Carry a watermelon. Hold the frame. Shake your maracas. Never let anybody put you in the corner. Most of all, smile and have the time of your life.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Shortly after arriving in Pembroke, Virginia, I was standing at the Mountain Lake Lodge check-in desk as the smiling staff member handed me a room key and said, “You’re in the historic Main Stone Lodge, Room 232. It’s the room that Patrick Swayze stayed in while he was here filming Dirty Dancing!”
“Really?!?!” I said. “That’s so cool!” It seemed to me that getting assigned that specific room on a Dirty Dancing weekend was akin to winning the lottery. Mountain Lake Lodge is the resort that played the role of Kellerman’s in the 1987 movie that starred Patrick Swayze (as Johnny) and Jennifer Grey (as Baby, a.k.a. Frances).
“In fact,” the gal at the check-in desk continued, “so many people have stolen the number from the door as a souvenir that it doesn’t have a brass plaque on it anymore, just a piece of paper. It doesn’t look like the other doors but don’t worry, your key will open it.”
“Did the brass plaque that people kept stealing say ‘Patrick Swayze’ on it?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Just the number ‘232’—you’ll see the other door numbers and it was just like that.” I shook my head in dismay.
“Another thing I should warn you about,” she said. “Since it’s the Patrick Swayze room, don’t be surprised if you see some people rubbing up against the door. Some fans want to get as close to him as they can. Since it’s a Dirty Dancing weekend, this may happen more often than usual.”
I thought she was joking.
A lady who happened to be standing at the check-in desk overheard this part of the conversation and nodded enthusiastically while saying, “You’ll probably see me doing that later!”
I thought she was joking.
I mean, sure, like any warm-blooded American girl of a certain age, I understand Swayze’s muscular appeal. I consider both Dirty Dancing and Ghost to be movies worth repeat viewings. And yet I am not the sort of grownup who would rub up against a hotel door.
I thanked everyone behind the check-in desk, smiled with some trepidation at the lady who promised to hump my door, and carried my suitcase upstairs to get a look at the space where Patrick Swayze once slept, showered, shaved and, I think it’s safe to assume, did other bathroom activities. The movie debuted 30 years ago. I’m quite sure that the hotel room has been updated and renovated multiple times in the three decades since he stayed in it, and thus does not have the same mattress, draperies, towels or any of the soft surfaces he might have touched. The tile and the toilet (but very probably not the seat) might be the same. Still, it’s cool to stay in the star’s room, especially during a celebratory weekend in a milestone anniversary year of a movie that I like.
Room 232 is a king guestroom, so appropriate for a couple or solo traveler rather than a pair of friends, which is why it may have been available for me during the Dirty Dancing weekend—based on what I observed, this particular weekend package is most popular as a girlfriends’ getaway; a few male/female couples participate, but primarily females (mostly in groups, plus a few solo travelers like me). The room is basic yet cozy, simple yet quaint. It offers everything you need to sleep and get cleaned up, no unnecessary frills. “To ensure a fully unplugged and relaxing experience for every guest in the Main Stone Lodge, there rooms and suites do not have televisions,” explains the website. No problem, especially on the Dirty Dancing weekend: There are plenty of themed activities planned plus you can always enjoy all the resort has to offer.
The rabid fans, though? No joke.
During my two night/three day stay, I encountered dozens of people rubbing themselves against the door. Lots of them were ladies around my age, but several were teenagers, some boys. At least three people lamented that the number on the door was only paper and not worth stealing. Most door visitors came in groups, so they could take turns hugging, kissing and/or rubbing the door while a friend or family member snapped a souvenir photo—which is weird in my opinion since nowhere on the door does it say ‘Patrick Swayze,’ ‘Dirty Dancing’ or even ‘Mountain Lake Lodge.’ It could literally be any door anywhere with a piece of paper that says ‘232’ taped to it! The movie where a character played by Swayze pushes a penny up a door, which is really the only scene I can think of that makes a door significant, isn’t even the movie filmed here! The whole situation was bizarre. Whenever I opened my door, I knew these folks might have paid me to get a peek inside the room, but I felt weirdly obligated to protect the privacy of any lingering aura that might be in it.
While I dig the movie Ghost, I don’t really believe in ghosts (much as I love the stories), and yet seeing that other people were so desperately trying to connect with Swayze by touching the door of his once-upon-a-time-hotel-room, I remembered that about 22 years ago I stayed in a hotel room in which Demi Moore (and her then-husband Bruce Willis) had previously slept. So if a ghost of Swayze was ever going to appear, maybe he’d find that unusual coincidence appealing? Apparently not: I saw nothing.
No ghost appeared to show me his dance moves, but the weekend offered plenty of Dirty Dancing.
Dirty Dancing Weekend Itinerary…
Specifics may vary slightly, but on a Dirty Dancing weekend at Mountain Lake Lodge—which are typically scheduled three times each summer—expect a lineup of themed activities in the company of fans of varying degrees of enthusiasm. On my weekend, the occasional door hugger notwithstanding, fans were actually calmer than I’d anticipated. I expected a Rocky Horror Show or Sound of Music sort of line-mimicking crowd-sport as the movie screened, but everyone just sat and watched while politely munching popcorn.
-Breakfast at Harvest
-Lawn games, including a watermelon toss
–Dirty Dancing film location tour
-Lunch at Harvest
-Group dance lessons
-Private dance lessons
-Dinner at Harvest
-Dance party in Mary’s Barn
-Breakfast at Harvest
–Dirty Dancing scavenger hunt
The Dirty Dancing weekend package includes all the buffet meals, which makes it a deal. Each buffet includes a wide range of offerings so you can easily find something to like.
Some people really got into the “come dressed as your favorite character” portion of the weekend. One woman dressed as dancing Penny in skin-tight red and black tights while her friend dressed as devastated Penny sobbing with mascara running down her face. No surprise, their enthusiasm paid off in terms of their popularity with other guests: lots of selfies were requested with those two.
Dance lessons are led by people who know what they’re doing, want to help you improve your skills, and yet aim to make the whole thing more fun than intimidating. Music selections include tunes from the movie as well as other era- and/or beat-appropriate picks.
Though the movie was set in the Catskills, N.Y., it was too expensive to shoot there. Instead, the movie was filmed at two locations: Lake Lure in North Carolina for one week and Mountain Lake Hotel (as the property was then named) in Virginia for the remainder of production. Any familiarity with the movie makes it easy to recognize several key locations. Forget the door: There are lots of great places to take a photo of yourself with iconic movie references such as Baby’s family’s cottage, the dining room corner, the spot where Johnny and Baby practice the lift, the gazebo, and more.
In 2017, two more Dirty Dancing weekends similar to the one I joined are scheduled for July 28-30 and August 25-27. Can’t attend in 2017? Plan ahead: The resort typically hosts three such weekends each summer.
It pays to plan ahead since the cottage that played “Baby’s Family Cottage” in the movie is typically booked up to a year in advance.
Any time of year, a little building near the Main Stone Lodge serves as a “Remembering Dirty Dancing” mini-museum that offers a peek at production details. A new self-guided walking tour around the property showcases film sites. You can also pick up a map and photo history brochure at the check-in desk. Just be a grownup and don’t bother whoever is staying in Room 232, or Baby’s Family’s Cabin, or whatever room Penny stayed in, or whatever seems groovy to you; and most certainly don’t steal anything.
Mountain Lake Lodge can offer a true retreat: You need not leave during your stay. Or you can set up home base then get out and explore Giles County, the Appalachian Trail, the New River Water Trail or whatever most compels you away. For the Dirty Dancing weekend, I never left the property—there was no need and, since I travel so much, it felt more relaxing to stay put for a few days.
“Most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you!” —Baby
The feeling you get at Mountain Lake Lodge can be recaptured: Just book another stay.
On my next visit, I’m hiking the AT (weather permitting)!
Mountain Lake Lodge
115 Hotel Circle
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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