From the music to the moves, Dirty Dancing has long been one of the most beloved dance films of all time. As the film celebrates its 25th anniversary on August 21, TIME’s Megan Gibson chatted with star Jennifer Grey about the movie, working with the late Patrick Swayze and, of course, dancing.
TIME: Dirty Dancing! Can you even believe it’s been 25 years?
Grey: Well, I can’t believe I made that movie when I was two years old! I mean that’s what’s so amazing. [laughs] No, I think it’s just a lifetime ago. And then when I see bits from the movie or photos from the movie, it’s like looking through a photo album of, like, baby pictures. Oh, Baby pictures! They are my Baby pictures.
What are your best memories of actually being on set?
It was the first time I was ever in every scene of a movie and it was really exciting. I loved rehearsing the dances. We rehearsed for maybe two weeks in this beautiful, brightly lit space with Kenny Ortega choreographing and Miranda Garrison [assisting]. Kenny was teaching me the steps and Miranda was teaching Patrick the steps and we were just learning how to do these Latin dances that I had never learned before and never even tried.
If you had to estimate, how many times in your life have you heard the phrase “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” said to you?
I mean I wish anytime I went into a nice restaurant and asked for a table they said, Well I’m sure you don’t want one in the corner. [laughs] Right!
Have you ever gotten tired of being associated with Dirty Dancing?
I never have grown even remotely tired of the association. It was just a thing of joy for people that I’m constantly getting that spill-off. It’s just such an honor to be associated with something that gives people pleasure.
You also won a season of Dancing with the Stars in 2010. Have you always been a dedicated dancer?
This is the craziest thing: I was never a dancer.
I find that hard to believe.
The only time I’ve ever danced everyday was during Dancing with the Stars and in the two-week rehearsal for Dirty Dancing and that was only to do a particular dance. I go to a dance class now, once a week, and I can’t get the combination. I kid you not. Everyone in my dance class knows that I can’t be in the front row because I can’t remember the combination.
But you won! That’s what’s causing disconnect for me.
I went to dance class as a girl because I didn’t like sports, but I never did a dance recital in my life. Never, ever, ever. I felt comfortable dancing and I was happiest dancing, but I was never the best person in the class. So I do this movie and then I become so well known for being a dancer that I stopped going to dance classes because I felt embarrassed that everyone was going to find me out and realize that I can’t dance. Which is why I didn’t do Dancing with the Stars for the first eight seasons they asked me to do. [They asked again] right around the time that Patrick passed away and I had just found I had thyroid cancer and I’d had two neck surgeries. I just thought, is this the last chance I’ll have to do something I really love?
You had the chance to dance to “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on the show, which was very emotional for you. Did you in some way feel that you were dancing as kind of tribute to Patrick?
I’m always very surprised by how much I’m moved. [During Dancing with the Stars], I was totally taken aback and I felt this enormous connection to something from my past that was very profound. It was like revisiting a time when I did something with Patrick when he was alive. I danced with him; I learned to dance with him. [Dancing with the Stars is] very much built on the formula of Dirty Dancing, which is a professional dancer teaches an amateur and the road to the dance is such an emotional journey. It’s like dance is a metaphor for going beyond where you think you can go.