Disco dancing took many urban centers by storm in the United States in the mid-1970s. It came in a variety of formats, including partner dancing, line dancing and even solo dancing. Disco dance steps were highly choreographed and dictated by deejay-driven beats, but as the form evolved, it became more athletic and stunt-driven. Although the 1980s saw the rise of the "disco sucks" movement, the '80s break-dancing trend clearly had its roots in the flips, spins and kicks of late '70s disco dances.
Disco dance predates the club scene of the 1970s, but the scene is defined by mid-1970s phenomena such as Studio 54 in New York City and, of course, John Travolta's moves in the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever." The point of early disco was for deejays to maintain a rhythm between cuts so that the dancing was seamless. Strobe lights emphasized the driving beat. Disco dances were typically composed of successions of several simple steps. There were also professional troupes of disco dancers, such as Hot Gossip and Pan's People.
Disco did not spring out of nowhere. Latin dances such as the samba, the cha-cha, the merengue, the tango and the mambo inspired many disco dancing moves. Classic disco dances are the bump and the disco cha-cha. Then there's the hustle. Everyone lays claim to their version of the hustle, although the New York hustle is considered the classic. There is also the Latin hustle, the Southern California skater-influenced street hustle and the tango hustle.
Disco dance steps share some common elements. Stepping side to side is a typical filler activity between disco moves. Revolving the hands and raising the arms, always in time to the beat, is a classic. Many disco dance steps have classic Latin dance elements such as hip and pelvic movements. Turns are common, concluded by planting the foot on the floor with the beat. Shoulders can tilt up and down as the dancer steps forward and back. Choreographed combinations take precedence over improvisation. Partner dancing often has the dancers barely touching.
Disco dance could never exist without the music. The rhythm should be repetitive to the point of inducing a trance, much like music at the raves and house dance parties of the 1990s. There is never any dead air giving dancers a chance to stop. The defining music of the era came from the Bee Gees, the band that composed most of the soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever." Chic, Hot Chocolate, the Village People, Donna Summer and Funkadelic are other bands that got the disco party started.
Disco dance steps and disco music was roundly criticized in the 1980s, but its power did not wane. The pioneers of hip-hop used the same deejay-driven sounds but added scratching. Emcees (MCs in rap parlance) often rapped over isolated, repeated disco tracks, such as Sugarhill Gang's sampling Chic's "Good Times" in the landmark "Rapper's Delight." Rave, house, electronica and ambient music and dance take a nod from the rhythm-based, hypnotic sequences popularized by disco.