‘Dirty Dancing’ fans are having the time of their lives at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm


At Mountain Lake Lodge in southwest Virginia, no one corners any of the babies — or the guests dressed like their favorite Dirty Dancing characters. Not Practice Baby, Watermelon Baby, Bridge Scene Baby, Didn’t Do the Lift Baby, Finale Baby, or Cardboard Corner Baby, a distant relative of Metaphorical Corner Baby.

“I need all my white top babies,” said one visitor, who rounded up her costumed friends for a group photo at the Kellerman’s Mountain House sign, the fictional summer retreat from the 1980s film. “Farmer top babies, you’re next.”

During the resort’s Dirty Dancing weekends, Baby takes center stage along with the rest of the cast, who have carved their way into the hearts and hips of millions of moviegoers. The flick was partially filmed at the 86-year-old lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which after Hollywood waved its wand, became Kellerman’s in the Catskills circa 1963. (Other scenes were filmed at a Boy Scout camp in North Carolina no longer stands.) The wooded lot on a 2,600-acre conservation area has housed the tribute since 1988, a year after the film’s release. The themed event, held five or six times a year, sells out months in advance.

“It’s a cult film. It takes you back to when you were a teenager and all the good feelings you had. Your first love, your first date, all those fun things,” said Heidi Stone, the hotel’s president and chief executive officer. “I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon. Love just carries on through the generations.”

To prepare for the weekend, Heidi recommends previewing the film, paying special attention to the locations: the arrivals area in front of the main lodge, the Houseman family cabin, and the entrance to the staff quarters, where the watermelon came into the picture.

“See the movie before you come so when you pull up you’re like, ‘Oh my God! It’s really Kellermans,'” said Heidi from a table at Harvest, the restaurant where the Housemans ate and discussed deep issues. (It was the ’60s, after all.)

The film studio changed little about the resort that Texas businessman William Lewis Moody built in 1936 as a cool mountain retreat for overheated city dwellers. It added a few flourishes, like striped awnings on Harvest’s windows and white chained bollards adorning the driveway. The filmmakers didn’t fill the lake, however: the body of water was buoyant in the 1980s, but dried up more than two decades later. (The lake’s level fluctuates and flows; it was two-thirds full in 2020, the highest point since 2008.)

As I pulled up in front of the imposing brownstone, I let the engine idle and hoped that the specter of Max Kellerman would materialize. It didn’t. So I drove to the back of the building and accidentally reenacted the scene where Johnny, after breaking into his own car, steered his Chevrolet Bel Air the wrong way down the driveway. Clearly, Patrick Swayze was my co-driver.

Mountain Lake Lodge offers a range of accommodation including rooms in the main lodge and cabins that have been named by the families who built and owned the accommodations before transferring them back to the estate. On all other days of the week a room is just a room. But this weekend, Virginia Cottage was a celebrity in its own right: the three bedrooms with the green roof and wrap-around porch were Baby’s Cabin. Room 232 also has a “Dirty Dancing” connection: Swayze slept here during filming. Scanning a printout of the hotel register for September 1, 1986, I noticed the name of another famous guest staying on the same floor: Cynthia Rhodes, the penny of Swayze’s Johnny.

Before dinner I went to the bar where two elderly gentlemen with a small dog knew their crowd. They yelled at me, “Google He-Man and Skeletor are dancing.” I watched the commercial spoofing the film’s finale while downing a glass of Lisa’s Strawberry Lemonade laced with vodka. At Harvest, the host took me to the most coveted table in the dining room. Behind my shoulder, a sign on a pillar showed a photo of the Housemans seated on the same four-roof and noted that the sconces, stone interior, and tables had not changed in 35 years. Chef Michael Porterfield deserves a badge too, and not just for catering to over 300 guests a night. The resort said he took Swayze on the back of his motorcycle.

I had to chew fast to enter the evening’s costume contest, which explained the excessive number of blossom pink dresses, cutoff jean shorts, and watermelon accessories at dinner. “I need any supporting actors, including watermelons. Lisa, where are you?” shouted Debbi Sheldon Richey, the dance teacher who performed the judging duties. “I need everyone but Baby and Johnny.” (Lisa was Baby’s older sister.)

Debbi addressed each candidate with a simple question: “Who – or what – are you?” “We are the Schumachers. We have some wallets,” said a couple dressed as elderly kleptomaniacs. “I’m the corner,” said an angle. “I’m the watermelon and I’m all the way from Scotland,” said the transatlantic fruit. There were several Pennies in leotards and tights, a lunchtime Lisa, and more Schumachers, including the winner: Finale Baby’s mother, a guest from San Francisco, who was celebrating her 40th birthday with her own cast of nearly three dozen friends and family .

For the baby department, every outfit and scene was represented, including baby dressed up as a baby. (The prequel?) Debbi declared Magic Show Baby, wearing a stuffed chicken prop, the winner. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the chicken in my 16, 17 years as a judge,” Debbi said after the pageant. I asked about her most memorable baby. “The mother was the corner and the daughter was the sulking daughter,” she said, still amazed at the young girl’s acting ability, provided she acted.

Although the event clearly attracted more women than men, we had enough Johnnys to form a quorum. “What really got Johnny was dancing,” Debbi said, raising the bar.

An outdoor screening of the film followed. But before the lights went out, I introduced myself to Baby carrying a watermelon from England (Lucy Fellows) and her mother, Baby’s 50th birthday (Louise). I thanked Louise for the vegan birthday cake that the waitress had served me a piece of. The next day, I joined her family in the Grand Ballroom to discuss small things. Intermediate questions — “Which ‘Seinfeld’ actor did Stan play?” “What did Baby want to do after college?” “What was the first song Baby and Johnny danced to?” — I asked Louise how she from Mountain Lake Lodge had heard.

“A quiz show in England,” said the lifelong Dirty Dancing fan.

On the game show, Louise told me, the host asked the contestant how she planned to spend her winnings. She said she was going to a dirty dancing weekend in Virginia. Months later, they packed up their stuffed watermelon and flew to North America. During trivia, I noticed that Louise and Lucy answered most of the questions. “Martin, are you a fan of the film?” I whispered loudly to Louise’s husband. “As a guy, I don’t really care about it, but I appreciate it,” he replied. “I’m more of the ‘Pretty Woman’ type.”

Next Fellows family trip: Beverly Hills, California. And the next dirty dancing activity: scavenger hunt.

We teamed up and completed the eight challenges together, taking a mint from where Baby’s dad said his daughter would change the world (Harvest’s Hostess Stand) and bunny hopping on the springy green lawn. Martin playfully played all the male roles.

“I’m sorry I lied to you, but you lied too,” Lucy told her fake father, Jake Houseman, while imaginary tears rolled down her cheeks. Fake Jake rubbed his eyes.

In the lake, we trudged through the thickets to find the cinder blocks that Swayze had used as a pedestal during the practice lift scene. Louise raised his arms like Superman, ready for take off, while Martin crouched and pretended to try to lift his wife by the hips. The knees didn’t crack, nor did the lips take on a hint of hypothermia. “Because the water was so cold during filming, there are no close-ups of this scene in the film,” reads one plaque. “Baby’s lips were blue!”

At the afternoon dance lesson, Debbi made an important announcement, likely made by a team of lawyers: “We don’t do elevators.” Instead, we learned several flightless dances, including merengue, solo salsa, and swing. “Hitchhike, hitchhike, hitchhike, toe, heel, flick, step, right, swing, recover, step, hold,” Debbi instructed. “Now do that twice.”

I had my moves for the nightly dance party. However, a torrential downpour threatened to cancel the festival. I was chatting with Dennis Williams, a dance instructor, in the lobby when he was pulled away to test the dance floor’s water level. The outdoor nightclub was considered safe and after dinner, guests began to trickle in.

The dance felt a bit like prom with only the wallflowers and parent attendants in attendance, but then the 40th birthday revelers arrived and breathed life into the party. A cardboard cutout of a tiny Johnny appeared. He danced slowly with a few guests and surfed several times. As the DJ played the film’s final song, Johnny was thrown to the sidelines and we all jumped onto the dance floor. Many of us have trained for this moment, this time of our lives, for 35 years.

115 Hotel Cir., Pembroke, Virginia.

The lodge, where part of the 1987 film was filmed, hosts dirty dancing weekends several times a year. The dates for 2023 are 28.-30. April 23-25 June, 28-30 July, 25-27 August 15-17 September and 27-29 October. The themed packages start at $599 per person based on double occupancy and include two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner and all activities such as a film screening, dance class and dance party.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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