictional resort, for “old-fashioned fun and relaxation.”

A nightclub scene was shot in Saluda in May 2016, with Billy Dee Williams as band leader Tito Suarez. Asheville and High Hampton Inn in Cashier were among settings. Locals provided cars from the Sixties, as a backdrop.

The famed dance moment of the original is tabbed The Lift. Johnny lifts Baby above him, as she stretches horizontally with a slight upward tilt. Due to Grey’s fears, they reportedly shunned practicing it. In the remake, the couple practices the move in a pond to ease any falls.

Swayze did his stunts, injuring a knee from a log roll. Swayze has told the media that many film moments were improvised, such as his genuine annoyance as Grey giggled when he tickled her by his sliding fingers down her arm as they practiced dancing. Texas-born Swayze (1952-2009) died from pancreatic cancer, at age 57.

Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Scream Queens”  fame co-stars as Baby in the remake, with Colt Prattes as dashing summer camp dance instructor Johnny Castle. Athletic Prattes is an accomplished dancer. He dances with Pink (flipping her about) in her mega-hit video “Try” and in her Truth About Love Tour. He has danced with Nick Jonas and others, when starring as an ego-maniac rock star in “Rock of Ages” in Vegas, and in musicals on Broadway.

In contrast, Breslin like her predecessor Grey had to learn to dance moves for film, according to Dustin Phillips. Breslin turned 21 last month. She was 10, when garnering a best supporting actress nomination for Sunshine.

Nicole Scherzinger portrays dance instructor Penny Johnson, who gets pregnant and drops out of dance contest. This prompts Johnny to train instead with Baby. Hawaiian-born Scherzinger, 38, was lead singer of all-girl band and burlesque dance ensemble Pussycat Dolls. Their dance hit in 2005 was “Don’t Cha (wish your girlfriend was hot like me?).” She won “Dancing with the Stars” in its season 10.

Baby’s parents are portrayed by two familiar actors, in Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood. Oft-grinning redhead Messing sprung from “Will & Grace” on TV to numerous romantic comedy film roles. Greenwood calmly  played the president in “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” and JFK in “Thirteen Days” about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kellerman is portrayed by Tony Roberts, Woody Allen’s buddy in “Annie Hall.” Max dogs playboy Johnny, eventually firing him.

Katey Sagal is buxom, wealthy “bungalow bunny” cougar Vivian Pressman. Johnny obliged her flirtations. Sagal was in crime drama “Sons of Anarchy.” She burst into fame in “Married with Children,” as Al Bundy’s sarcastic wife Peggy. Williams, now age 80, who was Gale Sayers in “Brian’s Song,” co-starred twice with Diana Ross in films, and was Lando Cairissian in Star Wars classic “Empire and “Jedi” flicks.

Younger cast members include Sarah Hyland, 26, from “Modern Family” as Baby’s sister Lisa. Trevor Einhorn, 28, was Kelsey Grammer’s chunky son Frederick Crane on “Frasier,” and recently part of “Mad Men.”

The Phillipses were impressed by the main cast’s personalities and how they dined in Hendersonville and explored the town.

The chart-topping soundtrack featured Oscar-winning soulful “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” The duet was a comeback for both country star Jennifer Warnes, and Bill Medley (age 47 at the time) of The Righteous Brothers. Other original hits were actor Swayze’s tender ballad “She’s Like the Wind,” and Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes.”

The remake’s soundtrack adds such songs as a Prattes-Sagal duet of Peggy Lee’s hit “Fever,” and Messing then Greenwood (in the reprise) singing Frank Sinatra’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Other songs return, but are covered. Seal sings the Solomon Burke hit “Cry to Me,” while Lady Antebellum does Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby.” The 17-song soundtrack concludes with “The Time of My Life” by the cast featuring Prattes and Breslin. That song led off the original film’s soundtrack of 12 songs, which in 2007 was remastered and expanded to 27 song tracks.

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