Why Dirty Dancing beauty Cynthia Rhodes retired at the height of her career

When Cynthia Rhodes wasn’t Staying Alive on the dance floor with John Travolta, she was Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze.

Boasting a legacy of screen roles in touchstone dance dramas of the 1980s, Rhodes, who’s turning 67 in November 2023, gracefully bowed out of the spotlight at the pinnacle of her career.

Keep reading to learn why Hollywood’s triple threat retired so early!

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Cynthia Rhodes is a singer and dancer, who started acting with a small role in the 1980 musical fantasy film Xanadu, that starred the late Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly.

Her performance as the dancer Tina Tech in the 1983 film Flashdance led to an even bigger role that same year as John Travolta’s love interest, a Broadway dancer, in Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever that was directed by Sylvester Stallone.

It was in 1987 when she played her most memorable role, Penny Johnson, a resort hotel dance instructor in 1987’s Dirty Dancing.

In her role, she flaunts her rhythmic prowess with her graceful and flashy Mambo-style moves alongside the late Patrick Swayze, whom she also shares heartbreaking emotional dramatic scenes.

Rhodes, describing Penny as having an “edge,” both charmed and shocked viewers as the character who had a botched illegal operation.

The film, with a socially relevant subplot of reproductive rights with Rhodes at the center, positioned the three lead characters, Swayze as Johnny, Jennifer Grey as Baby, and Rhodes for super stardom.

“She’s from South Philly and she’s had a rough life… She’s got a sweetness about her but it’s put back because she’s had a hard time, and she has sort of put up a wall.” Rhodes continued, “And, in the end, I think she finally realizes that life does go on.”

Life did go on for the actor but not in the direction fans had hoped.

Actress Cynthia Rhodes and guest attend the Staying Alive Hollywood Premiere on July 11, 1983 at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

After training 10 hours a day for the role of Penny, Rhodes explained that dancing became “really hard.” “That’s why I keep saying I’m never going to dance again. I’m tired of dancing…My bones are hurting, my back hurts all the time,” Rhodes said. “It seems like every time I say, ‘That’s it, I don’t want to dance anymore,’ I get another film. I’m not going to turn down work! I feel very fortunate to be in films that are dancing. But it’s like, give me a chance to do some dramatic work without dancing…Just give me a straight acting part.”

The same year Dirty Dancing was released, the 31-year-old talented blonde–who had her pick of roles and men–appeared in the music video, “Don’t Mean Nothing” by Richard Marx, also the singer of “Right Here Waiting” (the 1989 song famously written for Rhodes).

Also in 1989, Rhodes married the Grammy Award-winning singer in 1989 and had her first child, Brandon in 1990, who was followed by Lucas (1992) and Jesse in 1994.

According to Marx, Rhodes–who previously trained for the Olympics–retired in 1990 to care for their children and due to “intense physical pain” demanded by her moves.

“I thought, ‘This won’t last, she’s definitely going to want to come back to work and do films. But she found a fulfillment in being a mom that completely dominated any feelings she ever had making a movie.” Marx, now 59, continued “Even if you’re her biggest fan, as good as you think she was as a dancer or singer or actress, man, you should see her as a mom.”

It turns out Rhodes, who started dancing when she was only three, was happier being a mom and allowing her body the rest and recovery it needed.

“The thing was, I used to never be sore. In fact, I was a gymnast. And now it’s sort of frustrating…I never used to stretch. Now I have to stretch before I dance. I love to dance, but if I never did it again, I wouldn’t be sorry,” Rhodes said.

And Rhodes hasn’t looked back. The last time she appeared on screen was in the 1991 film, Curse of the Crystal Eye

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