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PHOTO ESSAY

Origins of Popular Dance

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The Hustle

Van McCoy dances alongside actress and model Tamara Dobson (1975). Courtesy of Photofest.

With much of the period devoted to psychedelic rock, hard rock, and folk, the 1960s and early 1970s saw the mainstream popularity of dance-oriented music decline significantly. Soul music (and its offspring, funk) remained popular with white audiences—Superfly, Curtis Mayfield's 1972 masterpiece, hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart—but it never generated an explicit association with dancing like the Twist, cakewalk, or ragtime had years before. With the rise of the discotheque in the mid-1970s, coupled with a more orchestral, bass-driven soul sound, this would begin to change, at least in urban areas. Notable innovators of the evolving sound included Barry White and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; though not truly soul, African import Manu Dibango's Soul Makossa, a bestselling single in 1972, also featured a prominent bass line. 1975 was a defining year for the new genre, when the Hustle, aided by Van McCoy's song of the same name, became the most popular dance in the United States. An airy, string-laden romp, "The Hustle" was seemingly meant to be danced to. Later that year, Donna Summer solidified the reign of the new dance-music hybrid emerging from discotheques across the country with her sensuous, bass-slapping single "Love to Love You Baby." At this point discos were largely frequented by gay men, but the chart-smashing success of the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever two years later proved that disco had quickly gone mainstream and white. While disco fell out of favor by the end of the decade, its legacy was immense: The dominant, repetitive bass line—the genre's defining trait—remains a hallmark of electronic music and hip-hop; also, the 12-inch single was invented by disco DJs, who used them to more easily fade in and out between songs (Brackett).

Brackett, David. "Disco." Grove Music Online. 2011.

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