The History of Disco

Studio 54, "Saturday Night Fever" and platform shoes remind us of the disco era. Dancers did the "Hustle," the "Electric Slide" and other line dances, and everyone dressed to impress at dance clubs across the country. If you've ever wondered how the craze got started and why it seemingly ended, read on for a brief history of the disco scene.


Disco's roots may be traced to the 1960s, when fad dances such as the "Twist," the "Watusi," the "Swim," the "Mashed Potato" and the "Frug" were created. The use of synthesizers in around 1968 brought about new musical creations that used one continuous beat that stayed the same through several songs, so the music never had to stop. Tom Moulton, creator of the 12 inch single, was the first to mix standard three minute songs into longer versions for dancing.


By 1970, "Disco Swing" was born. However, many refer to this dance style as the "Hustle," which was in actuality a line dance introduced in 1975 by Van McCoy. Donna Summer's music sent the disco craze worldwide, and when "Saturday Night Fever" was released in 1978, the popularity of disco dancing really exploded. Different offshoots of the "Hustle" were created, including "West Coast Hustle," "Tango Hustle," "Sling Hustle," "Rope Hustle," "Latin Hustle" and "Street Hustle."


The disco craze brought disco versions of classical music pieces, such as "A Fifth of Beethoven," from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, "Night on Disco Mountain," a "discofied" version of "Night on Bald Mountain" and of course, Ravel's "Bolero," which played a primary role in the movie "10" with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek. When the Village People released "Y.M.C.A.," the popularity of the song sent people all over the world to their local Y.M.C.A.'s to join. The U.S. Navy noticed this and asked the group to release a song about the Navy. This led to "In The Navy," a hit song for the Village People and a great recruitment tool for the military, which enjoyed an increase in enlistment as a result of the song's popularity.

Disco Takes a Dive

By 1980, the public had seen enough of the disco scene. Being overwhelmed with television shows such as "Dance Fever" and "Soul Train," as well as the increasingly complex moves dictated by competition dances, the phrase "Disco Sucks" began making the rounds. In its place, the "Texas Two-Step" enjoyed popularity throughout the 1980s thanks to "Urban Cowboy." The 1990s saw an increase in the popularity of line dancing to the point that the public was over-saturated with it, and it, too, lost its appeal. Salsa dancing subsequently replaced both in terms of popularity.


Disco is still around, though not as "visible" as it was in the late 1970s. Often called "house" music, it retains the beat made popular by disco music, and some new songs contain "samplings" from earlier disco tunes. Dance clubs never really stopped playing this type of music since its continuous beat and vibrant melodies encourage movement, which of course is the point of going to a dance club.