Discover more from North Carolina Rabbit Hole
(Extreme Bill Medley Voice) Now I've... had...
Lake Lure is great! Unless you're trying to find the places where they shot Dirty Dancing.
My family and I just got back from a vacation at Lake Lure. Before, we were beach people. Now we’re lake people. Just to confirm, I fact-checked this with my 7-year-old son:
ME: What do you like better, our house or this lake house?
HIM: Our house.
ME: What if you could bring your Legos here?
HIM: LAKE HOUSE.
To be fair, he’d prefer the basement of a Siberian prison if there were Legos in it.
Specifically, though, we’re Lake Lure people. For one thing, the back balcony of our rental house pointed toward Chimney Rock, so it looked like a less foreboding version of this at all times:
I would have taken a nice sunset picture, but I left my phone in my bedroom for long chunks of time because there was no cell service. Just like the old days! This wasn’t quite the bliss that it seems to be. Our house had decent WiFi, so we could plausibly claim how great it was to be out of reach of telemarketing calls while simultaneously doomscrolling for a good, senseless hour.
Let’s see, what else? We rented a pontoon boat for two days, which allowed us to reach a tree with a rope swing on it that my 70-year-old father-in-law used to launch himself into the water. I went golfing and lost a half-dozen balls. I jogged to the top of Buzzards Roost, which is a lung-shredding 300-foot climb from the water. On the last day, we had lunch in Chimney Rock Village and walked across the flowering bridge, which is exactly what it sounds like.
But mostly we just hung around, floated in the water, played games, talked, and so on. There was barely an agenda. We ate. Futzed around. The kids splashed. It was great.
Except for the Dirty Dancing part.
Perhaps you have heard of the 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey! It was sort of a big deal. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” was a thing that people said. It spawned this song. Stuff like that. I, for one, did not sit through repeated viewings of it as a kid, but it’s been on TV enough during my 41 years of life that I know what it’s about and that the lift thing is important. Also, there’s this:
It is a very big deal here that parts of this movie, which, again, is 34 years old at this point, were filmed here. (Before you yell, yes, The Last of the Mohicans was shot nearby as well.) There are Dirty Dancing boat tours of Lake Lure, as well as an annual festival dedicated to the movie. People come here to recreate the lake lift. With varying degrees of success and accuracy.
There’s just one problem: The lake lift didn’t happen there!
Half of the movie was shot up in Virginia, and the other half was shot at Lake Lure. But, as you may have already noticed, the lake in Virginia just went and DRIED UP. If you’re wondering where the water went, don’t ask scientists, because they don’t really know either. The good news: It is starting to fill back up a little, but if you want to re-create the lake lift at the actual spot, it is probably going to go like this for you:
This sort of confusion about movie filming locations tends to happen quite a bit. The New York Times talked to Dirty Dancing’s production designer a few years ago, who confirmed from notes that the lake lift happened in Virginia. But really, and I say this with love, who cares? Earlier this summer, I found myself at the hotel in Colorado where parts of Dumb & Dumber, the most formative movie of my youth, were filmed. I found the place where Jim Carrey looks at an old newspaper headline about the moon landing and excitedly shouts “We landed on the moon!” as he walks out of the bar. I took a beaming picture at what I assumed to be exact spot, only to notice later that the newspaper was not actually the same as the one in the movie. Maybe I was in the right place? Maybe not? I didn’t care. I had my moment of joy.
Either way, though, there’s not much left of the actual Dirty Dancing set on the banks of Lake Lure. The dining hall from the movie was from an abandoned boys’ camp, and it’s long since gone. Some ruins are there, but they’re back in a residential development called Firefly Cove, and it’s blocked by a big fence and a gate. We couldn’t get in. From a boat, you can see the steps where Jennifer Grey practiced her dancing. They’re in someone’s backyard now. If you want to get your Instagram shot, though, you’ll have to make do at the Lake Lure Welcome Center down the road.
You laugh, but I’ve seen some pictures taken here, and this works astonishingly well. Which is apt, because when it comes to making real-life pilgrimages to places depicted in cinematic fiction, accuracy is best graded on a curve.