Living Out “Dirty Dancing” In Real Life

It was three days of good old-fashioned fun, which reminded me that in this time of political and social turmoil, community groups still exist.

Dirty Dancing is one of my all-time favorite movies. I was a young teen when it was released, and I remember falling in love with Patrick Swayze and wishing I could be “Baby” in the movie. I lamented that nothing romantic ever happened to me.

I also loved getting a glimpse of the culture of Kellerman’s, the family summer retreat center where the movie takes place. Kellerman’s was modeled after Grossingers and other retreat centers, now long gone, where Jewish families would vacation over the summer. There were activities for everyone: swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, and of course, dancing. It was a place where families could vacation together and everyone could find something to do.

I got my own taste of Kellerman’s last week when I attended a “Shavuot Family Camp.” About 30 families came together to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot at a summer camp in New Jersey. A friend of mine came up with the idea several years ago, and this was the fourth and largest iteration of the gathering. I had not attended since the first year, which was a much more intimate affair at a different setting, so this year felt completely new to me.

Just like Kellerman’s, there was a lake, bunk houses for families, and a big main dining hall, though not as fancy. It was a kids’ summer camp after all. The first day at lunch the camp director started reading off a list of afternoon activities, and I felt like I had finally found my way into Dirty Dancing! I almost laughed out loud as I remembered a scene in the movie where the list of afternoon activities is read over a loudspeaker across the retreat center.  The list was almost identical! Boating, swimming, canoeing….and updated for this century: spin class, ropes course and jet skis.

As I sat on the lawn playing Mah Jongg (yes really!) with friends looking out over the lake, I realized that in some ways not much has changed since 1963 when Dirty Dancing was set. Like in the movie, it was a treat to go away for three days to an idyllic setting with other families. The young kids had a day camp full of activities to give the parents a break. The tweens and teens got to wander around independently, and the parents could talk, read, play games, or exercise as they chose. Meal times were happy and boisterous, and in the evening, there was a sing off between the parents and kids that was both cheesy and fun at the same time.

It was three days of good old-fashioned fun which reminded me that in this time of political and social turmoil community groups do still exist. This group came together because a few people thought it would be fun, and they took the initiative to organize it. Before attending, I was skeptical that it would work. Obviously, it did. It taught me that we need to take the time to gather together with friends with no higher purpose than to have a good time. Just that can be enough to rejuvenate the body, soul, and spirit. This was a great revelation to have on Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the revelation of the Torah.

Now, if only Patrick Swayze could have been there!

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