Emile Ardolino; Director of Dance Series, Hit Films


Emile Ardolino, who won an Oscar for the dance documentary “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ ” and went on to direct the hit films “Dirty Dancin’ ” and “Sister Act,” has died at age 50.

Ardolino died Saturday at his home in Los Angeles of AIDS, his Ardolino Productions announced.

Ardolino’s film version of the perennial ballet “Nutcracker” is scheduled for release Wednesday.


His final project was a film production of “Gypsy” starring Bette Midler, which is to be shown on CBS on Dec. 12 and in theaters after that. Growing up in New York City, Ardolino told friends he had seen the Broadway musical “Gypsy” on stage 25 times.

He won his Academy Award for the 1983 documentary and racked up three Emmys, a dozen more Emmy nominations and credits as producer and director of 28 episodes of PBS’ “Dance in America” series by the time he achieved feature film popularity with “Dirty Dancin’ ” in 1988. The huge box office success starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey made Ardolino a force in Hollywood.

Ardolino had read the “Dirty Dancin’ ” script while on jury duty in New York and said it made his day.

“I loved the period, I loved the music of the period,” he told The Times. “I knew I could relate to the movement, the body language of the dancing. But more than anything, I liked the characters. . . . It was a musical love story that was rooted in reality.”

Ardolino performed in several theater productions when he was a student at New York’s Queens College and portrayed the character Boy in a touring version of “The Fantasticks.”

After studying dance, he founded Compton-Ardolino Films with Gardner Compton in 1967 and concentrated on documentaries, editing, directing and producing. In 1969, he won a special Obie award for the filmed segments in the daring Broadway musical “Oh! Calcutta!”

Ardolino’s awards mounted through his efforts for the “Dance in America” series for PBS. He won his first Emmy for directing “Choreography by Balanchine IV” in the 1978-79 season and a Directors Guild of America award for “The Spellbound Child” in the 1980-81 season.

Jacques d’Amboise, a principal dancer with New York’s City Ballet, invited him to direct “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin,’ ” detailing the dancer’s work with children. The film won Ardolino not only the Oscar but two more Emmys and a Peabody award.

After the low-budget “Dirty Dancin’ ” struck Hollywood gold, Ardolino went on to make the popular “Chances Are” in 1988, “Three Men and a Little Lady” in 1990 and “Sister Act” last year starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Ardolino is survived by his domestic partner, Luis M. Rodriguez-Villa, of Los Angeles, and three sisters, Aurelia Janosek, Livia Meyer and Dorothy Boland, all of the New York City area.