When I think of all my mother has given me, my mind skips over her unwavering support, her get-shit-done attitude, her promise to be the woman shouting “woo” at any concert or thunderstorm and her ability to be a complete and total bitch in order to fix the problems everyone else is afraid to touch (and have probably created). I’ve picked up some of those qualities, sure, but there’s one thing that she’s imparted to me that stands above (and embodies) all the rest: Don’t be with a guy who isn’t willing to dance.
Patrick Swayze is responsible for that.
Swayze seems like a rather obvious choice to be the subject of my mother’s desires: His brand of handsome was both rugged and clean, a classically trained dancer who could still play the bank-robbing surfer (or you know, rip out a dude’s throat).
The Swayze that moms love more than any of the other Swayzes, though — even the pottery-wheel Swayze from Ghost — is that of Dirty Dancing’s Johnny Castle. “Honestly, he was the type of bad boy that I’d be attracted to when I was that age — rough around the edges, driving that muscle car,” my mom tells me.
Most importantly, though, “it was the whole dancing thing,” she adds.
Ah, yes, the whole dancing thing.
Swayze was, of course, particularly good at it, being the son of a choreographer and part of The Joffrey Ballet. But, somehow, there wasn’t anything pretentious about it. Though many of his roles called for him to be the self-serious bad boy, chiseled from the chip on his shoulder, his overall body of work doesn’t suggest he viewed himself in the same way. In particular, his performances in Donnie Darko, where he plays a pedophile self-help guru, and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, in which he plays a drag queen, suggest a willingness to push against any kind of typecasting.
All the while, his sex appeal continued to stir the libidos of mothers across this land of ours, with their favorite magazine, People, naming him its “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1991 (four years after Dirty Dancing and a year after Ghost). This honor is especially germane given the men who came immediately before (Tom Cruise) and after (Nick Nolte). That is, one fell in with Scientology, the other to addiction. Not to mention, both have had several wives.
By comparison, Swayze was a Boy Scout. Though he dabbled in both Scientology and alcoholism, his life was ultimately unmarked by both. As for love, he married actress and dancer Lisa Niemi in 1975, and remained with her until his death at 57 from pancreatic cancer in 2009. (A pilot, she allegedly flew him to his cancer treatments.)
The fact that his life was cut short only furthers his legacy, as he remains frozen in time and untainted by age or scandal. And so, for my mom and all the others of her generation, he will forever be the perfect counterweight to the guy who isn’t willing to dance.