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What is Disco?

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By Sorina Fant / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

Disco is a subculture and a popular style of dance music that began in USA nightclubs in the 1970s. It was the defining music of this decade and is a combination of funk and soul music. Disco’s distinct sound made it synonymous with dancing, fun, and nightlife. 

During this time, dance floors would be crowded with excited party goers who could not resist dancing to the horns, electric bass and pianos, rhythm guitars, deep basslines, and synthesizers that defined the disco sound. 

The types of dancing that accompanied disco included side-stepping, fast hip and pelvic movements, foot stomping, step ball changes, gallops, swaying shoulders and arms, pointed index fingers, as well as quick pivots – all which were done to the amazing melodies and beautiful voices in disco songs. 

Disco as a style of dance was most iconically displayed by John Travolta in the movie Stayin Alive and today it’s most signature move does not need music or fashion behind it to be labelled as disco. When a person shoots their arm and index finger upward to the corner then bring it down across the body to point it to the floor in the opposite corner whilst moving the hips to the beat of the movement you know they are dancing disco!

Some of the most popular musicians to whom disco was danced include Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Thelma Houston, Chic, ABBA, and KC and the Sunshine Band.

Evelyn “Champagne” King’s song Love Come Down, the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive, Le Freak by Chic, and I’m Your Boogie Man by KC and the Sunshine Band are a few of the top disco songs. Put any of these on even today and watch the disco moves come out!

There was a distinct disco fashion during this time with influences from 1960s fashion combined with fashionable, flashy clothing appropriate for the disco nightlife. Women were often in sequined shirts, dresses, pants, and shimmery gowns. Men often wore fitted suits and bell bottoms such as John Travolta’s iconic white suit in the movie Saturday Night Fever.

Although not all studios offer it as a style, you will now and then see a disco dance class available or more likely disco themed dance classes where students dress up, disco music is played through out and the steps taught have a disco flavour.

Disco culture remains relevant today as the music and fashion of this time continue to influence popular culture.

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!