Why Jennifer Grey Says ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Saved Her Life – Literally

Jennifer Grey took her fancy footwork from the 1987 blockbuster Dirty Dancing to the ballroom of Dancing With the Stars in 2010. Turns out Grey walked away with more than the Mirrorball Trophy and revealed how the competition uncovered some serious health issues.

Derek Hough and Jennifer Grey of 'Dancing With the Stars'
Derek Hough and Jennifer Grey of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ | Adam Larkey/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Jennifer Grey partnered with Derek Hough on ‘DWTS’

Grey dusted off her dancing shoes for season 11 of Dancing With the Stars. Paired with dance pro Derek Hough, the Dirty Dancing star was a bit apprehensive about joining the competition.

“I realized I loved dancing,” Grey told USA Today. “I hadn’t danced for 20 years because of my fear that people would be disappointed I wasn’t good enough or the girl from “Dirty Dancing” who couldn’t learn fast enough.”

After finishing in first place and acquiring the coveted Mirrorball, Grey shared that the ABC reality show took her dance skills to a higher level than the iconic 1987 film.

“This dance experience was so much more difficult [than Dirty Dancing where] I learned basically one dance over the course of months,” she commented in 2010 after winning the Mirrorball Trophy, according to ABC News. “It was a completely different level of dancing.”

‘Dirty Dancing’ star had car crash injury and cancer

Now promoting her memoir, Out of the Corner, Grey revealed that her season on Dancing With the Stars brought critical health issues to light. The actor discovered she had cancer and a serious injury from a deadly car accident with ex-boyfriend Matthew Broderick over 20 years earlier.

“From [DWTS] experience, I found I had cancer and that I had had it for four and a half years, but the doctor who looked at my spine said not only should you not be in a car, you’re lucky you’re not paralyzed,” Grey explained to USA Today. “Your head is hanging off your spine and this is why you’ve been in pain for 20 years.”  

Grey credited the reality competition for bringing her injury and cancer diagnosis to her attention and shared how the two physical calamities were actually intertwined.

“The fact is this reality show saved my life,” Grey said of Dancing With the Stars. “A show I only did for my daughter and because Marlee Matlin had told me it was a life-changing experience. It was almost like it set the ball in motion of facing my fears. If I hadn’t had a bad accident and hurt my neck, then they wouldn’t have found the thyroid mass. So in a way, the accident that I thought was maybe one of the worst things that happened to me saved my life.”

Writing new memoir was therapeutic for Jennifer Grey

Grey explored her Dancing With the Stars journey along with many other facets of her life in Out of the Corner, including her past romances with Broderick and Johnny Depp as well as her appearance-altering plastic surgery. She noted how the writing experience was cathartic.

“It’s interesting to reframe things in a way with distance, with life having been lived, and realize there are certain things that I assumed were empirical truths that aren’t,” Grey remarked. “Writing the book forced me to really slow down and examine if the story I’ve been telling was giving me my best life…  I got more out of writing this book than all the years of therapy because I wanted to be unflinching in my desire for my truth.”

Out of the Corner is now on sale.

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