Patrick Swayze’s Dance Background Highlighted in New ‘I Am Patrick Swayze’ Documentary

by Bridget Conrad | 8/22/2019 1:19 AM

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We all remember Patrick Swayze as a well-known actor who played famous characters like Johnny Castle in ‘Dirty Dancing’ and Sam Wheat in ‘Ghost,’ but before he became an actor, he had extensive dance training and worked in New York as a professional ballet dancer. He was known by his co-workers as a man who elevated everyone around him, and now, on the 10th anniversary of his death, Paramount Network released the documentary ‘I Am Patrick Swayze,’ which honors his life and highlights how his dance background helped him to land some of his most iconic roles.

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Passionate, intense, and vulnerable are just some of the words that were used to describe Swayze in this documentary by the people who knew him best. Born in Houston, Texas, Swayze was admittedly insecure on the inside but not afraid to try anything and make mistakes. His life was always filled with the arts, specifically dance, and he strived to be the best at everything he did.

Swayze’s mother was a well-respected dance teacher and founder of The Houston Jazz Ballet Company, while his father was a cowboy and built all of his mother’s dance studios throughout her years of teaching. Patsy Swayze raised Patrick (known to family and friends as “Little Buddy”) to be great and he was everything to her. 

Even when dance wasn't Swayze's primary focus, it was still a big part of his life. Swayze’s wife, Lisa, met him when she was involved with a children’s theater group in Texas and the group joined forces with Swayze’s mom’s dance school & company. While Swayze's mom taught Lisa free of charge for a whole year, Lisa caught Swayze’s eye because she was a challenge for him, unlike other girls. When they first danced together at a school exhibition Lisa felt something electric happen between them; everything came alive.

Later, when Swayze was in 12th grade, he broke his leg playing football and had to wear a full-length cast for six months. Instead of going back into sports after his cast was removed, Swayze became laser-focused on dance and used it as his rehab. After two years, he developed into a world-class dancer and moved to New York City to pursue dance as a career. Swayze danced with groups such as the Eliot Feld Ballet Company, but after multiple knee surgeries, he was forced to hang up his professional dance shoes and transition into acting.

His first professional acting role was Danny Zuko in ‘Grease’ on Broadway, then he and his wife moved to Los Angeles so he could audition for movie roles. Little did he know that his comprehensive dance background would act as somewhat of a secret weapon in helping him to secure a lucrative career in Hollywood.

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Swayze first starred in ‘Skatetown USA’ (1979), which might not have been the best movie, but it definitely showcased his star quality. Because of his dance background, Swayze was able to add some phenomenal skating to the movie which made it pleasing for audiences to watch. Then came roles in the series ‘Renegades’ (1982) and ‘The Outsiders’ (1983), which both set him up to star in his first major leading role, one that some would say was made for him.

From the moment Swayze and co-star Jennifer Grey started working on ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987), there was a complex dynamic between the two. Grey was cast first and had previously met Swayze filming ‘Red Dawn’ (1984). At first, she thought he was very alpha and wasn’t excited for him to be cast, but as soon as they danced together, magic happened. He promised to never hurt her or drop her, and he never did. Grey commented in the documentary that she did things in this movie that she could never do before because she was able to trust Swayze to take care of her. 

Photo Credit: MCA/Everett Collection

After gaining buzz from the success of 'Dirty Dancing,' and for a heartfelt interview with Barbara Walters, Swayze starred in ‘Road House’ (1989) and then landed another big role as Sam Wheat in ‘Ghost’ (1990). According to Demi Moore, Swayze's dance training elevated their iconic pottery scene in 'Ghost' because he already had the perception on how to approach it. 

Rounding out the end of his mainstream movie career were Point Break (1991), City of Joy (1992), and the 1995 hit ‘Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.’ Over 30 well-known actors auditioned for the role of Vida in 'Too Wong Foo,' but Swayze was cast. Once again, it was his dance training that helped him to be able to put on the clothes and become the person he was asked to become. No one else possessed his secret dance weapon.

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Swayze mentioned in 'I Am Patrick Swayze' that acting was the one thing that he never found a way to be the best at, which may explain why he kept working until his untimely death in 2009. Even while undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, he found a way to work 12-hour days and to keep living life his way. He was passionate about everything he did and truly embodied the saying, "Live Life to Its Fullest."

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