The Strange Truth About The Lake From Dirty Dancing

Fans of the movie Dirty Dancing no doubt remember the iconic scene where Johnny lifts Baby into the air as he stands in a lake. Much of the movie was filmed at Virginia's Mountain Lake Lodge, including the romantic scene featuring the lift. In real life, Mountain Lake has quite the history. It has been extensively studied by scientists because of a strange phenomenon which causes it to sometimes disappear completely.

As noted by The Roanoke Times in 2014, the lake level first began dropping in 1999, but was back to normal in 2003. In 2006, the lake began draining again, and was completely dry for three days in 2008. For the next four years, it remained almost completely empty. While this is the first time the lake has drained in living memory, the phenomenon has been noted in the past — records dating back to the 18th century "describe a grassy meadow growing on at least part of the lake bed."

For more than a decade, the lake has remained mostly dry.

The Dirty Dancing lake is filling up again

Now, though, Mountain Lake is starting to fill up again, following a particularly rainy spring. "It's about a third full right now and it seems to be holding," Heidi Stone, Mountain Lake Lodge's general manager, told CNN. "It's very exciting. The guests get very excited because for so many years it's been dry and looked more like a meadow. It's the prettiest when it's filled with water."

According to scientists, the lake's water levels seem to get very low every 400 years or so as it cleans itself. "The mountain lake basin is absolutely unique, not only in Appalachia but in the entire world," explained Roanoke College professor Jon Cawley in a YouTube video on the Mountain Lake YouTube channel. He added that Mountain Lake is the only lake in the world with "this sort of plumbing system."

"When the lake drains – when it actually empties out – it is cleaning itself by moving sediment that has accrued in the bottom of the lake down through that rather complex plumbing system to actually make the lake bigger, deeper, and to keep it clean," he said.